Living Homeless

The last day of August is upon us.  The morning temperatures are remaining in the 40s, making quite clear the promise of Autumn.  Yesterday was Sunday, the hardest day of the week for a homeless person.  This is due to the lack of services on Sunday that are available on the other days of the week.  There is no bus service, the libraries are not open and many businesses are closed.  Even if you just want to wander around and kill time by browsing through various shops, fewer are open, and this, coupled with the lack of the (warm) libraries, makes for an outdoor day.  To be sure, Sunday morning has Church services, but many homeless, having seen little Grace from God in their recent existence, tend to avoid worship and organized religion, deeming them for people who are not ‘outside.’  Outside of society, outside of being homed, usually outside of employment, and oftentimes outside of a viable relationship.  Such isolation does not make the homeless feel welcome in any community, even the community of the congregation of a Church.

Luckily, Winter is not yet upon us and the outdoor existence is not brutal.  Boring perhaps, but not brutal.  If the homeless is fortunate enough to have a little money in their pocket, they can buy a coffee and sit at one of the outdoor tables of the coffee shops and nurse the coffee for several hours, in the anecdotal way that a Scotsman nurses a beer.  It helps, because it is hard to be on your feet for hours on end, either walking or just standing in some sheltered place should it be raining.  The boredom that one feels eventually is realized to be part of the enemy.  Your mind is already filled with unhappiness due to your position in society, and it is not a good thing to have nothing to occupy your thoughts, because you tend to drift into negative, self-defeating attitudes.  So, conversation is in order, allowing you to escape the morass of your own difficulties and chat about meaningless trivialities, which are nevertheless a welcome diversion.  Often, one homeless person, who can afford the coffee, will end end up sitting with two or three others, who cannot, and socialize.  This can be sometimes unpleasant, as someone will usually want to talk about their own difficulties, and this is little better than sitting alone and thinking of your own difficulties.  But it does allow one to be in a position of helpfulness and advocation rather than in a position of self-defeatism.

If one has an especially positive attitude, one can befriend ‘normal’ members of the community.  This is a very fruitful experience, as it allows one to inch back toward a more balanced attitude.  There is nothing like personal validation as a mechanism to engender self-actualization.  This is actually the first halting step on the road to recovering one’s sense of worth after having been through such depressing experiences which the homeless must endure.  Some (many) do not get to this step and after faltering for a bit, move on to some other shelter in some other community.  There is a large mobile community of the homeless who move from shelter to shelter and state to state.  Typically unrecorded, their presence is never felt long enough in any one community to register.  I have seen many of these people in my stays at homeless shelters.  Some of them embrace this lifestyle as a way of avoiding the issues that plague them, while others are already so self-defeated that it seems the only avenue of possibility for them.  It is a sad experience, to watch this parade of the hopeless move through life, and know that there are no societal mechanisms for dealing with them, and no way for those few individuals who do care, to connect with them.  But life has always been unfair and imperfect, and it is important to not lose focus, and to realize that one must take care of oneself before one can effectively take care of others.  And, in the interim, the cold winds of Autumn have begun to blow.

The Wedding Cake Tasting

The New England Culinary Institute (NECI) is located here in Montpelier and they have several retail outlets scattered about the town.  One of them is my favorite local patisserie, La Brioche.  Yesterday afternoon, a selection of 8 soon-to-graduate students had an exhibition of their skills in which they had to to create a wedding cake.  They then presented their creations to the public in a wonderful wedding cake tasting.

Each student had made a mock-up of the whole cake so that we could see the aesthetics of the formal presentation and had cut the actual cake into bite-sized pieces for the public to enjoy.  Each of the cakes was delicious, with various fruit flavors such as blueberry, apricot or nectarine melding with other flavors such as marzipan or flavored honey, all complementing a lovely white cake.  What a scrumptious way to spend a late afternoon in Montpelier.

And it was a cool afternoon as well.  Autumn seems to arrive here before August leaves.  The night before last, we had a low of 44 and last night it dropped to 43.  Of course, the days warm up pleasantly into the 60’s and it’s quite lovely, but since merely a week or so ago, we were dealing with temperatures in the 90s, it seems quite a dramatic change.  And we are forecast to be in a warming trend, but still, the hint of autumn has been felt, and with the school buses on the road and a few of the trees starting to change color, it is clear that the year is turning and summer is on the way out.

The Farmer’s Market

Montpelier has a farmer’s market every Saturday morning from 9:00 AM until 1:00 PM during the growing season from late Spring until early Fall.  It is a festive atmosphere with both regional farmers offering produce and local artisans offering their crafts.  I was recently approached by Joe Keane, one of the vendors there.  Joe sells Green Mountain coffee, both bagged and fresh-brewed, with the proceeds going to the soup kitchens of Montpelier.

In Montpelier, there are five different churches who sponsor soup kitchens.  These churches do not receive any Federal or State money for doing this.  They do receive donations from individuals and organizations, when available, but take it upon themselves to render this service to the community.  On Monday, it’s the Unitarian Church of Montpelier, on Tuesday, the Bethany United Church of Christ, on Wednesday, the Christ Episcopal Church, on Thursday, the Trinity United Methodist Church, and on Friday, Saint Augustine’s Catholic Church.  All of these churches are located within a few blocks of one another in the downtown area of Montpelier.  Thus, there is a free lunch available to the needy each day of the week, from Monday to Friday.  Having been unemployed and still being quite poor, I have eaten regularly at these soup kitchens, and usually it’s the first food of the day for me, as well as for many others.

Therefore, when Joe approached me and asked if I would like to help him, I readily agreed.  I realized that here was a chance to pay back some of the kindness that had been shown to me by these various churches.  And so, on Saturday, August 22, I had my first experience as a vendor in the Montpelier Farmer’s Market, assisting Joe with the sale of the bagged coffee.  It was a wonderful experience.  Early on, I made a sign stating that the proceeds we derived went to support the soup kitchens.  This had a positive effect across the morning as several people noted it and bought coffee, some of them refusing the change they were due back, telling us to keep it, it being for a good cause.  People do want to help if they are able.

The season is slowing down though, that was evident.  I think it’s because many schools, elementary schools, high schools, and colleges, now start the last week of August.  Labor Day weekend no longer marks the end of summer for many families with children.  Even so, we sold just about all the product that we had, so it was a very good day.  Joe gave me money for lunch, which I spent on my favorite lunch vendor there, a Pakistani family who vends hot food.  Chicken curry, rice and hot sauce – Yum!

The Street Scene

When I first began to explore Montpelier as a possible location to settle down in, I was immediately struck by the vibrancy of cultural influences here which mainly manifested themselves in an active street scene.  There were people of obviously varied backgrounds simply ‘hanging out’ at the outdoor tables of the various coffee shops.  A person would come along and see someone that they knew, sit and converse for a bit, and then resume their previous errand.  There was a bustle and a mood which bespoke an active and rich social life for those that chose to pursue it.  In addition, there were buskers at various locations about the small downtown district, and they added a pleasing musical ambiance to the area with their acoustic and vocal offerings.  One could also see artists sprinkled here and there working on either rendering the lovely architecture of the downtown area or working on more personal pieces.

The intimacy produced by these artistic endeavors and social groupings, although perhaps common for small-town life, seemed more remarkable and pleasant for taking place in a state capital.  Although Montpelier is small by national standards, having a population only slightly greater than seven thousand, nevertheless, the full machinery of government is found here.  The functionaries of the state government mingle freely and easily with the local populace, and except for a slight formalism in attire, it is difficult to differentiate between the two groups.  In an era of big business and vested interests and a growing dislike for the self-serving interests of government policy, it is both rewarding and instructive to see that close ties can exist between the citizen and the state.

The Return

Well, for several years now, life has been tumultuous for me.  This blog has languished as I fought my way through the devastating end of a 12 year relationship with my former fiance, and then the death of a sweet rescued female Dalmatian dog, who finally had to be put down as her arthritis and Lyme disease became too painful.  These events eclipsed my happiness and then extended into a long period of homelessness and unemployment as the economy faltered and all that had once been easy to obtain seemed to be always just out of reach for me.

Now, however, my mood has returned from the dark corridors that it stalked down and I have once again begun to find and respond to the joy of life and the pleasures of reaching out and touching others’ hearts and minds.

I find myself in Montpelier these days with a new job. It only pays minimum wage and it is only 20 hours a week, but after what I have been through, it is like a blessing from Heaven.  So I have decided to resume my blog.  I am not yet sure whether I will focus on the larger issues of politics and the economy which loom before us, or whether I shall simply focus on the day-to-day minutiae that occur in a single life.

I am still living in a homeless shelter, and I have yet to receive my first paycheck.  But I have found hope and, with it, I will achieve housing and eventually will put my life back into some semblance of order.