This is an interview with Melvin Bryant aka Buzzy about being homeless and what his thoughts are about homelessness.
Grapevine: Buzzy, could you talk about homelessness from your perspective?
Buzzy: If you’re a hustler my man, your work has just begun. They say you’re homeless brother, all right? I’ve been homeless for approximately five years, on and off. I’ve really been homeless ‘cause I stayed out in the streets the majority of my life. I became homeless mainly because I got tired of the hum drum of society and always being in the institution, going to work, doing things that I thought were unnecessary or contrary to what I believe in.
Grapevine: Like what?
Buzzy: Like going to work from nine to five, making somebody else, richer while I got poorer. So I thought of, or took a lot of business ventures, things where I could be my own boss, do what I wanted to do, get up when I wanted to get up. Then I have nobody to depend on or responsibilities of having to pay rent, light, gas and all those things that most normal, they say ‘normal,’ people have to do in order to be good Americans. So that is what I did. I got out of that kind of life and I adopted my own kind of life. I also ran into a lot of things that have helped me mature as a person because I have seen the down side and the good side of homeless.
Grapevine: ...of mankind, could it be of mankind in general?
Buzzy: Nooo, homelessness, homelessness is not just mankind. Homelessness is just a.., at one time…, it was just a thing where…, could I talk about white society?
Grapevine: You could talk about anything you want.
Buzzy: the majority of society...
Grapevine: Just say white society.
Buzzy: Okay, white society in America wanted to...when homelessness was a majority of white people on the streets panhandling with their families, we had a whole lot of Sixty Minutes [news coverage]. Every talk show in the world was talking about being homeless. Homelessness this, homelessness that, everyone wanted to do something about homelessness.
They got programs so everybody could get homes, homeless people could get jobs. They made a movie about being homeless called Down and Out in Beverly Hills. That was supposed to show the plight of homeless and this, that and the other, what homeless people did for a living. They ate out of garbage cans, they drink in order to stay warm in the winter time, sometimes to get away from the plight of being homeless. Alcohol seems to take them from being homeless back to where they were when they had homes, when things were all peachy keen.
Another thing, the people that I have met and the things society has done since the black minority has now become the majority of homeless, there are things being done but you don’t hear all of the hoopla. What was heard before is silent. Everyone is trying to cut out all of the programs enforced for the homeless. You once were able to sleep in the parks year round. Now they don’t want the homeless sleeping in the parks no more. In the big cities, like Cleveland, where it is building up into a metropolis, they don’t want the middle class, the upper middle class, to come downtown and see the homeless people lying on the streets. But this here is a fact of life. There are a lot of people that are homeless.
Grapevine: Do you think people are like this because society got tired of trying to solve the homeless problem and got frustrated with the lack of success or because the majority of homeless individuals today are the minority, or black?
Buzzy: To me that is what it is. Today, the majority of homelessness is black homelessness. Because there are a lot of black homeless people, even though they have a lot of hunger centers, a year ago they introduced the voucher system. A lot of people that are homeless now are mentally ill or very into some kind of substance abuse which keeps them in the plight of being homeless. Because they have to panhandle to make their money, they have to go to temporary jobs. As soon as they make their money at the job, they go someplace to cash their check. They cash their check at a liquor store/check cashing place, so as soon as they cash their check, they are right there to trigger their disease of being alcoholics.
It is one thing after another. Some people get into a routine of doing something over and over again. You become conditioned. You feel like the guys that live in shelters, they go to temp. jobs in the day, back to shelters at night. They sit around playing cards, talking about the good old days when they were doing this, doing that, they become stuck. Once you are stuck in this routine, it is very hard to get out of that routine. Though I have seen a lot of people who have tried to break the cycle of homelessness. Even them, they run into little obstacles, whether it be the mayor of the city or the place were no one wants low income families because it would bring their neighborhoods down.
The thing is, the people that are homeless in Cleveland are African Americans. The only ones that tend to help are majority white society, Catholic Centers, churches that are affiliated on the west side. There are hardly any places that a homeless person, or African American, can go to on the east side. Some have been displaced where they are, from the east side, but everything is on the west side. If they want services they have to go to the west side.
Grapevine: Do you think this is because black people for whatever reason do not get involved or because they do not have the resources to give, where white people have more resources in general to provide for people? Do you think it is a matter of apathy by black people or do you think it is a matter of economics or resources?
Buzzy: I think it is apathy. I do not think it is the resources because maybe a long time ago in society, blacks did not have the resources, but blacks are economically stable now. They have organizations that do and make money. Seventy percent of athletes and entertainers in America are black. What do they do with their money?
They don’t put it back into their communities where they came from. They do not help the communities where they came from. Ninety percent of them come from these communities. Ninety percent did not come from the suburbs. They just got out of the inner city. When they got out of the inner city and became famous, they started making their money. They give nothing that would be beneficial to the African American population as a whole. Some do a few things like pass out turkeys at Christmas time, but how many are doing things that are advantageous to their communities? Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neil, Albert Belle are making ‘X’ amount of millions, but no one is doing anything with these millions but putting themselves in the limelight. So they would be in society’s limelight.
Grapevine: Where are young black men who advocate for the homeless?
Buzzy: Young black men have no leaders. Young black men have nobody to look up to but sports figures. Because they have no leaders, they are only into listening to their crazy gangster rap or they are into becoming the biggest drug dealer in the neighborhood. They have lost all respect for their people. They look at people lower than themselves as no one to care about. African Americans have lost their sense of unity. They do no believe in ‘Umgowa,’ black power, anymore. They believe in every man for himself and God for us all.
Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine published January – February 1997 Issue 19