“Why would anyone want to live on the streets?”
“How did it come to this?”
These are the questions I get all the time. I have spent the last six and a half years of my life homeless, and the last three and a half years living solely on the street in an environment that shows the true human nature of individuals reduced to a lifestyle of just surviving each day. I have put a great deal of effort into gaining first-hand knowledge of the mentalities of individuals I have met who have experienced loss on a catastrophic level.
There are many factors that contribute to why so many people end up living on the streets. Maybe as a child there was abuse, molestation, beatings, and abandonment. Possibly as a teenager the experience of betrayal, abandonment, or rape, and as an adult, catastrophic injury and catastrophic loss. It is quite possibly a combination of all the above.
The point is that we all have breaking points, crushing points, ground to dust points. When these occur, all hope is lost. We feel of no use to ourselves or anyone else. As a general rule, a very deep depression sets in with the mindset of hopelessness, and our decision-making ability is incapacitated. The obvious choices you could have easily made before now somehow seem very unclear, which leads to poor decision-making ability. At this point, you simply do not care.
With the poor decision-making process comes a horrific set of events that seem to fall like dominoes. With each loss, whether it’s death, loss of property, health issues, mental psychosis, severe depression, or a combination thereof, a part of you dies, until there is none of you left. After night and day of fearing that you’re going to lose everything and be forced to live on the streets, that time has come.
Like any traumatic event, your first response is denial, or what I call “living in the land of used to be.”
The first several weeks you are mad as hell. You think, “where are the people I have helped?” However, most people have a routine that does not involve helping you. No matter if you are important to these people, their lifestyle is set and they are unwilling to endure minor disturbances, such as providing you with assistance.
So now you realize, you’re no one else’s responsi bility but your own. When you accept that you are responsible for yourself and no one owes you anything, you have a starting point. It is time to learn a new way of life like you have never known. The first step is acceptance, because acceptance allows serenity. Acceptance is not complacency, nor does it bring you satisfaction or with your current circumstances. It simply means you know where you’re at. You take an honest assessment of where you are.
When I made that choice, I felt something that I haven’t felt in years. “Serenity.” How can you have
serenity when you have literally lost everything, mind, body, spirit, soul, family, all possessions, and most importantly, hope?
The answer I’m about to give you so simple you’ll have a hard time wrapping your head around it. Now, your focus is on the things in life you need in order to survive: food, water, clothing, shelter, and safety. It is no longer what you have that defines you: The better paying job, the bigger apartment or house, the nicer car to drive, or that pair of shoes you’ve been waiting all week until payday to buy.
No, just the opposite is true. Your life is simple. Each day, you must complete these simplistic goals or else you die. Perhaps now you can clearly see the small things that you took for granted only earlier in your life. Now the question is, can you adapt to living on the streets and enjoying the simple things in life?
Timothy Busby is a homeless writer who lives in Berkeley. He writes from his past five years of experiences while living on the streets from New Orleans to Berkeley, and many cities in between.