I remember feeling trapped when I was homeless.I remember having conversations with other people who felt the same way. The idea that we would ever not be homeless—or succeed at remaining inside for very long—was inconceivable
“If I had any confidence at all,” I once began, “that I could hang on to an indoor living situation…”
And a listener interrupted me by echoing the sentiment. “Hey man, if I had any confidence at all…”
Now that I have managed to hang onto indoor living, I sometimes wonder why such confidence was so hard to come by.
Homelessness left a mark on me. Despite its excitement, its adventures, its camaraderie, the horrors of continuous outdoor living in places unsuitable for human habitation have permanently altered my attitudes about living situations and about life itself.
For one thing, I came to believe in the existence of an invisible entity called the Mainstream: a confluence of societal pressures and expectations to which many cannot adhere—ones that can have both psychological and material impacts. The Mainstream was both the cause and antithesis of my homelessness. In my mind, it has the power to ensnare me into its evil grip and then issue me out upon the streets again, once it has effectively caused an implosion in my psyche, for all my failed efforts to adhere to its many restrictions and precepts.
I’ve had a couple of jobs in the past six years that have challenged me in a manner frighteningly similar to what happened in 2004 when I first imploded. It was then that I first landed on the streets. I did not want to land there again! So I fled these jobs for fear of their power to induce a breakdown and render me once again non-functional in society.
But there’s a caveat here I want people to understand. There is more to life than simply getting indoors. There is more to life than engendering a decent, viable living situation for oneself. There have been times throughout the past six years when I have been so grateful just to have a roof over my head, I have barely bothered to focus on any other factor in life.
Recently, I was about to flee a third job, when something stopped me. Does this simple job as a music instructor at a regional theater company really have the power to make me homeless again? Do I need to be that paranoid?
I mentioned in a previous column I was thinking of quitting this job. But it’s been four months now—and I have not quit. Nor have my employers thought of me as too “crazy” to work. I don’t seem any more or less crazy than the rest of them anyway. We’re all artists—we’re in the same mode.
Not to mention, they started talking about producing a certain musical I have written. The production of that musical has been a life’s dream. Why would I let fear of an invisible ogre called the Mainstream prevent me from achieving a life’s dream? Isn’t it worth it to try?
If there’s any single statement I would want you to glean from these many words, that statement is this: There is hope. Six years ago, I was shooting drugs in a gutter. Six years later, I’m having an original musical produced by a professional theater company.
If there’s a word of advice I would give to anyone who feels trapped in the overall trappings of homelessness, that would be to listen to your own inner voice in deciding how you can live in the way that will be best for you.
If someone tells you how to live, and especially if they have always lived indoors, why should you listen? You are outside. You are a survivor. You are strong. You have lived inside, and you have lived outside. You know more than those who have only lived inside. You have a lot to offer to them. Comparatively speaking, in the grand scheme of things, they have very little to offer to you.
So find your own voice and listen to it. You may find you know yourself a lot better than you think.
Homeless No More is a column that features the stories of people making the transition from homelessness to housing.
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, currently under development at the RTOP Theatre in Pullman, Washington.