OAKLAND, CA – One thousand four hundred sixty days of homelessness, every day crawling into a tiny tent, my only entertainment being the woman next to me singing “Oh Lord, Why Me? Why Me?”
I believed that once I moved into my apartment, my homeless life would be like last summer: gone for good. I was wrong.
The Living Nightmare had been permanently imprinted in my mind. The nightmare is everywhere, even outside my window. I am an American citizen living in a health epidemic environment—dead rats and plenty of garbage for everyone.
Life after the encampment means that in the morning I can lay in my bed and not get up to see what the encampment residents are doing. The memories are seared in of young girls and grown women running their hands viciously through their hair to get rid of bugs. Miserably, I ask myself why am I doing this, why can’t I forget?
Is it because every night, when I tell them “Good Night,” I leave the blinds open to check on them? Is it because I became what I lived? Once a homeless person, always a homeless person, like a retired policeman is always a cop.
Being free from homelessness is like a soldier coming home forced to cope with a life that has been changed forever. Going to war and being homeless is similar. People die in both situations, both suffer from post-traumatic syndrome and help is hard to find.
Life after the encampment is the horror of total recall. I walk past a dumpster, and I remember being hungry and going through the garbage for food. Some days, I still feel like a homeless person because I still need go to the food bank like I did when I was out there.
I feel like I am walking on eggshells, taking careful steps to make good decisions between buying food and paying for medication.
I feel alive when I go to the state capital with other poor seniors chanting “We need more money for SSI!”
Life after the encampment means going to a men’s support group to release the things that have piled up inside of me. It means seeing my caseworker once a week, plenty of Narcotics Anonymous meetings and especially sharing my story.
I would like to start a Homeless Anonymous meeting. People from both sides of homelessness, those still in it and those out of it, sharing their experience on how to overcome the homeless hurdles and then how to overcome what happens after you get out. An apartment isn’t always your way out of homelessness. The first step might be a hotel room, a shelter or a transitional house. But a roof and a floor is better than the sky and ground!
Life after the encampment is about unlocking the door to my home, but most of all it is about pushing upward and forward like I did when I pushed myself out of that tiny tent every day in the homeless encampment.