There and back again
Several years ago, during the Bush/Cheney administration, a few members of congress decided to live on the approximately $427 of food-stamp benefits provided to the poor. They reported regularly on how they managed to stretch this meager amount across the entire month in order to feed their families.
I attended the Arcata City Council meeting in 2010 when the aggressive panhandling ordinance was passed in a 3-2 vote with Shane Brinton and Susan Ornelas voting against (Ms. Ornelas seemed prepared to vote in favor but was swayed by the ground-swell of public comments against, hence the 3-2 vote rather than a 4-1 vote).
I wonder if any members of the Arcata City Council would be willing to shed their homes, hot showers and ‘normal’ lives to live for just a few months on the streets of a strange town with no money–just as many of the folks targeted by this ordinance do? I myself had been living a comfortable, well-insured and highly functional existence paying not one but three mortgages and preparing for retirement alongside other Gucci Loafer-wearing ‘American Dreamers’ when suddenly I experienced an extremely embarrassing and shameful psychotic break from reality. A period of complete and udder madness which quickly led to multiple “5150′s,” months in and out of fancy and not-so-fancy psychiatric hospitals, and finally homelessness after being prescribed a prescription drug with a known side effect of psychosis (similar to well-publicized accounts of our armed forces who are required to take prophylactic doses of anti-malarial drug mefloquine).
Within a short time, although I owned several homes, I was living on the streets and in the parks of San Francisco and eating out of trash cans. Finally I was placed in a locked-ward of Napa State Hospital for the criminally insane. No one expected to ever see or hear from me again. Not one family member came to visit or called to inquire how I was or answered my mail.
I can personally attest to the fact that however a person becomes homeless, once there you quickly come to understand how cruel and uncaring other humans and their laws can be. Helpless, vulnerable, broke and suffering from untreated mental illness hardly equip one to better their circumstances. Thoughts of suicide are constantly on your mind. And police officers can trigger a panic attack upon site.
As I walked the streets in a daze and looked through the windows of other people’s homes, my only wish was that one kind person living behind one plate-glass bay window trimmed with expensive, custom-made curtains in their well-heated homes would reach out to me and offer me a shower. I had been working since I was 14-years old and remained well-employed for most of my adult life. That low-point was not the life I worked so hard to attain. But it happened to me anyway, without warning, without time to properly prepare. Without the ability to find homes for my dogs. I never saw my puppies again.
I hope the City Council members of Arcata will consider ways they might better understand the plight of these fellow human beings who live on sidewalks across America perhaps by committing to walking a few blocks, for a few months, in their moccasins. The experience of street and park living and dumpster-diving with no money is so traumatizing and damaging that I can guarantee you will never look at ‘solutions’ to the problem of homelessness or at panhandlers the same way again.
There IS a solution to homelessness. It’s called homes, not sidewalks, folks.
This is my story.