It was nine years ago when I first slept on the street.
Sleeping on the street is lonely. Sleeping on the street is maddening. Sleeping on the street changes one’s perspective about how others are using their own lives, their own potential and their own worthiness to be representatives of our good God’s stewardship. When I fell into homeless at twenty nine years old, I became enraged.
I was already brutally heartbroken. I did not understand how, in an environment where we possessed so much materially and purported to have sound morals that had propelled us to great heights, I had to suffer so much. Thankfulness and gratitude did not come easily and do not come easily.
It is hard to be thankful for peanut butter and jelly that comes from funds raised at galas featuring lavish beef entrées and free-flowing wine. It is hard to be thankful about a society and a culture of homeless services that often seems to treat you like a liability or a commodity to be exploited. Sometimes the sheer total helplessness of the situation blinds one to the amount of blessings one actually possesses.
Being hungry and alone gives one a true perspective on how small actions like sharing a meal with others and a simple conversation are blessings. We live in a world that can cause one to be deprived of these simple joys, so I try to be thankful in every moment. When I became “houseless,” I was sad, angry, confused and most importantly, I felt alone.
I was working as a pedicab driver, giving tours of my awesome town to tourists and locals, as well as shuttling patrons from point to point in the uptown area. Before my roommate asked me to move out of his house, I also worked at Outback Steakhouse.
It was all rather abrupt and somewhat without warning. I knew at the time it was possible for me to remain anonymous and to regain my life with a sacrifice of silence. To keep quiet in my own silent, lonely pain. But even before I became “houseless,” I had many problems with how poor people were treated. To me, it is simply unfair for us to allow others to remain impoverished; it is to their detriment and to our own. When I see “the homeless” hanging out on park benches and vagrantly existing in the heart of my city, it’s embarrassing, disconcerting and annoying. I felt this way before I became homeless.
Often when I would pedicab drive, I would give five to ten dollars of my money to those who panhandled all weekend long.
Usually, I found that giving my money that I earned pedaling my legs lifted my spirits and also gave me some financial karma that carried over into my business. I quickly made friends with some of the homeless because of this. I did not expect to one day be in the same position.
Instead of hiding myself away in an abandoned part of town, unseen by the people who I felt were my peers, I placed myself in one of the most visible portions of the city, at the corner of two busy streets, on a park bench underneath a well-endowed shelter owned by a rich church. It was my hope that the more philanthropic members of the congregation would see me on the bench and question me about my presence there.
I desperately wanted a place in our society. I desperately wanted to be cared for. I desperately wanted to not feel so alone. Unfortunately, this is not what occurred. Instead, I was ignored. In the morning, I would wake up, and the local coalition of mom joggers would run by, discussing their lives. And I’d hear the “whoosh” of cyclists riding by on their morning workout session. As they noticed me on the bench and I attempted to maintain an appearance of actual sleep, their volume actually increased, almost as if to indicate, “We are trying super hard to appear as though we don’t notice you on that bench, so we’ll get louder!”
I never felt more alone than on those mornings surrounded by people busily ignoring me. Oftentimes, I consider how so much in my life might have been much easier if someone had just taken that opportunity to say “Hello! You don’t belong here! Allow me to help.” I have a lot of positivity in my life now, positivity that I am quite grateful for, yet I will never forget those lonely nights in the well-heeled neighborhoods when I waited for someone, anyone, to simply drop by and say, “Hey!”