One Step Up and Two Steps Back

That old Springsteen tune has been going through my head all week. As many of you know I’ve been homeless for the last 5 months or so. I’ve done a lot of couch surfing and the like, hoping upon hope that something would come through. Nothing did and it was time to embrace my biggest fear: going back into the shelter system.

As I talked about in a column a couple of months back there is no longer help for homeless people who double up. For those of you who are uninformed, doubling up is couch surfing, living with friends or family. Those folks could get help from agencies that served the homeless without having to go through the shel¬ters. If you’ve ever been in a few of them you know what a bless¬ing it is not to have to go there. Well, no more. Now you have to be in a shelter or literally living on the street to get any assistance from those very same agencies.

These new rules were handed down by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) (and the rich think the government only screws them). The rationale behind this rule is if you are doubled up you are comfortable, and therefore not a pri¬ority. REALLY? Try spending a couple of months on someone’s couch, or their floor. Most times you don’t have your own set of keys, so you go out at your own risk. Then you have to put up with someone’s personality or bratty obnoxious kids, because it’s their house not yours. Tell me what’s so comfortable about that?

Now I know some of you will say: “Well I have to put up with that when I go to the in-laws for the holidays”. REALLY? I’m not talking about a weekend at grandma’s; I’m talking about being homeless. You know, when you get thrown out on your ass by good old nana and you have nowhere else to go? My point is, agencies should be allowed to work with all homeless people, not based on where they hang their hat at night.

So there I was. My first real night back out here I found myself walking down the street. It was a warm night and people were out having a good time. This mind numbing dread began to come over me. I had been there before, watching life pass me by while I stood frozen.

Though I was dressed well and had money in my pocket, I still felt that shame that I was less and everyone was pointing and laughing at me because I had a bag over my shoulder. It was the same bag I carry paperwork in all the time, but it felt heavier that night. I wanted to just go buy a bottle of whatever and pour my troubles away, not to mention the fact that I was headed to a shelter I hadn’t been to in ages. It was the last one I wanted to be in. Yes, folks, I was on the pity pot.

I really felt like I was going two steps back. But then I thought about all the good things I still had going on. The last time I was homeless I didn’t have much, and was kind of in limbo. I have a lot now and much to look forward to. I will be ok. Still, there’s a certain sadness to being homeless. I had just forgotten it.

James Shearer

James Shearer is a writer and co-founder of Spare Change News.

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