Monday, July 19, 2010

The Dirty Truth about Homelessness: My Personal Story of Life at the Shelters

The Dirty Truth about Homelessness: My Personal Story of Life at the Shelters

Have you ever felt alone? The state of solitude has always been a debatable subject and decisive to one’s own mind. It is relative to perception and actual concrete evidence. The “Box Man” by Barbara Lazear Ascher argues that this homeless man is really content with being alone and doesn’t want any help. She compares two lonely women, one that eats soup with crackers everyday and the other with her high life with plants and cats. Personally, I see no connection of these women to the secluded man found within the text because she also fails to even speak with this man to hear his reason of why he was homeless. But, this story isn’t about how Ascher sees this homeless man, but my own reflection with the issue of homelessness. Yes, I, Jeremy Caverley, have been one of those who were on the streets and lived in shelters. Here are some of my details while living at two different shelters I will call “hotel can’t afford you” and the “scarlet letter” to protect the innocent. My journey takes me around the long walks to find work, friends, and the many partnerships and tragedies that occurred.

It all started in January of 2000. For me, being a young na├»ve non-street smart 19yr. old boy, the world seemed rather small and large all at once. I too felt times of loneliness and exclusion from what the rest of the world was doing. I have been asked was this a personal choice or not, and I would tell them that if I could have had it any other way I would’ve changed it. Because of a drunk and violent step-dad I couldn’t stay at home any more. After deciding at the one of many police and hospital visits, I knew this couldn’t go any longer. Nevertheless, my journey into the lifestyle of a homeless man began.

The first place I lived while homeless was “hotel can’t afford you.” This shelter had a limited amount of clothing, but usually served good food. The sad thing was that every night you had to be back by 7 P.M. to attend Bible study. Those who had a job couldn’t be working at this time for fear of eviction. Now, I did enjoy the Bible studies, but it kept me from taking many jobs that required work in the evenings. Days would start around 7 A.M. and we would have to leave to find work or another place to live. So, off I went searching for the new adventure day after day. Work was something I enjoyed, but seemed to have a hard time getting hired. Unlike the “Box Man” who refused help, I welcomed it. I would ask around town where the jobs were and walked the miles to them. I can remember several employers where I would enter the door and ask for an application and then to speak with the manager on duty. Most applicants would expect a great interview to come. But, imagine me homeless walking around in all temperatures looking for work. I didn’t always look or smell the greatest. I would finally meet the manager and show him my filled out forms. Then the management would get to my address. Most companies knew of the shelters address and looked down upon those who lived there. This was something I didn’t know until the resentment, excuses, and the dirty looks began. Followed by more questions and concerns about the “who, what when, where, and why.”

I was introduced to a Christian radio de-jay because I was an acquaintance of his son. He led me to a job and helped me get hired. The long journey towards employment was finally reached as I walked the five miles it took every day to reach my job. In the “Box Man,” the Mayor even offered this guy a chance to stay at a shelter and others seemed to offer him work, but no way would he take the assistance. Sounds like a personal problem to me, one I just couldn’t lower myself to. Now let’s take a turn towards my stay at the “scarlet letter”.

While at the “scarlet letter,” it was an experience I will never forget. For a pure face doesn’t need a mask to cover it so I will reveal what happen to me while I was here. It was much of the same dealings as the other one, but on a more massive scale. This facility always had a long list of rules. Residents had to leave around 7:30A.M. for work and had to be indoors by 9P.M. This facility held recovering drug addicts and those just out of prison ordered here by the court. Some were just down on their luck and were laid off or transitioning to a new location. But, there were even more strange weird reasons I feel uncomfortable to describe. Some of these residents became my friends and others became enemies. They sought out my destruction either through the use of their words or fists. As time went on, I saw many people die, became injured, or get kicked out for various reasons. Now, I will share a story about one of them.

“Randy” was a young black man I met while at “hotel can’t afford you.” Later on he arrived at the “scarlet letter” for whatever reason. I never asked him what happened, but he told me a short version of it. Times were hard and he got caught up into drugs again. I can remember this morning more than others. Every day we would have administration announcements and a short prayer with a Bible study stuck in there for good measure. The rules were very clear not to talk, but “Randy” spoke out against the officer and was told to leave. We found out later he moved back to Lufkin and got a job driving a truck that carried large pipes. As he was tying them down he slipped or something and they all fell on top of him. So, this event of “excommunication” of another man from the shelter was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Many residents began to hear about what happened to “Randy.” This wasn't the first person kicked out. Others who didn't want to attend "church" were told to leave as well. This in turn brought even more resentment towards the white officer because most of them were minorities. They were looking for any excuse to get mad at the officers, but I would have to agree most of their “rules” were wrong. As “Randy” came back in a wheelchair paralyzed from the neck down, he told me that he forgave the officer and said if it wasn’t for this accident he wouldn’t have built the relationship with God that he now has. The calloused hearts of those in charge started to crumble as the tears and repentant words came out of their mouths as “Randy” and I listened. Even still, it wasn’t enough to make real change as the shelter kept doing their daily activities as normal.

Oh my, those men running the shelters should put an enemy in their heads to steal away their caring. Every day that I would go out the townsfolk would stare at me, or would just drive on by as I walked in the cold, hot, rainy weather. Even though I wasn’t a drug addict or ex convict I was still homeless. How does that make you feel knowing I was different from the rest? When volunteers showed up at the shelters I could tell who was seriously filled with love and compassion and those who were fake and all filled with pride.

I feel that something is rotten in the state of the mind of humankind. From my experiences living in Texas, California, and Ohio, I have found that the subject of homelessness is something not to be mentioned without receiving a negative reaction. Addicts that come to shelters, at least those that I saw, don’t need to wait until they are clean to get help, they need it now! A paradigm shift must come so that we can fight against the mainstream solution towards homelessness. Sharing the Gospel is one thing, but encouraging "false conversions” and forced ministry lectures in order to eat or be housed is not Biblical. Just giving residents a temporary place to stay or a meal is not enough because more work must be done to reach out to the community. Transitional housing, training, actual assistance for medical problems, clothing, and educational programs are needed in today’s society. I am not here to say that everything current shelters are doing is wrong, but it’s time to look at the situation as a whole and see things from the view of the homeless. Take my personal account into effect and you can have a chance to walk in my shoes. For true love and servant hood has no stipulations or requirements.

References

Aaron, Jane. The Compact Reader: Short Essays By Method And Theme. 8th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2008. 8-11.

Ascher, Barbara. The Box Man. The Compact Reader: Short Essays By Method And Theme. 8th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2008. 8-11.

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