Sitting in the parsonage this evening, we remarked that we haven’t seen Homeless Guy #3 for a while. I’m surprised that he hasn’t come by for food for several days. Perhaps he got his Food Stamps for the month and walked over to one of the mini-marts down the street to shop with his EBT card. I barely know him, but it seems that a large part of his problem is his inability to get along with others, a problem fueled by drugs, drinking and a lifetime of hardships and heartaches. I’m told that he has a history of making threats, including to his own family, and that he’s not above pushing someone around to get what he wants. For a while, he’d been sleeping under a tree that I can see from the front door of the parsonage. Lately, however, I hear that he’s been seen sleeping on a couch on a neighbor’s porch.
No sooner did I finish writing the above paragraph than Homeless Guy #3 appeared at the parsonage door, his gray hoodie pulled up against the evening breeze. Nine o’clock at night. Pastor Mom went in the kitchen and started putting together a food package. We made him two sandwiches; I asked him whether he prefers mayo or mustard. We packed up some chips and clementines. I stepped outside to chat for a minute, and he told me that he’s done staying in the neighborhood and is ready to move on. He says he grew up here, but that he’s no longer happy in this location. “Some people just like to step on you, make you miserable, you know?” he tells me. I encourage him to forget about those who have hurt him and to start over, move forward into a new future. “Why be unhappy when you can be happy?” I ask. He asks whether we’ll give him a ride tomorrow to a church residential program two towns north of here. We assure him that we will, but encourage him to call first. As far as we know, the program isn’t taking in any new participants right now.
We don’t know whether Homeless Guy #3 is serious about wanting to turn over a new leaf. He’s talked about going into a residential program numerous times in the past, but has never acted on it. Perhaps he’s serious now, ironically at a time when the program will be unable to take him. The man seems to be trapped in a vicious cycle in which words are meaningless, you violate others and they violate you, and every day is the same as the last. It’s sad to say that he might be better off if he ends up in jail.
Jail. It seems as if most of the homeless in this area end up there sooner or later. Online, I read vicious comments from those who urge the homeless to sober up and get a job. When a person has nothing — not a roof over his head, not a sandwich in his belly, not a hope for the future, not a person who cares — who can blame him for self-medicating with alcohol and street drugs?
I had my first appointment with the cardiologist today. We had to make a 70-mile round trip for that, just as we did last week to visit the gastroenterologist. Local specialists won’t take Obamacare, so the primary care physicians have to send us up there. Among the things I’ve learned on my journey is that “Obamacare” is something of a dirty word. You’re supposed to say “the Affordable Care Act,” or better yet, “Covered California.” The clerk at the registration counter took one look at my insurance card, sneered and asked “Are you maybe employed somewhere?” I could hear her voice drip with contempt. “No,” I responded, feeling somewhat ashamed. Yes, ma’am, I’m one of those worthless human beings who contribute nothing to society but demand high-cost medical care. I’m one of those leeches who have run out their unemployment insurance and stand in line for food distributions. I wondered whether I should show her my notebook, a hard cover composition book like kids use in elementary school, in which I’ve documented each of the 143 jobs for which I have applied. But I know it would be useless, that it would not change her opinion.
After waiting for a while in the examining room, the young doctor enters, followed by an even younger “scribe,” who rolls in a laptop on a cart to take notes on our conversation. “What, no Pharisees?” my wife quips when I tell her later.
The doctor asks the standard questions that all doctors seem to ask. The scribe records my responses. Do you use tobacco? Never. Do you use alcohol? Never. Do you use recreational drugs? Never.
I may be among the long-term unemployed, doctor, but at least I’m not homeless yet. My wife and I rely on family for help, as well as on federal government programs, and the state, and the county. Yes, we had to come up here because my health insurance is Obamacare (that word again). But I don’t need to self-medicate with all those substances you mentioned, because I have love, and hope.
Not like the residents of the homeless encampments in Fresno that the police destroy when they show up with bulldozers. Not like the homeless up the road in Chico or those over in Berkeley, where police recently threatened to remove a homeless camp as a “nuisance” and then did so at 4 in the morning.
Not like Homeless Guy #3, who shows up at the church for a sandwich and asks for a ride to a place where there’s no room at the inn.
For information on the proposed California Homeless Bill of Rights, click here.