Survival Guide to Homelessness

No matter where you go, there you are.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Coming Out

The problem of coming out is the same no matter what secret you are hiding. When you are keeping something from the people you care about that is intrinsic to how you live your life, it means that you are alone. Being alone is painful.

You would not be keeping your secret if you were confident the people in your life were capable of understanding and accepting it. Coming out to people who don't understand or don't accept you can be just as isolating, just as painful, as keeping the secret in the first place, and if the people are cruel, it can cost you even more.

Anyone you come out to, you give a special weapon, a dagger designed to slip into you like a key into a lock. I came out to one of my coworkers, just that I had been homeless in the past and write this blog, and years later he'll sometimes give me a dig about my advice to use sex lube for a waterless shave. The sting of it is far more than he likely intends. That is the hazard.

My beloved grandfather did not understand that I had built a lifestyle I was proud of. He thought of me as a beggar, an addict, a failure. That image only changed after I was married, housed, with children. I know he loved me, but the pain of that misunderstanding is almost more than I can bear even to write about in this entry.

My father doesn't get it. He wants to edit my blog, and becomes irate with me if I choose not to publish his comments on my articles. I gave up trying to explain some time ago. Even the people that do accept and understand that I was homeless and unashamed, don't understand that I am proud of what I did, and of this blog. They don't understand how profoundly personal the blog is. There are exceptions, a best friend here, a relative there, sometimes my wife, but in the main it passes understanding. You, my readers, have shown a far greater depth of understanding than the people who know me. Strange, isn't it?

Everyone will advise you, unasked, unwanted. It is hard to prove to people that you are okay. There's something fundamentally wrong, immoral, unsettling, maybe unnatural about being happy and homeless. You want to explain it, because your story forms a foundation for your opinions and your values. You want to tell them that they shouldn't joke about the homeless, and that they shouldn't judge them. You want to tell them it could just as easily be them, they could face financial trouble that puts them out, too. You want to tell them there's more than one way to be homeless. There are dozens of solutions to the problem of shelter, and not all of them involve a mortgage.

You want to tell them, but mostly you can't. You can come out, but they won't get it. The people closest to you will use it against you in casual ways they don't even realize. It is like being the only atheist at a revival. It's like being the only gay guy in a group of married straight friends. It might be a little bit like being the only ethnic person in a white social circle. Even if they all forget it, you never do, and you always believe it informs how they treat you. You become forever separate. Every slight, intended or not, however small, starts the struggle over again from scratch.

So if I've told you about my homelessness, you should know that I've given you a high compliment. I've made myself vulnerable to you in a fundamental way. And if you are homeless, take care who you tell. Once they know, there's no going back.


At 7:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just discovered your blog and want to thank you for what you've shared. Your honesty is very helpful to me at this time in my life. Thank you for being open about homelessness.

At 4:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You nail it, every time. I don't get how you do it, but you just do. I relate strongly to this post. From the core of my being, I get it. Homelessness, and all that it entails, was ridiculously hard for me. It permanently altered how I view the world, and other people. It's not glamorous or fun. At the same time, I was never, for one moment, ashamed. I was very *aware*, and very wary, of how other people *perceived* me negatively or with suspicion or judgment. But my opinion about myself was never negative, never touched by shame. In fact, I was proud. In my mind, and in truth this is how it was, I was simply using all my mental and spiritual resources to get through a series of large, at times overwhelming obstacles, without the added benefit of being able to be "out" about it. Unlike cancer, or a physical impairment, homelessness is seen as the homeless person's "fault" - a moral, or intellectual, or some other personal failing. That is the difference, in why I couldn't be "out" with others. Not because I was ashamed (not even for a second) but I was all too understanding of how society is in denial, in guilt, uses a blame-the-victim narrative. Other parallels for this dynamic are people with different sexual orientations, people who have experienced molestation incest or rape, people who were abused as children (the most frequent questions are "*why* did they rape/abuse/hurt you?" lol, which indicates the mentality of the person asking the question).

Sorry for this long post. I just wanted to say a heartfelt thank you for writing about this personal stuff. I also have a few people in my life who, like with you and your grandfather, I can't even write about here because it's so painful. How, I can try to see that their intent isn't to hurt me, but inevitable, lack of understanding carries some degree (oftentimes a large degree) of built-in hurt. And I get that so much. But thanks for having the courage to write about it, because I have to admit I was feeling pretty down today (related to topics discussed in your post) but you know, it's nice to know that you are not the first person to see life (seperate, apart, perhaps more clearly as a result) the way you do.

At 12:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am thankful you have this blog for others to see. An individual should not be judge by the plight of their situation but by their character. My car is being taken and I can't pay my rent. I know I will be homeless soon thank you for giving inspiration to people like me.

At 12:37 AM, Anonymous Bill said...

Being homeless is enough of a stigma. Being atheist as well...all I have to say about that is when someone else tells me what their beliefs are, my response is usually "okay". If I'm asked and I let on that I'm an atheist, lots of people suddenly become hostile. It's retarded. I don't care what anyone professes to believe, I only care how they treat people, because that shows what they really believe. And if they believe in hate, then I want nothing to do with them.

Please keep this blog going. I'm about to leave cubicle land and get back on the road after over 15 years. Your advice helps!

At 2:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am living in an rv now, and if people call that being homeless, I can kinda see their point. However, it has freed me of alot of bogged down garbage, that was in my life, and I am not afraid of losing everything. It can simplify your life or complicate it, depending on your circumstances. Those that put down the homeless, never walked in their shoes.

At 4:32 AM, Blogger Victoria Marinelli said...

I can't begin to relay how much I identify with every single word of this post. Thank you for naming the isolation of it.

At 8:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brilliant. Always just brilliant.

At 11:56 PM, Blogger Calamity J said...

I am in the process of losing my house & have just found your blog. Thank you for writing this.

Regarding the post above, you are spot on. A good friend once told me that the only thing you are guaranteed to control in life are your thoughts. Ever since then, I've made a point of being aware that happiness is a choice, and I try to choose it regardless of my environment. I have detractors as well, but I just feel sorry for the ones who choose to be unhappy. Perhaps they haven't yet realized the power in choosing to be happy.

Much love!

At 8:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your writings are very helpful. Thank you.
I am living on Section 8 but hate the noise of the apartments so I have been considering moving into my car or selling it and getting a camper truck.
Every year HUD comes in and snoops all over the place to make sure I am not destroying anything and 6 months later management does their inspection. They give you 48 hours notice and if you can't be home to make sure they don't do a deep snoop, you are SOL. They will go in anyway.
I appreciate having a home, but at what cost to my dignity and privacy. Homelessness is starting to look good.
I disagree with people that we have a choice to be happy or sad. If that were the case, schizophrenia and other mental disorders would not exist. Maybe for most it is a choice, but not all. It is no different then saying you have a choice to have cancer or diabetes.

At 11:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

People can unintentionally be jerks when they see anything they sometimes perceive as a weakness.

At least you can take comfort in the fact you don't have to hide it, they all want to point the finger at you because it's easier then them taking a close look at themselves. I'd say its pretty much insecurity that causes people to do that. Never be ashamed of who you are, if your friends and family can't accept you, then find the non posers and never look back.

At 3:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You've been a huge inspiration to me. I truly admire you. I genuinely consider you a role model. My lease can't expire soon enough. I don't agree with everything you write but I always understand your reasoning.

That said, you're surprisingly sensitive for a guy who has survived some harsh conditions. I wouldn't expect someone so strong to be so vulnerable to the comments and misconceptions of others.

At 9:40 AM, Blogger Chloe Gresham said...

I have heard about this blog and I have read a few post, but today just in a random search (maybe for some hope) I've felt empowered. A few months back I had thought of staying in a tent in a willing friends or strangers backyard. I already had the tools I needed just by using my head. Showering at the gym making sure i had money to pay for that. Finding cheap storage for my big items i just will not let go of. Going to the local college that have late hours so i can use the internet print forms job search. Making use of the 24 hour laundromat. I did a lot of things to make it easier for myself except accept that i'm homeless and ok with it. Every time i look at renting my options are i either get a second job or forever be broke unable to pay of debts or even have a fun outing or just some alone time. It scares me. I have fought to not be homeless and succeeded only to get slapped in the face by crazy situations that lead me back to the lonely road of homelessness in this society. Another post led me to this one. It talked about shelters. For some reason I always opted out of staying at one. I never knew why. I see it now. The hours they let you stay are ridiculous. it takes a chunk out of time i could be using somewhere else. I rarely sleep before 1am and by the time i do get to sleep i still have to get back up and find a way to kill time before i got o work. No point in it. I've had many comments made about me being ok with sleeping in a tent even some really off the wall ones. So i let my fear of how my friends looked at me cause me to fight for an apartment. I'm not happy because i'm letting other peoples image of what life is supposed to be control mine when I know EXACTLY what I want. Oh thank you for putting mt heart in the right place. I wouldn't mind having an apartment and maybe one day i'll find a good job or be in a situation where i can do it comfortably. For now though. I'm gonna make my dram of actually having a tiny home someday a reality and poop on those that don't support me. **HUgs and many thanks***

At 5:58 PM, Blogger Mobile Homemaker said...

Thanks Chloe. Just when I think this blog has found all the real readers it will ever reach, I get a comment like yours. It's good to know someone else gets it.

At 12:14 AM, Anonymous 2th-Fairy said...

It is my childhood friend, who is homeless, and my search to understand her situation which brought me to you.

It is our human nature which makes us want to help. After all, isn't shelter one of our basic needs? Yet, I strongly believe in humility, as there is a fine line between you and me. And, who am I to judge her or give advice? I love this sweet and beautiful lady and simply want to know more.

Thank you for your enlightening insight into homelessness. I hope to learn more, to be a better friend

At 1:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would like to chime in and say that I will be homeless soon. I'm a 38 year old woman that was in a violent relationship and left that to stay with my daughter. She is apparently very angry with me and takes every opportunity to tell me I am a failure as a mother and a woman. So, very soon, I wil get in my car and drive away. I have nothing and the thought of leaving is comforting and scary all at the same time. I spent half my life in servitude as a wife and mother and now that I am no longer required in those roles I am tossed aside.

At 12:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for your post. I am learning to be very careful about mentioning my kids and mine homelessness. Friends are in denial and have no concept of what happened for this situation to occur. I have no idea at all what to do to become 'homeful'. The journey was slow to be with and then like an avalanche snowballed so quickly. Last week we had a home and now we don't.


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