Sunday, November 28, 2010

Obama And The Homeless

that faith based organizations would use charity as a way of coercing people to conform to its religion, seems rather unfaithful. and from what I've seen at rescue missions, does not bring about the desired result of true converts.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Distress Signal

It is not just that I don't deal well with confrontation and stressful situations, there is something in the way I'm wired that causes me to freak out. As I have recently learned, it is due to Asperger's Syndrome.

When on the streets and selling The Contributor, Nashville's homeless newspaper, it inevitable that other homeless people will see what you are doing, and will want to challenge you and edge you off the spot so they can panhandle there.

Certainly, most vendors of the paper will stand their ground and fight for right to sell, but every time I've attempted to do that, the homeless just escalate things to the point of violence, or the threat of it.

Think of me what you will, but I just can't deal with that.

So, I have tried to find some place in the county to sell the paper where there are no homeless people, and where average people are willing to buy the paper. I had found such a place. It was not easy. It took an hour bus ride and three miles on bike just to find the place. But now there are homeless people and panhandlers there, in a place they had not been before. Sure, this is partly a sign of the increasing population of homeless people, but this is also a reaction to the growth of The Contributor. Now that there are 350 or more homeless people selling the paper (and competing with each other for the few good selling areas), regular panhandlers are also having a harder time finding places where to panhandle. The location I found was at the county line.

For some time I didn't see any homeless people while I sold there. Now I see several every day. And they have seen me. And they know that spot were I sell is a money maker. There is a camp under the interstate nearby with 4 or 5 homeless people living there. And they approached me just the other day telling me, in so many words, that I needed to give up my spot to them. These are fairly desperate types, alcoholics who can become violent when they can't get a fix.

I could try to fight for the spot, threaten to call the cops. I tried calling the cops before, when I sold at another location, but they never showed up. Many of the police see no difference between homeless newspaper vendors and homeless panhandlers, and won't take sides. They always make a low priority of conflicts between homeless people.

Anyway, I have lost my selling spot because of this, and will have to find another place to sell. With so many vendors out there already, all competing for the few good selling spots, I'm worried, and quickly losing hope. I don't know what to do. When I explained this dilemma to the administration of The Contributor, all I got was, "I'm sorry."

I cannot imagine myself going back to the streets, I don't know how I'm going to continue paying my rent.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

I See What You're Saying

Until recently I had a difficult time communicating with people. Words have always been a big problem for me. I assumed that the issue was linguistic in nature. What I have come to understand is that this was more the result of a lack of proper socialization. Socializing is where language skills develop. Social anxieties, Asperger's Syndrome, being homeless and more, were obstacles preventing me from developing adequate social and communication skills.

Through the years, as I struggled to find a way to interact and communicate with the world, (before the advent of the World Wide Web), I discovered the benefits of the arts. I found that, not only were the arts something to appreciate for aesthetic reasons, the arts were a form of non-verbal communication. Something that was within my intellectual grasp. (I tried reading books, but I lacked the ability to concentrate on that task.) I saw each painting, photograph, sculpture, etc as a message from the artist about the way he or she felt regarding the subject within the artwork. Though a one sided conversation for the most part, I felt as though I was connecting to other people, these artists. This gave me at least a modicum of validation as a person, more than I had experienced up to this point.

From time to time, I attempted to make a bit of art myself. But I failed to make anything to my own satisfaction. The images in my mind never matched what evolved on paper and canvas. It wasn't until I learned how to operate a 35mm camera, in a 9th grade visual media class, that I was able to exercise some control over my "art" work.

Photography has always been an expensive project to undertake, so I have rarely been able to exercise my "art." Whenever I could not afford to take photographs, I poured over art books in the public library. I often did not read the text, instead I focused on the pictures and studied their visual makeup. Understanding color, contrast, shading, the composition of an object within the overall composition of the artwork, etc., was my goal. If not at the library I would visit galleries, museums, and talk to artists when I could.

Though I did not have the language required to accurately label these aspects of art, I was drawn towards them when taking pictures. I was applying these foundations of art to my photographs unknowingly. I recall learning about the rule of thirds for composition. I took a sheet of transparency paper, the same size as my photos, and drew a line grid on it in thirds. I then placed this paper over each of my photographs. To my delight, I found that nearly every one of my images incorporated the rule of thirds in one fashion or another.

Throughout my life as an adult I have struggled with homelessness, about 14 years of which I have lived literally on the streets. Severe personal limitations and lack of useful resources have prevented me from making much of what I know about the arts. And my appreciation for the arts far outweighs any practical application I can make with my knowledge of the arts. But, during the times when my life became very thin, the arts were all I had, they were my life line keeping me from losing it all.

Back in 2002 I started writing a blog about my homeless experiences, using computers at the public library. Despite my issues with verbal communication and language in general, my blog gained some notoriety, and it has since enjoyed a steady following. Some readers of my blog have been very supportive. When the library changed policies about computer usage, hindering my ability to write, those readers responded by gifting me with a laptop. I have owned a laptop ever since, and have learned more and more about computers ever since.

Recently, I have discovered a unique way of creating artistic digital images using my laptop. No standard computer programs are involved in its creation, no photoshop or anything like that. It is difficult to explain the process, so I will dispense with the technical aspects of it. I call it, "Digital manipulation photography in a virtual environment." I know of only one other person to use a similar technique, and our images still look vastly different from each others. Within this article are some examples of some recent creations. I will continue working in this medium and see where it takes me. Hopefully soon I'll be able to have a gallery showing of these new works.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Gifts For The Homeless During The Holidays

With the holidays approaching, people have been inquiring about how to best gift a homeless person, particularly vendors of The Contributor.   I am no expert on the subject, but I have written on it before, so I'll give you my two cents worth.

I first experienced receiving gift bags while staying at Room In The Inn, a winter shelter program for the homeless here in Nashville.  When we homeless people arrived at some church to spend the night, often we found lunch size paper bags on our bunks with useful items within them.  The bags contained a variety of necessities and goodies to help the homeless get through their days.   Most common in the bags were travel size toiletries, soap, tooth paste and toothbrush, deodorant, nail clippers, combs, makeup and other hygiene products.  There would also be small candies or other treats, trail mix, cookies, crackers and cheese packs, sometimes even a can of soda. Sometimes the bags would contain stationary, stamped envelopes, pens, and writing paper.  And occasionally there would be bus passes, phone cards, and gift certificates to fast food restaurants.  Not every bag I received contained all of the above.  People gave as they could, and we homeless were grateful for all of it.

When thinking of gifting a homeless person there are some things to consider.  The situation that homeless people find themselves in is rather precarious and likely to be in a constant state of flux. Their living arrangements can, and often do, change on a moments notice.  The only storage of personal items they can somewhat depend on is what they can carry.  If a thing cannot fit within a backpack, along with all their other possessions, then it's best not to gift it to a homeless person.  Also, understand that some homeless people will take an item of value and sell it for something else they would rather have.  If you plan on giving an item of value to a homeless person, it is be best to know the homeless person well enough so to determine if they really will benefit from it, and use it as intended.

When gifting a vendor of The Contributor, there are some specific things to consider.   Most vendors are still in a state of homelessness, though working to overcome it.  Still, a good number of them have some place they can call home.  It may be an apartment, or it may just be a low rent hotel room or trailer.  Because of the wide range of living arrangements that a vendor of the paper could possibly be in, it would be best to talk directly to your local vendor, so to get an accurate idea of his or her particular situation.  For someone who has just moved into an apartment, a hand-me-down microwave oven may be the thing.  For someone still living in out of their backpack, a microwave may not be so convenient.  Also know that because they are currently making money, vendors may have already taken care of their more basic needs.

Still, newspaper vendors have some specific needs.  The most important, in my estimation, would be a good pair of shoes or boots.  Standing on concrete sidewalks all day will wear out shoes rather quickly.  And a quality pair of shoes will help to lessen the wear and tear on feet, legs and backs.  The cost of good shoes is often beyond most homeless vendors, and if left to their own, they'd most likely forgo the good shoes so to buy other necessities.  Of course, with those shoes, or boots, should come a few pair of warm socks.

Now that winter is upon us, warm clothes are obviously in need.  But know that expensive looking clothing can be a burden to the homeless who are still living on the streets or in a shelter.  Expensive items are often stolen, and are difficult to keep nice.  A thick flannel shirt from a discount store may be a better purchase than one from a popular catalog.  Besides, you could probably get three shirts at Wal-mart for the price of one from J Crew.

Gloves are a specific need for all homeless during the winter, but especially for vendors, who will be outside several hours a day.  When shopping for gloves for vendors, consider that they will be needing to use their hands for quick transactions, taking your payment and handing you the paper. Mittens would most certainly be a hindrance. Thinner, well fitting gloves, or perhaps gloves without fingertips. would be best.

I hope these few suggestions help people consider how to gift homeless people during the holidays.  And these are only suggestions. You may have a better idea that I haven't mentioned here.   Still, the best way to know is to spend some time getting to know the person you plan on giving to, and ask them directly what they would like.   Besides, that bit of time you spend with a homeless person may just be the best gift of all.