"I Am - The Homeless"
My city is great. It's the State Capitol you see. Abraham Lincoln's face is posted all over the place. I discovered its a federal offense to nap in his lap. Ask the cop, who aroused me from my deep slumber with a tap. The shelters are full, with no bed to rest my head. The dark streets are all that's left.
I walk to and fro in what's called the circuit down town. People bless me, "the homeless," with handouts and money and things. Tons of "free stuff" is donated to me each day. Although, standing in lines takes up my entire day.
The mission serves coffee, the donuts are stale. The breadline serves meals twice a day only you must behave well. There's lots more food at the shelters you know, organizations tend to my care by way of evening meals. There is even food on my Link each month that can be used at McDonald's and such. Oh, there's so much food here and there and everywhere. That's the one thing my city can boast about. My city is great.
The volunteers smile and eagerly share as they decide what I should eat and decide what I should wear. I dare not show emotion or say what I think, because these beautiful people react badly when I tend to be me. There are days of frustration when my mind is confused and not clear. There are days I am weakened and sick a lot. The volunteers scatter away and complain when the bad me comes out.
Not only this, but the shelters' staff seem to rule the roost. They pit people against people and dole out free stuff to whom they prefer. I've even seen them take things to their cars and drive off. I've even seen them barter with the things freely given. When I voice my concern or try and complain, they get all worked up and bar me for seven days. Their one sided world is very unjust; very subjective at the most. And, my one little voice just isn't enough.
I should be thankful, I know, and I should be glad. Instead, the lack of dignity of homelessness starts to eat me away. I am stuck in a system I didn't create. I am angry and sad with no way to vent, so I sit by myself with a bottle or joint in hand. And, my friends gather around. It's the least we can do to dull the pain.
I am not a dog to be fed. I am not a pet to be taken care of. I don't like being belittled and talked down to by belligerent people. There's no dignity at all in getting free stuff. There's no way out unless I set aside my pride. Be compliant they say day in and day out. It's been twenty years, how much longer to wait. I will stay outside if that's what it takes.
My eyes drop to the ground because you stare with each and every step that I take. I see you smiling and nodding because you've done a good deed for me. Your food is not enough, your free stuff is tainted in greed. It's all about you; not about me. Only if you would listen to me.
I'm under scrutiny at all times, by even younger people than I, judges and jurors of all types, being told where to go, how to behave; and where to sit. And, be this or that; be good or go do that, if you don't you'll be put out in the cold. Here's your reward, a warm bed, to those that comply! Here's your punishment for those who oppose! Who am I? It tears me apart each and every time. I want to scream, jump, and shout, but I keep it inside.
My tattered overcoat tells who I am; my old wet socks reek in the wind and tell where I've been. My rotten teeth and crooked body show how long I've been on the streets. My skin continues to rot on my feet. My body odor is a scent well earned. My long gray beard is stained with nicotine around my blistered lips and my uncombed hair is tucked under my cap. You will always see me with a worn out pack; it is my only belonging and holds all my free stuff.
It seems I am a show for all to see in my great city, the Land of Lincoln, you see. I hold all the blame for society ills. I bet you hate me for what's wrong in the world. But, I didn't set up this system I'm in. This is your system I'm stuck in, wake up and see! "I Am - The Homeless."
~Linda H. Gessaman, Executive Director of Homeless United for Change (HUC), 213 N. Main, Box 78, Buffalo, Illinois 62515