Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Soloist and My Own Bout With Being Homeless

I wanted to spend some quality time with my teenage son, so we watched The Soloist together. The Soloist, starring Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr., relates the true story of Steve Lopez, a L.A. Times journalist, who discovers Nathaniel Anthony Ayers living on the streets playing a violin. Ayers, a talented cellists, dropped out of Julliard after developing schizophrenia. I've always been enamored with Downey, after his portrayal in 80's movie, Less Than Zero. Downey's poignant performance as Julian, a wealthy adolescent cocaine addict, foreshadowed Downey's soon to be true life troubles. I'm very pleased to see that Downey is making a come back and hopefully he's clean and sober.

The Soloist deals with the homeless problem, or I should say with one man's homelessness. I've encountered the homeless while living in Denver, New Orleans and in Houston. It was while I lived in Houston that I had a short stint of being homeless.

It was early in 1991, I was 21 years old and just separated from my husband. I moved out without anywhere to go. I was working at Alief Medical Clinic at the time and attending Houston Baptist University. I had $80, and a borrowed vehicle from my friend Darla. I was to have access to this car for two weeks until her brother came to pick it up. I also had a box of Girl Scout cookies that my Grandma Ann sent prior to my move. I knew I couldn't afford an apartment, so I started looking in the paper for rooms for rent.

I had just finished using the pay phone inquiring about one of the ads, when I decided I should look for a place close by to hunker down for the night. I drove away, to the far end of the parking lot, hoping not to draw much attention to myself. That's when I realized I had left my change purse at the pay phone. I drove back over to the pay phone, but the change purse was gone. That was my first set back, I no longer had any money for food or gas and I wouldn't get paid for another four days. I decided that I needed to ration the Girl Scout cookies; I had one for breakfast, two for lunch and two for dinner.

I can remember being very scared, not really sleeping, afraid that someone might notice me or try to steal the car. I don't know why I didn't ask for help, I suppose I was sorta living the, "you made your own bed, now lie in it" adage. I didn't sleep in the same spot every night, I changed parking lots so no one would think the vehicle was abandoned. I'd get to work about thirty minutes before, quickly make my way to the bathroom, clean up, change clothes, brush my hair and teeth and start work.

This process went on for about a week, eating Girl Scout cookies, looking for an affordable place to rent, getting a second job at night...basically pulling myself back together. I did find a room for rent with utilities paid for $175 dollars per month, I couldn't afford a car, but I purchased a bicycle and got around that way.

My homeless experience was due to being in transition, but from that moment on, I didn't judge those I found on the streets. I also was less afraid, because...what if they were someone just like me, but their transition period maybe severely delayed due to some unfortunate circumstances beyond their control?

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