As a recent “inductee” into the world of the Columbia homeless, I have gained a new perspective on what it really means to live this way.
First of all, I have to say that Transitions is a very important part of our community and we would not survive without their presence. It gets very dangerous at night in downtown Columbia, where the “street people” roam. Luckily enough, I was given a bed at Transitions, a facility to help the homeless, and given another chance at my life. Through classes and programs, they really take care of those who are in need and provide us food and shelter.
I have a bachelor’s degree and used to make pretty good money in home building; however, my downfall was alcohol. Please do not judge me for my affliction. It can happen to anyone and especially those genetically predisposed to the condition. Having said that, I have hit my rock bottom now that I am homeless and there is only one way up from where I have put myself now. I have to remain diligent and not fall for complacency. I am currently sober and attend AA regularly. Sometimes willpower alone just is not enough, believe me — I have tried doing it on my own and the results were always the same. A good group of peer support really does help you see yourself through the day without drinking or drugging.
Some of the homeless give us all a bad name, though. The panhandlers and the people who leave their trash everywhere are a nuisance to me as well. They give those of us who are trying hard to get back on our feet a bad name. People judge all of us as a whole, though, which is unfortunate. In fact, downtown or at the hospital, if they find out you live at Transitions, you immediately get brushed off or asked to leave. That is not me — I went to Cotillion, I am polite, I am well read, I am in MENSA. Do not judge a book by its cover, so they say. One size does not fit all when it comes to the homeless. Sure, there are people who are not trying, but many of us are doing our best to get out of this.
Some of our problems are self-induced, like mine, but other people are struggling with domestic violence, losing their jobs, psychiatric problems or a death of a family member. They do not know where to turn, which is why Transitions is so crucial to the community.
I am working hard to get a job now. I cannot say that about everyone, but I know that I have to pull myself up by my bootstraps to get back into reality. I have skills and I will prevail, there is no doubt about that. Many of us are doing the same. We really do not like our situation. We want to get out of it as quickly as possible. There is no stewing in this particular lifestyle for most of us. We never grew up telling our teachers that we had hoped to one day be homeless in Columbia.
I have also reconnected with God, which is very important to me at this, the lowest of low points of my life. I have faith that things will get better, and I know they will. People that I know, for the most part, even people from long ago that I have recently reacquainted myself with, have been very helpful to me. I could not write this without giving thanks to the people who understand my position and have helped me. I truly could not get by without these people in my life.
Next time you judge someone who appears homeless, give them a second chance, because they may just be doing the best they can to survive and rebuild their life. Homelessness is a problem, but like any other problem, there is a solution to it. The community needs to come together to help end this. This is the United States; we should not have people begging on the streets just to get by. There are too many good people in this world to let this be the epidemic that it is. Remember, most of America is just a paycheck away from being homeless themselves, so the next person walking in the door may just be you.
My Turn offers an occasional forum for diverse voices in the Midlands community.