The Various Characters on the Street

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I’m trying to look at being homeless as a new adventure. Some days are easier to embrace that than others. It’s easy to judge a book by it’s cover but if you look deeper sometimes you will be surprised. This works in reverse too. When you’re homeless it’s natural to be cautious. It’s important in staying safe. There are all types living on the street. Lots of people are unpredictable and it’s tough to judge this in others. There are those who are nice one day and unkind the next. A good portion have some sort of mental illness. Sometimes you just have to sit back and wish them well. Engaging a lot of times causes you more trouble than good and doing so could put you in danger. There are some exceptions to the rule. Here are some of my observations of those living on the street.

My roommate is very low key and I’m so fortunate to have him share the room with me. Not everyone is so lucky. Many of the guys who live in the men’s shelter aren’t to be trusted or at the very least aren’t fun to share a room with. Quite a few drink as well so they come to the shelter drunk and often times that causes problems. It’s the only shelter in town that the homeless can drink. Most nights there is some sort of argument and often times leads to an altercation. Cops are also often called to the homeless shelter. One guy stunk up the room so bad that his roommate had to tell the staff. He also slept naked. Most the guys aren’t quiet either. Last night during the NBA finals you could hear them very loud and my room is all the way on the end of the dorm.

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My roommate is 70 years old. He’s very easy going and is pretty quiet. He was living in an apartment where the owner was a slumlord. The tenant below brought in cockroaches that infested the whole building and the owner wouldn’t do anything. The city ended up having to shut down the whole place. He had nowhere to go or no money so he had to live in a shelter. He just was in the hospital for ten days as his health isn’t the greatest. Thankfully he’s got approved for a house via section 8 and soon will be out of the shelter, hopefully within the next few weeks. We have talked many nights about the riff raff in the shelter. We are a lot of like in many ways. Some people who are homeless are so out of choice. For some there tired of the system, which is horrible and the resources out there are slim. Others like the lifestyle. Neither one of us is like that. My first roommate was similar but he didn’t talk at all. He was also an older guy with a big ole beard. He left first thing in the morning and usually didn’t get back to the dorms until the latest possible time being 8:30pm.

As I’ve stated, many of the homeless have some sort of mental illness. There is this one lady named sister Mary. She is a black lady who always wore some sort of hair wrap and a dress. Sister Mary was always pulling her suitcase everywhere she went. If she wasn’t in the day shelter she was hanging outside in front of the building. She’s a character putting it lightly. Mary was one of those homeless who had two sides, actually three. One side was kind hearted and funny. Another side was a little nonsensical like her blurting out stuff about the bible and patriotism. She would just burst out into song singing America the Beautiful. She was definitely a patriot. She talked a lot about the United States. She never mentioned Trump, so that was a good thing. Oh, as far as I know she was never a sister. Though you never know maybe she was. The last side was not always very friendly. When she’d get frustrated she’d become rude and non-responsive. I learned to keep my distance when I noticed this side of her.

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There were days that I could take Sister Mary and could see the loving person she was but there others where I had to put on my headsets to drown her out because of my mood. She talked a lot and was at times pestering. Many of the other homeless and even some of the staff didn’t care for her. She annoyed many people and rightfully so. At first she annoyed the heck out of me too. Eventually I was able to look past the bad to see the person she use to be. Occasionally she would get confused and ask for confirmation about something. I wondered if she didn’t have early onset Dementia or Alzheimer’s. She was always talking about leaving on a bus, either going to Flint or Pittsburg. I guess she had been talking about in non-stop for months. A few days ago she got a check, bought a bus ticket and left. Everyone was surprised. Now that she’s gone I do miss her. She could be pretty comical if you looked past the annoyances. I wish her well and hope she finds what she’s looking for, including getting out of homelessness.

People will just disappear and you never really know what happened to them. Recently a lot of people got their Section 8 vouchers. I think 120 people were pulled, which is unheard of supposedly. I try my hardest to not judge people I encounter and it’s something I struggle with. Separating the person from the behavior is tough especially if the person is out of touch or a rough character. There are times you judge their character rightfully so. Some are just downright despicable and I make sure to stay far away from them. Yesterday there was an old man in a wheelchair who was hard of hearing and struggling. He needed to call for a cab. The lady working the front desk gave him a number and he attempted to use the phone on the other side of the room. You have to dial 9 to get an outside line and he couldn’t figure it out. There were a group of people next to him and not one person would help him. One of the women told him that it wasn’t her job. Then he was trying to figure out how to get to the front of the building which is not a straight shot. Again people just stared at him. I proceeded to help him and then someone is like go out this door right next to the day shelter, which usually isn’t where cabs go to. They usually use the main entrance. I ended up calling the cab company to make sure they went to the right place, they still went to the wrong place but thankfully a few minutes the driver went to where the old man was.

Life either spits you out in a few ways. It will leave you bitter, jaded and hateful. The victims of circumstances go from getting everything taken from them to then taking anything they can, even if it’s from ruthless methods. People like this feel like the world owes them whatever they take. Usually these types of people hang out with a group like them. Some become desperate and fall into part of that category. The difference is that they’re not assholes usually. The system is set up to fail the poor and homeless so getting out of homelessness isn’t easy and there are many, many obstacles in the way preventing you from getting stability. I would expect that if you’ve lived on the streets long enough and become desperate enough that you would do whatever you had to in order to survive. Then there are some who are the complete opposite. They keep to themselves and rarely talk to others. They accept the fate the world has brought them too.

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There is another woman named Mary who is one of those people. She rarely talks and stays in the same corner each day. I see many homeless who are dealing with some sort of addiction. It’s really sad to watch their lives fall apart and living just for the next high. To see people spiraling out of control breaks my heart. There was one man who worked at the shelter doing janitorial and was doing very well. The staff loved him and had high praise from him for what he had overcome. Recently someone came to the shelter trying to cause trouble. Supposedly there was an altercation between the two days ago. It was clear what the man was doing and it totally spooked the worker. You could tell that he was afraid that he would lose his job. You could see the gears grinding overtime in his brain. The next day he didn’t show up to work. It was payday and he chose to drink again. That night he was so drunk that the guys had to help him up the stairs to the men’s dorm. He used all his money to buy liquor. By the next day he had lost his job, which meant losing his housing too. The police had to escort him out. He was a good guy but his addiction got the best of him and it overtook him again. The other shelters in the area don’t allow drinking at all so where will he go? How will he get his next drink? It leads to nothing good. So many are like him. There is a lot of stigma out there towards addicts. People don’t see it as a valid disease, it’s a choice again. It’s easier to judge than it is to feel empathy towards someone who is struggling. Sadly this man didn’t believe he deserved anything good and so he went back to the life he could count on. I hope that one day he will see his worth as bigger than his addiction. Support is key to recovery and so many don’t have that.

So how do you tell the difference. Sometimes you can’t, at least not right away. If you live in the shelter long enough you start to see the patterns. One part of survival is being always alert of your surroundings. You learn the behaviors of other people and begin to pick them out early on. I’m no expert by any means but I’m learning. One day I’m highly skeptical of others, while others I’m more open minded but I still stay really hesitant. I tend to gravitate towards other women. Though you got to be careful because there are quite a few to not be trusted either. I’ve also learned if you become more friendly the more likely someone is going to ask something from you like money. Each day at the day shelter they give out snacks at 10am. The other day they had a whole box of cookies and I snatched that up. One of the guys tried to con me out of it. He’s like I will give you $4 for it and the amount kept going down when I said no. He eventually gave up. My instincts told me that he would say I would get you the money later and he wouldn’t.

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One law of the land is to not let anyone borrow your stuff, like chargers, phone, etc., because it’s easily for someone to steal it. You turn around and they are gone. The elderly are easy targets. One older black man gave his phone to another person thinking he was going to charge it. Four days later and he still hadn’t returned it. When staff confronted the guy he denied having it. Again another despicable person. Losing your phone is one of the biggest violations there are when you are homeless because all your information is in it. If someone took my phone I would have no access to the outside world. So when someone asks to use it I tell them it doesn’t have cell service, which it doesn’t. I don’t tell them that I use google voice to make calls when there is wifi. I feel bad not helping people because some truly have the best interest at heart but it’s just something I can’t risk.

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For someone who is LGBTQ being homeless can be even more complicated and dangerous. You really have to be on guard. If you live in a big city and are a homeless youth then there are options for you. If don’t live in NYC, LA or Chicago then the resources just aren’t there, especially if you’re homeless and identify as LGBTQ. I don’t know of any organization dedicated to helping LGBTQ adults recover from homelessness and that includes mental illness. I wish there was a program out there but so far there isn’t, at least not that I’m aware of and I have searched. Even though Lansing isn’t that big there is a gay man that is staying in my dorm. He lives a lot more openly than I do. The other day he was talking about gay pride right in the day shelter with a lot of people in it. He didn’t care. I respected that about him. It’s easy to see the men who are uncomfortable with him. I see the glares and stares. He’s very flamboyant. I’ve thought about trying to talk to him but he’s a bit unpredictable too. I have heard that he’s gone off on people before. I have seen it in small doses when he doesn’t agree with someone. He’s got this my way or the highway attitude. I’m sure he doesn’t out of protection. It’s a defense mechanism. I also think he’s got some sort of mental illness.  So I just appreciate him from afar. I have heard there have been other trans people come through the shelter. So we are out there. I keep being transgender on the downlow because I’m not passable at all and I worry it would put me in danger. I still do little things where I don’t hide all of who I am, like my headband. I’m putting my time in realizing that this place I’m in today is only temporary. It’s how I keep sane and from losing myself. I know it’s not the final destination.

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I’m fortunate and so many aren’t. When you look back at the homeless population it’s so easy to be disheartened to see so many people at such a low point. Last night a woman was crying in the lobby because a staff member laughed at her because of her situation. It was tough to watch her. I just wanted to give her a hugg. She talked about the low point of being homeless and how it feels to be judged. That’s one of the most sad aspects of homeless is how society treat us. Many see us as lepers, unworthy of any care. That being homeless is a choice and we could have done things differently. People judge you based on their own life experiences. Well if I am able to go to work and own a house, then everyone has those skills. So many walk by the homeless on the street and some even make fun of them. If it was a dog I could guarantee most would stop to help. It’s fine if you don’t want to help but keep your judgments to yourself. Most homeless haven’t had a decent warm meal in a long while. If you don’t want to give them money, offer to buy them dinner. In my early 20’s, I was with my sister and we saw a homeless guy on the corner of the street as we were driving. We stopped at the convenience store right near him and bought him a big brown bag full of stuff. To someone who is poor and struggling receiving such a gift is priceless. It’s easy to feel like the world has forgotten you and in many cases it has, so whenever someone does something kind like that it restores part of your faith in humanity.

The kindness doesn’t even have to be monetary. When you see someone homeless smile at them and see them for who they are inside. Each one of the homeless came from somewhere. Another experience I had with the homeless was when I was living in Chicago in 2004. It was in the middle of winter and I saw a lady taking refuge in the area of the bank where you need a debit/credit card to enter the lobby of the ATM. She had somehow found her way in and was staying warm. She was at least in her 60’s and was weathered. You could tell that she lived a hard life. I wondered what her life was like before she was homeless. What did she do? What made her happy? Did she have loved ones? I didn’t have a lot of cash on me so I gave the $5 bill I had in my pocket. I gave her a smile and left her to stay warm. As I started walking down the street two younger black men were walking my way. As they passed they said God bless you. There was no way that they could have seen what I did. It was confirmation of the good that I was doing.

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People question me about why I air my dirty laundry so publically. Some people just don’t get it and it’s not a message meant for them. I know what it’s like to be down and out. Forgotten. Less than. Unworthy. I’m open about my struggles for two reasons. First it’s therapeutic for me and often times it’s the only outlet I have to release the tension. My mental illness has led to me isolating and living a life like a hermit. My support system has struggled because of that. I mainly do it in order to help others. I have had my blog for a very long time and I have people comment about how my words have impacted them for the better. On an average day I have at least ten people view my blog. There there is my Facebook where I post more frequently. At times I don’t think anyone is seeing my posts then I find out later on that’s not the case. Not everyone is a vocal as I am. I feel like I’m making a difference while I’m taking care of myself.

My goal once I get out of homelessness is to be an advocate for the homeless. So many people need to be educated. The resources are severely lacking and funding needs to be increased. This will only happen if people get involved. Sadly with this current administration things will get worse before they get better. That’s why it’s so important to vote always because it’s people like the homeless and the poor who are hurt the most when rich people control our government. Ben Carson wants to make drastic cuts to HUD and increase what people have to pay for low income housing. What little there is could be take away. I wish people would look past to themselves but sadly many aren’t able to empathize until it happens to them like with the hurricanes in Texas and Florida last year. Just look at how our country has treated Puerto Rico. They have been forgotten and very little is being down. People are still without power and are homeless. This speaks to what the attitudes towards the homeless, especially those who are black and brown.

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If people knew what it really was like then we wouldn’t have such a high homeless population. The other day someone asked me what could be done proactively to prevent homelessness. I struggled to answer that because the solution is complex and will include improving many things. There isn’t one answer. Definitely the funding needs to be increased both for homeless shelters and low income housing. The number of people needing low income housing are way out numbered for what is available. The homeless shelters need a lot more money and support. The services are really bare bones and their resources are usually stretched to the max.

I don’t have the answers but that’s not going to stop me from trying to make it easier for those who are homeless. I do know one solution and that’s kindness. Do good. If you see someone in need, help them to your best ability. You could be the one hand that lifts them out of their struggles. Good deeds are the saving grace for so many. If you can’t donate to a shelter or buy someone food then volunteer at your local homeless shelter. Get to know the people and you will realize that we’re like everyone else. We want happiness and to live in peace. We deserve love just like everyone else. While being homeless is extremely tough I am blessed and forever changed for the experience and those I have meant. It’s taken being homeless to get my lifeforce back. I can only hope the same for all the other homeless people. I am better because of knowing all the characters of the street.

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My Life as a Hermit

her·mit

/ˈhərmit/
Noun
  1. A person living in solitude as a religious discipline.
  2. Any person living in solitude or seeking to do so.

While I don’t live in solitude for religious discipline, I do live find myself being a hermit lately… not all entirely by choice. I say by choice because a part of why I isolate is due to my depression. The worse my depression is, the deeper I go into that dark cave. Most of my adulthood I have danced a fine line between the outside world and that solitude. Solitude can be healthy at times but for me it too much of it can be a very bad thing and the longer I go without interaction from the outside world the harder it is to escape.

Seclusion for me was a way to protect myself from the deep hurt that the world had inflicted upon me. It was a way to block myself from the pain of it all. I find myself feeling like I am a million miles away from everyone I love, when they live upstairs from me. The deeper I go into that depressive hermit mode, the more I try to hide from others… to the point where I will only go upstairs when everyone else is sleeping. In the past I have intentionally went hungry because I didn’t want to face anyone. (the kitchen is upstairs) That tells you how severe my isolation gets at times.

When my Mom died in September I went back into hiding and I wasn’t sure if I would ever come out… nor was I sure I wanted to. Living a life of a hermit is a miserable existence but at least I don’t get hurt. This is how my mind works. I don’t realize that living this way is hurting me as well. I’ve gone weeks without leaving the house and usually only leave the house when I have to go to appointments. Honestly if it wasn’t for therapy and occasionally getting groceries I am not sure if I would leave.

I have been seeking refuge in this cave for many years. Usually I hit a point where the isolation becomes so unbearable that I must make a run for it. Picture a crazy person running on the streets, that’s me!!! 🙂 I’m getting to that point now, where boredom starts to sink in. You can only get on the internet, play games on your phone and watch tv only so much before it drives you mad.

With isolations comes deep loneliness and sadness. It’s not as if I want to be myself, it’s that I feel I have no other choice. I have to wonder how my feelings of worthlessness affects my need to isolate, like I don’t deserve to be around anything good. Those voices tell me I deserve to be alone. I have learned when you give people chances, they only hurt you. When they hurt me (deeply) I usually go running back to my cave. I have done this time and time again, like a broken record. 

Part of me feels like running again. Starting all over like I have done so many times before but I am tired of running. Tired of starting all over again.

I have to find balance and disconnect myself from other people’s feelings and actions. It is when I connect myself to them, that my life crashes and burns. It’s like I am constantly putting out fires and running in emergency mode. Danger, Danger!!!

I’m scared of the world. Scared of being hurt again. Scared of people dying. Scared. I live my life in fear and that is no way to live. That fear puts me behind bars every single time.

I often wonder when did I start this cycle of being a hermit. Was it when I was sexually abused? Honestly it probably has something to do with that. I can remember hiding beneath my pillow and praying that it would stop… I also did that when my father would go into his tyrants. I guess I learned to be a hermit very early on in my childhood. It was safer to be alone, in the comforts of my bed. I could just close my eyes and pretend the bad away. I guess I am trying to do that today but it just ain’t working and I’m failing miserably.

I wish I could just go out into the world bravely, standing tall and strong. Drowning out these fearful voices is difficult when they are so deafening loud. I wish I was more like Superman, who I grew up loving, and be able to face anything that came my way. Even Clark Kent gets out into the world. I just want to rip my shirt off and show the world that I am the man of steel but lately I feel like the man of cellophane.

I’m not sure why I am so scared to venture back into the world. Is it failure? success? fear of getting hurt again? It’s probably all of those and then some. Part of me wishes I could live like hermit forever but I know that isn’t possible since I’m not rich, nor do I have my own place in the woods. Honestly I’m not really a hermit and it doesn’t bring me an ounce of solitude. I force myself to live this way and I am learning to rewire my brain to believe otherwise.

 

Learning To Live Alone

I am about to embark on a journey, one where I live on my own. One of the realizations of my episode a few weeks ago is that I have never really had a place where I felt I could be stable with. Most of the places I have lived in my adult life have usually ended up with me not knowing where I am going next. You can only run so many times before it gets old and I’m worn out from running.

Being on my own frightens the hell out of me but I don’t have a choice. I no longer have a safety net so it is sink or swim time… and I am choosing to swim because I am tired of drowning. It is time for me to put my roots in the earth and make a place for me in this world. Obviously I have a purpose in this world, so I have to make do with what I have been given and trust that the right opportunity will present itself.

Hiding in the basement will not bring me what I need out of life. I have hid all my life and it gets old. Quivering in the corner doesn’t suit me at all. Hiding in the dark only gets you more darkness and I am not meant to stay there. I am light and not meant to be caged. I deserve love and light in return as well.

I have tolerated the dark for way to long, believed that was the only thing I deserved. Misery and pain… Before I would just cower in fear but now I am learning to crawl and pick myself back up. Various situations in my life and my upbringing taught me some things about myself that were untrue. Seeing my mother stay in a marriage where she was treated poorly did a number on me. Children learn by example.

I am no longer that child. I am strong and can take myself out of bad situations. I might not have been able to so many years ago but I can today. My dear mother is free from all the pain and suffering this world can bring you… but I am stuck here. So I either chose to live in misery or I chose to walk in the light.

As scary as walking alone in the light is, it sure is much better than being surrounded in the dark.

Healing is a slow process. A journey I first started in my early twenties. You take one giant step forward and another giant leap backwards. You fall… You stumble… You get cut… and you cry… but I always get back up. The one thing all the bad things has taught me is how to survive.

Losing my Mother was my biggest and ultimate fear. I thought I would die… but I didn’t… Sure there were days it felt like I was dying but that only meant I was healing… I am alive and stronger than ever. Just like a giant redwood my roots are buried deep within the warm earth and my branches reach up into the heavens. Sure my bark is battered and scared, and some wounds are still raw but deep inside my spirit is on fire… ready to flow…

Ready to touch the world in many deep and wonderful ways. So I am going to push through the fear and the discomfort. I need to learn to tolerate the uncomfortable. Push myself to grow and go down roads early I might have avoided.

This is my time to shine. My turn to make my mark and show the world all I have got. Create the family I have always wanted and yearned for. It starts with just one seed at a time and before I know it I will have a garden full of bountiful fruit.

In the end, we are never alone even when we walk by ourselves. Each time we give our love to someone else we leave an imprint on their heart and they do on ours. The stronger the impact the bigger the imprint. So when we must walk a path alone, they are always with us. It would be nice to be able to have someone by yourself all the time but in reality that is never possible. There are some journeys that you must walk alone.

To live a life in codependency only stunts your growth. When you attach yourself to others you never really have the opportunity to mature. You become very much like a leech sucking all the energy out of everyone you touch and in return your life force is also extinguished.

Something just dawned on me… I am a survivor but that doesn’t mean I have lot live my life in survival mode. It has taken me over twenty years to realize that I am no longer in danger. I am free… to live my life as I please. I no longer have to live in fear or desperation. I don’t need to hold onto dear life to anything or anyone I can grab a hold of.

Now it is time to build the world around me that I want and just live… and grow…