"Take that bread out of your mouth" said the officer "You can't eat that here!"
A NOTE TO MY READERS:
I don't care for the so-called National Coalition For The Homeless for several pertinent reasons. I
have already discussed that subject. And I want to make it totally clear here that the subject matter
in this post in no way endorses that entity. Nor does this post offer any indication that I have changed
my mind about what is wrong at N.C.H.
That being said, the N.C. H. recently published a report that called attention to the "problem" of
feeding the homeless population, nationwide. (Maybe they did it in an attempt to look legitimate
and pay for some of their sins. Or maybe they're just looking for another big chunk of grant money.)
In any case, they do deserve a nod for compiling and publishing the paper. Beyond that, I don't
believe that N.C.H. is worth the paper that they're otherwise printed on.
When I hitchhiked to New York State this year, I was advised to avoid certain cities. I was
warned that those communities would arrest me for being a "vagrant." Yeah, right...I thought.
I was practically thrown-out of two cities in Pennsylvania but I was never threatened with jail time.
And nobody ever told me to stop when I plopped down on my backpack and ate a sandwich beside
a highway. In fact, I ate more than one meal on the fly while sitting by an on ramp to an Interstate.
I ate in rest areas, city parks, in truck stops and on the porch steps of more than one church building.
Yeah, and I was never interrupted in mid-munch because I really needed to nosh.
But now, a list of places are making an issue out of the fact that financially-deprived people keep on getting hungry!
Did I eat in soup kitchens and at public (outdoor) feeding sites?
Yes, I sure did.
Did I encounter any trouble at those places?
No. In fact, the folks that I met at those meal sites packed me a lunch and two of them arranged a
stay in a motel room for me.
So I am mystified by the snob mentality that is fueling this latest Hate-A-Thon, now.
But I also realize that if homeless people "put their best foot forward" in any community...they will
most likely win more than they lose. If those same individuals become a nuisance, behave
irresponsibly, thoughtlessly trash their surroundings and refuse to be accountable for their bad
behavior...then all bets are off.
I believe that everyone has the right to a good, nutritious, square meal...at least once a day. And
I will be the first to point out that NO ONE ON PUBLIC ASSISTANCE EVER GETS ENOUGH
FOOD STAMPS IN A GIVEN MONTH...EVER.
Which is why soup kitchens and outdoor meal sites exist.
I am amazed to say that I was able to sit on a camp chair, nestled in a sleeping bag, covered in
blankets in front of the Chamber of Commerce building in downtown The Dalles (yes, that is
the actual name) Oregon...every night for three weeks. I chose the location and after I did, I
got the okay from that city by way of the local police department. People walked by me and
smiled, some stopped and asked questions, a few prayed for me and others gave me money.
I never asked for the money...they just gave it to me.
Three weeks to the day later, I left The Dalles for Corvallis, Oregon. No one told me to...
nobody ran me off, either...I just decided that I wanted to get closer to the city where a
women's shelter would be opening for the winter. And for two more weeks, while waiting for
the shelter to open, I spent every night at the downtown transit center (where the main bus
stops are.) I slept on a concrete slab when the weather was good and inside a bus stop
"shelter" when it rained.
I didn't smoke, drink alcohol, use illicit drugs or make a lot of noise. I just kept to myself
and listened to music (with earphones) and read a paperback. When I left each morning,
I packed out what I packed in and that was that.
Now I check-in to the women's shelter every night where I sleep in a comfortable bed. And
if I do nothing more than write a lot during the day and save money throughout the winter,
I think I
will make some people very happy. It will also give me an opportunity to deal with my
health...which is not what it should be right now.
I am homeless...but I will spend every day and night this winter...eating, sleeping, monitoring
my health and writing as much as I want to...with no fear of reprisal.
That's the way it should be for everyone...everywhere.
Do you agree?
My friend Andy has given me permission to post his poem here.
they make me uncomfortable
I pass by, pretending not to notice
for every one I see, at least ten more remain hidden,
too ashamed or afraid to come out of the shadows
awkwardness pursues me
knowing there must be something
I can do. But then...
caricatures we perpetuate
to keep them at arms length,
to justify our akwardness while passing by
a lost job
fleeing domestic violence
only a small sampling
of their trials
listening to their stories
simple acts of kindness,
can pierce the wall that divides us:
a pair of warm socks
a sandwich and hot coffee
a hat, or jacket, or gloves
a smile that lets them know you see them
and they matter
then our dis-ease will fade
not because we gave charity
but because we care
our common existence
we are changed