Friday, April 30, 2010

Forget Hope, Get Happy

Reading over the new May 2010 issue of The Contributor, it dawned on me that my thinking about homelessness has been all wrong. Perhaps everyone has it wrong.

The intended theme of this issue was "happy stories." The idea came about when considering the many comments by readers of the paper who indicated that reading it was often depressing. So, contributors were asked to write articles about times when they were happy, even when homeless. Life can't always be a drag, can it?

Taken as a whole, the articles deliver an unexpected message. Happiness is crucial, perhaps more crucial than anything else, to overcoming homelessness. (has me thinking I should break down and see that movie, "The Pursuit of Happyness") All of the homeless writers expressed the constant lack of happiness, and the near impossibility of achieving even a small portion of it.

All the talk I've heard to date has been about "hope." Big with churches, rescue missions, and homeless service providers is the message of hope, hopefulness, keep hope alive. Once, I was featured in an article about a show of some photographs I'd take while on the streets. The title of it was, "Homeless, But Not Hopeless."

But, what is "hope?" Hope is a static word. Hope is about waiting, and expecting something better to come along, later. Hope is expecting someone else to deliver. Hope goes no where, hope gets you no where.

Contrary to hope, happiness is an energy, it's an activity. Happiness propels. Homelessness is a life in static. To be free of homelessness a person has to change, has to move, has to get away.

For the longest time, I thought that contentment was a good place to be for a homeless person. But contentment is also static. It gets you nowhere. Contentment is resignation and acceptance of one's current situation. Although contentment can bring some peacefulness in the midst of turmoil, homelessness is not the place for it. Homelessness is death, and no one should be resigned to that.

Happiness is welcoming, happiness is caring not just for oneself but for everyone, happiness is sharing life.

And as I write the above line, I see how happiness is the key to community. It's connecting with others, being involved and involving others. You can't have community without it. And without community, happiness cannot take place.

There is a lot of talk these days about the need for community for homeless people. As I see it now, without community there's no place for homeless people to experience happiness, or to exercise their own.

Want to help a homeless person? Don't encourage them to be hopeful. Instead, share some happiness with them.

(P.S. Ben Griffith Rocks)

Samaritan who saved New Yorker left to die on the street - The Globe and Mail

Though sometimes feared, homeless people are more often the best security you have on the street, especially late at night and early in the morning. They pay attention to what's going on, for their own protection, and they know who is and who isn't safe to be around. And as is human nature, when they see someone is in dire circumstances, they respond as best they can. Samaritan who saved New Yorker left to die on the street - The Globe and Mail

Homeless coalition protests vicious beating | | Cincinnati.Com

Cincinnati police say four skinheads – including three active-duty soldiers in the U.S. Army – targeted Johnson because he is homeless. The four men had been out drinking in Northside bars before they went out in search of someone to beat up. Homeless coalition protests vicious beating | | Cincinnati.Com

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

To Tell The Truth

Trust me, I have heard it all. In the 8 years that I have been blogging I have received well over 100 letters from people fearful of becoming homeless and asking for advice. In the 27 years that I've been living in or near homelessness I have heard countless stories from people on their way in, and on their way out, of homelessness. I have heard the true-to-life heart breaking stories, and I have heard a lot of what amounts to a bunch of baloney.

There are two basic types of dishonest stories about becoming homeless. There is the kind that goes on way too long, and there is the kind that doesn't go long enough. Both start out innocently enough with something like, "I think I'm about to become homeless and need some advice." Or, "I just became homeless and I don't know what to do, can you help me?"

The long story teller can be interesting to listen to, at least at first. But then you realize that, most likely, the person is not going to stop telling his story until he gets something out of you. The long story teller is usually a veteran of the streets. He may say he wants help getting off the streets, or help from becoming homeless, but what he's really doing is panhandling. He'll tell you whatever he thinks you want to hear, what will motivate you to be generous towards him. He'll tell you all sorts of meaningless details that really have nothing to do with homelessness, but is calculated to increase your sympathies. The more he talks, and the more you listen, the more he figures you for a mark, and will be able to get something out of you. If you respond by quickly giving him money, even before he's gotten very far in his story, he'll figure that he can get even more out of you if he continues talking. It is best to quickly communicate to this guy that you're not interested in hearing it, and then ignore him. Usually he'll move on to easier prey.

The short story teller usually has almost no details to share about being or becoming homeless. There is usually one of two reasons for this. He may just be experimenting with the idea of being homeless, he's testing out the sound of it for himself, and testing to see how people respond to him saying it. He may very well be having some difficulties financially or with living arrangements, but isn't really in danger of becoming homeless.

The other reason for the short story would be that he is homeless but doesn't want to confess to the real reasons for his homelessness. In this case he knows that he'll be told to confront these issues, issues that he is unwilling to deal with. Any attempt to actually help this person will be wasted because he's not ready to do what's necessary to address his problems and leave homelessness.

Regardless of the reason for the short story, the person believes there is mileage to be gained, personally or financially, for just bringing up the subject of homelessness. And, a very short story is easily retractable with "I didn't really mean it like that," in case you take his declaration more literally than he does.

So, what is a genuine request for help with homelessness, you ask?

Sincerity in the discussion is almost palpable. There is no B.S. in the story. The person gets right to the point, describes the major events that lead them to homelessness, all without extraneous detail. When telling their story they are usually shy from the humiliation of it. But they are forthright and direct in their desire to find a solution. They don't play around and waste time by talking to just anyone about their situation. They are not flippant about it. Instead they go directly to people they believe can provide help, not just to commiserate or give advice. When suggestions are given to them, they take them seriously and make every effort to apply them. People genuinely desirous of getting out of homelessness will use every resource available to them. Anything short of that and you can be certain they are dealing with more problems than homelessness.

The Homeless Guy Is Changing Things Back

No one group owns or is responsible for homelessness.  Everyone is culpable to one degree or another for its existence and prevalence.  But more importantly, everyone has the ability to lessen the amount and negative effects of homelessness.   Conservative, Liberal, Moderate, Activist, Inactivist, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Atheist, Caucasian, African, Latino, Persian, Educated, Uneducated, White Collar, Blue Collar, Adult, Teen, Child, etc., etc., can all do something to reduce and end homelessness.  So, I have often struggled with the direction of this blog.

Originally, I posted about all sorts of topics here.  The point of it being that I wanted the general population to understand that there was more to me, and homeless people in general, than just being homeless.  Yet shortly after I started blogging W sent American troops into Iraq.  This divided the American population and strong feelings grew, and animosity between Conservatives and Liberals intensified.  At first I blogged about my objections to the war.  For this my audience dropped in half, so did the few donations I received.   Not all were that way, but most were.  And so I have been riding the fence mostly, trying to not offend while at the same time getting my message across.

In the past 8 years America, and Americans, have changed a lot.  So too have I.  Since I haven't been tied down to some 9 to 5 career, I've been able to dedicate time and energy towards pursuing subjects that interested me.  I've learned a lot.  I've learned more than just how to make money for an employer.

For all this, and more, I've come to a new understanding about my role in life, including my role on the internet.   I have always been the decider of my efforts online, and I'm deciding to take my blogging, and other internet activities, more personally, and will focus more on having them reflect my own ideas and opinions, the good and the bad of them.  Sure, this will mean more opportunities for getting my foot in my mouth.  But, such is life.  I'll continue to make mistakes and learn from them.   More importantly, I will be an influence on the world, and will hopefully be a part of the process that makes the world a better place.

Watch out.  Here comes me.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Homeless Guy On Facebook - Blurbs

Here are a few of the things I've blurted out recently on Facebook:

Next January I will turn 50 years old. So, I figure I have about 20 more productive years left. The LAST thing I want to do is to spend those years sitting on my ass watching Wheel of Fortune.

I have no doubt about this. I do believe that my blog has been the focus of a concerted attack since near it's beginning, and the reason why I have had to shut down comments for the majority of its existence, limiting its potential.

I like you.

Perfection is overrated and unbelievable.

Chicken Quesadilla at Cafe Coco, because I can.

Just realized, standing the the warm sun, that I didn't get much sleep last night. It's too late in the day for a nap. Will have to find a way to stay up til regular bed time.

Just saw a kid at the Earth Day fair with a T-shirt that said "Homework Kills Trees." Amen brother!

Everyone, do the propaganda.

The Contributor has there own facebook page. check em out. friend em even!

Today is FRIDAY, and that means only one thing. Yesterday was Thursday.

At the mcdonalds on westend next to centennial park was just robbed. police have been called. I came to this mcdonalds to get away from the crazies at the other one. geez

Republicans will soon learn that you can't BS the people forever.

Again, I am reminded how much of a dork I am.

At the end of it all, the truth was finally revealed, and it was a beautiful thing.

Can you find the Pope in the pizza?

I love that some of you want to share your apps with me, but I just don't have the time for all the games and gifting and other fun facebook stuff. So, I won't be able to respond to them. Thank you all the same.

Even bigger than getting a picture of Taylor Swift, today is my daughter's birthday. Happy Birthday Sara. I love ya, Dad.

Why cannot health insurance be a non-profit organization?

First, untangle God from all the things His followers say and do. He is not them.

Second, untangle God from all the things you believe He is or should be. He is not you.

Please, come join me on Facebook. You'll see a link to my FB account in the right hand column.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Walk-a-thon For Nashville's Homeless Service Providers

My deepest thanks to all of you who sponsored my walk.  The computer system did not give me access to the names of all who donated, but know that I, and many others, are grateful for what you have done for us.

So many happy smiling faces. These are my favorite people.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Terminator And The Homeless Guys

Being homeless wears you out, and wears you down, and only those who can manage to occasionally break from the constant drone of unhappiness can survive homelessness for very long. I learned this valuable lesson from one of the best friends I ever had on the streets, Jimmy Stoner.

It was the summer of 1984 and I was on my second episode of homelessness when Jimmy and I first met at the Anchor Home of the Nashville Rescue Mission. Jimmy was incredibly intelligent and resourceful, and he understood his place in society better than most. He knew that society rejected him, but he was ok with that, he rejected society back. He was big, and scary, and looked homeless. Whenever he noticed that someone was staring at him, he would do something vulgar, like shove a finger up his large hairy nose and stare back at them.

Once a week, Jimmy and I would go to the plasma center to give blood and earn a little money. With that money we could catch the Nolensville Road bus down to Cinema South. Before going to the theater we would stop at a pizza shop where they had an "all-you-can-eat" lunch buffet. Jimmy and I hit that buffet like we hadn't eaten in a week. And, when you consider the usual food we ate at the mission, you'd understand why we gorged ourselves. Stuffed to the gills, we would walk over to the movie house, pay for a movie, and proceed to watch every movie in the place. If we liked a particular movie, Jimmy was mesmerized by The Terminator, we would watch it several times in a row. There never seemed to be any management around the theater, just some high school kids working there, who really didn't care. So, we pretty much had the run of the place. Only after the last movie for the night had shown, or we had become bored, would we catch the bus back to the mission.

During those few hours each week, I could forget that I was homeless, that I was living at a rescue mission, and that there was little real hope for my life. I would rather forget most of my homeless experiences, if I could. But, I'll remember those times hanging out with Jimmy as some of the best I ever had.

Pastoral For A Homeless Guy

In 1973 I was 12 years old and prime audience for the popular movies of the day. At that age, suspending disbelief in a movie premise was easy, and comprehending the subtle adult references was not too difficult, and something I secretly hoped to see.

'73 was a veritable treasure trove of movie going delights, producing many films now considered part of American Culture: American Graffiti, The Sting, Jesus Christ Superstar, The Exorcist, Poseidon Adventure, The Paper Chase, Sleeper, Serpico, Enter The Dragon, Westworld, High Plains Drifter, etc., etc. Yet for me the most profound movie was the futuristic Soylent Green. It was the "Bladerunner" of its day. Not only did Soylent Green appeal to many of my 12 year old interests, it presented an idea about life that has stayed with me to this day.

The movie starts out as a basic murder mystery set in the future. But Detective Thorn, played by Charlton Heston, stumbles onto a bigger mystery, a mystery that no one wants solved. The year is 2022 and the world has fallen apart. Nearly all the planet's resources are depleted. Nothing seems to work anymore. The world cannot support the population that has grown out of control. People live in cars on the street as readily as they do in apartments, all of which are dilapidated. The world is irreparably polluted. Strawberry preserves and hot showers are luxuries only the wealthiest can afford.

In overcrowded living conditions Sol and the detective Thorn are roommates. Although I don't think the movie reveals how these two meet, they have grown close, like father and son. Sol tells Thorn stories about the way life used to be, before overpopulation and pollution ravaged the planet. Thorn dismisses these stories as just so much old man talk and exaggeration.

Arguably the most profound scene in the movie is when Sol goes home. In Soylent Green, "going home" is a euphemism for submitting to voluntary euthanasia. Sol, played by Edward G Robinson, is an elderly gentleman who longs for the old days, and once he learns the secret of Soylent Green, feels there was no longer a reason to go on living. Sol walks into a building completely unlike anything seen in the movie thus far. It is a clean facility, uncrowded. Fresh air circulates and soothing music plays over the intercom. After providing some basic information and preferences, Sol is escorted into a room prepared just for him. The room is bathed in his favorite color, orange, and his favorite music plays, classical, "light" classical. he lays down on a raised bed, drinks the "kool-aide," and waits to die. At this point Thorn arrives to witness Sol's last moments.

Beethoven's Pastoral begins to play, and a giant movie screen opens up before Sol, showing him spectacular scenes of nature, the nature that no longer exists, the nature that he tried in vain to describe to Thorn: deer playing in a forest, a meadow blanketed in flowers, an ocean teaming with fish, etc.

Sol asks Thorn, "Isn't it beautiful?"
With tears in his eyes Thorn replies simply: "yes."
Sol: "I told you."
Thorn: "How could I have know? How could I have ever imagined?"

In that moment, a truth greater than both of them is revealed. Sol is vindicated, and Thorn is struck with the awesome responsibility of this new knowledge.

You can watch the scene on YouTube at

At the end of Sol's life, the truth was revealed. His vindication was all the more bittersweet because the truth, beautiful as it was, had been destroyed long ago. There are obvious messages in this scene, warnings about what may come if we don't protect our environment. But there was something else that spoke to me on a more personal level.

To look at me then, I was your typical 12 year old boy. But there was something else, a problem within that prevented me from truly being typical. No one could see it and I couldn't explain it. I tried talking about it to my parents, but they dismissed it as normal childhood angst. As this problem grew more severe they insisted I only lacking proper character. If I stopped being so lazy and put effort into it, they said, I would be able to overcome this problem. But, they didn't understand what I was up against, and did not want to know. Their reluctance to help me deal with my problem seems, in hindsight, like avoidance, like they did not want to admit there was a problem. I felt trapped and alone. I needed help and could not get any. As much as they denied I had a problem they constantly chided and reprimanded me for not living up to my potential.

The anxiety I was experiencing made it increasingly difficult to talk to people, made it even more difficult for people to understand me. The emotional pain and social isolation grew worse as I got older. As a teen, I became a loner. As an adult, I became homeless (for more info, see the page link above on Asperger's Syndrome).

I have a memory of a thought from so long ago that I don't recall when it first came to me. I remember hearing that when a person dies, everything becomes known, all the reason's why people are they way they are, why they do the things they do. This scene in Soylent Green echo'd that sentiment. And I took solace in it.

During this scene the grand music of Beethoven's Pastoral was playing. The music became synonymous with the hope that the truth of my problem eventually come to light, that I would understand and overcome this problem. I would be released from all the pain and confusion, the guilt and despair that has plagued me all my life.

Fast forward from 1973 to 1987. I have been homeless for 5 years at this point, and my best attempts to escape it, first by joining the Navy, and later by attending college, have failed. Still, I not given up, but was pursuing the next opportunity.

I have always had an interest in the arts. To me, the arts are a means of connecting with others, a non-verbal communication that helped me transcend my inabilities to connect with people. I figured out early on that I did not have the skills necessary for creating music, or for painting, so I took up photography. Miraculously, a couple photos I had taken while in the Navy survived my last descent into homelessness. I submitted those photographs in a request for membership into the Nashville Artist's Guild, and was subsequently accepted. This boosted my spirits enough that I decided to clean myself up a bit. I went to a facility for the homeless run by the United Methodists known on the streets as Ken and Carol's. This was when it was still located on 4th Ave South. I got a hair cut, took a shower, and put on clean clothes. Then I went down to River Front Park, where, on that day, I met a young lady who would eventually become my wife, and then ex-wife. But before all that, she helped me get off the streets and into a decent apartment. I'm not really sure how I was able to overcome my problems with social anxiety enough to become married. But I do believe, though, that it was at the root of our relationship's ultimate demise.

She played piano, and her grandmother had a keen interest in classical music. So, when an opportunity came to get tickets to the Nashville Symphony I was able to take her and her grandmother. I had never been to a live performance of a symphony before and I was amazed at what I heard. Over radio and television speakers you just don't get the same effect. I had never known sound to be so tactile. The strings sounded like velvet.

Understand too that I knew almost nothing about classical music. I listened to classical when it was on TV or the radio, but I never caught on to the names of the music or the musicians who made it. So, you can imagine my additional surprise when the Nashville Symphony that night played Beethoven's Pastoral. Soylent Green came back to me, as did every other emotion and secret longing associated with that music.

Fast forward again. In 1995 we divorce. By '96 I'm homeless again. In '99 I worked my way back into an apartment of my own, but two years later the store I work for goes under and I end up homeless yet again. In 2002 I begin blogging about my homeless life, using computers in the newly built downtown library.

One day, someone stands outside the library passing out free tickets to the Nashville Symphony. A homeless acquaintance tells me about this. I rush over to get the last ticket. I go to the Symphony and blog about it. Someone in Michigan reads the blog post who happens to know someone working for the Nashville Symphony. They talk. I then get an email from someone at the Nashville Symphony. And, they bless me with tickets to the 4 performances of my choosing.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Why The Homeless Guy Blogs

I have a condition of sorts that makes it extremely difficult to socialize in a functional way.  This makes it impossible for me to maintain those things necessary for independent living.  Lord knows I've tried.   As I approach 50 years of age, I think it's pretty clear that I will always need a bit of help in keeping myself out of homelessness.

The world has a way of measuring success that I cannot conform to, the ability to do so is just not in me.  And for this, by all accounts, I am a failure.   But, as a consequence of this, almost by default, I have learned a great deal about homelessness.  And it seems that a lot of people are interested in hearing what I have to say about it, stories of my own experiences, my observations on homelessness, and my opinions on why homelessness is the way it is.  And so, oddly enough I have found a way of succeeding that is outside of what is expected.  As a homeless advocate I have discovered I have some worth.  No, I still cannot make a living at it, I wish I could. But I now know that I have value and a good purpose to live for.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Taylor Swift And The Homeless Guy

Taylor Swift Reads The Contributor, Awesome!
Look who bought The Contributor from me today! Taylor Swift.

If you don't know who Taylor is, I must ask, 'how long were you in your coma?"

Anyway, she was really nice for tolerating my goofy self when I asked if I could take this picture. As she waited at the light, I ran back to my backpack to get my camera, ran back to her car, just in time to snap this pic at the very moment her light turned green.

I am honored Taylor. Congrats on all your success.

And now this message:   If you benefit in any way by reading my blog on homelessness, please show your support by clicking on the paypal button on this webpage and making a financial contribution  Thank you

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Homeless Guy on Facebook

The internet has changed and so have I. I will continue to post here from time to time. And most of my posts here still have some merit, regardless of their age. But, to be honest, I spend most of my internet time on Facebook. So, please come join me there and bask in all that is my wisdom and witticism.   You'll be glad you did.