I have the intention of writing my next book based on the homeless. I have written over 300 poems about homelessness or homeless people that I have seen, met and befriended over the past ten years and my idea was to dedicate this book, called “Cardboard City”, to their plight, donating all the profits to homeless charities and other worthwhile causes relating to homelessness, all over the USA. This compilation will be ready for print towards the end of 2012, but in the meantime, I would like to share some thoughts and some poems with you.
One would think that in this day and age when we have all our technological prowess and ability, and where it’s so easy to buy whatever is desired, travel wherever one wants and eat anything that comes into a hungry imagination, that for anyone not to have a roof over their head would be, to say the least, impossible and certainly disgraceful. Not so. In the US alone, there are over 2.5 million people who are homeless and believe it or not, 13% of them are children. To me, and of course as always I need to make it very clear, this is my opinion only, this has become a situation that is outrageous and disgusting. I always believed man’s basic right should be to have a roof over his/her head and food to eat. Unfortunately, we are far from ever seeing this in our lifetime. The distribution of wealth, politics, and a greed factor to be better than the next, rather than a will to share, have depleted all common good and any common ground with regards to these rights. It’s so sad to walk through most of America’s major cities, let alone the rest of the world, and see people sitting aimlessly on street corners begging for food and money and anything else they might scrounge without resorting to violence. Have you ever been homeless? Have you ever given anything to a homeless person? Well, I can tell you, from my own experience, and trust me, I have survived being homeless for a week in San Francisco, (it was my own choice and not forced on me, and if I was going to compile a book filled with poems about the homeless, then I, of all people, had to experience homelessness first hand, in order to make the connection I believed I already had in the words I’d already written), probably the most frightening week of my life, some of these homeless people are there to make a living, the majority are not. When you look at a homeless person, what do you see? Desperation? Hunger? Loneliness? Humiliation? Sometimes you see all of the above, but sometimes, if you look closely you can see through a facade that is just another money making machine. Yes of course, some of those claiming to be homeless are not, leading often to situations where those who are truly alone, starving, and broke, undergo unnecessary scrutiny and unwanted media bashings, completely undeserved and totally damaging to their plight . My father used to say, ‘it’s not how you make a living that counts, it’s only the fact that you are making a living’ Well some of the panhandlers who are roaming our streets earning thousands of untaxed dollars every year, just because they can, are really spoiling the situation for the many more who are in dire need of assistance and unable to get that help they so desperately require.
When I went to San Francisco alone, to become a homeless person, I took nothing. I wanted to see how long I could survive. Yes, I knew I could quit whenever I wanted, but to make it work, I believed I needed to stay at least a week, I had to experience the humiliation as if it was real and I had to ensure that I was accepted by the public as being a down and out, and not someone pretending to be desperate. This isn’t an easy thing to do, especially when you are trying to dress for the part. It took me weeks to find clothes that were appropriate, grow my hair and leave it unwashed and not brush my teeth for several days prior to the start of my madness. All of this plus the courage to actually go through with it, and the discipline to stick with my plan, made it nerve-racking, frightening and nearly impossible, from a metal standpoint. However, there I was, one gorgeous Friday afternoon, alone, on a train, which I’d allowed myself the luxury of a ticket both ways, leaving my car parked at the station, my cell phone and wallet at home and imagination in overdrive with the possible dangers and adventures I now faced as a homeless person. There was also a certain amount of excitement, but not the kind I would have described as pleasant!
From some of the poems that I would like you to read in the coming weeks, you will see how these people, those who are genuinely homeless, suffer each and every day of their lives, and just to survive takes guile, luck and a tremendous amount of faith and discipline. Going from street to street, shelter to shelter, in good and in bad weather, hoping for a bite to eat, a dollar to spend and just one kind soul to take an interest in them and their plight. They are cast off from society, hated, by most of us, who turn away when we pass them on the street, or are confronted when asked to ‘spare a buck’ They can do no right and they are classed as being nothing but a ‘nuisance’ by government. My attempt to become one of them was completely humbling. It took me months to come to terms with their impossible task, freedom, yes freedom from their ‘captivity’. We see them as animals, as pariah’s, as unwanted, but they are not. They are human beings, some down on their luck, some just destroyed mentally from wars they have fought to keep the rest of us free and yet, they are homeless, and will probably remain that way unless we, the people, the lucky ones rise up and help. I hope you enjoy some of the insight I am able to give you in the poems that I’ve written, and feel free to send me comments or questions on any aspect of being homeless or how you can help in your own small way every day. I would ask that for each poem I publish on here, that you find it in your hearts to give a dollar to a homeless person that day, or buy someone who is hungry a meal, or help someone who is alone by conversing with them like a normal human being. If we all start to do just a little every day, perhaps homelessness can eventually be for only those who truly want to make a living from begging.