Does this pass the homeless test?

By » Fri, June 8 2012
Homless and on the Move Does this pass the homeless test?

(img by Ginger Tuesday)

A little over a year ago, I went on a six-week fast. I wanted to know what it was like, why people did it, if I could do it, and how it would change me. Modeled off the old Catholic tradition of the Black Fast, the rules were this: you get one meal a day after sunset, six days a week, Sundays you can eat whatever.

The first week was easy. Annoying, but easy. Saturday night I had the best prime rib of my life. By the final week, I couldn’t think straight, I couldn’t walk straight, my body was incapable of temperature regulation, and I had cramps and spasms constantly. I also did it in the spring and I became painfully conscious of the lengthening days.

You’d think you can cram in a good number of calories eating one meal a day, but over time, your stomach shrinks and you stop being able to eat in quantity. Big dinners became normal-sized dinners, and eventually small, calorically-dense meals. Towards the end on Sundays I couldn’t even eat three meals a day, although I was allowed to.

But when I go back to that, when I think about what the fast was like, I don’t think about the physical stress, that isn’t the part that sticks out the most, or even much at all. The most prominent part of that fast, what I remember most vividly, is an overwhelming feeling of being poor.

It crept in slowly over time. But eventually, it becomes everything, all day. One day, I looked down at the mail–junk–and saw a flier of coupons for the Hamburger Stand. I picked it up and read every word, I held it like a missal, I couldn’t pull myself away from the pictures of the food. I knew I couldn’t have all of it, couldn’t eat all of it, but I looked at the combos and the fancy drinks and tried to taste  them in my head to plan out how I might eat my next meal, how I would stage thing out, what order would I go in.

When you fast that long, even though it’s a construct of your own design, the desperate poverty you feel isn’t illusionary, it’s crushing.

Homeless woman in San Fransisco 450x337 Does this pass the homeless test?

(img by Franco Folini)

I daydreamed about food. I talked about food. I avoided places that smelled like food, the longing was too much. I avoided people who ate regularly, I had no tolerance for trivial conversation, and I found that people who weren’t stressed to be shallow. Or maybe I was jealous.

For a split second, after he barked at me, I was ready to kill and eat my neighbor’s shitty dog.

I felt so far removed from regular people. I felt connected to homeless people. Money I wasn’t spending on food often went to homeless people. And I have, then and now, considered many different things from the perspective of the homeless.

I chatted, briefly, with a guy who went homeless in the most photogenic way possible. A small medical procedure resulted in insane health care costs while simultaneously his mortgage rate exploded. He was evicted, separated, and eventually, got fired, ’cause how do you keep your clothes clean when you live out of your car.

He doesn’t talk to me anymore, it doesn’t look like he recognizes me. If he does, I wouldn’t fault him for resenting me the same way I resented others. I see him walking around the neighborhood drunk at all hours; I don’t hold it against him, being poor really sucks. A year ago he was homeless, but you might not have been able to tell. It’s not like he was crazy. But now he’s that bum, the bum that hangs out with the other bum, they get shitfaced together.

And I think he’s still married. It’s not like his wife can find him and serve him with papers. I dunno, there’s probably a process for divorcing someone who’s dropped off the map.

But that brings me, roundabout, to my point. Homeless people are still citizens. They are still supposed to be protected by the law, they are still guaranteed rights, but here without a valid address you can’t participate in the caucuses (although you can still vote). So much of our social code, and legal code, hinges on having a physical residence.

Now every time I see something that says “Street Address*: *Required” I instantly think, well, that’s not fair. I know some places allow homeless people to register their address to kitchens and other homeless support facilities, but that isn’t always an option.

There’s no end to the number of laws, codes, etiquette, technologies, or crimes that affect everyone, including the homeless, equally, if not disproportionately disfavoring the poor. Without a door to close behind them, they lose almost all the protections against those laws, codes, and crimes. And that’s not fair.

I know there are many things that aren’t fair or just. But if you happen to see a rule or regulation, or any process that to most people is simply a trivial inconvenience–getting a passport, a bank account, storage unit, driver’s licence, a CCW permit, to name just a few–ask yourself if that small measure of compromise could be enough to completely prohibit a homeless person from sharing the same liberty.

Ask yourself if it passes the homeless test. If it doesn’t, then an inconvenience to you is a true injustice to someone else. And maybe that rule, regulation, or law shouldn’t exist.

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