It sucks. It’s dangerous, and it’s really, really hard to stay alive.
I spent some time with some chronic, hard-core homeless men on the street recently. (DO NOT DO THIS–IT IS EXTREMELY DANGEROUS) Here’s what they told me their life is like.
Suppose you decided to go camping. You do this because you just lost your job and you have some extra time on your hands before you get back on your feet. Ahhhh! The great outdoors calls! Sounds like a lot of fun. Only this time, you can’t take your tent or your camping gear. And, you’re going to camp in the city–downtown. And it’s illegal to camp downtown, but you have to do it anyway. Oh yeah, you can’t take any extra clothes with you. Or money. Or food. Or ID.
On your first day, you mostly wander around looking for a place to camp. There are a lot of other campers around so there must be plenty of places, right, and I’m sure they’re all friendly and will be willing to help you out, right? Wrong.
You’ve been at this for around 8 hours and your feet are starting to hurt from walking on concrete all day. Forgot… you don’t have another pair of shoes–that sucks.
You also start to get hungry and thirsty. Whoops! No money. Now what? You get really, really hungry. Hungry enough that you ask a stranger for a few bucks. The first stranger ignores you and keeps walking. You ask a second stranger who tells you to fuck off and go get a job. Okay, maybe you can stop camping if you get a job. Oh yeah, no ID. No address either. Can’t get a job with no ID and no address.
It’s getting dark and you’re really tired. A couple from Decatur in a beat-up Volvo stop and offer you a blanket and some saltines. They make you pray with them. They leave and you look for a place to sleep. There are a lot of other campers walking around. They all have plastic bags. The camper in you says to sleep in the park under a tree. You curl up with your blanket and eat your saltines. You eventually fall asleep. You’re awakened by another camper who’s kicking you in the head. Hard. “Where’s your shit?” he demands. You have no idea what he’s talking about. He kicks you again and takes your blanket. Not a good night so far.
You have to take a crap. No bathroom in sight. You go to McDonald’s to go to the bathroom. “Get out! If you’re not buying anything then get out! No campers allowed!” the manager screams at you. You go to the convenience store. Same thing. No campers allowed. You have to go really bad, so you walk behind the dumpster out back and take a crap behind it. This is also against the law and eventually you’ll probably get arrested for doing this, but no public or private businesses will let you use their bathrooms. No toilet paper. Too bad. You smell food in the dumpster and you start looking through trash bags. You find a half-eaten cheese-burger and take a bite. Under the circumstances, this tastes wildly delicious. Suddenly, you’re hit in the back of the head with a board by another camper. “Get the fuck out of my dumpster, mother-fucker.” You try to run, but you can’t, so you walk as fast as you can. To nowhere. You didn’t realize that campers own the dumpsters. Your head hurts badly and you’re cut. Nothing life-threatening, but the blood is getting sticky in your hair. You might have a concussion.
You stayed up all night, you lost your blanket and got your ass beat twice. Welcome to the campground. You have about 48 more hours to get better at this or you’ll die or be killed. You find a small group of campers outside a church. One of them is sleeping on some cardboard.
The others are sitting in a stairwell. Each of them has a styrofoam plate with food. “Where’d you get that?” you ask. They point to the back of the church. “You missed it. They done serving today. They gonna serve again on Saturday.” Today’s Wednesday. You’re really hungry. “You want some of this?” one of the other campers holds up a plate with mac and cheese and collard greens on it. “Yes” you reply. “C’mon then.” The camper motions for you to come up the steps and behind a makeshift wall of cardboard. You reluctantly go up there with him. The camper pulls his cock out. “I don’t understand” you say. The other campers laugh at you. “Suck my dick. You want this food, then you suck my dick.” He explains that “sucking dick” is a form of currency on the campground. You want some food, or better yet–protection while you sleep? Then you’re going to have to come to grips with sucking dick.
You reluctantly suck some dick for the first time. No need to go into more detail. It starts to rain. Another camper asks if you want to stay dry on the stairwell with them. Guess what that’s going to cost you.
This is the reality of homelessness, and this story was described to my by a man named Joshua who’s been on the streets for about 8 months now. I have much more to share, and I will in coming posts.
Here’s the irony. The people on the street all have one singular focus: Stay alive another day with the lowest amount of bullshit possible. Yeah, they have a strange currency, but their mission is the same. The ones that aren’t drunks or junkies are proud of who they are. They’re just in a fucked-up mess that’s really tough to get out of. The clean and sober ones have each others’ backs and are approachable. They want to share their stories. They want us to remember who they were, and they badly want to be that person again. We need to help them.
Here’s the bottom line. I’ve spent time with these people. They were all somebody’s little boy or girl at one point. They were your school-mates and neighbors. We rode bikes with them. They had lives, but they hit a shit-pile of bad luck. Some are ex-convicts, some are drug addicts and most “self-medicate” with alcohol. But all of them are humans and are hurting. You can help them.
Quit giving your stuff to Goodwill and Salvation Army. Give to a shelter or a mission that gives your donations directly to the people that need it most. You’ve got 5 pairs of Nikes in your closet. Screw your stupid garage sale. Do you really need to sell them for $2? Here’s what I’d like you to do. I want you to gather up 6 pairs of shoes–especially men’s shoes. Then I want you to look through your closet and stuff a bag full of clothes and put it in your car. Drive your car to a Homeless Mission and selflessly give your stuff away. I personally like the Clifton Sanctuary Mission on CT. Ave off of McClendon and the Open Door Community on Ponce across from Fellini’s. Your donations go directly to the people that need your stuff.
Homeless Joe asked me this morning, “What’s the greatest nation in the world? DoNation!” he replied. “What’s the greatest city? Generocity!” he replied. I know times are tough for all of us. I’m not asking for your money–just stuff you don’t use or need anymore that can make a difference for someone else.
Contact me if you have stuff and don’t know where to take it. I’ll pick it up and take it for you, or tell you where to go.
Sorry for the super long post.