I didn’t come to this city because I wanted to take advantage of all the homeless resources and services. I’m not some homeless vampire trying to suck the soul out of this city.
I originally came to the Bay Area to study. When I was at Cal, the most I saw of homeless people were at People’s Park on my way to Amoeba Records or Cody’s Books.
When I get my own home, I will plant flowers. Even though I have allergies.
I’ve lived the good life here. This city was My city. Friends from around the world wanted to crash at my place, spend time here, have me show them around. I celebrated this city! How? Ohhh, let me count the ways!!! I wrote hundreds of Yelp reviews, MySpace and Facebook posts, dated on Match and Nerve, voted in the Best of the Bay, danced in the streets during Pride Parades and Jazz festivals, swayed at Bluegrass Festivals, bought Street Sheet poetry editions; and Broke Ass Stuart zines decorated my bookshelves. I miss haunting my favorite clubs like Bottom of the Hill, Thee Parkside, El Rio, and the Elbow Room (RIP); and searching the shelves of Green Apple, City Lights, and Alexander Books. I miss testing restaurants in Dine About Town, celebrating my birthdays at Palio D’Asti, wine tasting at Fort Mason and Nectar Lounge (RIP); happy houring at Swig, The Tonga Room, and Sugar Lounge. I loved this city! And, though not in the same way, I continue to contribute to this city’s economy. How ironic.
I will have a bedside table holding a few of my library books, my journal, pencil, and a mug of Chai. I will turn off the lights when I damn well want to. They will be kind, dimming lights.
I’ve never wanted to be homeless. This was not a dream I had when I was a child driving my Big Wheel, playing with my Cabbage Patch girl, Puffy Painting my Trapper Keeper, and flipping through Sassy magazines.
I don’t stand outside exposed in the cold waiting for food and shelter for shits and giggles! This is not fun! This takes a lot of deep breaths, ear plugs and earphones to block out the noise, the depressing chatter of people we have no choice to stand or sleep next to. It takes sunglasses to somewhat hide your feelings, your disgust and humiliation at the stares. Hats and hoodies to hide any guess at our identities.
“What if a co-worker drives by and sees me in this homeless line?” “I hope no one takes a picture of us!” The goal is to withstand the humiliation and to seem unapproachable to those who even leer at you while walking by, thinking you’d be desperate enough to find it flattering.
Being homeless doesn’t make me desperate for love from anyone. Being homeless doesn’t mean I’d jump at the chance to sleep with you for a few bucks and a warm bed for the night. No. I’ve had to give up a Lot. I’ve lost so much and have hardly had the space to grieve, but I haven’t lost my values. I haven’t lost my mind. Yet. But I do think homelessness should be considered as a condition worthy of the next DSM edition.
Right after therapy, I will go straight home to process, sit with my feelings, lay down on my comfortable bed and cry openly if I feel so inclined. Maybe I’ll even take out a pint of Butter Pecan Häagen-Dazs from my freezer and eat the whole thing. I will take a bubble bath!
I’ve met PhDs, veterans, and women who work and go to school. These are the strongest women I have ever met. Even the ones who come drunk and high, their own coping mechanisms to deal with their realities. I understand depression. Feeling like you’re stuck. Energy drained. Putting things off because you feel like you’re not worthy anymore.
I will put up my favorite Nick Cave poster again. Place silly magnets on my refrigerator door. Hang wind chimes and dream catchers. Burn candles and incense.
Even when I find a home (and I won’t go outside for a week, if I can afford it!), I wonder how long it will take me to shrug off, or rather scrape off the feeling of self-consciousness, silence the inner voice that I don’t belong in this city I used to celebrate.
I will host a book club in my home.
We are individuals. And we’re often shocked and disheartened by the behaviors of our fellow homeless. If they rage in public, shock and disturb people by their unclean odors, unkempt and filthy appearances, it makes things worse for those of us who don’t. It is not comprehensible to me to spend days not taking care of myself as much as I can.
So, yes, I, too, want to scream, “Take a shower!” “Launder your clothes!” “Stop raging at the world while I’m simply trying to get from one place to the other.” I want to rage at those who help perpetuate the myth that the homeless are all filthy, stinky, loud, crazy people with nothing better to do. I want to scream. “I’m Me. I’m an individual.” “I’m trying to get through this with some sense of dignity in tact.” But I also share the experience of being homeless. I can not escape it.
I will wear dresses again.
My personal style has changed significantly. I used to wear a lot of bright, beautiful, vibrant colors when I had my home in Nob Hill, when I was able to walk outside with just my purse. Now my wardrobe consists mostly of greys and blacks, so I don’t stand out.
A woman’s style is so connected to her identity. Her self esteem. I have lost some of my signature style because now it’s all about what I can afford (it’s hit or miss with donations), what’s portable, what keeps me warm, and what’s easy to clean.
I can no longer shop at my favorite stores like Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, Ambiance, or even Buffalo Exchange. Every now and then I’ll find something at Goodwill that makes me feel beautiful again. Even if it’s just a scarf that reminds me of happier times, back East (where I’m from originally), or up north where I’ve also lived). Yes, I had taste. I had style.
I will take a walk outside with just my purse and maybe an empty tote bag for groceries. I will shop at Rainbow Grocery and Cowgirl Creamery.
Right now, it’s about survival. It’s a daily unwanted nomadic existence, traveling from one place to another to another and to another, every day, just to exist, feel legitimate, adequate, normal. Or some semblance of it. I sleep and sometimes eat at the shelter, take my showers at the gym every day, work, do my laundry at a laundromat every week, fetch my mail at my friend’s house, sort my belongings at my storage unit.
My mother’s ashes are in my storage unit. I apologize to her every time I’m there. “I’m sorry your ashes are in here, Mom. But I’m nowhere near being able to afford releasing them in one of your favorite places. I’m so sorry, Mom.”
I wish I could fly away. “Mom, you’d appreciate that I long for the peace of the bucolic country I grew up in. I’d no longer kvetch and moan about how it’s more fun in the city. I’d welcome the country air, our ranch house out in the middle of nowhere. Acres and acres away from another house. Nodding at the friendly Amish and their horse-and-buggies clop-clopping down the lonely roads. But I want that kind of lonely again. Not this kind of lonely I live here in the Bay Area. Mom, sure, I’ll break my back hoeing the garden and pumping the frozen well.” Anything, but this.
I know, this is where you wonder, well, why don’t you just move to a cheaper area? Move out of the Bay Area, to a different state! But why should I have to, when I’ve been so happy here? When I have social and spiritual roots here, despite my homelessness. I’ve isolated from several communities here since being homeless, but I long to get back to them when I’m stable enough to actively participate without the limits enforced upon me under these circumstances.
I will adopt a child because I have so much love to give.
Career change? I consider it. My love for and happiness in working with children is obviously not sustaining me here. I could try to get back into advertising, but with an old portfolio collecting dust? Where do I begin again?
I will have a down comforter and lots of warm blankets to choose from.
I follow politics. I’m not that much on the city’s disenfranchised periphery in this homeless bog. I still have some hope things will change for the better. I vote. I want politicians to ask themselves, how is this okay? For so long! Is this their vision for our society? Such disparate parallel existences, so visible? Outside City Hall there are roaming homeless people everywhere unwittingly protesting with just their existence.
Affordability whining? No. I am a human being and I have a voice. No one should be homeless. Not in this rich city. Not in any city. It’s an injustice to the human race.