The independent student news site of San Marcos, California

The Cougar Chronicle

The independent student news site of San Marcos, California

The Cougar Chronicle

The independent student news site of San Marcos, California

The Cougar Chronicle

Extended Edition: Student speaks about his experiences with homelessness


By Jeff Meints 

Staff Writer 

I have found there are two types of people in this world when it comes to the issue of homelessness.

There are the people who receive the information that you are homeless and they either are of the “A Group” or “B Group.” The A Group are those who continue treating you as they have always treated you, and in most cases a compassion and understanding begins to be displayed demonstrating to me at least, that I am still a human being. Then there is the B Group, who cease all eye contact, ceasing all inquiries of well-being or the simple greetings given out with enthusiasm and genuineness to others. Overall, they treat you as if you do not exist and as if something is wrong with you.

Many people dismiss all concerns of those who are homeless through placing assumptions and judgments upon this mostly ignored group of people. My perception of the homeless no longer encompasses the stereotypes that they are lazy, a drug user or a mooch. Now when I see a human being on the side of the road with a sign asking for food with sorrow in his eyes, I now ask myself, “What is their story? How did they end up where they are now?” These questions can lead to the answers that might get these people help, off the streets, food and into a home.  The most important lesson I have learned is that I have found that homelessness discriminates against no one, but so many people discriminate against the homeless. Most of the time they do not even realize that they are doing it.

In the past I took no notice of things such as “No Loitering” signs, locks on bathroom doors in fast food restaurants or city ordinances of not being allowed to sleep in your car. Now when I  encounter them, I have come to realize that those restrictions are mostly directed at the homeless population because I am now limited on places I can park to sleep without fear of impound of my “house.”

In the middle of the night when that urgency to go the bathroom arises, you have to start up your car to burn gas to simply find an open establishment that has accessible bathrooms. The places with locks on the bathrooms doors require that every single time you need to go to the bathroom you now must ask, “Can I please use the bathroom?” Also, dismiss the thought of going to the bathroom outside in the bushes somewhere because if caught you would be added to the sex offender list.

Never in the past would I have considered the plight of the homeless, such as their eating habits and the lack of being able to buy groceries and refrigerate them.  Grocery shopping is economically viable and it saves you money in the long run, so imagine not having the ability to save money in this fashion. You’re forced to spend money every, single day on fast food and on very unhealthy food at that. There has been many a night where I literally cried into my McChicken because it was the only thing I was able to afford and to consume for weeks on end.  However, I remind myself everyday that other people have it far worse off than I do. This provides brief flares of passion to want to survive this to ensure all people can attain food and shelter in all of the United States.

A year ago, I met a woman that, when I mentioned being homeless and then heard that I live in my car, she responded, “Well you aren’t homeless then.” There is definite truth in that I have a car so I would have more shelter than another homeless man who is living out of a cardboard box. However, would you want either of those living situations placed upon yourself, your friends or loved ones? The assumptions and excuses some people make as to why other people are struggling and suffering are simple defensive mechanisms to subdue the pain and hurt felt from simply hearing about those struggles. I have had issues with my car battery dying after a night of charging my phone or leaving the heater on because it is so cold outside only to then wake up and find my car dead.

By far the worst thing I’ve encountered because of being homeless is the effects it has with relation to family and friends. Whether it is my parents ignoring my calls to friends displaying the same lack of concern, in the end all is the same result: solitude and isolation. I have encountered this at work from co-workers, which inspired me to cut my hours short each day in order to escape the demoralizing and dehumanizing feeling created in that work environment. I would sacrifice hours out of my paycheck to simply escape the terrible feeling that arose through interaction with these co-workers.

Despite the perceived ultimate freedom some consider a homeless person to have, this is a fallacy and the homeless are just as much a prisoner of their situation as an inmate who is in solitary confinement in prison. The mental, physical and even spiritual decimation of an individual occurs through this solitude and isolation. If this individual is unplugged from social environments and the simple interaction of other human beings for too long, that individual has the very real risk of disappearing into themselves and into the dark and ignored pockets of society. When society has given up and written you off for so long, it is only a matter of time before you give up and write off yourself.

I have chosen to be homeless through the act of giving my ex-wife the salon I built for her and taking almost nothing for myself so she could be well off. Oddly I have no regrets. But last night while I literally curled up for sleep and as I pondered over my story, the story I now write, I was reminded once again and overwhelmed with an emotion I have felt every night, which is fear.

There is the fear of getting my car impounded for sleeping in it, or fear from assault and robbery due to the isolated and vulnerable position I place myself in each time I park on a dark and foggy street. There is fear of sweltering summer nights, frigid winter dawns and overwhelming downpours of rain. There is the very powerful fear of dying in the back of my car all alone, and I not being found for days or weeks on end.  Each little noise slaps you awake from sleep to ensure no defensive actions are required. This has been by far the most present and prevalent emotion that I carry with me every day.

The silver lining in all of this is I have found a certain and once seemingly rare characteristic in people which I now consider “true humanity.” These are the people who learn about my living situation who continue to make eye contact with me, call me on the phone to simply ask how my day went, do random kind deeds such as bringing me food at school or invite me to their social gatherings and those who display compassion and understanding.

The best advice I can provide to others that might find themselves in my situation is to first and foremost, curb your pride.  If someone you care about offers you food, a place to stay or simply wants to chat with you, I recommend accepting the offer and opening up to them. Take the food, display the gratitude required and be glad there are still those who care.

Also, I have found that openness and honesty, while sometimes briefly being detrimental, in the long run creates new friends, family and alliances stronger than any I have known in my whole life.  Our struggles, our victories, our flaws and our strengths are always worth discussing with people in order to gauge if a person still possesses any degree of true humanity. Perhaps they also might learn from you and improve themselves somehow or avoid future conflicts and struggles.

When a person displays that true humanity, then that person is someone who should be supported, praised and treasured for all time. It is time we started shining the light into the darkest corners of society because there are so many that are lost and can easily be found and guided back into the light with compassion, patience and understanding.

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