Saturday, July 09, 2005

The Homeless at the Library & in my Neighborhood 

Who are all of these peoples? What got them? What happened in their lives? Is this lifestyle forced upon them, or are they choosing to live this way?

What could have gone wrong? Brain disease? Did their brain start malfunctioning, through no fault of their own, and turn on them? Did they start hearing voices, implacable and relentless? Did they have a giant nervous breakdown? Did their mental demons get the best of them? Was it brain damage, something organic perhaps, like a concussion from falling off of a ladder or a blow to the head? A catastrophic stroke, or an aneurism? Alcohol dementia?

Or is homelessness caused by economic and societal forces? Are these displaced people? Throwaway kids? Drifters, hobos? People who didn’t put enough away for retirement? Were these men who stepped out for cigarettes and never came home? Foster kids graduated from the system with no family or safety net to fall back on? Are these the victims of systematic abuse that no child, no matter how resilient, could endure to become a functioning member of society? Or teenagers lured by the romance of the streets and some naive concept of freedom? Burn outs? Domestic abuse refugees? People with innate streaks of self destruction and self loathing? Rejected misfits, tormented loners? Maimed veterans who suffered some unspeakable trauma in war now with an intractable case of PSTD? Victims of repeated bad choices? Ex-cons waiting to cycle back into prison because they can’t hack it on the outside? People with no job skills? IV drug users? Drunks? The hopelessly addicted? Disconnected, alienated people? Seekers and artists who took their bohemian lifestyles too far? People who have intentionally marginalized themselves because they won’t live within society and its rules, who love the carousing, free wheeling life and easy camaraderie of the streets and are only too happy to live on charity and sleep in doorways?

Are these the mass deinstitutionalized, old patients ruined by psychotropic drugs and shock treatments from the dark ages of psychiatry? Are these people who just gave up and resigned themselves to life on the streets?

I can only say .... with my whopping one day volutneering with the mayor's homeless initiative.. all of the above, but mostly crazy and drug addicted. Any other problems I can solve fo you?
"Did their brain start malfunctioning, through no fault of their own, and turn on them? Did they start hearing voices, implacable and relentless? Did they have a giant nervous breakdown? Did their mental demons get the best of them? "

Yes. Some of them, anyhow.

My father, who recently passed away, was a regular at the Whittier Public Library. He was a Philosophy major at Cal (enough to drive anyone crazy), and had a nervous breakdown while attending Hastings College in the earlly 70s. There was some disconnection in his brain--organic, I suspect--and the alcohol followed.

He wandered the streets of SF for a brief period, before disappearing off to Europe, where he picked olives with Gypsies, drank wine on the streets of Paris, and got crushed over the head on a park bench in Rome. He returned to the States in the early eighties, and had lived on and off the streets of LA since then.

In the end, it was the library that brought him solace. He pored over reference books, reading Chinese translation dictionaries, regular dictionaries (he was a Scrabble whiz, not surprisingly), and all other sorts of reference books. Recently, he got his mind together enough to finish up an AA degree in Theatre Arts at a Community College. He'd been acting in plays, getting work as an extra in music videos and had a bit part as one of Captain Jack Sparrow's crewmen in Pirates of the Carribbean. He was all set to go down and start filming on the sequel(s) when he passed away.

He had been such a regular at The Library that people were shocked and saddened when they learned that he'd died. I doubt that he was a phantom crapper (the stacks of the Whittier Library are not the labyrinthine stacks of a big-city library, so I suspect the stench would've been overwhelming, and he would've been fingered easily), he was just a regular, polite part- to full-timer who pored over books.

A zillion other thoughts come to mind. Sorry for a partial eulogy here, it wasn't my intention. Between members of the regular public, and those members of the irregular public, it sounds like you have your hands full. It's unfortunate that our medical and mental health systems are such these days that you (The Library--and you personally, from what you describe) have ended up becoming one of the de facto support systems that the homeless and mentally ill have to rely upon so heavily.
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