Putting a face on the social issues of our time in the form of storytelling pretty much describes my books and my genre, and Homeless is no different. Homeless captures the sorry state of being that people must endure while suffering through life on the streets. The storyline exposes the brutality and the stereotypes that hold the chronically homeless down, and prohibits their progress back to normal, productive lives. Understanding that the pain and loss that put them on the streets is so profound and so private that they can’t even speak to it, is an imperative. Homeless also shines a light on the numbers of teenagers who are abandoned every day, and whose existence is ignored by those who are mistaken in their belief that these children can take care of themselves and probably deserve their homeless condition. Lastly, it reveals the significance of accepting the homeless lifestyle for what it is without moral judgement. The resulting shame and the self-loathing come at a pitiable price, and those who have no need to fear losing shelter and food, can’t come close to experiencing the loss of self that accompanies the loss of home.
The exploration of homelessness is not quite as simple as you might think. Sociologists study this social problem hoping for clear explanations and what they discover is that homelessness has as many messy layers as there are in peeling an onion and then each layer has its own startling cause. There is no one reason why a person is without a roof over their head. Therefore, the quantification of the issue becomes incredibly difficult to measure, especially when the variables entering into each situation are as unique as the individual. The only common equalizer or the only identifier is the palpable fact that homeless individuals live in a state of poverty. Again, though there is total agreement of this identifier, the degrees of poverty vary. The range starts with abject poverty and abandonment, where the only place to sleep is in a tent or on a park bench, to what is known as “couch surfing” or “house hopping.” Whatever the state of poverty, the fact remains that homeless people live in constant unstable and precarious situations daily and this takes a toll on their mental and physical wellbeing. Because others fear the acknowledgment of the homeless condition, homeless people become irrelevant to the world around them.
The three most recently defined types of homelessness are touched upon and displayed in the plot of Homeless. They are transitional or temporary, episodic, and chronic (Barrett, Tyler, Wright, 2010). Some homeless individuals find themselves in a position where they are on that glassy slide trying to find the right place to stick a foothold and it becomes more and more tenuous. This is what is known as transitional or temporary homelessness. It is the kind of homelessness that requires tenacity and continuous confidence that the right job will come and whisk that person out of the impoverished conditions they are in. It usually means they have social capital, in other words there are relatives and friends available to help them through the dark times. Unfortunately, if the condition lasts for a long time, feelings of worthlessness and a lack of ambition can put a damper on their social progress and put undue hardship on those who have made themselves available to house and feed them. For some, it leads to a life of alcoholism or drug addiction. If an entire family is transitional, the pressure to succeed becomes that much greater.
A person who is considered living in episodic homelessness is one who finds one of those footholds, starts to make some kind of living and then loses the job for any one of a multitude of reasons. Many jobs currently in American society span from part-time at only twenty-nine to thirty hours per week at minimum wage, to seasonal. More professional jobs can also be seasonal or have minimal duration, or can depend upon the state of the employer. An example is in the case of someone with a post-graduate degree, such as an adjunct professor, where stability is contingent upon the number of classes scheduled from semester to semester. In order for someone to reach that place where they are no longer economically threatened, they must have a consistent form of income which neither a part-time job nor a seasonal job provide. There are a variety of ways a person is not secure financially and is susceptible to episodic homelessness.
Employers are always more concerned with keeping their businesses afloat by cutting down on fulltime employment hours, eliminating employee benefits, and letting higher paid employees go and replacing them with younger, less experienced employees. Their bottom line is most important.
Finally, according to HUD in 2009, about twenty to twenty-six percent of the homeless population is considered chronic. This means that their social position and condition of homelessness is constantly affected by drug addiction, alcoholism, and mental illness. The accepted average for anyone to conquer their addictive demons, as observed by professionals who work daily with addicted individuals, is around the fifty-first attempt at getting clean. No matter how they try, the extra baggage of addiction and psychosis continually stands in the way of their social recovery.
A qualitative approach was taken in the compilation of events and storylines and especially the character developments. Each character depicts a different kind of homelessness. Approximately three years of participant observation and ethnographic research was accrued due to personal circumstances beyond my own control, and through work as the Executive Director of two agencies that dealt with poverty and homelessness.
Unless a person has walked in the shoes of people living in financial ruin, or has lived on the edge of insanity driven by the inability to find work, they cannot fully appreciate the panic that accompanies life without hope. The experience leaves people in the throes of individual trauma. The stories in this book are deeply personal and real. Even though they are portrayed by literary characterizations, they are adapted and molded from actual people and, with a few exceptions, factual events. My only objective is to school others about homelessness in all of its forms and to expose it as not only a physical threat as in any experience with poverty, but also as the demoralization of the human spirit and henceforth the demoralization of a caring and responsible society.
This work is also in part an offering of gratitude for those people in my life who stepped out of their own comfort zones to rescue me during episodic homelessness. To my daughter, Amanda Bakle Fazzaro, and my sisters, Dianne Erb Ross and Kathleen Ocken, I cannot thank you enough for allowing me to disrupt your lives until I was able to get back on my feet. Your love and loyalty are not forgotten.
To the majority of people who have never experienced the trauma of homelessness, I say, look beyond your own world. Understand the desperation, and imagine the circumstances as if they were your own. Wallace Stegner states it best in his book Angle of Repose, “Home is a notion that only nations of the homeless fully appreciate and only the uprooted comprehend.” ~ E. M. Duesel