Excuse me, what are you looking at? Do I look that different than you? Out here on the street you might not see me at all, it’s easier to look away. I’m not invisible; I’m a person of color, a big guy who loves to laugh with a great smile, I might add. My name is James, thanks for asking.
Why don’t I just get a job? Just go apply to McDonald’s or a fast food joint? It might surprise you that I have held jobs in the past; I haven’t always been like this. I worked with adolescents at Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital. And, for three years, I even worked at Starbucks.
How long have I been what…homeless? It’s fine, you may call me that: homeless. I have spent eight to nine of the last 14 years without a place to belong. I have slept in hospitals to escape the heat of summers and camped out next to libraries at night– you’ll meet a lot of us there. My family couldn’t help me out, but friends became my family. I would be lost without them – and not lost as in wandering the streets without direction, but gone; dead.
How did I end up like this? My story is a little bit different than yours, but we’re all dealt a hand and this one is mine. My deck is rigged with series of adverse happenings and unfortunate circumstance, which led me to where I am today.
After graduating high school, I did a brief stint in community college studying computer science, but my grandma became real sick. I dropped out to take care of her. Her house burnt down, she moved to a nursing home, and I’ve been on the streets, on and off, ever since.
Severe depression and anxiety have plagued me for years, also. To some depression is just another excuse, just another reason that I don’t have work. With no job, no prospects, no place to stay and little available help from family, you’d be depressed too. I had no support system, and no one to motivate or encourage me. I had no hope. Few truly understand how crippling severe depression can be. Everything kept piling up, higher and higher. Eventually, I tried to end my life.
I found help at Highland Rivers Health, a public health center that helps those with mental illness, addictions and those in crisis citations. These people got me back on track. I started taking medication to soothe the depression and anxiety. I also received medication for congestive heart failure, which, thankfully, increases my quality and chances of life.
The shelter I’m at now, the Davies Shelter, has been my favorite shelter and has become my second home – or first, rather. This place has given me hope and a second chance. Some of us don’t always get one, a second chance, so I consider myself fortunate. The Davies Shelter has offered me hope in ways nothing else has. I’m around people who genuinely care for me. These people are like family; here, I belong. I finally have a support system, and this helps stave off depression and motivates me to keep improving myself. I have to work toward something while I’m here: whether that is finding a job, making contacts or actively trying to get better health care. When you have the necessities found in a home, it’s easier to move forward.
The Davies Shelter, in a way, allows me to remake myself. When you’re constantly ignored or looked down upon with judgmental eyes you begin to believe and live out the stereotypes and stigmas. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts, and you cannot help but to play that role. Since I live in a home now, I have peace of mind for the first time since I was a kid, and I no longer see myself in that role.
I’m becoming a person in the eyes of society again.
Did you even see me when I was without a home? For many Americans, poverty is seen and epitomized as those children TV viewers are asked to sponsor for 28 cents a day: children a world away surrounded by trash, decay and garbage; people who live without access to adequate drinking water; or those who live from cent to cent without much hope. To many, poverty is still abstract and distant.
However, this, sadly, is not the case, and I’m living proof that it isn’t.
Do you know what it feels like to be without hope, a silver lining? Day after day I constantly asked myself, where would I rest my head? Where will my next meal come from? You asked about my job situation, well, it’s mighty difficult to find a job when your immediate needs are not being met. Yeah I know what you might say: if I find a job that pays then I’ll get out of the situation. Simple, right? But it’s not. For me, my debilitating health renders hope for a job miniscule. Who would hire a health liability?
It’s easy to judge my situation while you have a full stomach.
Sure, give me your spare change. Sure, give me a cutout of the classifieds. To you, I may be invisible. All other invisible people all over Rome, Atlanta and your city are anything but.
But what I really want, what I really need, is for someone to talk to me! Talk to me! Talk to me; treat me like a person. My name is James. I am educated, well read and articulate. I am a victim of circumstance. I would never choose this for myself, so please don’t treat me like I do.
I can see in your eyes that you have asked questions of people like me. You judge us before you even know us.
Treat us like people, say hey. Don’t feel obligated to give, but please give us the time of day for a passing greeting.
-As told to Matt Pulford, Student Writer
This story originally appeared in Facing Hope, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Georgia Highlands College, Georgia Northwestern Technical College, and Berry College in Rome, Georgia.