A Thanksgiving story

The homeless shelter I work at is giving out free meals for Thanksgiving.

To qualify for the free meals you have to have phoned in a few weeks previously and put your name on the list. You have to live in the nearby area and be on modest or low income.

The food looked pretty good. Turkeys and all the fixings.

A middle aged black woman came in to get some food. She is just out of recovery and was full of energy and positivity, as people often are in that situation. She was talking with the other people in line and joking around.

When she got to the front she was told by the woman with the list that her name was not on the list. She was furious. She hadn’t realized that you needed to put your name down in advance.

In her anger she turned to me and said “What are you going to do about this?” I am a white man so she had assumed that I was in charge. When I told her I was not in charge she got even more angry.

She said “You know, this isn’t your food? It’s the government’s food, it’s our food.”

She didn’t say that she needed the food, or that she deserved the food, or that she really wanted the food, or that she was really sorry but she hadn’t realized about the paperwork. Instead she said that she was a citizen and she had rights to share in the common wealth of the country.

This fell on deaf ears.

Eventually she left without food.

 

 

 

Pictures of housing and homelessness in DC

This is a short photo essay on housing and homelessness in Washington DC.

There are many homeless people in DC.

The city government’s hostels look like prisons.

In some areas, housing for people on low incomes is being replaced with housing for people on higher incomes.

While in other areas, housing has been abandoned.

The city is planning to give away public land for free to developers so that they can build more houses for people on high incomes.

But some people are organizing against this.

It’s hard for homeless people to organize because they have limited social networks.

That’s why I am working with the Father Mckenna centre on a project that encourages homeless people to grow their social networks.

Stories about homeless people’s social networks

Sometimes it’s only when you buy something new that you realize how many other people have it. Suddenly, you notice lots of other people with the same shirt as you or the same phone as you.

Well, it can be the same with ideas.

Since I’ve started thinking about homeless people’s social networks (their friends, family and acquaintances) I am noticing more and more how questions about relationships are important in homeless people’s stories. Perhaps it’s that old problem that if you have a hammer you only see nails, or perhaps looking at the world in this way helps us see things we might otherwise miss.

I’m going to put down three stories here and let you decide what to make of it all.

***

He is addicted to hard drugs and living with friends who are also regular users. His place has lots of people coming and going, many of them also using.

One day he decides (not for the first time) that he wants to get clean. He leaves his place and checks into a homeless shelter. He’s so desperate to stop using drugs that he makes himself homeless to get away from the temptation.

He starts to get lonely and restless away from his friends.

***

Something happened when he was living in LA. It’s not quite clear what. It seems to have involved his home being invaded, his mother starting to use hard drugs and he thinks people from his church were implicated.

Somehow (he says someone at the Church helped) he gets enough money together to get to Washington DC. He arrives in Union Station. He doesn’t have any friends or family in the city.

A homeless person tells him about a day shelter that might be able to help.

***

Whenever he would visit a member of his family they would hide their pocketbooks because they didn’t want him to steal from them again. This would make him angry and he would get in fights with his siblings.

He’s clean now. He went over to visit his sister. Some members of the family left the room and left their pocketbooks behind. Surprised, he asked his sister why they hadn’t taken the pocketbooks with them.

“We know you don’t do that anymore” she replied. He cried.