I haven’t written much about homelessness; and homelessness, which I spent over nine years combating and was something I could’ve easily fallen into, has not been eliminated in our country. My persistent views were not popular in my town, but now, to some extent, they have been adopted by most social service agencies working with this population. I became a practitioner rather than an organizer…beginning no doubt with my approaching homeless people on the street after the organization I “fathered” outgrew my ability to manage it…and I never lost my passion and sense of purpose that had initially infected me. And now more than twenty years later, I have to say, as a writer I am still trying to figure out what to do with those experiences. From what I can see, over the years the dynamics or the causes of homelessness haven’t changed that much; alcoholism and mental illness play a big part. I never forget people that I worked with who are still wandering the streets. I’m pretty darn certain that this work will never be finished.
I began by believing in “quick fixes” and would say, “you never know what a glass of water might mean to someone.” The change in me…which came with experience…was, provocatively, characterized when friends called me “mean bean”; and I practiced a philosophy that no longer centered around “handouts.” People agreed with that until I advocated taking away resources from feeding and sheltering for transitioning. Success stories certainly were part of my resume: success or failure, during all of this time I still told myself I was working with the homeless to write about it: write the stories I’ve now forgotting and the people I thought I would never forget but have. Standing in line for food dramatized; the personalities that flooded Tucson during the winter, individuals more than the nameless on the street: this is what I want to write about, but I don’t know where to begin.
It was through working with people that I established my identity (identity and self-worth in some respects are one and the same) and not from my writing. And I think the people I would write about were the most difficult and their stories seem to have been the most dramatic. An ordinary homeless person, is there such a thing? There is the dramatist in me; but even when there isn’t much of a story…common with standing in line for food…there is the dramatic action of each individual’s journey. This is where I’ll find my stories. My stress comes from my thinking about the time that has elapsed, from when I listened to homeless people tell their stories and now when I have a strong urge to write about them. This part of my difficulty.