Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Homeless: In Wine Country

First Published in the Sonoma County Gazette
October 2019

by Ka Lane Raposa 
Malnourished, sleep deprived and operating in a constant state of hypervigilence. Every thought is filtered through a fight or flight survival mode that never shuts off. Every stranger walking towards you is a potential threat.

All the things you knew you'd never do are now the things you do each day to survive. Desperately wanting some place to be but having nowhere to go. Where do you find hope in a city that holds so much hostility, judgment and disdain for you? How do you walk with a modicum of dignity or self esteem when passersby train their contempt filled eyes upon you as if you were a stain on the fabric of their community? 
Imagine having to choose between your only hot meal of the day or taking a bus across town to the Social Security office to replace the card that was stolen from you while you were sleeping.
Strapped across your back in a duffle bag are the only possessions left of the life you once knew. Pieces of memories and history to be maliciously pawed through by an armed security guard at Social Security provided, of course, that he or she is charitable enough to allow the bag in the building at all. If not, you're faced with another hard choice: Do you stash the duffel bag in a bush and risk losing what little you have left in this world or do you blow off getting a new Social Security card even though you know you can't get a job without it?
 Then one of many hard truths sets in: It doesn't matter how nice the interview clothes are that you managed to scrounge up at Catholic Charities. Nor does it matter how fly that new haircut you got from the charity barbers down at Julliard Park last Saturday looks on you or how professional your resum√© from the county's Job Links program appears to be. They cannot hide that razor sadness that hovers over you like a cloud and veils that deep set desperation in your eyes.
Imagine if you can: Local politicians exploiting your plight as a platform to get reelected only to turn their backs on you once they've secured their office. Or committees formed to secure government funding to create programs that have little to do with actually helping you and more to do with posturing for future political ambitions and exposure in the  press. Imagine naive though well intended activists who have never actually experienced what you're going through, have never even met you, let alone know your name or story, advocating on your behalf that which they think would be best for you. Speaking about you as if you were an invalid incapable of communicating your own needs. People in your community are always talking ABOUT you, AT you , THROUGH you, and TO you. But seldom do they take the time to talk WITH you...
Imagine laying your body down on a piece of someone else's earth and resting your head on a pillow of solid rock. Inside of you is an indescribable weariness draining the life from your soul. As you curl up in a sleeping bag so thin that you can feel the wind's tiny knife-like fingers slicing right through to your skin, you pray for the nightmare to end. Strewn about you are the pieces of the broken lives of the ones who have slept there before. Photographs, torn and faded. Shards of broken glass and old CDs. Crayons and children's toys. Syringes scattered among the mountains of trash and rotting food. Combined with the smell of feces and urine, it is enough to gag a maggot. No door to close and lock behind you. No walls to protect you from whatever dangers the night may bring. As you close your eyes and begin to fade off you find yourself awakened by the nudge of a Constable's truncheon as he tells you to pack your things and move on.
How well would you do living under these conditions? How sound would your decision making process be? How amiable would you be to charity organizations that consistently over-promise and under-deliver., leaving you to shoulder the blame for their ineffectiveness. 
Forget the Betty Crocker version you've been fed...
THIS IS HOMELESSNESS.

[photo description: A 3/4 view of Ka 'Lane Raposa's. He wears three ear rings, a goatee, and dark glasses. His face is serious.]

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