Faces of the Streets

Is the American Dream a Lie?

Commentary by Richard Kiefer

Do homeless women and children feel it’s a man’s world on the streets?

Astelle Fields is escaping a bitter divorce. She lost money, her children, and the home because of her psychological history. She has been homeless for six months while she follows her former husband around the country because he keeps moving with their three children. Fields is 37 years old, 5’7” tall and has blond hair and blue eyes. She likes children. She used to operate a day care center in Florida. She has had a personal dream crushed, but she is trying to rekindle the hope in her heart. Her marriage to a major auto company finance manager is over. Because of psychological problems she can no longer run her day care business. She has moved on from the American dream.

Her new husband recently robbed a bank so she’s been forced to think about leading the life of a desperado but she doesn’t want to be a lawbreaker. She is seeking help to deal with her new husband’s decision to go on a crime spree. Now she is in counseling and he is in jail. Fields said, “This is a riches to rags story. This is a woman who should be being paid a $1000 dollars a month in alimony wandering around sleeping in front of churches.”

“My husband wanted the woman in the long evening gown with the long glass of champagne on his arm at the business functions. He didn’t want to have to visit the mental hospital and he used it (my psychological problems) to his advantage. I lost my rights in the courtroom when the judge gave everything to my husband. You just don’t give everything in a nine year marriage, all the marital assets, to the husband. I have shared parental responsibility of the children but I don’t get any alimony.”

“I haven’t lost hope. I’ve never been down this low in my life. I’ve had the best of the best and now I’ve got the worst of the worst. All I really want is a balance in my life. To me the American dream, as a homeless American, is a place to go, a job and a place to go to call my own. I’ll be OK. I’ve found out I can be spiritually happy in a gutter as well as a mansion. My message to women is to be more aware of what’s going on in their marriage. Women who make good money themselves, which I was doing, need to be more independent. I think women need to have their own bank accounts. Women need to open their eyes and not rely on men so much. I didn’t (open my eyes).

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Interviews with homeless individuals on the American Dream

Does a homeless American believe in the American dream? Interviews with homeless people show many still have hope in their dreams but some feel jaded by the system.

An immigrant from Bolivia was interviewed in a soup kitchen about the American Dream. He came to America because he thought it was the land of opportunity and he was searching for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

He said, “The American Dream is a lie. It is a corrupt political machine in control in America. Power is not shared. America is keeping the people powerless.” Americans feel by the system too.

Bob White, a homeless Black man, 52 years old, 6 ft.3in. and weighing 249 lbs. Was a psychiatric attendant and a hairstylist. Now he sleeps on the street and spends his days in coffeehouses. Black said “I dream about a beautiful apartment, three meals a day, a girlfriend and a disability check. “This world of ours is just totally crazy to me.”

Alexa Cintron, a 5ft.3in. brunette with an upbeat personality, was interviewed at a local drop-in center for mentally ill homeless, the gathering place on the subject of her unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Betthouse said, “We want a chance to survive. We want the right to succeed. Just give us the chance.”

Two anonymous homeless veterans were interviewed in park. They said, “”Stop spending on war toys. The homeless are being held hostage by the Defense Department in America. We are bitten by the system.”

Copyright for the Homeless Grapevine and NEOCH, Issue 21, Cleveland Ohio June 1996