THE UNDETECTABLE HOMELESS

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A Weekly Cyberlog


It has been such a busy three weeks that it is difficult to know where to begin!  I have been to
large cities, small towns, and very rural areas.  And then there has been the “hurricane event”
which has effected some undetectable homeless women’s usual routine.  Travel has been
restricted for those who were about to depart for Florida or the southwest from the East Coast
states, making pre-arranged plans “on hold.”  Unfortunately, I continue to discover that all of our
systems–federal, state, county, and city--do not work properly to help “the pre- and already-
homeless,” and I’m not just talking about the very visible people who need assistance, but more
so, those who are perfectly functional and just need a modicum of help.  Example: why give an
older homeless woman a ticket that she says she cannot pay for a slightly out-of-date license
sticker when she has a handicapped placard hanging from her visor, is obviously traveling–and
to a place where she can remain for awhile (and can prove it)–and then cuff her when she tries
to explain that she is not a vagrant (no address or phone number) and then jail her and put her
car in the police compound where it is stripped by the people who work there?  She emailed
me from the police station, crying, because I am her only “one call.”  This has happened before
to other women; it is not a one-time occurrence.  What has happened to compassion?

I’ll start this week’s Cyberlog with an “adventure” in a rural area in which I literally stumbled into
a tiny group of “squatters” who have created their own small intentional community.  I didn’t want
to traverse the area surrounding Hartford, CT, since it has been my experience that there is
always a big black cloud over I-91 and I-84 with enough heavy rain to make driving insane–with
trucks racing by, splashing your windshield into a smudged canvas of gray streaks while you
steer blindly.  So, instead, I went far away from that area, into the countryside.  I did not expect
to see such “emptiness” anywhere in CT, but there I was, driving through some tiny towns with
nothing but forests in-between.  I got lost for a change, missing a minor state route that I was
supposed to take, and when turning into a dirt track to make a U-turn, a woman carrying a baby
and a big bucket walked in front of me from one side of the forest into the other.  Naturally, I got
out of the car and followed her.  We didn’t have far to go, for within about 100 yards, I saw tents,
people, and one large old (converted) school bus.  I waited on the fringe, mainly because I felt
like I had been transported back into the ‘60s and ‘70s.  I remember what “hippies” looked like.
 I counted 3 women and 4 men, and the one baby.  While I had a camera, I had the intelligence
not to use it.  I waited around for awhile, hoping that one of the women would come out of the
compound, and was about to leave when one man headed my way–to use “my” part of the forest
as a bathroom.  The toilet paper roll in his hand made that clear.  I had to make a quick decision:
make myself known or be part of the bathroom scenario.  I made deliberate noises with tree
branches to announce that someone (or something) was in the immediate area, and he took a
knife from his belt.  I thought it better to be a someone rather than a something.  I called out that
I was only a curious older woman and meant no trouble or offense by intruding.  He actually
smiled and said something about my moving into the compound now or be embarrassed.  I
walked into the middle of the group’s common area where there was an obviously hand-built
stone BBQ with something cooking on it and two women peeling potatoes.  I wasn’t greeted
warmly, but they did let me explain what I was doing by following and watching them. The woman
with the baby said I should sit down (on a huge rock) and she would tell me why they were there.
I asked if I could record her, and as usual, promised that no names or exact places would ever
be revealed.  I guess I have an honest face, for these folk did not look like they trusted anyone.

 

“I was in my last year of college and the money dried up.  I couldn’t get another loan in the
middle of my last year, and my part-time job wasn’t enough to pay for a room....I shared a
place with another girl for awhile, but she was into pot and wanted to party all the time.  I
had to study so that if I could get back to classes, I’d be up to date on my reading. I missed
about 3 weeks while I worked in a couple of places waitressing, but I guess an English
major doesn’t mean you can take orders fast and correctly or carry plates without spilling....
Everything went wrong at once.  I found a lump in my breast and thought I was
pregnant and was too sick to even try to go to classes.  Then I realized I wasn’t pregnant
and the lump wasn’t anything serious.  By then I was a mess.  The boyfriend that was didn’t
want to help me, and the only friend I had was Henny–that’s her over there peeling veget-
ables ....She kept me from doing anything stupid, and when she graduated, she had plans
already.  She’s a history major, another worthless degree, and the teaching job she thought
she had didn’t come through.  You’ll notice that she’s older; this is her second time around
with degrees and she’s a widow....Well, Henny had a friend–that’s him by the bus–who
belonged to a band, and he said she could come along with them as they went from town
to town playing....He said it was OK if I joined them, and gee, it’s been over  two years now
that I’ve just trailed along.  I didn’t expect this baby.  And I’ll be honest.  I don’t know which
of the guys is the father...except for the really skinny one who’s trying to repair a tire....This
isn’t at all what I planned for my life.  I just got caught up in things when I couldn’t finish
college and get a job, a career going....To answer your question about the group, we were
traveling from one place to another when I was about to give birth and we stopped here
for what was to be a couple of days.  It turned out to be longer, and the guys built the pit
for cooking and set up the tents.  I am sort of amazed that none of the guys cared who
the father is and they all seem to love the little guy and treat him as theirs.  So he has 3
fathers and I don’t even know what last name to give him....Henny suggested that we just
stay here until we’re found and the police tell us to leave.  So far it’s working out.  Two of
the guys have part-time jobs in a town about 10 miles from here, and that brings in the
food and gas money...except that the bus isn’t very useful and it stands out anywhere we
go....If no one tells us to move on, we’ll just stay here and we’re talking now about letting
another guy and his girlfriend move in with us. They both have part-time jobs in a health
food store.  Well, it’s almost that; it’s really more of a grocery store with a health food
section!   We sort of feel like a little community now, and it can grow.  We’d like to get
that garden going (she pointed to a “plowed” area where I could see sprouts) and raise
our own food.  We do have a goat for milk.  She’s over there beyond the bus, tied where
she can’t get at the garden or the compost heap....You know, if we had the right to do this
correctly, we would start a real little town by ourselves.  We all have something to contribute.
We have a lot of degrees in the group, and some are actually about doing practical things.
Will, who’s off getting some house painting done, could do it professionally, and Wes,
who’s working in a computer store, is a whiz at programming.  He just doesn’t get along
with employers too well.  His lady used to teach in Iowa–or maybe it was Chicago–I can’t
remember–can tutor real well...I do weaving and artwork, Henny does wonderful things
with stuff from the forest and stream in the way of jewelry and things like painted rocks and
driftwood, and Joe is a really terrific guitar player, but he’s spastic and we can’t count on
him for a gig that’s more than at the moment.  The band isn’t that fantastic, but if they had
a permanent place to play, they could probably bring in enough each week....Perky–she’s
the one who is peeling with Henny–has a degree from Wellesley in some artsy-fartsy major
which leads to no job at all, and Billy–he’s the one who almost peed on you–majored in econ....
We’re not bums, but I guess to you, we look like it.  We just want to live with nature
and build real houses and settle down....but I don’t mean wooden or brick regular houses.
I mean using the types of housing that we’ve seen on TV.  Like Dennis Weaver’s house of
tires stuffed with dirt along with bottles, and mixing mud with hay like the Mexicans do. [I
think she means strawbale.]  I read a book by a guy who makes houses which use the
basic structure as a kiln and we can all do that together. [I believe she is referring to the
ceramic houses.]....All of the guys have some ability to work with their hands and two of
them could start just about any business if there was enough money to get started with
rent somewhere.  All we need is a place that’s permanent....We’d take in anyone who is
willing to work to make this a better community of people.  But they can’t drink much or
take drugs....”(Carla, age about 25, 2003 in CT)


I told them about inland Maine and what is happening there in the way of self-sufficiency (mostly
organic) farming, and they said they would seriously consider such a move.  There was no doubt
in my mind that they are sincere and enjoy the fellowship and type of alternative living that they
have nurtured.  I wish I could keep in touch with them, but it is highly unlikely.
 


I have become familiar with and initially involved with the Maine Women’s Agricultural Network
((WAgN) which is associated with the Maine Cooperative Extension Office in Lisbon Falls.  There
are many women farmers in Maine who are working to establish their own (usually organic) farms
and the programs offered by WagN are able to offer outreach agriculture information, networking,
education/training, and community development.  I interviewed several farmers, and have some
documentary film already.  I had to leave Maine too soon to do more on this leading edge agricul-
tural self-sufficiency program; it is just too expensive for me to stay in Maine long enough to do
my job correctly Maybe some angel will finance another trip so that I can pass along this life-and-
farm-and-community saving material to the public! I am not writing this week’s stories in
the order of my travels, for I am going to tell you Martha’s story now, and she is living in two places
in Boston: the Harvard University grounds and the Boston Common and Public Garden–two huge
areas of greenery, gardens, and a lake that abut and are just plain beautiful.  First, I think that ever-
yone ought to be warned about downtown Boston.  Don’t even try to drive there unless you actually
know about the ridiculous loooong-time and widespread construction (“The Big Dig”) situation
and the even more ridiculous traffic and lack of a city grid.  Streets (almost all one-way) just appear,
winding and twisting in a very appealing and historical display of buildings and ethnic neighbor-
hoods along with narrow alleys and uneven sidewalks by lovely old brick and stone townhouses.
My decision to stay at a downtown hotel was based mainly on “advertising” and the desire to be
within walking distance of the famous Quincy Market where I intended to eat my way from one end
to the other.  Don’t.  While everything in the stalls looked appealing, the wide variety of food I tried
tasted like mushy, over-cooked  wallpaper–honestly among the worst food in the U.S., and I ought
to know from my many years of traveling and restaurant-eating.  I was not alone in this opinion; I
heard tourists around me complaining about the lack of quality and disappointment in what they had
heard from either travel agencies or other advertising.  How can you ruin pizza/Italian or Chinese
food?  Go to the Quincy Market and find out....[Please, no flames about my opinion.  I’m sure there
are people who like the food there!  And I don’t eat at fast food places, either, so I admit to being
“picky.”] The place itself is extremely interesting, historical, and while I was there for 4 days, there
was entertainment by local musicians, singers, and “dancers” in the front courtyard next to Faneuil
Hall as well as inside the Quincy in the “round” center of the building for those who sat on wooden
blocks eating at the long wooden tables.  There is a very good “farmers market” right next door,
and the produce looked fresh and there were many locals buying vegetables and fruits to take home.
Boston has wonderful restaurants, so try those instead of eating at the Quincy Market.

One homeless woman whose story is below told me that it is a “fun day” to walk through the Quincy
Market along the big long aisle (with food stalls on either side) and ask if one can sample something.
She said only a few refused, and a lot of samples makes a small meal while enjoying the ambience
that makes a homeless woman’s quality of life a better one.
 


The trip to Boston was very worthwhile, for while I found two undetectable homeless women, I just
KNOW that there are many more such women (and maybe men) who are living quite “nicely” in
the several public areas that are free and aesthetically delightful.  I include a couple of photos that
don’t come anywhere near showing how really lovely these areas are.  I spent one entire afternoon
just walking around the lake with the Swan Boats, feeding the domesticated ducks, and enjoying
the bronze  “memorial” (a row of ducklings following mama) to the children’s book, “Make Way
For the Ducklings.”  My own childhood memories of the Swan Boats made a working day seem
like a dreamy vacation.
 

Martha is another heretofore silent victim of 9/11.  She was sitting on a bench under a very large
old willow tree by the lake.  She was just staring, unblinkingly, at the ducks while munching on potato
chips.  I needed to sit, and we shared the bench for awhile before a word was said.  She asked
what I was doing in Boston (since I wasn’t on a lunch hour and obviously wasn’t watching the time)
and as women do so easily, we just began to “talk.”
 
 
“I had a great job in Tower One, working with some men in a business which while small, had
real potential.  We sold resold apparel and odd lots to major companies who then resold the
items to stores all across the country.  I was thinking of becoming engaged to a good man
who was widowed and wanted to marry me.   I didn’t love him, but he would be a good com-
panion and I was ready to have a partner in life....He worked in Tower Two, and died that
day....I was widowed many years ago and my income from that is very small.  Not enough to
live on, but at least it’s something.  I didn’t get anything from the 9/11 event.  I didn’t have the
company or personal records that were required for any compensation, and then, anyway, I
found out that the bosses hadn’t followed all the tax rules, so it wasn’t legal to boot....It seems
to be a mess in NYC with helping the smaller companies.  The big stockbrokerages get the
attention.  I didn’t own my company, so I couldn’t ask for any re-opening money, and my
bosses seem to have moved rapidly to Bermuda–at least the one who I know survived.  I
saw him in the street....I don’t have much of a family now; everyone is dying off.  I had an
invite to visit an aunt that I’ve never met in Louisiana, but I don’t want to live in that climate–
hot, humid, and stormy.  I didn’t get an offer of housing, you understand, just a visit....Then
what would I do?  I’m better off here where I know one lady who is rich, lonely, and will pro-
bably ask me to move in with her since she’s getting really old and she has been talking
about hating the idea of going into one of those assisted living places....Why did I choose
Boston?  Oh, I know it well.  I used to come here every year just for a vacation, and it’s
got so much to see and do....I found a little sort of garage that isn’t being used now, and
I parked in there and hope that no one ever comes back.  It doesn’t look like it has been
used for years.  I’ve spread out my clothes and things and just leave in the morning, walk
for miles it seems, and go back at night.  There weren’t any locks but I’ve put two in....I’d
rather be in Boston and roam the gardens all day than be in some shelter.  Wouldn’t you?
...I do go to Harvard and roam that humongous area every week.  I love to walk through
the book stores and shops, and I can sit and have a coffee and rolls for a whole morning.
 Then I wander around and end up in a library.  On Sundays, I just live as long as pos-
sible in any church that is having an event that day.  Lots of food around and new people
all the time, so I’m not standing out....I went to a Bar Mitzvah a few weeks ago, and now
I’ve found where the REALLY good food is!  And very nice people.  I’m going to get the
newspaper in the library and find all of them and become a Bar Mitzvah Jew.  I’d better
get some books about Judaism, though, so I won’t be embarrassed if someone asks me
a question about religion or the temple.  Or is it a synagogue?  I’m going to LEARN, you
can be sure of that!”  (Martha, age 54, 2003 in MA)


Bernice, on the other hand, has a more prosaic story.  She is a lifelong Bostonian, and worked
for 30 years at one hospital.  She had the unfortunate experience of becoming old(er) and this
is the result:

“I come here (Public Garden) almost every day to stay sane.  If someone is sitting on this
bench, I’ll just wait until they leave.  This is my second home.  My first one is my Olds.  They
are both my only real hold on life and sanity....I thought getting older would be rather nice.
I could retire on a good pension and do a bit of traveling; you know, maybe even Europe
....I worked in [    ] hospital, moving from one unit to another during 30 years.  It wasn’t ex-
citing, but it was steady and gave me reason to believe that at my age, I could kick up my
heels and enjoy life.  I didn’t count on my investments going completely sour a year or so
ago.  I didn’t count on getting arthritis and not being able to type–use a computer after
typing on regular typewriters for reports–which is now a necessity.  I didn’t count on never
getting married.  I figured I would when I suddenly saw my 40th birthday and no man in
sight.  What a horrible surprise!  I should have a husband and children to be with.  I’m not
bad looking, am I? [No, she is very attractive and must have been almost beautiful from
her facial structure.]  But it came to pass that at 59, the head of my department told me to
take early retirement since they were downsizing.  What the hell does that mean except
that I was being fired?  They weren’t some small company losing money!  I just wasn’t
worth the salary I was getting and some young gal could be trained for half my salary.  But
what choice did I have?  I talked to a lawyer about age discrimination, but he said I couldn’t
prove that since other women were being let go as well and that was downsizing....Months
later, my savings slipped from being able to take care of my mortgage and other expenses
to being very careful about how much I could spend on food, utilities, and medicines.  No
one wanted to hire me at that age.  I was asked to volunteer everywhere, of course, but that
wasn’t what I needed.  I have a good 10 years of working in me.  But I might as well have
TB....So, I downsized my own life, letting go of anything unnecessary and doing with the
basics.  When I sold my rather new big TV, I let go of my only real entertainment.  I have
never had the time for a decent social life, so my friends had been my co-workers.  I
moved from my home, just getting out with enough for a year of cheap rent money since I
did need major home improvements and I had to sell quickly.  I found a decent apartment,
and then it went condo, and out I went....With no children to help me and no friends who
wanted me to move in with them, I looked at my car and my stomach churned.  It was
going to be home....I think I went blank for a few days.  I couldn’t think.  And then it just be-
came a routine of packing my car as best I could with my best needed things and trying
to make some sort of pattern that I could follow to find what I needed....Since I knew
Boston so well, I knew where I could park for free and spend time during the day for free.
I can always still use my key card for hospital parking, and I do go to hospitals and spend
afternoons going from one section to another and use their bathrooms and sofas.  I just
have had enough of hospitals!  All of that saved me, I guess.  I felt safe here...in Boston, I
mean.  I have enough money left for food and gas and personal stuff, you know, but that’s
it.  I have to live like this or go to a Welfare office.  They will take my car and my belongings
that are worth anything.  What will I get?  I’ll tell you.  Food stamps and some awful places
to stay where I know I’ll be either robbed, raped, or just miserable....Now it’s just waiting
for God.  Do you know the British comedy? That expression is the name of it.....I won’t
ever travel.  I won’t ever have a family.  But I’ve been thinking, here in the park.  I’ve heard
about some places called intention [sic] communities where you can go and work with
others and have a decent place to live while making friends.  I am going to use the library
to look them up and email some which sound like I might fit in.  I use my hotmail address
, which is free....Maybe I won’t have to live in libraries and hospitals during the winter....”
(Bernice, age 63, 2003 in MA)
 


 

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