By Ian Smith
It will only take a minute. Hopefully not. There is seemingly a ton of issues when it comes to the issue of homelessness and the problems which arise in society’s sheltered and (let’s face it) unwittingly controlled view. Maybe you, the reader, if given alternative points of view, a new perspective if you will, can help that same society create a final solution. One truth I have learned in this life is good ideas come from some of the unlikeliest sources. Hopefully you can help.
On the morning of Wednesday September 19th I woke to a good friend of mine, Forrest, screaming: “Ian! IAN! Wake up the bridge is on fire!” The evening before I had returned from errands and, after a full day of running literally all over the city, found my cart (referred to as a “Conestoga style wagon” by some writers) dumped over on its side and my belongings strewn across the road. Pretty mad was I to say the least. To repair my home and just create some space for myself I moved to the other side of the bridge for an evening. I did not expect the events of the morning after.
Black acrid smoke poured from the lip of the overpass obstructing vision, burning our sinuses and covering us in black soot. Forrest had ripped his tent out from underneath and rushed to help me move my cart away from any errant sparks or cinders. In the process I flag down a police cruiser and the papers and news can take you from there. I-280 was closed for the duration, people were probably quite irritated. Understandable. What the media did not tell you while being in such a rush to print, post, or run the story was the fact that we knew it was an outsider who lit the fire in the first place. “ I was sitting in my tent and I heard someone come through the area where the gate is so I look out my door and see a white guy with a street style bike walk over to the far end and then I can’t see him any more. The next thing I know he’s running back out and I see flames in the corner. I grabbed my stuff and ran out to get you away.” Forrest breathlessly replies after I ask what happened. Within minutes the fire department arrived and professionally took the situation in hand.
Befuddled, we watch the news helicopters circle and I ask the greatest question of all to Forrest, the officer and myself. “What if he meant to torch us? What would we do? We separate from our main camp for one night and this happens.” So the fact that we are truly safer in numbers is confirmed wholly and without recourse as far as my opinion is concerned. The truth is Forrest or I could have lost either of our lives to a firebug, one whose actions and grievances are well known to the police.
There seems to be a common thread of disregard when it comes to our lives and the realization sends a chill like no other down my spine. What if? A consistent question for sanity’s sake we as homeless, who can only count on law enforcement to move us on or otherwise disrupt the semblance of normal lives we try to retain, refuse conscientiously to ask ourselves because the truth is we never know the answer. You almost have to adapt resolutely to accept whatever changes will occur in your lives no matter what happens. Powerlessness cubed. Now I have felt this particular way in what I have come to realize was considerably smaller amounts; being low on cash while the day rent is due comes seemingly screaming up on you, wondering if the really big heathen drunk that seems to have singled you out for what he considers a “ass-kicking” worthy offense while all you have done is drink your beer and socialize with your friends, or even the threat of a loved one getting irritated because of a promise you have no way of completing because of outside intervention. I have been there. I have felt that fear. But how many of you have felt the bleakness and despair that comes with the understanding, the full and total grasp with no doubt whatsoever, that you are and will most likely never be safe until you are indoors again. Some would argue no one is ever safe. I have traveled through places I have never heard of and met people of every kind and I can honestly say I have never feared for my life. Ever. I still don’t. I can take care of myself. What if I lost my friend to an act like this? I would likely be inconsolable. Parents would lose a child. Friends would lose a loved one. Potentially some lucky woman would never get to meet Forrest “the love of her life. An act of senseless, idiotic, meaningless aggression and horrible violence we as human beings should have put behind us long ago would end all of that. The world, even though you might not ever meet him, would be poorer for it.
“Well go to a shelter!” Just a common suggestion given to me by reporter Amy Hollyfield during an interview held on Monday during our second public expulsion from our camp. (see; “Those Who Live as They Can” In the last issue of Street Sheet as well as any of the local press.) I’ll impart to you the same answer I gave her. In February a 44 year old man was stabbed to death over a simple argument in the very same shelter I shower at on a regular basis. Do you think he thought while stating his opinion or defending whatever side of the argument he was engaged that he would be dead not ten minutes later. The suspect who fatally stabbed him was caught but will there be any true justice for that man? The shelters do the best they can with an ever increasing demand for services and policy allows for anyone fitting the base criteria to be admitted. This means you do not get to choose who your neighbor will be. You will be forced to interact with those you would normally avoid. I have worked with the homeless for a couple years now and I will swear on the Bible, hell I’ll scream it from the rooftops if you wish; The majority of people in shelters are wonderful human beings just trying to get their lives together and make a better life than what they have for themselves. I have seen it. However, as in all cross sections of our society, there are selfish, malicious, dishonest and corrupt individuals who care only for themselves and have no regard for what is precious to others. These people know who they are and so do you. If you are lucky enough to have a life free of these individuals then bless you and continue doing what you are doing. I believe most of us would be lying to ourselves upon reflection of this subject. Human nature is just that. Fallible. No one is perfect for perfection is in the eye of the critic. It is also a non-existent word. Nothing is ever perfect. This is something we, as we handle the sometimes monumental tasks in our lives, forget especially when it comes to the ways we view others. Think.
There will always be the homeless as long as there are people who actively choose the lifestyle. There are those who have mental health disorders, social anxiety or social integration concerns. (True loners) These people are wired the way they are for whatever reason and there will always be one of them happily screaming obscenities at passersby with relish. Ignore them and smile. It is as simple as identifying the fact that your reality, how you perceive life, is very different from theirs. Drug addicted homeless will always exist. Don’t condone their actions but most of all do not condemn them. Addiction is an insidious disease. As we all know life can be difficult for us all. That is our common denominator, our great equalizer. I assure you though; the great majority of the homeless are responsible, complicated humans who have many who care for them for they are worthwhile and lovely individuals. All anyone has to do is step outside their incorrectly instituted preconceived, preprogrammed viewpoint and imagine themselves in the others proverbial shoes. ( or lack thereof as I’ve sometimes seen) Would you not want to be treated as such? I would love to see this wonderful progressive-minded adopted city of mine say “Enough of this Us vs Them mentality some of the coming-up-on-election-day politicians are using to distract us from the real law and society changing issues and concerns! Create real change for our American brethren! Enough of the persecution! Financial status does not make a person a less or more valuable human being!” Truthfully this may be a pipe dream, a flight of fancy, though I have the unwavering faith in my fellow man that this will not be so. It all starts with you and ends with you whether you realize it or not. So I humbly and respectfully beg you to think.