Survival Guide to Homelessness

No matter where you go, there you are.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

How to Solve Homelessness

I get too much praise for this blog. The praise is extreme. I think I have an idea why. I'm one of the few people that doesn't try to give you a path to leave homelessness, and that is a welcome relief. I don't try to save you. I don't humiliate you.

Homelessness is isolating. No one understands what you are going through. People who know you are homeless are constantly trying to cure you of the condition. Cure you, like you have a disease. They have telethons, church fundraisers, comedians get together and have television specials to raise millions for the homeless. By the way, where the heck did that money go? Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, Whoopie Goldberg, if you are reading this, please explain how Comic Relief ever assisted me, or really anyone.

The first problem with relief efforts is they reach the rich. It's easy for a donor to find Comic Relief and make a donation, but it is very, very hard for Comic Relief to find a homeless teenager, figure out what that child needs and provide it, even if the charity had unlimited funds. The second problem is the charity is deaf in a far more profound way than a person might be deaf. Deaf people find ways to communicate, form communities, learn to listen with their eyes and talk with their hands. Charities, by contrast, and I don't mean to single out Comic Relief, never talk to the people they are "helping". They are deaf, blind, and stupidly attached to their assessment of the problem.

As a homeless person, I do not want someone to feed me. I do not want someone to house me. I do not want a blanket, and I will not work for food! You have to ask me what it is I need if you want to have an effect. As a homeless person, I am not even trying to find a way out of homelessness. It is too simple to say that I was going just fine until someone took my shelter away, and now I am in chaos. If only someone would give me back my shelter the chaos would abate. Nonsense. I'm not in chaos. I have a definable set of problems and giving me shelter won't solve them. It is only a tiny piece. Furthermore, I don't want a cure for my life. Most people who write to me who are homeless chose homelessness. Homelessness was their answer to another problem, a foreclosed home, a lost job, a catastrophic disease which left them bankrupt and disabled, an abusive family, a lack. Alas, this is the hardest thing to explain. Homelessness was a positive step toward solving other problems.

Robin, Whoopie, Billy, I love you guys. I watch your movies. I like your stand up. I could do without The View but you can't please everyone all the time. I don't expect you to solve homelessness. It doesn't need solving. People who are homeless could use some help sometimes, but you have to listen and see and think about how to offer that help. Money and laughs won't do it. You are just salving the guilt of society. Don't do that. Society needs to be uncomfortable.

I've thought a long time about what would be useful to the homeless. We need public toilets. Not filthy portapotties, but proper restrooms that are private and clean. We need safe places to sleep. Capsule hotels, which are found in Tokyo and some other places in the world, would be most excellent. The rooms should be very cheap, and I mean five bucks is too much. They should be subsidized, and there should be twice as many as there is a demand for them. They should be extremely secure, and you should be allowed to stay for as long as you want. We need showers. Safe, secure, single occupancy showers. Those are answers that would help people.

If cities want us off the streets, they should offer these alternatives. They would be cheap and easy.

Teen runaways who declare that they are without guardianship should not be treated as criminals, and should not be compelled to live a criminal life. They should be issued cards which confer the right to work upon them. Forget child labor laws. They have a perverse outcome, effectively forcing children to become prostitutes, drug dealers, and thieves. Emancipation should be an on-demand right for all children.

Get rid of laws which forbid sleep. Who are you kidding? Those laws contribute to the meth problem in this country. Those laws destroy lives.

You want to solve problems? Homeless people have problems, they are not the problem. Don't treat them as something that needs a cure.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Running Away

When I ran away from home, I knew nothing about how to make my way, homeless or sheltered. I had a few skills, but very few that could easily be converted to money. I didn't know what challenges I would face, and I had no idea how much danger I was in.

I was bullied in grade school, and I quit high school when I was sixteen, a year before I ran. The alienation I'd learned from this fueled my decision to leave home, but did not teach me how to do it. I ran naked, no money, no work, no future, no plans, no rights. I survived by luck. Had my environment been even a little bit more hostile, I should have died.

My early bouts with homelessness cannot be termed anything but failures. I escaped my homelessness by relying upon friends to take me in. It took years before I found my own way, and in the process I became every kind of victim.

Homelessness, while it falls frequently upon the weak, is not for the weak or the unprepared. Teen shelters are virtually non-existant, and if they do exist, you wouldn't want to be in them. They'd resemble youth authority jails or group homes, and either model is miserable and dangerous. Adult shelters will not accept a teenager. They come with too much legal murkiness, but in any case adult shelters are horrible even when kindly intended. I spent a week or so in a place called 1706 House in Hermosa Beach, California. Their chief mission was to intervene with the family and get the teen runaway to return home, and they had a two week policy. You could stay there for two weeks, but then you were out, for good. Nothing comes up for them on a Google search now, so I can only guess that the outfit folded. No loss. They served the system, and were indifferent to the individual.

I look back on this time with a detached horror. I can hardly relate to that earlier self. When kids write to me asking me to help them run away, I never know how to respond. The one thing I know is that they should never run without a plan. You have to know where you are going, and how you expect to earn money. Without that plan, your survival will be a roll of dice.

I learned to survive homeless simply by increasing my knowledge in a general way. I had far greater analytical skills when I was twenty eight than I had when I was seventeen. I had the experience of teen homelessness to inform my meditations. Perhaps most importantly I had a driver's license, a car, and the right to legally work. Those are powerful tools.