When my friend Gayle became homeless I suspect she thought there would be some way out of it, eventually, but there wasn’t for her. She died without a real home. It was very sad because Gayle was bright, energetic, creative, and not at all like the homeless people we think of when someone says the word “Homeless” out loud in conversation. It was like watching a bright beautiful flower wither and die, slowly, over the course of a couple of years. Gayle didn’t want to leave Seattle or wind up on someone’s couch. She fought to keep her adopted home town and she fought to keep from being a burden on other people. Gayle lost that fight because she couldn’t afford good food, decent living conditions, and a place to call her own.
Gayle was living with a man, and one day he decided he didn’t like her anymore so she had to leave. That was Day One of Gayle being homeless. So ask yourself this question: what event would have to occur before you found yourself sleeping in your car? Take your time with it. Decide how much you could do to keep yourself under a roof, and then after all of that is gone, what would you do next?
There was a news story, I remember the gist of it, where a woman was going through a bad marriage. She had two kids, a good job, and a house, but as she was sitting on a park bench a couple of homeless people came up and told her that she could go to Florida with them, so the woman abandoned her family and simply walked into the world of the homeless. She ate out of trash cans and lived under overpasses. It was over ten years later before anyone knew she was still alive. Ten years. She looked a fright after ten years on the road, too.
A friend of mine who was going to college and working as a dishwasher part time to pay rent, told me he was going to become a cocaine dealer. Needless to say, anyone willing to divulge their ambitions as a drug dealer to anyone who will listen isn’t going to do so well. He wound up getting addicted to cocaine, lost his job, got kicked out of his apartment, lost his girlfriend, got kicked out of her mother’s garage, and finally went to jail for a couple of years for stealing. Greg drifted in and out of homelessness, mostly into it, and he told me that he liked not working, and not having to be anywhere at a certain time. People gave him money. Strangers would feed him. And all he had to do was whatever he wanted to do, within the confines of being broke and on foot, and stinky, too.
Greg was a shameless hustler. There was no lie he wouldn’t tell, no one he wouldn’t take advantage of if they offered to help him, and there was no opportunity to better himself he couldn’t screw up. He was fired from a construction job for asking for handouts from people on the street. He carried his ‘Will work for food” sign with him on the job. I haven’t seen him in a couple of years now. But Greg was a screw up from the word go.
There’s a guy with Indiana license plates that hits one of the local Wal Marts on a regular basis. I have no idea if he is really homeless but his sign reads, “Hungry. Homeless. God Bless” and he sits in a wheel chair for a few hours then loads up and moves on.
The painful thing here is for every con man out there stealing your money pretending to be in need there is someone out there like Gayle Hardman who sits in her car trying to make homemade jewelry by the light of a street light, hoping no one attacks her, or steals her stuff, who doesn’t want to take handouts. Forced into looking for help, Gayle found very little. Society looks down on those people who are without. They can either sit at intersections and hope for charity or they can slowly die. That’s the cold hard truth of how we treat the homeless in most cases.
There was a case in Texas of a homeless man who went missing. The police aren’t going to spend a lot of time looking for someone who is homeless because, face it, how do you know if they are missing? So they find a dead body that matches the description of the missing man, load the body up, tell the people missing their brother that he’s dead, cremate the body and the story ends. A month later the brother shows up hungry and confused, and not cremated in the least. So who did they cremate? Some dead homeless guy. His family will never know what happened to him now.
A serial killer could kill one homeless person a day and no one would notice as long as it was done neatly and quietly. The body would be found, processed, burned to ash, and no one would think of this person again. But there doesn’t have to be a serial killer. Starvation, poor nutrition, terrible living conditions, and despair begin to break down the human body and spirt. The days go by and the weather report is the biggest items in the news. The weather report means the difference between leaving the car windows down for a little air or having them up all night because it’s raining. Clothes are dried on the hood of the car, and the car has to be moved around because people will report homeless people living in parks or other places its half way safe. Gayle Hardman had enough friend so that when the weather was brutal we would send her money to get a cheap hotel room so she wouldn’t freeze to death. She died in her sleep, of a heart attack, at age fifty-two. Her body was cremated, but no one claimed it.
I’ve written about this before, and I will write about this again, because it still fucking hurts.