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Shelter From the Storm

I’d like to say thank you to the folks who emailed or wrote to me at the blog, asking how I was going to or how did I handle “Superstorm” Sandy. As it happens, I fell into an apartment/cat-sitting gig last month. My older daughter Jenn’s good friend Lauren’s dad went into the hospital for an operation to increase bloodflow to his leg(s?) and ended up needing more surgery than expected due to complications, and so needed someone to feed the cat At the onset of this temporary respite from the street, the game plan was that I would be here from four to five weeks. Now, it seems like it may be at least a week or two longer.

This not knowing, having an open-ended tenancy, I guess you could call it, is bringing up some conflicting emotions. On the one hand, I am incredibly grateful to Lauren and, of course, her dad, Peter, for the opportunity to escape the day-to-day drudgery, hassles, and misery of the lack-of-shelter part of being homeless, even on a temporary basis. On the other hand, well, there is a freeze warning tonight and it’s going to get colder as time marches on, and although I truly wish him a quick recovery so he can get back to his home and familiar surroundings, I find myself thinking things like, These stairs are really steep, they should keep him until they’re sure he can safely handle them or, Hmmmm, Medicare pays for 100 days in a nursing home and other guilt-producing things like that.

Not knowing has always been a big-time stressor or trigger for me. Good or bad, having an answer always beat out uncertainty by a mile. There are some other things going on right now that are affecting me in negative way that, bizarrely enough, would not do so in the same way if I was not in this apartment with luxuries like cable TV and Wi-Fi access. Some are minor and others more important or urgent. My attitude and behavior exacerbate the problem sometimes, like how my predilection for procrastination combines with the TV and the laptop to keep me up all night at times (like now—it’s 5:06 A.M.!) and sleeping too late afterwards. This ends up in me not getting up and out and getting done some things I should do, like getting to the Department of Social Services and getting my food stamps straightened out—a real big issue, because I am flat broke and out of food except for a box of Bisquick, a can of coffee, half a pot of pasta, and assorted condiments.

Food, which was never really a major issue before except for a few days a month, has become a big problem. This is partially because, now that I am not forced to wake up with the sun and get off the sidewalk by the time the library opens, I am taking full advantage of not going out if I don’t have to, just because I can! But I am also not going to places where I can beg or scrounge a meal or food to take away with me that would have been thrown out and wasted because, although the sell-by date was expired, it was still good for another three to five days with the proper handling (or even without, as I proved more times than I can remember over the last four summers). I am also not shopping at the “Dunkin Dumpster” or any of the other sites of “Gourmet Garbage” (not Zagat-rated). Therefore the current lack of funds—caused by combining the normal expenditures of meds, bus pass, personal hygiene supplies plus paper towels, napkins, and toilet paper—has me stressing out.

Some of the actions, behaviors, and well-developed coping skills that I learned while on the street, that once inspired a perverse pride that I could survive at a certain level of comfort in a subsistence environment, now, with the immediate need for shelter met, seem embarrassing and even shameful. I don’t exactly know what I’m going to do about food, but I do know that I’m not about to go dumpster diving tonight.

There is also something about the neighborhood I am staying in, Canton/Brewer’s Hill, with all the bars and restaurants, the nightlife on the square, and the general gentrification that rubs off on me. And while I don’t usually start off a conversation, “Hi, I’m homeless,” nor do I try to hide it. Now, here, it’s a thing I feel the need to avoid mentioning, at least unless directly asked. This, I know, somehow ties into that open-ended, waiting-for-the-other-shoe-to-drop feeling, but we’ll have to wait until Health Care for the Homeless hooks me up with a shrink to probe it too deeply, lest we either release some demon better left asleep or hit a nerve and reduce what’s left undamaged of my psyche to a quivering mass of Jell-O.

I was asked what I appreciated most of all, after the most important issue of having housing—a place out of the weather to sleep—is met. Well, after you strip away all the luxuries and amenities, such as the aforementioned cable TV and Wi-Fi, a kitchen with a stove, microwave, and refrigerator, coffeemaker, and a washer/dryer, it comes down to the basics (not ranked): lights/electricity, heat, hot water, bathroom, shower, chairs, and a bed. All these are important to me, but the really, truly, most appreciated thing about being here is not an object or the presence of anything, it is the exact opposite, an absence of action, requiring absolutely no effort, in short: The pure and simple joy and unadulterated pleasure of not having to immediately get up, get dressed, get out, and find someplace to go, and not having to pack up and haul almost everything I own around town.

And if it happens to be a morning like this, at 18 minutes before sunrise, the ability to say “good night” and drag my tired old sorry ass down the hall, crawl into bed, and sleep.

Dave blogs about life on the street at

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