When visiting the shelter, I use my volunteered service as an opportunity to meet those attending one by one, keeping my eyes open for anyone who may have an unheard story to tell. Many of those I serve food to are, justifiably, in bitter spirits. When the only planned meal of the day is an insipid blend of chili and vegetables, smiles and gratitude aren’t exactly expected.
However, there was one man who came down the line with the mannerisms of an appreciative customer at a restaurant. His polite and approachable demeanor gave me the impression that he had a story to tell, and explanation to his current housing crisis.
A name-tag reading “Matthew: Customer Service” was pinned into his jacket, with his hair still styled from his day at work. His beaming grin stood above the sea of solemn faces to the point where it almost seemed unnatural. As I spoke with Matthew, the nearly two hour conversation more closely resembled a reunion of two old friends rather than an interview.
We discussed our lives and beliefs with each other in intimate detail and were able to connect on a number of interests and experiences. Throughout it all, Matthew’s civility and open-mindedness spoke the notion loud and clear that for many, homelessness is only a temporary blockade in life’s path, one that nearly anyone can come across.
How did you become homeless?
“I became homeless after breaking up with my fiance, things hadn’t been going well. She had always been depressed and struggled with self harm. She would be perfectly fine and then come out of the shower with blood running down her arms. I was willing to fix anything, but she was unwilling to give herself any actual credit. She could never see herself as worth anything, she was setting herself up in a self-fulfilling prophecy for self-destruction. She didn’t work and would just sit at home watching these depressing reality shows.
I wanted her to see how awesome and beautiful of a person she was, but she just wouldn’t hear me. I am a very optimistic person, but eventually it got to be so much of a downer, it was worse than work, and that’s when I started finding things to avoid it. I turned to alcohol for a few months and ended up staying in the VA for about a month and they helped me get out of my spiral.”
Do you think anything else may have contributed to the alcoholism?
“I don’t think so. My dad committed suicide back in 2007. He was a Vietnam vet, an army medic for a recon unit. He saw some shit. He was never angry, just upset. He drank like a fish throughout my childhood but when he committed suicide he had been sober for ten years. I actually asked him if he was going to kill himself the day before it happened because my mom had found a note he wrote. He said no.
I moved here from Cleveland to be with her right after the funeral. I may have had more of a predisposition to pick up the addiction just from the stress but I don’t think I can use that as an excuse. It is my responsibility to get my life together here and I can’t be letting things from the past affect my present.
“I do now.”
“I was injured in the Navy and they took some blood tests, that was when I found out I was adopted. I have two half-sisters and one half-brother. My half -sister was trying to contact me for years, but my mom told me it was some sort of scam so I just ignored it until my grandma told me one day. I was 26 at the time, and in complete and utter shock. My reaction was just copious amounts of drinking for a few weeks, I had recently had surgery and had been lied to by my parents my whole life and just couldn’t quite believe it. I understood the complexity of the situation, but I just couldn’t understand why they handled it the way they did. My mother and I talked about it but don’t really bring it up.
“Most of my working experience has been customer service or working with the public. I graduated from Xavier in 2002 with an MBA. I work on the phones in customer service near the mall around 40 hours a week so that is how I spend most of my time. I finally have found a constant job and am moving out within a few weeks to an apartment downtown.
With the amount of crap that has happened to me, it’s very easy for someone to say ‘life just has it in for you!’
Well, no. Life could care less actually. Life isn’t out for you, god isn’t out for you , and neither is karma. That’s just how it shook out ya know? I’m lucky enough it’s only going to take me about a year to get out of it. I don’t want my supervisors to treat me any differently, I don’t want the people that I work with to even know about it.
People who are homeless don’t want to be homeless. They are not trying to take advantage of the system, they are here for a reason. Yes, there are stereotypical homeless people on the street corners, but by and large we don’t want people to know about our situation, we don’t want people to feel bad or treat us any differently, but that doesn’t mean we are comfortable with the situation we’re in . People need to understand that.”