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Thoughts on Homelessness

Several years ago, in my early twenties, I was literally within weeks of being homeless. My car was dead, I was unemployed and almost out of benefits, had been eating rice and ramen for almost 6 months, and I was being evicted from my apartment because they were raising the rent by over $100 a month (30% more). I was literally less than a month from losing everything I had. The "public assistance" stuff at that time was only available to women with kids, not able-bodied students.

I got lucky - I found a (temp) job I could get to by transit, and another apartment that I could (just barely) afford. I moved on the last weekend before the end of my notice. All during this time I had no medical insurance, of course, so even when I trashed my ankle a few months later, I just ace bandaged it, stayed home from work for two days (unpaid) and took lots of ibuprofen.

But I will never forget, staring into a dingy bathroom mirror on a soon to be overpriced slum apartment (complete with roaches), telling myself I would never let myself get that desperate again. I already had too many men catcalling me on the streets, following me home from the bus, etc - how the fuck would I survive without even a car to lock myself into? How would I cook, what could I eat or drink?

Ever since then, I've always had a few months of food "in case". I've always tried to keep a car that I could sleep in, if I had to. I always had "camping gear" available, ready to hand. I've always had a plan B, plan C, and plan D, and fret if I don't.

I always will.

I wasn't raised a few weeks away from homelessness. I was middle class, professional parents, etc.

But that was before Ronald Reagan was president, and the shredding of the safety net.

So every time someone shits on the homeless, I take it personally. That could have been me, but for a lucky call from a temp agency. The only difference, in a lot of cases, is that they never got that lucky call.

Two of my roommates were homeless before they moved in with me. Both veterans.

I don't go on marches and all of that. But my friends know that if they're a bit short on food, if I've got something they can use to eat, it's theirs for the asking. If someone needs a couple months crash, if I've got room, they can have a roof for a while, but not necessarily forever.

I will not vote for a Republican who is heir to anything resembling Reagan's "legacy".

No matter how much I make, no matter how high I rise, a part of me will always be a terrified twenty-something looking at living on the street with nothing.



( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 17th, 2014 06:17 pm (UTC)
I think the American myth -- the one that says anyone can make it to the next level through hard work -- is pretty much a lie. Sure "anyone" can make it through hard work, and a bit of luck, but not "everyone". All you have to do is beat 90% of your neighbors. It's like a lottery. Everyone dreams of making it but only a few actually will.

Those with wealth and privilege will tend to credit their own hard work. Sure, they do work hard, but they are also incredibly fortunate and have started with a huge headstart. But those who have never had to choose between food and rent might make the mistake of thinking that those who remain poor are there by choice. That ignores the huge number of folks who work hard and *don't* advance.

But the persistent myth of "anyone" can make it also serves to set people against each other, to be hyper-competitive jerks so that they can get where they want to go.

This is why I've always believed that if you have MORE than you need, you should pay MORE than your fair share. This is how it works inside a family, or in small communities, but not in modern society at large. shameful
Feb. 18th, 2014 05:05 am (UTC)

I used to be a libertarian asshole before I got Reaganized - before I started working and paying my own bills, and running out of money before I ran out of month. It's a college kid thing that some folks never grow out of.

I got lucky - a lot. I was born to middle class parents - no skill in that. They made the right decisions economically for most of my life. Another point of luck.

Yes, I had to work, but I also needed luck - to get the job before I headed down the shitter. That isn't "poor choices" - I didn't choose to get laid off my previous job, I didn't choose for my apartment to get bought out by greedy slumlords. That was "unluck", and it put me close to starving and sleeping under a bridge. Once I ended up there, I would have been screwed forever - this was before cell phones, so I would have had no way to get a job, even if I managed to bathe and eat.

The libertarian sickness that has been gripping our country ignores those bitter twists of fate, the nasty shit that you didn't choose and can't control. I had a job and an apartment I could afford. When both of those went away, not by my doing, I was the one who was going to suffer, not the bastards who laid me off or jacked up my rent.

But yes, those who make more, who have more, should do more, because they can, and because they got the lucky breaks and societal support structure that allowed them to succeed. It's called paying it forward, and helping make someone else's luck.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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