It looks as though we’re closing in on Christmas again, folks. That’s bad news in my book, and (I daresay) in the corporal book of homeless people everywhere.
Take my holiday experience several years ago, for example. I spent Christmas Day stuck out in the rain, with services closed for those of my ilk, not to mention the usual five-in-the-morning “indoor resources” being closed (Starbucks, McDonald’s, etc.). After all, social workers need to celebrate Christmas too, and baristas need a day off as well. Of course government buildings were closed, so it wasn’t possible to hide out in the library all day. So I wandered around aimlessly in the rain, eventually realizing that the only other people doing so were about twenty-five other angry homeless people. Our natural exchanges of commiseration began to depress me.
“Well, I do have a laptop, and friends on the Internet,” I mused, as I crouched underneath the awning of the Starbucks at Oxford and University, copped their Wi-Fi connection, and began to plead my case to a number of old friends who no doubt thought that my intrusion upon their warm family gatherings was a bit rude. Meanwhile, looking at Facebook during the holiday began to depress me. It created an awful combination of outrage and jealousy, spurred on by all the “likes” on all the cute family pictures, often with lavish gifts being opened beneath their highly decorated Christmas trees.
Describing my situation, I implored a number of people for a PayPal grant of $60 or so, hoping to be able in a cozy motel room somewhere. I figured, “Geeze, it’s Christmas! You’d think somebody wouldn’t mind giving the poor homeless bloke a well-deserved Christmas present.”
Let us in for once! It’s Christmas, for Christ’s sake!!
Of course, it was short notice. Quite to my hurt, I mistakenly banked on the combined compassion of the chosen few. But alas, the constant bombardment of pictures of old friends on Facebook basking in galore—stockings, ornaments, grandchildren, the whole works—did nothing for me other than to arouse the ol’ Green Eyed Monster who forever grumbles dormant within me—perched, poised, and ready to pounce.
Well—pounce the Monster did indeed! The results were none too pretty. One of my friends was so aghast at my approach (which no doubt must have been rather ghastly), that his response was quite a shock. Rather than consider helping me in any way, he sent a joint email to me and the closest member of my family he could think of. In the email, he recommended that I be “institutionalized”—evidently as a viable solution to this chronic homelessness business that obviously wasn’t being dealt with effectively.
Unbeknownst to him, that was my biggest fear. Not that I have any particular dread of the techno-torture of this Age. It’s just that they don’t let me plug in my laptop in those types of dives, because it can “conceivably be used as a weapon.” They do the same thing with my shoelaces, which makes jogging around the building a bit difficult. And of course they don’t let you out of the building so you can go on a run of decent length. I remember once when I even alluded to the fact that I was training for a half-marathon, they wanted to put me on bipolar meds because I was exhibiting what they called “excessive goal orientation.”
In short, the institutions, both short-term and long, are rather dreary places to be. Arguably, Christmas outside in the rain would be preferable.
Come on, Christian America! What do ya think Christmas is all about? Why are we washing our hands like Pontius Pilate of the validity, the legitimacy, the dignity, and the humanity of an estimated 8 percent of our nation’s urban population? Even among those who are not homeless, statistics still reveal that one sixth of America struggles for hunger on a daily basis! Do you think Christmas will be any less of that struggle!?
Come on, people! Let us in! Stop looking at us as though we’re all a bunch of worthless druggies and boozers and losers and vandals and varmints and thieves! We take showers, we wash our clothing—it just takes us longer to do so because we have to wait in big lines at service centers to get into the shower, to access the washer, to get the toothpaste and toothbrush and razors and shampoo. You can do these things in a moment’s time, and you look at us patiently waiting at places like then Multi-Agency Service Center in Berkeley, California, and you frown and shake your heads and say: “Look at those lazy bums, sitting there doing nothing!”
Let us in for once! It’s Christmas, for Christ’s sake!! Let me show you I still know how to play the piano and crack my jokes and get you to holler and laugh as you make requests! I can give you these same Christmas gifts you used to enjoy so much when you were glad to have me over for a dinner on the holidays! We all have personal gifts like these to give you! Isn’t Christmas about giving?
Tears of love will fall from my eyes when I am finally able to tell you that I love you in a manner that no email nor Skype call nor timeline post could ever touch. And great will be your reward in heaven. For the King whose birthday you claim to commemorate will reply: “Whatsoever you did for the least of my brethren, you did also for Me” (Matthew 25:40).
A version of this piece was originally posted on Andy’s Facebook timeline on December 23rd, 2015.
Andy Pope is a freelance writer who lives in the Pacific Northwest. He is the author of Eden in Babylon, a musical about youth homelessness in urban America.