I spent practically all of 2009 in a shelter recovering from an illness. An illness with no cure, yet can be controlled. An illness that cost my job, my car, my home, and everything I owned except for the clothes I wore to the hospital and some odd and end papers. This illness almost cost me my life twice, but this isn’t about my illness. It’s about my experiences at a shelter/day center.
One of my favorite things to do at the day center was people watching. I would sit for hours, health permitting, and watch those who walk through the doors. I watched approximately 300 people a day for almost 12 months.
Over time I made a few friends, some, who became close and I am still in contact with via Facebook, some were acquaintances as we helped one another pass the time. Then there were those I tried to befriend only to end up asking myself “What the hell was I thinking?” And sadly there were those we lost. It’s hard enough when you lose a friend, but it’s harder yet when you lose that friend for no apparent reason other than they were homeless.
During the course of my “people watching” I noticed there are basically four types of homeless people. (Yes I am categorizing! Please address you hate mail to the address listed on this blog.)
Category 1: Those who actually seek help. These are people who are trying to utilize the day centers programs to better themselves through education, jobs programs, or other type programs. These people are primarily dealing with homelessness for the first time (and hopefully the last time). For most, seeking help from a day center or shelter is their last resort. And there are those who are scared, not knowing where to turn, where to go, or what to do. Over the past few years there have been staggering numbers of women with children as well as veterans, seeking help for the first time.
Category 2: Shelter hoppers, for lack of a better term. These people know the system and travel from shelter to shelter, city to city, (and in my opinion) abuse the system. I actually met a guy in California during the winter, who lived in Canada during the summer. He traveled back and forth through out the year. I don’t want to give these people any credit or praise, like I said earlier they are abusing the system and taking away from those who actually want and need help. I will admit that all people have the right to food, clothing, and shelter, but please do not abuse the system for your own personal gain or chosen way of life.
Category 3: The hard core homeless. These are the people who utilize the services of the day center, but for one reason or the other chose not to stay at a shelter. The reasons vary with the individuals. They prefer life on the streets. Some are in hopes of being housed someday, while others don’t really care one way or the other.
I could go on with my observations but I chose to stop here. There are many sub-categories to those listed above, from panhandlers, to those who abuse drugs, even vendors of one type or another, some may even cross over from one to the other. It's unfortunate some in this category have become the face of homelessness. It is up to each and every one of us to change this perception.
What category was I in? I would have to say 1 and 3. I am considered chronically homeless and during times of homelessness I would sleep in my car and stay away from shelters or day centers, spending my time looking for work or working out of day labor. That was my chosen way of life at times. That is until I became ill and admitted to myself I couldn’t do it alone anymore. That was when entering a day center/shelter saved my life. Now I am proud to say I am on my way to becoming an advocate of sorts.
My name is Ray Trower and I haven’t been homeless since December 2009. There have been close calls, but I have managed to house myself on my own, or like now, with the help of my sister for the last 2 1/2 years.
P.S. I haven't written anything in a while and am a bit rusty. I welcome any and all critic.