A Look From the Inside Out

An image of belongings of a homeless person stored in shopping carts.

The belongings of homeless individuals sometimes get stolen by other homeless individuals. Photo courtesy of Flickr member Daquella Manera.

Having been homeless for quite some time, I have gotten to know much of the routine that the other homeless people follow. What disturbs me most is the fact that there are quite a lot of people who take advantage of others, as well as commit crimes against their fellow homeless brethren. All events that go on within the homeless community go virtually undocumented, but one would be surprised at how often these cruel incidents happen.  

Those of us who do not like the shelters and sleep on the “bricks” are used to carrying our belongings wherever we go; and since our livelihood lies in our Bergans (backpack), we seldom, if ever, let our bags out of our sights. More times than not, people who come down from the poor communities in D.C., who are just trying to get by forget the fact that there are a lot of eyes watching them and if given a chance they would not waste the opportunity to make your belongings disappear.  

A few incidents happened all this week, each to a member of the Street Sense team, that sadden me greatly. It appears that there is no honor amongst the homeless, as well as the rough working class (meaning people in government housing that struggle to get by).  

I will start by expressing my deep displeasure of what I witness every weekend at 14th or 15th Street parks when the good people come with gifts and food for the homeless and the poor. Many people come from all over the city on the weekends to take advantage of these kind handouts, and usually unorganized mobs swarm the good people in order to get their hands onto something. (There was even an unfortunate event a few weeks back when one person got stabbed as a result of the pushing and shoving caused by the swarming.)  

Those of us who actually line up in an orderly fashion are the same people who more times than not get stiffed out from even getting a single thing that we are in need of. Most of us do not go if we can not carry the items or are not in need of the items, so that another person who is in need of the item or items can receive them, and thus help themselves.  

Unfortunately a very small percentage of the people receive the items they so desperately need, like a sleeping bag, a good blanket, or a coat, due to the fact that many of the city’s “hustlers” come on down and over-step, over-power, and out-claw their way into getting their hands on what ever and which ever they can.  

Within five to thirty minutes after getting what they have taken, they have already headed off to the Metro or the sidewalk, and sold to the public the goods – the “gifts” that the needy were to receive – just so they can make a few dollars profit on the day. Honestly, what is one man going to do with four sleeping bags in his hand, or four queen-sized blankets? It seems that every weekend has that same sad routine.  

Now, on to the incidents that have involved our family from Street Sense. The first incident happened in a soup kitchen, where a friend left his CD’s and DVD’s in a bag on the table while going to get his food when his number was called.  

When he got back to the table, his CD’s and DVD’s were nowhere to be found, and to this day are still missing.  

The second incident happened over at McPherson Park, where another friend left his Bergan on a vending spot, went for about a minute, and when he returned his Bergan was missing, gone with the wind, as well as all of the work that he had been working very hard on over the past few weeks.  

The last incident focuses on more of the violent aspects of the life on the street, where one must put up with the daily tensions, unreasonable people, as well as the sudden mood swings and behavior of certain individuals who seem to be O.K. one minute and tripping real hard in the next. The other night while we were all in our kips sleeping, a friend of mine who is also a vendor and writer at Street Sense was attacked around 3:30 in the morning, receiving several kicks to his head. He hollered out a few times, waking up the rest of us that sleep in the same spot, and four of us came rushing to his aid.  

The attacker was also a homeless man, and it appeared to be an attack right out of the blue because none of us ever knew this person and have only seen him when the sandwich lorry comes. I guess that serves as a grim reminder that none of us are 100% safe when it comes to people like this who have nothing better to do than to aimlessly take out their aggressions on totally innocent people who are sleeping.  

So in closing, I would just like to remind all my friends who are working at Street Sense, as well as those of you who are not: please keep your belongings with you at all times, and always make sure to watch over your things when they are put down or left unattended. Be as humble as you can (as the situation permits).  

It is not worth getting hurt over something so small. And, if you sleep outside at night, be sure to stay with a group, or in a well-illuminated area, as it gives you a small advantage towards your personal safety. 

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We believe ending homelessness begins with listening to the stories of those who have experienced it.