Arguably the most surreal aspect of homelessness is not the experience of being without a home, but of being thrust into the limelight and being made a public figure. Like it or not, once you become homeless you become the focus of intense local and national debate. Everyone seems to have an opinion of homeless people, and every aspect of your life as a homeless person is considered fair game to be scrutinized, discussed, and judged in the public sphere. So, not only do homeless people have to deal with all the problems of homelessness, they also have to endure all that having pseudo fame or infamy forced on them entails. And, nothing in the non-homeless world can prepare you for that.
Most homeless people try to ignore it. Some try to engage the debate. Yet some are so repelled by it that they go to extreme lengths to get away from it. But, the more homeless people try to avoid the public eye, the more the public goes looking for them. Around Nashville the one thing you’ll hear from the homeless living in camps hidden in the woods is that they want to be left alone. No such luck there. The often talked about “Tent City” just south of downtown Nashville has been made a spectacle. And just the other day I received an email from someone claiming to work for a federal government agency, requesting that I share with them the location of all the homeless encampments I am aware of in the greater Nashville area. (I will not be replying to that request.)
After writing this post it was pointed out to me that all this scrutiny may be the very reason why so few people blog about their homeless experiences. Homeless people are already the focus of so much attention, most of it negative. Why would they purposely stick their necks out even more?
I am of the sort who tries to engage the debate. I do so with the hope that sharing what I know about homelessness will lead to improvements in homeless care, will lessen the harmful side effects of homelessness, and will shorten the time people spend homeless. Of course I would be pleased if what I did ended homelessness once and for all.
Writing about my homeless experiences is my choice and I understand the consequences of putting myself out there. But for all the other homeless who wish only to be left alone, I hope you will give them this consideration.