It’s so easy to judge the homeless.
I just read a Facebook post about a homeless man who committed suicide. Read it here. I’m quoting it below, and will follow it with my own anecdote about the time I was homeless.
12 January at 09:25
R.I.P Michael Wesley Collins, he took his own life Wednesday, this is what he wrote about homelessness at the end of November 2018.
Homelessness is no joke. Taking a journey through being homeless and penniless has given me a new perspective on what hardships homeless people endure. Once you’re in it, it’s very, very difficult to escape. You run into chicken-egg problems again and again and it leads to an inevitable downward spiral. For example, you can’t get a job because you’re homeless and you’re homeless because you can’t get a job. Imagine having no car, being filthy and trying to show up to a job interview. It’s impossible, and you come into a hopeless downward spiral. The homeless shelters are awful places where they pack people in like sardines in bunk beds, and everyone there is in a dark state of hopelessness.
The social services in the USA are a joke and they don’t provide enough support to even live, let alone give you an opportunity to dig yourself out of a hopeless hole. Welfare amounts to almost nothing, not even enough to buy food, let alone establish an apartment or residence, and it’s quite difficult to get as well, and the system is unforgiving for missed appointments, which can happen quite easily when you don’t have a home or money for transportation. Again, it’s part of the vicious cycle.
Often there is a waiting list to even get into a homeless shelter. In San Diego for example, the wait list is 1 month, so you must sleep on the street for a month before being considered to sleep in a crowded room. To receive government-assisted housing, the wait list is 2 years! If you become homeless in the richest country in the world, you would wait 2 years for relief!
People are immensely cruel to the homeless as well, many of whom suffer from a psychiatric condition that they cannot help. Often families reject people with psychiatric conditions with the misunderstanding that they could be dangerous in some way, but most often they are sensitive souls who also often connect with higher spiritual energies. In old days, these people would be seen as prophets, medicine men, and spiritual leaders, but today they are derided as mentally ill and very often wind up homeless. They are most often victims of human cruelty and miscomprehension, rather than a threat.
I am still homeless, though I’m continuing to fight my way out, but thankfully I still have some generous friends and haven’t yet sunk so low that I cannot escape, though I remain on the precipice. I will say that I will kill myself before I fall into that level of despair, and I fight daily to keep myself from this fate, but often I must choose between difficult options. I have also endured an immense amount to trauma during this experience, and the idea of taking time for healing is ridiculous considering that I must navigate getting basic needs met like food and shelter with the onset of winter coming.
Please keep me and all other homeless in your prayers, but action is needed even more than prayer. If you see homeless, or know of someone on the brink of homelessness, please have compassion for them and give to them generously. You have no idea of the circumstances that led to their condition, as this world can be a cruel and unforgiving place.
I have a master’s degree, high intelligence, and a variety of high-value skills, but I still wound up homeless and if you understood the story and reasons why, it would make perfect sense, and you would also understand that I had no control of the events that led to this place. It was a complex series of events that caused it, and it can truly happen to anyone.
Have compassion for those who have fallen into this horrible state of despair.
I shared it to Facebook myself with the text below, which I won’t quote because it’s a little strange to quote oneself… (I’ll end the not-quote with a horizontal rule.)
I lived in a homeless shelter for four days, in 2009.
It was only supposed to be temporary, while I still had my job, a place to stay until the end of the month so that I wouldn’t be exposed to meth all the time, and would then be able to rent a room the next month.
I made it four days clean there, but then a member of my family called them and told them I was on drugs. So I was kicked out, forced to go back to the single room with a dealer who was sleeping with my girlfriend, and subsequently lost my job. (Edit: This was a Facebook share. Obviously there’s a lot more to this, trauma to both her and me, but it isn’t necessary to add that here.) Then I went to rehab, only because my own plan to get off drugs had been sabotaged by someone who judged me for staying in a homeless shelter.
When you see someone who is homeless, you don’t know how they got there… Maybe it was through no fault of their own, or maybe it was totally their fault, as was the case with me. But it doesn’t matter. Once you’re there, you’re there, and it is difficult to recover. For many, it is impossible.
I got out because I was lucky. Thanks to the birth lottery, I happened to be born white and male, and had a job even when I was high on meth every day for several years. I got out because of my white privilege, and the fact that I still had my last month’s salary, even though I messed up everything in my life and had lost that job.
That last month’s salary was used to pay for my rehabilitation. I didn’t get sobriety right straight away, but wouldn’t have even had a chance without that first step. It may well have been the difference between me being here and writing this today versus me being dead back in 2009.
Think of all the other people who end up homeless, without the luck that I had, without that one month’s salary, or without the white privilege, or even with white privilege but without that money… All the people who have nothing but the judgement that I had (and more) and an even harsher life imposed on them because of the way they are judged.
I loathe writing about this because my usual approach to recovery is all about taking responsibility, but it’s easy to say that when you had privilege and luck on your side. Not everybody has that. Much of the time, poor people and homeless people suffer through no fault of their own. Even addicts often end up in dire straits because of what was imposed on them. Actually more of the consequences of addiction are about consequences imposed on addicts because of the criminalization of addiction, more than you can ever know. It takes just one narcissist with malice and the law on their side, to gaslight and bully the entire life away from a struggling addict. (But I digress and this has little to do with today’s post.)
Don’t be so quick to judge the homeless. I didn’t always feel this way. Years ago, I once wrote a post entitled “Never give money to beggars”. But I was an arsehole and was dead wrong. Give to them. Give to them generously, not just food but give money if and when you can afford to, and it is none of your business to question what they spend that money on.