by Ron Clark
[dropcap]I [/dropcap]walk along the street, see a person on a bench, many bags, blankets by his side. Cursing. I know what he’s going through. Being homeless, you don’t like the way people look at you, you don’t feel worthy, you don’t feel right.
I do not agree that homelessness is a choice. If I were given the option of jumping into a fire or sleeping on a comfortable couch, I’d take the couch. Not all people on the streets are able to make that choice.
I became homeless about 15 years ago. At that time, my mother developed Alzheimer’s. Her illness affected the family and plans for me to inherit her home did not materialize.
I became depressed — that was not like me. I prayed, “How will I get myself out of this mess?” I didn’t know where to turn. Circumstances of staying with other people were not what they initially seemed; they turned out to be full of conflict.
The streets became my home. I always kept neat and clean; I did not give up my humanity. I did not give up.
As a gypsy traveler, I rode buses, especially during the night. Bus drivers would ask me, “What are you going to do?” I’d reply, “I’m gonna catch another bus.”
Sometimes I’d pass the wee hours of the night on a park bench. I’d wake up early morning and sit. The park bench was my couch, the green grass and trees were my living room. I’d take in the simple pleasures of life.
After a while, I felt too uncomfortable around the night crowd and rats roaming the streets of Oakland.
I then stayed in shelters. At the Richmond Rescue Mission, I’d sit huddled close to others listening to a sermon. I felt coerced. I could have left, though that’s a hard decision to make, especially when it’s raining outside.
I stayed at the men’s shelter in Berkeley. It felt foreboding to walk through a narrow passageway to enter the shelter. Staying in this shelter was OK. I understood I had to do certain things to have a bed.
I feel for people on the streets. I’ve been seeing and speaking with some people for years. Some people talk crazy to defend and protect themselves. With some, the more I talk with them, the more they make sense, and we become friends.
When homeless, I understood I needed to do some things and give up some things to make a change. I also needed to be treated like a human being and offered a life preserver so I would not die on the streets.
I want to see more acceptance and less judgment of homeless people. People need places to go to get their life together. No one should be out there on the streets.