Posted: June 3, 2007 in Homelessness, Hopes, Misconceptions

As far back as I can remember I’ve always been a reflective thinker. And, because of that I can lapse into long periods of silence as I ponder about this or that. It’s quite easy for me to board a bus and stare out of the window at absolutely nothing and wonder about things.  

This past Wednesday I published a post that ended up being called "Backpacks."

I pointed out that the Cal Poly University students and the homeless have in common that both groups carry backpacks. That post started it’s own chain of thoughts in my mind.

While it’s true that both groups carry backpacks, the homeless are still recognizable as homeless – but the students never seem to be recognized as homeless. And I began to wonder why.

There have been a number of homeless, here in SLO, who are in the college age group, but still are recognized as homeless. And, there are Cal Poly students whom I’ve seen that don’t dress any better than some of the homeless I know but nobody thinks that they’re homeless.

As I began to think of this I started thinking that there must be a "look" that homeless people have that sets them apart as being homeless but I couldn’t figure out what it was.

Could it be that after being homeless for a while a person begins to physically change in appearance that sets them apart from the mainstream community?

To be sure, there are homeless people who are so grungy that you can’t mistake them for anything other than homeless – but then there are a lot of people, who in the course of their jobs, also look grungy but no one thinks that they’re homeless. So that can’t be it.

Could it be that the size of the backpacks the homeless carry sets them apart? Not really. I’ve seen some students who carry around backpacks that are larger and bulkier than some that the homeless carry.

Maybe it’s a combination of being grungy and carrying a backpack that identifies the homeless. But, there again, there are some students who fit those two criteria and still no one would mark them as being homeless.

Could it be attitude?

I don’t think so. There are plenty of non-homeless people who have far worse attitudes that some of the homeless I know.

Anyway, the thoughts went around and around in my mind and I still wasn’t able to come to any definitive conclusions – and that bothers me.

I’m trying desperately to work myself out of homelessness, but if there is a certain look that homeless people have, will I still have it once I’m no longer homeless? Will it cling to me like lint on a wool sweater? Will the stigma of homeless be something I have to carry around with me till the end? Or will it one day dissolve to the point where it seems like just a bad dream?

I don’t want to work my way out of homelessness and then for the rest of my life be saddle with the reality that I once was homeless – that because of my present station in life that I could never truly be a part of society once again.

I would hate to think of myself as sitting in a restaurant one day and have some wife point out to her husband: "Look George, there’s that homeless man we used to see panhandling on the corner."

I dislike the idea of forever being thought of as "that homeless man" or "the man who used to be homeless."

It’s bad enough feeling cut of from society because of my present homelessness, but it would be worse to be cut off from society simply because once upon a time I had been homeless. It would be terrible to never feel as though I truly belong.

While I don’t need the proverbial pat on the back, neither do I want to feel that I’m always on the outside looking in.

I don’t know what it will be like once I’m no longer homeless, or how the majority of people will treat me. I’m sure that I’ll find out in due time.

The only thing I am certain of is that life is good…

…Homelessness is what stinks.


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