Taking Care of Our Own
By Chris Staniszewski
In the United States, one of our greatest strengths and greatest weaknesses is our need for independence. We often seek it at the expense of those dearest to us and may, when we are most needy, use it to keep us from those most willing to help---our family and closest friends. Because of this obsession with independence, those of us who have found ourselves homeless may not seek family or friends as a temporary solution to our problems. It is an absolutely unexplainable, illogical phenomenon. But there it is.
It is presumptuous and foolish to say that living with family again, after many years away, is idyllic and heavenly. More likely, it is or can be tinged and tainted with argument and frustration on all sides. Family may expect the younger brother or older sister or the child they used to know, not recognizing nor wanting the person we are now. And because it is their house, it is we who must adapt to their schedules and lifestyle, and thus the tensions multiply. Yet, after all the fights, family, amazingly, is still there and still willing to help.
In many of the world’s cultures, living with extended family units is the acceptable and, in fact, only lifestyle. This brings tremendous obligation to all members, tremendous order and tremendous responsibility---all things that our culture lacks. As the family unit in this country continues to break down, a return to some dependence on family may help build it up again. To humble ourselves and accept our family’s offered support may teach us how important these attachments can be.
Independence is as necessary as air for many of us. This need is good. But we should not push it to a ridiculous extreme. Asking for help when we need it does not make us weak or foolish but logical and practical. No one stands alone, really. Looking to family again, temporarily, may help us stand stronger, taller, and more confident, as family can show us our value by taking us in. A disguised blessing, perhaps.
Homelessness: Everybody’s Shame
By Tammy Ray
The ignorant, selfish ones say that the homeless are failures at life. Worthless and crippled, unwilling to face reality. The homeless are bag ladies and bums, winos and junkies. They are illiterate, and most are insane. The homeless bring a threat, a bizarre shame. They live in our city streets. They drown themselves in cheap wine, and then die in our gutters. They are laid to rest with no name, not even a tear of good-bye.
This article is dedicated to the ignorant, selfish ones who consider the housing problem to be someone else’s problem, those who believe that each homeless person is unlike themselves, in other words, this article is dedicated to all of us. We cannot continue to stereotype people just because we live in a society that has stopped caring.
We all live in this cruel world where love has turned into our own demon, our own greed. Somewhere along the way we stopped showing compassion. We watch children dying, and we have become so cold that tears seldom fall, but we thank god it wasn’t our child who had to suffer. Our fast-paced world has buried our giving souls among the rubble of today’s needs, today’s confusions, today’s streets.
It is so easy to look the other way when we see others in need. We think that if we don’t acknowledge the problem, it will go away. We can blame others when we are forced to admit that we have an epidemic that has already stolen the lives of many Americans. Approximately 13.5 million people in America people like you and me have experienced homelessness at some point in their lives.
Have you ever felt despair, felt grief that crushes your very being? If so, if you have felt life’s poisonous venom, then you might agree that if we look deep within ourselves, there is no separation between them and us. Once life has beaten us breathless, we too become the helpless, the weak. The only separation becomes the walls of our warm homes and the emptiness that chills the night air.
We cannot close our eyes and make it disappear. We can no longer hide behind ignorance and self-centeredness. We cannot save this world alone. We are all to blame. We are all dying, but tears seldom fall.
To Whom it May Concern
By Sherine Steele
My name is Sherine Steele and I try every week to purchase the newspaper that you publish. Some of the stories are so heart wrenching that I often find myself in tears. Others are so frustrating that I want to go out and yell at everyone to “Wake up and get a grip.”
I, at present, am stuck in a dead- end job as a telephone operator and am living, with my two children, at a friend’s house. I am only 22 but I used to OWN my own home and go to school and work while raising my two children with their father. Now, I’m starting over again (for the third time).
You see, before owning my own home, I was discarded, kicked out and pregnant with no place to sleep and nothing to eat. Luckily, long-lost relatives came to my rescue with a place to sleep, but that was it. Eating and buying the necessities and continuing school was all up to me. It was 1989, and it was the first time I had to start over with absolutely nothing.
After losing my baby (stillborn in January of 1990) and right before graduating from high school (in June of 1990, with one of the highest GPAs in my class), I was told that my grandmother was moving and I couldn’t go with her. For the second time, I had no place to go. My boyfriend and I had to stay in abandoned houses until we moved in with his mother (a crack addict). None of my friends ever knew that, for a time, I was homeless. After graduating and fed up with staying with my boyfriend’s mom, my boyfriend and I saved up our money and found an apartment. Shortly thereafter, we managed to put a down payment on our home (in September of 1992).
Now my situation is bad again, but better than it was all those years ago when I was homeless. It’s better because now I let everything that hits me become a life lesson, and through the grace of God these experiences (and others) made me stronger instead of weaker.
My point in allowing you this small glimpse into the dark corners of my existence is to let you know that I’m not someone who has had it easy all her life and now decides that she feels pity and now wants to help all the little people that are less fortunate than herself. Until now, reading your newspaper, I never knew how I could make a difference, even a small one.
My intent is not to minimize anyone else’s anguish by comparing it to my own because I am aware that there are others worse off than me. But there was a time when it didn’t seem that way, a time when (in my mind) I was the worst- case scenario.
I’ve always loved to write, and I have dreams that someday my writing will be known by all. I don’t know if I’m that good, but practice makes perfect. I do know that I have an ability with words to make people see with their mind’s eye. I can make them feel everything that I feel when I’m writing. This is what I want to give to the homeless.
HONOR OF THE HOMELESS
I CAN WALK UPRIGHT, TALL AND PROUD
EVERY PART OF MY ANATOMY IS IN THE RIGHT PLACE
SOME ACTUALLY THINK THAT’S IN STYLE.
MY GOODNESS ME, I’VE HAD SUCH A LONG DAY
THINK I’LL STOP AND SIT HERE FOR A WHILE.
AS I CHANCE TO LOOK UP, I SEE YOU STARING AT ME
YOUR EXPRESSION’S FULL OF ANIMATED CONCERN
I SILENTLY ENDURE YOUR HYPOCRISY
‘CAUSE YOU NEVER KNOW WHEN IT’LL BE YOUR TURN.
IN THE BLINK OF AN EYE YOU COULD HAVE NOTHING
AND I COULD BE WHERE YOU STAND
YOU’D WALLOW IN SELF-PITY; POUTING AND PUFFING
WHILE I’D EXTEND A HELPING HAND.
S. C. STEELE
Some are already strong of mind and body and can handle the sometimes cruel treatment dished out by people who can’t possibly understand the strength that it takes to stand up to the ridicule of others, when all you want is for someone to care. It also takes strength to stop and help someone instead of walking away as if not hearing his or her pleas for help. Some homeless persons are still in the throes of self-pity and self-punishment, while others are feeling defeated, deflated and discarded by society---all because they lack vision. Those who think themselves above and beyond the cries of the weak also lack vision.
Vision is what I want to give to these people through your newspaper. Enclosed is a sample of some of my writing. I hope you see the vision that I do. I also hope that “Honor of the Homeless” is something you would consider publishing in your newspaper. If one person is inspired by reading it, then that’s one more person who might decide it’s time to do his or her part.
I would appreciate any correspondence from you concerning “Honor of the Homeless” and any other suggestions you might have as far as what else I can do to help. Thank you for taking the time to read this. Hope to hear from you soon.
Published by the Homeless Grapevine Cleveland, Ohio Spring 1994