Shelter report: Homelessness can be a lot of responsibility


Homelessness can be a lot of responsibility.

I had to laugh when he said it.

After all, Special K had just told me how the majority of people aren’t real, then launched into a tale about secret sewage pipes crossing the river against state law. He’d invited me any time to visit the island where he lives, where I could see a mysterious hole in the railroad trestle pier, which may have had something to do with the sewage pipes.

Or with the deep rumbling of the ground when the coal trains pass over the pier.

If I came, he said, I should warn people, and then he digressed into an incomprehensible discourse on the type of call I should give, which led him to tell me about how his call used to be Woop-woop Beep-beep until someone told him woop-woop was racist.

I didn’t understand his explanation.

It’s hard to follow the leaps his mind takes, especially early in the month when he has money enough to fuel his drug consumption above the recommended doses. And with no teeth, his articulation is not the best, even on a good day.

But he also constantly surprises with his humor, his soul, his openness and interest in the world, even if some of it is the tweaker’s scattered attention that rarely leads to a productive conclusion.

Underneath the chaos of his mind and his life, he has a clear intelligence. He read my newspaper piece on guns and suicide a week ago and figured out, without knowing my last name, that I was the Charlie who wrote it.

So when he says the majority of people aren’t real, I probe to find he means that most don’t live as their authentic selves.

When he talks of responsibility, I realize he means—at least in part—that he thinks the danger he sees along the river from the trains and the pipes should be exposed in the newspaper. And since I am writer, maybe I know how to do it.

It’s not the responsibility most of us recognize—we who abstain from illegal drugs, stay employed and out of court, pay our bills and manage to keep our families intact.

But try living in a tent on the river some winter and leaving your possessions behind each day.

Try living peaceably in a community of peers who have similar issues with substance-abuse, mental and physical illnesses, criminal records and the poverty that comes with it. Try establishing mores so they don’t steal from you, turn you in or attack you in your sleep.

Try knowing your mind is not right and never will be.

Try seeing wrongs committed around you and know you are among the most powerless people in town.

And then try holding onto a belief that the world is a gift, that other people, even when they aren’t being real, are good deep down, that there is a God and a heaven, and that your own mistakes don’t disqualify you for eternity.

Homelessness can be a lot of responsibility. I didn’t need his explanation for that one.

It is and it isn’t. It isn’t and it is.