Friday, August 6, 2010

The Ups And Downs Of Being A Homeless Homeless Advocate (A Status Update)

It's not often that I do a blog post about my personal situation. However, many people have said or insinuated that they wanted to know how I am doing. Therefore, I've decided to oblige. But not before addressing issues pertaining to homeless advocacy as a whole first.

As indicated in the post that precedes this one, it is still extremely difficult to get local politicians to commit to the production and preservation of public and affordable housing. This means that many people who have lived much of their lives in Washington, DC are being priced out of the District. And while the Dept. of Human Services is quite willing to help the "most vulnerable" homeless people, there is very little political will to help the "higher-functioning" homeless. This can result in those who just need a little help to get back on their feet instead remaining in shelter and just stagnating there. All in all, you need to be wealthy or totally incapacitated to remain in this city. Everyone who is between those two extremes -- those who work for less than a living wage -- is being pushed out.

Howbeit, some of those who are falling prey to these and other government policies are beginning to organize -- locally and nationally. While the activity around the tent city at 7th and R streets has slowed down, people remain concerned and involved. As a matter of fact, I am about to call meeting to discuss recent developments. (The deputy mayor has posted a large banner at the site announcing the fact that there will be a construction project beginning there soon.) As for national efforts that I'm involved in, there will be a local meeting of those who attended the U.S. Social Forum this Saturday (August 7th) at Plymouth United Church of Christ from 11AM to 3 PM. Hopefully, I will be able to reconnect with the national Right To Housing Movement soon, as local issues have usurped all of my time lately/

So, I do have my hands full. There's never a dull moment. The fact of the matter is that I am sometimes overwhelmed with how much there is to do. As J.C. said, "The harvest is plentiful; but, the laborers are few".

As you read about my advocacy efforts, bear in mind that I am a "homeless homeless advocate". When someone is homeless, everything takes longer. When I get up in the morning, I have to walk about 150 ft. to the bathroom. (Most people's houses aren't quite that big.) Then, as I prepare to shower, I might have to wait for someone to exit the gang shower, though not often and never for long. (In the homeless community, the shower line is the shortest line you'll need to stand in.) By the time that I return to my locker, my bunky might be awake and I might need to wait for him to move so that I can get to my locker and put away my towel and dirty clothes. Then, if I don't have enough funds to ride the public transportation, I walk four miles to Thrive DC to eat breakfast. (Most people walk a few feet from the bedroom to the kitchen and don't need to ride the bus or subway to eat breakfast.) I might arrive there anywhere between 8:30 and 9:15 AM. By the time I finish breakfast, it may be 10:30. (The food line is the longest line that the homeless stand in, rivaled only by the check-in line at the shelter.) On Thursdays I wash my clothes at Thrive DC, which means that I might not leave until 11:30. Then, if I don't have money for the subway, I walk five miles southeastward to the Library Congress, passing the shelter where I stay along the way. While there, I can access the internet and charge my cell phone, after which I only have a 15-minute walk back to the shelter to eat dinner at 5 PM (which I don't always eat and which is often not worth the trip when I do). My evening activities from 5 PM to midnight vary. Nonetheless, I've begun to show you how it is that, when you are homeless, everything takes longer.

In addition to the usual rigors of the homeless lifestyle, I have a few problems that are all my own. My most recent problems include having my check and my identity stolen. (Who would've ever figured that a homeless person would have such problems?) A $100 check that I received for some of my writing was intercepted (possibly at the shelter mail room) and cashed at Bank of America. The day after I found that out, my bank (Wachovia) said that they had received a notice from Bank of America which indicated that I might be involved in some fraudulent activity and that they were forcing me to close my account. Upon further investigation, I was able to conclude that someone had stolen my identity and committed fraud in my name. The facts are still forthcoming. I'm just left to wonder why anyone would steal crumbs from a homeless man instead of finding a well-off person to try and victimize. (Of course, it would still be wrong, but a more conceivable wrong.) I guess they are a shelter resident who knew that I had some money coming and got what they could out of me, no matter how small the amount.

When it comes to which one qualifies as the worst of my woes, it's a toss-up between not being romantically involved and not having access to a good computer. I mentioned earlier how that, when you're homeless, everything takes longer. Well, that is especially true when it comes to computer access. I actually have to run all over town in order to do everything that I need to do on a computer:

At the Library of Congress, the computers haven't been replaced since 2000. I can use them as long as I need to (4, 5 even 6 hours on end). However, they have very high security settings so that I can't make attachments on them and can't open most types of attachments. They are always malfunctioning. Sometimes I have to try 4 or 5 computers before I can find one that will print. But, when I do, I can print for free. Oftentimes it's nearly impossible to find one that will access the internet and perform other basic functions of a computer. However, I can walk into the Library of Congress at any given moment and find an available computer.

At the DC Public Libraries, I have to sign up and get in the queue in order to get a 70-minute session on the computer. If I'm not there at opening time, I might need to wait an hour or 2 to log on. Or I can wait about 10-15 minutes for a 15-minute computer, get very little accomplished and then get back in line for another 15 minutes. At DC Public Libraries I must pay 15 cents per page to print. But, their computers can make and open any and all types of attachments.

I can't access Youtube at the Library of Congress or DC Public Libraries due to their failure to upgrade their browsers. This means that I miss out on any important news that is sent to me in video form.

You can only imagine the frustration that I experience with computers. I spend many-a-day just fussing and cussing at the computer(s). That's not to speak of the fact that, when the computers at L of C are working, they are oftentimes very slow. There are days that it takes me 5 hours or more to do what I should be able to do in 2 hours.

So, there you have it. I'm busy fighting the good fight with no end in sight. I'm dealing with more than my fair share of frustrations and personal problems. But I'm committed to the cause nonetheless. Some time ago, I was explaining to Steve Thomas (Better Believe Steve) that I remain committed to the cause, in part, due to many homeless people looking up to me to come through for them. He corrected me by saying, "No, Eric, they 'depend' on you." Regardless of which explanation works for you, I can't bring myself to just walk away from the job that I've taken on -- in spite of the low pay. I'm in it to win it.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Janet said...

this has become such a common practice these days i became so angry last weekend when this thing happened to me i contacted this company and they recover my stolen identity info http://bit.ly/9AmT7f

August 17, 2010 at 7:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thought you may want to peek this article from the NY Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/19/us/19homeless.html?ref=us

Aldo B.

August 19, 2010 at 11:21 AM  

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