For those of us who live in Olympia, it is becoming less and less possible to overlook the homeless issue. Having been homeless myself, until the recent birth of Quixote Village, I have had much time to consider it from all sides.
Every individual who is now or has been homeless has a unique tale to tell; there is no common denominator. There are, however, certain scenarios that, in my experience, tend to contribute to the condition: childhood trauma, mental illness, drug addiction, legal troubles, economic problems and family disintegration. True and thorough consideration of these root causes could and certainly should fill volumes elsewhere.
Obviously of all the situations I’ve observed in my life, I can speak with authority only of my own. However, with years of off-and-on homelessness under my belt, I have witnessed most of the devastating consequences that can result for anybody out in the cold.
In our youth, we are all able to sustain a lifestyle which age will not allow, and mine was the lifestyle of an adventurous vagabond. There are many kids who also embrace a kind of Kerouakian, “Go West, young man” commandment.
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The number of such wayward youth, and films such as “Fight Club” and “The East,” would suggest that there is great boredom and apathy resulting from mass corporate culture. Money and all it buys cannot deflect this cultural malaise, and for myself this was felt most acutely in young adulthood as restlessness, depression, even anger.
Beneath that, everybody has a unique psychological makeup, from our increasingly unstable childhoods, and that can lead to the streets. This can occur whether it comes from serious abuse or from something much less insidious, but quite common, such as a broken home like mine.
I’ve always felt a sort of psychological homelessness that has found me wandering all my young life. On good days I’ve been a citizen of the planet, on bad days a man without a home.
Then as we get older, we feel more strongly the need to put down roots. The homeless life gets harder to sustain and neuroses become more manifest, which can cause a classic cycle of self-deprecation and self-medication. It did not occur to me until quite late that all of the worldly weight I thought I was avoiding by leading some semi-ascetic lifestyle was in fact manifest in drug use — a truly decadent and worldly practice.
The same youthful naivete and alienation that leads to wanderlust can lead to drug use. You can call it personal freedom and exploration. You can start, as I did, by reading McKenna and Castaneda, eating mushrooms and getting spiritual, but end up, as I did, a heroin addict.
Homelessness and addiction are often symptoms of the same psychological disorder. Often the disorder is just enough to cause the sufferer to turn to illicit drugs without being severe enough to warrant clinical treatment. Often it is enough to trap the sufferer in a cycle of gaining then losing housing, without warranting hospitalization.
It’s a sort of no man’s land, a non-category into which many of us fall.
The everyday realities of homelessness are simply maddening. A predilection for drugs will send you running for their comforts: warmth and well-being, like having home and hearth within, but for a short while. Despite the knowledge that spending all your money on drugs will perpetuate your problems, you will do so with zeal.
Homelessness, like addiction, reduces the world to fundamentals, to the base of Maslow’s hierarchy. Time becomes a daunting enemy, and you’ll find all manner of ways to kill it, with the goal of thinking as little as possible about your circumstances.
This is perhaps the cruelest aspect, a sort of Catch 22: You’ve all the time in the world but nothing to do.
The homeless individual can be offensive to people by whom modern conveniences are taken for granted. The result is outsider or us-and-them thinking. This mindset must be actively fought against by both sides.
The true issue to me is one of encouraging everyone to participate in the social and civic life of the community which sustains them, and the fact that the community does indeed sustain us is important to not only iterate but to demonstrate.
Olympia is a wonderful town; the grass-roots spirit of volunteerism is so alive.
Two things are needed to stop homelessness: the effort of the homeless individual to become a participating member of the community and the availability of resources to help that process.
As a recipient of such help in Olympia (to both find housing and get clean), I can say that it inspires me to do the same for someone else, to change the solitary, destructive cycle into one of reciprocity.
J. L. Waddey is a writer, cook seeking work and current resident of Quixote Village. He can be reached at Jwad42@hotmail.com.