Learning about the homeless – May 17, 2009

For people reading this blog entry that have not read my previous entries on the homeless, I encourage you to read Homeless Project Background. It will give you some background on my project. Briefly, I have made a commitment to give $20 each week to a homeless person and minimally ask their name and where they are from.

Since I was so far behind on giving $20 bills away, I set a goal to give a $20 out each day this week.

Monday – I saw Mike outside of the bagel store. Mike was born in Louisiana but grew up in Hyannis Massachusetts. His hands and head shake all the time. When I introduced myself, he instinctively stuck out his hand to shake mine as any gracious man would do. Mike is very much mentally ill, but still gracious. How interesting.

Tuesday – I went to Mike’s normal hangouts a couple of times today, but he was no where to be found.

Wednesday – Talked with Debra from Eureka today. She is a regular in the area. She is the first homeless person to really recognize me. We talked for a bit. She is still a bit incoherent, but never smells of booze. She claims she does not drink or do drugs. She says she might be looking to live indoors again, but living outdoors is really simple or so she says.

Thursday – I talked with Deborah from Colorado today. She certainly represents a different type of homeless than Mike and Ron. Deborah is pretty clean. She and her husband were on vacation in San Diego a year ago when her husband had a heart attack. He was hospitalized and had eight stints put in. My doctor friend says eight stints is a fabrication. My sense is that Deborah was trying to make her story sound better to me. I find it interesting that even the smallest of lies can be so discrediting. During that recovery from the operation, she lost her job and he was not able to return to his construction job. They lost their apartment in Colorado and have been homeless ever since. She is working with local churches and non-profits trying to get back on her feet. Her family lives in New York and is near the poverty level themselves. She and her husband sleep near the local car wash with the permission of the owner. They have two new small duffle bags that they carry their belongings in. She was very articulate and reading a spy novel when I sat down with her. I have been watching her and her husband for the past few months. They hang out in the mornings in the bagel shop that I frequent. I have never approached them in the bagel shop because I did not want them becoming too friendly with me and “bothering” me when I was in the bagel shop. Seems pretty callous of me and I have learned and grown from my conversation with Deborah and from writing these words. For me, public confessions are very powerful.

Friday – I met up with the other Debra from Eureka who is a bit crazy. I did not have any time to talk with her. She very much recognized me and put on a smile when I walked up to her.

Saturday – I saw Debra inside the Starbucks. I am still not comfortable talking with the homeless inside. I only talk with them outside.

Sunday – I walked past a person lying in a sleeping bag behind the local bank and felt like I was intruding in their bedroom. I veered around them.

All in all, this was a good week and I learned more about the homeless and myself. I gave away four $20 bills instead of my goal of seven.

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