Saturday, May 8, 2010

Being Outside

When I first started writing my blog an eternity ago, I tried to do it daily. In recent weeks or months, that has become increasingly difficult. It isn't because I don't have anything to say. The trouble is that I have too much to say. The trouble also is that some of what I want to say is stuff that may not be so pleasant to read. Or perhaps, the reader will have a hard time understanding or identifying with what I am writing about. So with that in mind, try and picture some of this stuff in your mind. Maybe you have seen some of it on TV, although it doesn't do it justice. Maybe you have seen some of it in real life, but you don't know what you are seeing. What is the reality? What is the truth? Can you really know what goes on out on the street? I would like to humbly say that you don't unless you have lived it yourself. And, don't tell me that you lived on the street as a social experiment one night with your church or school to experience what it is like to be homeless. That just doesn't cut it.

I really didn't want to write about sleeping outside, as there is a stigma to it. At least in a mission or homeless shelter, there is a roof over your head and a bed in which to sleep. So, you are not quite homeless, even though the government classifies you as such. But, when you are out on the street, sleeping under the stars, it is an entirely different matter. Such was the case for me about two weeks ago. I found myself with nowhere to go. No shelter. No mission. No friend's place. I can't tell you where I slept, because it is an unwritten law among the homeless not to divulge your sleeping place. Why? Others may want to use it too, which would get kind of crowded. Or, the police might find out and want to move you. So, I will just refer to it as Hotel California.

The place was not far from downtown in a residential and commercial area. I had thought, when it was presented to me, that we had permission to sleep there. I found out later that this was not quite the case. The property owners knew we were there, but they didn't like it. After a night or two on the streets, I saw why some homeless people are paranoid or mentally disturbed. There are so many things that one must consider just to lay your head on concrete. First is the place. How secluded is it? Can you easily be seen? Second, you must have a sleeping bag. It is better if you have a pad under it. Unfortunately, I don't. So, my 56 year old joints hurt all the time from coming in contact with concrete. And, forget about rolling over in your sleep. That is extremely painful. Third, you need to have one or more people sleeping in your area. I am fortunate in this. I have two friends who are very concerned about my well-being. I am protected. This is good in case another human happens to come by. Not so good if that human is a policeman. Fourth, you need somewhere that you won't get rained on. Although some homeless people use the rain as their bath. I choose not to do that. I have learned the fine art of finding a bathroom somewhere and washing in their sink. No, it is not the best solution, but at least you can stand downwind of me. One downside to all of this is the pesky mosquito. Insect repellents don't work too well, so you just have to grin and bear it. My right hand swelled up last week as a result of insect bites. One person suggested to me today to get a net and put over me. I think that is a great idea, and when I get some money, I will invest in one.

The police are going after the homeless now. I don't know why. Most of them are very calm souls. Yes, some do drugs and drink, and I guess that is where we get our bad reputation. But, I see many more who just want to sleep for a few hours and carry on. I have seen a drug deal go down with a backup car filled with guys with guns. I have seen people wandering around talking to themselves. I have seen a community of people within our city. And most are nice and ask how you are doing. So, don't look down on these people, because they should get your respect. Whether they be illiterate or well-educated. For example, I talked with a guy today who knew the songs Glenn Miller did. Does that sound like a homeless guy rambling? It wasn't.

I am hoping not to be living outside much longer. There is a move afoot to get me a more permanent place to live. But until then, don't step on us in the dark and say a kind word. We may not trust you at first, but maybe at least we will nod or smile back.

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