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.
How the shame associated with homelessness can become something like a mental illness.
There’s something about a “Buck- Twenty-Five Tree” that doesn’t quite have a nice ring to it.
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.
When I was first trying to get inside, I made sure my prospective landlord wouldn’t know I had ever been homeless. Why? Simply put, I didn’t want to jeopardize my chances. It was enough to tell him I was on a fixed income, which at the time was Social Security Disability
My relationship to many things has changed since I’ve been living indoors. Obviously, my association with homelessness and with homeless
When one lives outdoors, and weather conditions are less than favorable, one sometimes wakes up freezing and soaking wet—not to mention flat broke. Under such circumstances, you can’t imagine the feeling of grati- tude that would overwhelm me as I succeeded in scraping up 63 cents for a senior cup of coffee at a Mac- Donald’s. At the store most frequented, they wouldn’t let us in if we didn’t have coffee change.
One of the many unexpected challenges that arose during my transition from homelessness to indoor living stemmed from the fact that I had simply gotten used to living outdoors. This caused many of the practices that worked for me when I was homeless to be carried over into the context of indoor living.
As the homelessness crisis worsens, cities all over the U.S. are desperately trying to come up with solutions. California, for example, is in a frenzy to build new homeless shelters that will fit thousands of new shelter beds.
Mental illness is often cited as one of the driving factors behind the growing homeless population in cities such as Berkeley and Oakland. A lack of resources for the mentally ill has led many people to the streets.
When I was homeless in the San Francisco Bay Area, I relied to a large degree on the moral support of lifelong friends and family who were not. For one reason or another, it was not feasible for any of them to let me stay in their homes for any substantial length of time.
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.).
When I was homeless in the Bay Area, I had an awfully hard time getting myself to a bathroom on any kind of regular basis. It wasn’t so bad when I only had to go No.1, as we used to call it. I could usually find some kind of bush to duck behind, and the cleanup process wasn’t nearly so involved. Also, the sense of stigma or shame attached to the act of having to pee outdoors wasn’t nearly so severe as the corresponding sense of shame involved in having to go No.2.
All we really wanted out there on the street, any of us, was to be treated with human respect and dignity, and treated as equals, not as inferiors. We wanted to be listened to, we wanted our voices heard. But people wouldn’t listen to us. They sure talked to us though.