It was December 2015 and I had been homeless for approximately two years. I had been living in New Orleans for the last year, and this was the perfect location to either learn a new way of living or a new way of dying.

Timothy’s “Christmas twig” (Timothy Busby)

New Orleans has one of the highest crime rates in America. If you take the normal crime rate and multiply that by about three you will have a good idea of how it is on the streets, especially during the holidays. 

The first several months in New Orleans I stayed under the I-90 bridge, which is known for its violence. During the first few months I witnessed two beat downs, one man stabbed to death, a drive by shooting and another man shot execution-style less than a hundred feet from where I slept. 

During the holidays the people that stay on the street have a tendency of becoming very aggravated, frustrated, disgusted, and depressed. This all leads to one thing: a higher rate of violence for homeless people. 

People who live on the streets during the holidays are reminded of just how alone we are. Watching people ride by in their vehicles with Yuletide cheerfulness, red Santa hats, Christmas reefs on the front grills of their cars, trunks full of gifts and on their way to visit friends and family. 

Christmas day means one thing for the homeless, no food, no gifts, or anything other than an attitude. 

Most everyone is waiting for the holidays to be over. There are several that want to beat their frustrations out on someone or to their surprise have the hell beat out of themselves. 

This is very common in the big cities, partly due to the fact that all of the resources for homeless human beings are in the worst parts of town. 

That winter, I decided for my safety it was time to move on to a new area which happened to be under New Orleans’ I-10 Bridge. It was there that I was invited to be part of an encampment. It was organized, had good people, and was a decent place to stay. There were typically 10-12 people staying at the camp, and we would stay awake in different shifts in order to keep people from stealing what little we had. 

As Christmas drew near we decided to try and celebrate it. That is when we came up with our Christmas twig, and trust me it wasn’t a tree it was actually one branch off an artificial Christmas tree. It had a red bow on top, one Christmas ornament and some cotton dressing at the bottom to imitate snow. 

Your family is the friends you choose, blood has nothing to do with it. 

We put our Christmas twig on top of an abandoned gift-wrapped donation box. Christmas cheer was in the air. 

Shortly after putting up our Christmas twig we had individuals donating food, clothing and other gifts. We had an ample surplus, so we set up a table outside of our horseshoe-shaped encampment with our Christmas twig in the middle. We would go through the donations and place the surplus on a table outside of the camp for the passersby and homeless people to help themselves. People would come through all hours of the day and night to get what they needed. 

I learned a good lesson that year: Your family is the friends you choose, blood has nothing to do with it. 

That year I had a large family to celebrate Christmas with. The gifts had nothing to do with it. It’s always the people and the memories you make, that is the gift of Christmas present. 

From the streets to you, I wish you all a very merry Christmas. 

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.