Yesterday I shared the tale of my life as a homeless man that I lived over ten years over ago. I shared how I adapted to homelessness, including how I learned to find places to sleep. Today I finish my tale of living on the streets.
One thing I can’t see through the haze in my head is how I ate. How in the world did I eat? I don’t believe I ever stepped foot inside a soup kitchen. My foolish pride wouldn’t consider it. Having worked in the hotel industry for 16 years I knew ways to easily get food in hotels, but I don’t think I ever took advantage of that knowledge. The only thing I am able to recall is getting food from the large Catholic Church in Hollywood. Each Wednesday they would distribute boxes of food, but you had to get there early. The first time I showed up two hours in advance and was still at the end of a very long line. Each person received a cardboard box with a random assortment of food. The real fun took place after the distribution when the bartering began. Nearly all the people in line were of Russian descent so I had no idea what they were saying, but I could understand when a woman would hold up a can of tuna and point to the noodles in my box. Since I had no place to prep or cook food, the bartering was a lifesaver and about my only form of entertainment. I would stay until all my goods were exchanged for foods that I could easily eat. I hope it comes to me how I ate at other times, because it’s driving me crazier than I already am trying to remember.
There’s one item that I still have from that time that I plan to keep with me for the rest of my life – a bowl. It may seem silly, but I bought it from a thrift store for $1 and it was the only thing I had to eat off of. It sits in the kitchen cabinet and I’ll occasionally pull it out for cereal or oatmeal. I believe I must hang on to it because it keeps me humble. I need a reminder, now and then, how far I’ve come.
There was one place that I sought help from, but didn’t get it, yet I’ll sing their praises anyway. I’m speaking of PATH (People Assisting the Homeless.) From their website:
The shopping mall is a staple of our modern culture, providing every store we could want in one convenient location. Rather than trekking back and forth to multiple stores to check the items off a shopping list, we can make a single trip to the local mall and find virtually anything we need.
People experiencing homelessness typically do not have a reliable mode of transportation, or disposable income to drop on travel expenses, so trekking across the city and back in search of supportive services can feel like an almost impossible task. So, instead of asking people to travel to all of the different services they need, PATH has brought all of these services to one central location.
Now, people who are homeless can make a single trip to the PATH Mall and access more than a dozen services designed to help them get back on their feet.
Services they offer include showers, restrooms, phones, mail, toiletries, clothing, lunches, substance abuse treatment, legal assistance, a job center and more.
The reason I was unable to get help from PATH was sheer numbers. I knew the facility opened at 7:30 am and when I showed up at 6:50 the line was wrapped around the block. I wound up sitting all day waiting for my number to be called. Of course, I left in a huff and couldn’t believe they would treat me that way. Didn’t they know who I am? It didn’t dawn on me at that time that at least I was out of the elements for a day and had a nice lunch. Listing items of gratitude were not part of my daily routine.
So you can see from the last paragraph that anger was a big part of what was surging through my body. Resentment too. It’s really hard, though, to pick one particular feeling and say that is what it was like. Most of the time I’d say I was numb. A defense mechanism, I’m sure. Hopelessness was a big one. I did not know how much longer I would live but I knew it was going to absolute misery regardless if it was going to be 30 days or 30 years. I didn’t want to live, but I didn’t want to die. I just wanted it to be over. I would look at the other homeless people who were clearly on their last leg and I would envy them. Watching them it seemed to me like they didn’t care about anything anymore and that’s what I wanted – to not care. But, despite all my efforts I did care and that’s probably what saved my ass.
I wish there was more to tell, but I don’t even have a blur beyond what I’ve told. How did I get off the streets? Where did I stay when I got off the streets? Zip, zilch, nada… I have no idea. This is one of the gaps in my memory that my pdoc said may or may not ever return. That’s disappointing. For all I know there is someone whom I should thank profusely. Whoever you may be, “Thank you!”