22 April 2012
The 3rd Sunday of Easter
I don’t know the year of my old Volkswagon Bug. It was old though. The floor was rusted and rotten out. It was so bad that the engine starter couldn’t work since it had nothing to be grounded to. So therefore, I had to roll-jump start it to get it to run. Those old Bugs had the worst heater system. It wasn’t like you could start the engine, turn on the heat and get toasty warm. The back seat was a little over 4 feet wide. I am six feet tall. And that is where I had to sleep. That old VW Bug was my home.
I was living up in the Winchester Virginia area. I liked the country mostly because I was afraid of the dangers of being homeless in the city. At this point, I was parking my “house” on a little hill by this old barn. An old man that lived nearby hired me from time to time to pull weeds and help out. He was not a fair to me but I was desperate. Several hours of work for him would net me five bucks at best.
It was always a struggle to eat and gas for my car was almost out of the question. The old man went away at one point and I was left to figure out how I would eat for the next couple of weeks.
I eventually found a crate of apples in the barn near where I parked my car. These apples were not at all like the perfect, shiny, red-ones you might have given your teacher when you were in grade school. They were nasty and bruised and rotten. But they were food and I was hungry. And I lived on them for over two weeks. Today, you won’t catch me dead eating a raw apple.
The winter and the cold had to be the worst for me as a homeless person. There was no escape from it. Sure, I might be able to go get warm somewhere. I frequented hospital emergency rooms because it was not likely that someone would ask me to leave. But it was hard to be around a lot of suffering people as well. As a result, I never stayed in Emergency Rooms for very long. And there is a big difference between having your own warm space and just having a place to go get warm.
Frigid cold nights in my car were awful. It is so hard to sleep. It is such a desperate feeling to not be able to get warm. And all those feelings of isolation and loneliness are magnified. When I was in my teens, I almost lost all my toes to frostbite.
Today, in the winter, what I refer to as my “homeless hormones” go crazy. I tend to be more emotional than any other time of the year. And my gratitude for the simplest of comforts is almost constant. Almost everything I have now makes me think about what it was like when I didn’t have it.
I have talked about surviving on rotten apples and having to sleep in a car and the terrible cold and how these things I lived through have affected me. But there is so much more. There is my poor personal hygiene as a result of homelessness and my diet which tends to be mostly canned food, my wearing the same clothing everyday, almost a constant feeling of being cold, and that awful fear of ending up homeless again.
My solution to friction with my landlord is figuring out how I can quickly convert my van into a comfortable home for my dog and I or scouring advertisements for places to rent.
I may have a home now, but to be honest, I still feel like a homeless person and I think I always will.
Because most people have never been homeless, have never felt the isolation and loneliness, hunger and never-ending cold, they are not likely to have the true understanding of what it is to be homeless. Without this understanding, the drive to help homeless people will never likely be strong enough to put homeless people before ourselves or least equal to ourselves.
One suggestion on how to achieve this is when you leave here today, if you could just pause from time to time as you live your life and think what it might be like to not have any one of life’s many comforts. Take it a step further and give up one of your favorite comforts for a day or a week.
Another suggestion, just be grateful to the point of tears for every single thing you have as a person that is not homeless.