This is a text I wrote about my first Homeless Overwhelm after 2 months of hard work.
I wrote it at the end of 2010, but something kept me from publishing it at the time.
This feeling of being overhwelmed was temporary, but it came back regularly.
I don’t know what got into me, exactly 2 months ago, when on 17 October 2010 a homeless guy changed my life by kicking me into gear. At the end of an hour long talk (and a lot of listening on my part), he ended up expressing his need for dignity by asking me for personal care products (toothpaste, facial cream, shavers..). Together with a friend, I gathered enough for 40 kits in 10 days time!
The energy of this operation was so strong that people kept coming with care products, and two weeks later, I had enough products (soap, shampoo, shower gel, shaving foam, handkerchiefs, and all kinds of cosmetics) to fill another 100 goody bags!
Right now, I think I need a break. Not only has it been emotionally very intense meeting all those people in the streets of the Euro-Capital, but it has also been two full months with no ‘ME-time’ whatsoever. No movies, no dinner parties, no walk in the woods. For the last two months, after my day job, I have given every single evening and weekend to the actions with the homeless!
Yesterday, I went to my family doctor for a check-up. She made clear that in order to be able to continue this, one needs a network of support and I knew she was right. I do not have that. It is a bit like a psychotherapist who goes to a therapist who goes to a therapist, in order not to sit with the ingested crap. She suggested that now that the solidarity movement has been launched, I’d look for a professional network to give the donations to, and not expose myself in the fire line as much as I have been doing. In fact, it does feel like having spent time in a war zone. Even if there is a lot of ‘choice talk’ about living on the street, the history of homeless people could maybe be compared to what Vietnam Veterans have been through. Some simply got to a point where it was no longer a matter of choice, and the downward spiral could not to be stopped.
I think of the clever and charming man, who had a rough childhood with an abusive stepfather: he got into drugs, which caused him health problems. The medicine he had to take (and that he mixed with alcohol) made him violent. He beat up a home and got kicked out. He was put in jail. He lost touch with his mom, his siblings, his children. He lost his apartment, his material belongings. He is now in such a mess that it is almost impossible for him to find a solution, let alone an apartment. At some point, this spiral made him decide that the street was his friend, the people on the street his family, and his drugs his moments of paradise. When I tried to help him after he asked me, I quickly noticed the walls I was to run into and that it was impossible to structure any positive action, due to the constant chaos he survives in, and that ended up being his only real world.
‘Doing it all’ is a bit much. Every day I have been writing articles, making calls for products, having the homeless write their stories, making contacts, organizing, collecting, preparing, buying what is missing, going out to look for homeless people… plus the daily emails and phonecalls from media and people who propose things I probably can not accept (“Can I make a live interview on the street?!”, “I cleaned my attic, would you like kitchen supplies for the homeless?”, “Can I come with you to watch?”)… it never stops, it is very noisy – as opposed to the deafening silence of our politicians.
Our local Belgian press and media have been astonishing if not a little bit appalling at times. They are willing to report on the neediest among us, but do not fear a tiny portion of discrimination on the side. One women’s magazine wanted to interview me, but made clear I was too old for their audience. A Flemish local newspaper told me that only if there would be an activity organized by “a certain community”, they would make an article. Somebody from TV called me to come to a dinner with poor/homeless people and rich people, but I had to pay a lot of money first. About this last proposal: at first, this action had my sympathy, until I saw the organizers’ Facebook page with pictures of certain politicians at their dinners, and I was glad I did not attend, even though I paid. Oh, and did I mention the fact I do not need a show in order to speak to the homeless?
So there we are, dear readers, donators, friends… as per January, I will be thinking of a new way of distributing the wonderful gifts you all share. I want to thank you all, for reading this blog, thinking of the people who live in great precarity, and for coming into action. Please think of the little soap, the shampoo, toothpaste you gave when you come across a homeless person, and do not forget to talk to them. Say “Hello, how are you?”. Jo, Derek, John, Domenica, Vera, René, Julien, John, Michael, Laurent, Eddy, le petit Monsieur Yougoslave, Valérie, Sébastien, Mimi, the 2 Russians and many others will feel a lot better.
(Written in December 2010)