May I just say: This has been by far the most difficult subject matter I have written about in years.
I have zero idea what I could possibly write in this forum if you do not already feel something visceral about the homelessness epidemic occurring in the US, particularly on the West Coast.
Depravity. Disgust. Empathy. Fear.
For my part, as editor of the County Democrat Reader, I have made it my job to at least approach the subject. May I just say: This has been by far the most difficult subject matter I have written about in years.
I have done everything humanly possible to avoid even approaching this topic, such is my irrational fear of homelessness. I am superstitious by nature, and perhaps I feel like I will be the next one cast out of society’s privileged roofed sanctuary. I, like most Americans, am one loss of job, or a dispute with my landlord away from the streets.
And it’s a horrifying feeling.
I know I live on a teetering edge, and until doing the reporting for this series, I used to think I was alone, and an utter failure. I was supposed to be wealthy, successful, perhaps a yacht-and mansion-owning man by middle age. Everyone thought so, especially me.
Now? I despise obscene wealth and the need for some owning it to flash it in front of the rest of us as some sort of credential to a mythical higher realm — the trips, the cars, the houses, etc. I used to worry about being successful financially. Now, I worry about the quality of my character. This transition has, I fear, in part contributed to my cliff’s edge existence. It simply is not worth how I view the value of my soul to sell it out for cash, if that makes any sense. There is great nobility in poverty, done right. And I suppose that is where I am headed.
I can describe the route which got me here, but I would never be able to explain how in world I find myself in this place.
Just a few short years ago I was living what, comparably, would be considered a luxurious life. A couple of major life events later, like many Americans, I find myself on the brink of catastrophe, not always sure if my constant peddling is even worth the effort, at this point. Each such hesitation in America manifests a backward step, it seems.
Little, however, has disappointed me more in American life than the treatment of less-fortunate denizens by those more fortunate. I grew up loving the lore of George Washington, Ben Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, all of whom seemed to choose integrity over greed.
These are some of the reasons I feel so reluctant to write about homelessness. But it is because of these reasons, I must.
I am committing to a three-part exploration for any reader out there who happens to run across these pieces.
Part One, published in this October issue, covers a lunch I shared with a homeless couple, Lynette Snook and Joe Angel, who graciously offered to share their story of years-long homelessness mostly in my neighborhood, St. Johns.
Part Two, for the November issue of County Democrat Reader, will cover a series of overnights I spent this summer in a homeless camp near my rental, and the myriad of adventures and stories that were shared with me by some people who get a very bad rap, even if they are like us all, imperfect.
Part Three, for December, will examine those who’ve found themselves homeless, but are trying heroicly to reenter housed society as they work full-time, usually with two jobs, and live in their cars. Debbie has offered to share her story, and I can already tell you hers is the most gut-wrenching of all.
My hope, in doing this, is to shed some light, insight and hope for us all as we try to grapple with our humanity, our culture, our souls. This is one issue we will have to answer for when history inevitably begs the question, Schindler’s List style: Did you do enough to help?