One thing that’s really surprised me about being homeless has been the kindness of strangers and charity.
With that, I sincerely have a difficult time going without food.
But there’s a flip side to that charity.
An ugly, insidious problem that even people who provide charity on occasion don’t fully comprehend.
It has to do with the stereotypes, the stigma, and the assumptions made by nearly everyone who’s not homeless, which has the ‘trickle down’ effect of influencing the agencies and organizations tasked with assistance.
And it’s this open discrimination which makes it nearly impossible to get back off the street.
First, a quick little bio: I have 30 years of experience in Information Technology, with a Bachelor’s Degree in Marketing and a Master’s Degree in Business Administration from Thunderbird, the #1 Business School for International Management in the world.
I have a private pilot’s license. And have been to 40 countries. And for human languages, while I only speak broken Spanish, I know nearly 30 computer languages like the back of my hand.
For most of my adult life and career I was making 6 figures, and for the first 20 years of my career I enjoyed my job, but for the last 10 years, I found enjoyment to be a struggle – and with 100+ hours per work week – I hated what I was doing and as I burned the candle at both ends until finally a suicide attempt made me realize I need to walk away from this before I’m successful with taking my life.
I like to think I’m no slouch. And many agree with me.
A year later. I’m living in my parent’s house.
A year after that. I’m nearly broke. Still not sure what I want to do. So I left the country with $600 bucks to my name, and went south of the border for a year, experiencing a hitch hiking adventure for a year through all of Central America.
So first among the problems I have is debt.
I have $200k in debt, about $140k of that in Student loans, and have had my bank accounts seized twice and a check I attempted to cash seized as I attempted to cash it.
The FIRST problem for anyone deeply indebted and like myself – homeless – is there is NO consideration taken for living expenses. So. If I make any attempts to open up a bank account, I’ll immediately have that money seized.
So while I may have some of my wages at a normal job with a normal income garnished which will seize a portion of any income I make, banks don’t have any such courtesy at all and will immediately take any money I earn.
It’s hard to explain this problem and position to someone who hasn’t witnessed it for themselves.
It’s a form of discrimination against those without the finances to recover.
Not necessarily indicative of homeless discrimination.
Or is it?
Here’s where I hit on the first societal discrimination:
A simple lack of belief and trust in what I experienced with the banks. I’ve told friends about this, and it’s consistently weird, there’s a knee jerk reaction to NOT believe what I say happened to me.
None. Zero. Zilch.
This lack of belief in what I’ve lived through gets weirder.
Knowing my background and experience. Everyone who isn’t homeless. And I do mean everyone. Typically believes there’s something I haven’t tried to ‘get out of my position’.
Surely there’s something I haven’t done.
So I’ll explain how – for years – I have sent thousands of resumes. I’ve redone it no less than 100 times over the four years I’ve been homeless. I have tried dozens of web sites, filed with California state based web sites, have talked to people til I am blue in the face here in Hollywood, and while I bear the scar of a suicide attempt to remind me why NOT to consider jobs in the same ole work that nearly drove me insane and rove me to suicide, there’s not one – NOT one single response to me trying to find work leveraging my skills AND the MBA I acquired in 2009.
And yet. Everyone. Always acts convinced there’s something I haven’t tried.
“You should go back to work doing what you did before,” they’ll say.
I show them the scar of my last suicide attempt. There’s been four attempts. so I respond with “I value my own life too much”
“There must be something wrong with your resume,” They’ll say.
The same resume which helped me get dozens of opportunities throughout my career, and now there’s suddenly something wrong with it, despite a hundred attempts to test out this idea and theory to no beneficial result.
Inevitably. There’s something wrong with ANY way I present my resume. It’s currently at seven pages. Captures my career pretty decently. And while it was at one point one page, or two pages, realizing I wasn’t getting any results regardless of the resume length, I simply changed it to represent me as I saw myself career wise. I like the resume the way it stands.
Yet it still doesn’t provide results.
So the PRIMARY form of discrimination among the general population is this:
I’m doing something wrong.
I’m starting not to see it that way. I see the world differently. Hear it differently. Things that are obvious to me about how the world and universe function are often dismissed as fiction or fantasy.
Years ago, I read a book by the wonderful author Malcolm Gladwell called “Outliers”.
I think I was turned on to that because it’s what I was becoming, and I was about to embark on a cerebral journey of life and the mind which would make my perspective VERY different than the rest of the world.
I’ve worked my ass off for the things I achieved, and while I was at it, I also had fun. Sure, I had a cocaine addiction for a number of years. It’s in a literal sense the only thing that helped me through some VERY tough and trying years where I pursued an MBA while working 60+ hours a week and wasn’t getting much sleep at all.
I know, intellectually, I dont fit in with the world around me.
And the world – in a general collective sense – doesn’t like it when people don’t fit in to the averages established by that society.
As an outlier.
The discrimination I experience is one of expected conformity to society’s established norms. At all costs.
I’m being punished because of my educational success.
And what I am experiencing in a collectively predictable way – including ostracization from my former friends and co workers – isn’t because I have done anything wrong.
It’s because I’ve done something RIGHT.
And what I am seeing is a collective society.
Stuck in it’s ways.
Which absolutely, positively is applying pressure on me to conform to the norms.
Now here’s the thing.
The options I’m provided all point to this direction as well.
Homeless shelters – cost $150 a month here in Los Angeles. Now If I am actively looking for a job, which the only jobs being offered are the same ones I had before, I can make $200 a month on something called “GROW” which would pay for that housing.
But that housing comes at a cost. I’ve visited there. It’s not fun. There’s a TON of drugs, and alcoholics.
Something I am GLAD to have put behind me. I don’t enjoy the pressures of addiction like that, and while I don’t mind the idea of an occasional bump of cocaine ONCE I got into housing again, or an occasional drink, being around a bunch of addicts I know perfectly well will influence me in ways I am plain and simply not interested in being around again.
Up until then. I refuse all drugs and have only had two drinks in five years.
So where’s the real options for homelessness?
We’re assumed to be drug addicts and alcoholics.
I can assure you I’m not. And it’s most certainly not what led me to homelessness. I was clean long before I became homeless.
And people, in general, invalidly make the assumption there’s plenty of support ‘out there’ for the homeless.
Where is it?
I can get a shower at the local church on Thursday. A mile away. I carry about 70 pounds with me everywhere I go, so that’s not a flexible option, so I bathe in my tent every day.
I can get clothes at the Burbank Homeless Center or the Church. If I was 10 sizes less than I was for shirts and pants. Forget about underwear and socks, let alone shoes. So occasionally someone hands me a few bucks which I use at the thrift store, if I am lucky, and happen to find something in my size.
As for an income.
Anything I take in legitimately would be garnished and taken by the bank. So I’d be working for someone else and would still be homeless.
If I did it under the table. Most of that’s hard labor.
Let’s face it. I’m not interested in that crap. Been there done that, years ago, just not interested.
I am left to my own devices to create my own solution to my situation is simple: Star Trek and the USS Enterprise.
There’s a credit based system in Star Trek which leverages replicators for food, which uses energy to create the food on board these star ships. You work in various positions on these star ships – whether it’s engineer, cook, officer, scientist – or what I want to do – be a holodeck programmer programming in 3d simulated environments.
That’s where I am aiming all my time and energy.
I want to be a civilian holodeck programmer. On board a star ship like the USS Enterprise or the USS Voyager. Going on missions and returning home to Earth maybe once every five years to say hi to my friends and family.
This beats the shit out of anything I’m being offered by this planet.
I know, I know. Probably starting to sound crazy.
That’s your societally normative programming at work.
Magnificent little subversively psychologically manipulative methods to ensure fit in, wouldn’t you agree?