Yesterday was so bad. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry in frustration. I don’t get sad. I get angry. Tears were in my eyes as I walked down the stairs. Standing outside the community room, waiting for the soup kitchen food that I can’t eat without getting sick, I met a young woman. Her hood was up, her eyes were down, her shoulders hunched. She looked beyond sad, well past depressed. Lifting her head to look towards me she cracked a small smile and said she liked my hair. I told her I cut it myself, and made a joke about the front being OK. My best friend, little sister that I wished I had, piped up, giving me shit. “Turn around! Lemme see!” I turned obliged, playing girly friend and indulgent big sister. “No, you got it, Detroit. It’s ok. Really good for you doing it for yourself.” Sad eyed hoodie girl of the shelter peeked and nodded her head. “You did good.” If there is one thing that women who are living with no money to indulge themselves knows, it is that haircuts are a luxury that are for people who live in houses. Ditto nails. Sometimes in the community room hair gets braided, nails are put in place, a little cottage industry of women helping women not feel like shit about themselves. Babies are cooed at (“I’m gonna need some sauce with that baby!”), children shusshed, and ramen circle in the corral of the microwave. Compliments are paid, judgments passed, and people act like humans towards other people that don’t have shit and who are trying to survive the harshness of the streets, outlive an America that only cares to trash them as if they were last years skinny jeans.
“Hey,” I said to the new hooded woman, “I’m Dee, what’s your name?” She looked me up and down, gave me her name and took her bag of food like a woman who didn’t care what was in there, just as long as it was something edible.
I have been here nine months. When I first got here I was fresh out of the campgrounds and the parking lots where I lived for over five years. When I first got here showers that ran hot were a source of permanent joy to me. When I first got here I was scared of the Tenderloin, I was terrified of the situation I had put myself in. I always promised myself I would not live as a homeless urban dweller. The countryside has parks and trees, and streams and not too much trouble that you have not made for yourself.
“Your little hobby” the homeless worker described my writing as, as she sneered towards me, and once again spoke to me as if I was subhuman. She put obstacles in the way of every opportunity to be housed that I could find. In the end I sat here in the shelter with a small ball of anger and hopelessness in the pit of my stomach, that rose to a crescendo somewhere in my solar plexus. They don’t want to pay those subsidies out. They don’t want to put families in housing, they want to find excuses not to house people and tip you out to tents and sidewalks if they can. The name of the game is making people sabotage themselves. Pushing people over the edge into a reaction, so that homeless person can be labeled problematic, ‘unsalvageable’ as I have heard it described, as if humans are scrap metal or old furniture, is a sport played in San Francisco by people who should be helping with compassion, not finding ways to dump the needy off their books.
I have done my part, I have been quiet, I have put my toe in the dirt, I have bowed my head and taken the disrespect, the terrible nights in the shelter, the cruel words, the lack of empathy over the trauma of the years I spent trying to survive a man who was beating and raping me night in day out. I have done my part.
So today, I am going to have to make like Lou. I am taking my Boy and we are going to go out and have a day together. I don’t know if I am going to be able to stay with him as I need and want to. I don’t know if I will be able to provide for him. The pressure of needing to give him a future and the barriers in the way of that future are sometimes too hard to bear. No. I am going to roll a joint, put it in my pocket, go stand in a park and get slightly stoned, and walk around somewhere green and pretty with him. Today I am going to try and force myself to feel less like trash and more like a human…if people will allow me to do that.
I feel like an animal being fed in a zoo. I deserve to feel like a member of the human race. So does every single homeless person on the streets of this country. It will be a cold day in hell, I suspect….