It’s almost uncanny how opposite of a world it is that I live in today in a small northwestern town where I moved after years of homelessness in Berkeley. I brought almost nothing I did in Berkeley with me to do here in my new home.Life is incredibly different than it was down in B-Town by the Bay.
You don’t see any panhandlers, you don’t hear anybody on the hustle asking you for spare change or a cigarette. I remember the first time someone reached out her hand behind the counter at the One World Cafe and said, “What’s your name, by the way?”
I had to duck into the bathroom to cry. I had only been in my new city two or three weeks, and I could not believe that a barista in a cafe would actually care what my name was. It was too good to be true that I was actually not being viewed as a worthless piece of shit everywhere I went.
What people don’t seem to know about homelessness unless they’ve actually put in some really serious homeless time themselves is that the worst thing about being homeless is not having to endure the elements, or the lack of indoor conveniences like a space heater, shower, sink, or (of course) bed in which to sleep, or the lack of ready access to food or other basic needs, or difficulty maintaining personal hygiene, or any of that stuff.
The worst thing about being homeless is the way that you are treated.
Homeless people in general don’t want pity or even compassion half the time. It seems like half the people pity homeless people and the other half pass judgment.
All we really wanted down there, any of us, was to be treated with normal human respect and dignity, and treated as equals—not as inferiors. We wanted to be listened to, we wanted our voices heard.
But people in general wouldn’t listen to us. They sure talked to us, and after a while we had heard it all.
Communication is a two-way street. People in this country, especially in the upper classes, need to start listening to what poor people, disabled people, and homeless people have to say.
They need to realize that these people are human, that they have valuable life experience, and that their experience is worth listening to, and learning about, and understanding.
When that happens, there will really be change in this country. We’ll start building bridges again, instead of burning them.
With email and voice mail and social media abounding, with deletes and ignores and blocks aplenty, it has never been easier to burn a bridge in the history of this nation. And what has that done but caused the national morale to reach an all-time low?
We need at some point to realize that to “make America great again,” we need to start talking to each other, hearing each other out, making an effort to understand each other’s perspectives before we just ditch them like they’re all a bunch of losers.
Homeless people, believe me, are anything but losers. Quite the opposite is the case. Homeless people are the winners. They’re winning life, day by day, against all odds.
What do we win by treating them as subhuman creatures? Not a thing. What would we gain by hearing them out? Or even by sharing in their experience?
We might just gain our country back.
Homeless No More is a column that features the stories of people making the transition from homelessness to housing.
This article was originally published in September, 2017.
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.