by Mike McCray
I have found a good night’s sleep is without a doubt the hardest thing to acquire living on the streets in American cities.
It is funny because I have always been able to call a place that I am at my home when out in nature.
I remember once I lived out of a backpack to cut costs in Utah while attending college. Every night there was this rock that was my home. I would return to that rock almost every night and sleep like a baby. If I could not return at night to my rock, but was in the woods with my sleeping bag, I still slept good.
The rock, however, was my home--the place that made me feel secure. It was high enough to keep me from rattlesnakes and had an overhang to keep the weather off me.
Being in a war zone did not disturb my sleep either. Surrounded by armed men who did not speak a word of English in the countryside, yet sleeping like a baby.
Nothing frightened me or made me lose more sleep than being in an urban American environment without a place to call my own. Every time in my life that I have wanted to give up because of stress in life, it has been on the streets of an American city.
The first fear that I experienced was realizing that it is a crime to be on the street without a home.
In most American cities being homeless means you are a vagrant and subject to arrest. It is not legal to sleep under a bridge, in an alley, or in a park in most cities. Therefore, if you are poor and homeless you are a criminal.
Our whole society is geared toward winning and to most people you are a loser when you do not have a home. Winning has been drilled into you at every turn in America. You feel like a loser on display in a city without a home.
You try to sleep, yet worry about the police picking you up for the crime of being homeless in America. Maybe the policeman will have compassion, or maybe he will be a jerk. You sleep with your eyes open.
Besides, if they take you to jail you end up with criminals. Criminals make me nervous and are a good thing to avoid in my mind. Most criminals love the night. You do the crime in the day and you may get caught. The night embraces and hides criminals.
Three in the morning is a good time for these people, the bars are emptying and they need something to do. At three in the morning, there are not too many witnesses if you get beaten, robbed, or worse. The thought of anyone of these kind of creatures coming upon you while you sleep is enough to keep anyone awake.
Well ,at least on the street you can get away if you're awake. In jail it might be your angry cell mate who committed such a crime, and who decides he hates you.
Yes, there is something about being homeless in an American city that just robs you of your sleep.
Yet, if you're going to get out of that situation, sleep is the only thing that can provide rest for your tormented soul and provide hope for the next day.
Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine published March – April 1996 – Issue 14