When I’m with the homeless I don’t judge. I ask a minimum of questions, only enough to keep the conversation moving. I don’t interrogate or ask about their past. Mostly, I listen and try to understand. I am often asked why I am there. Although the reasons are deeper, I usually answer by saying, ‘The conversations here are more interesting than where I work.’ I visit these people, on the streets, on the way to my place of employment, and at noon hours.
What I have learned over the past four years has changed my life. These people, who I consider to be my friends, are alcoholics, drug and other substance users. Some work as prostitutes, some have AIDS, most or all have served time in jail for various offenses. All of them I would trust with my life. They have welcomed me into their street family. I am honored to be considered a member.
I have heard sickening stories of abuse as children and babies born with drug dependencies. Most have mental and physical illnesses, suffer beatings, broken bones, stabbings, and have a fear of abusive partners and the police. Authority in any form is seen negatively, as a means to control their lives. The homeless shelters are noisy, infested with bed bugs, the scene of fights and a place where personal items are stolen. Many homeless people prefer to sleep inside common areas such as bank foyers, outside under bridges, or behind dumpsters.
I have recalled conversations from memory, and recorded them on these pages. I’ve attempted to be as accurate and truthful as possible. I haven’t used any recording devices, so recollections may be faulty. I leave out details that I think may incriminate; but I don’t interpret, explain or edit. What they say is what you read. I have changed names and locations for purposes of privacy. My friends don’t choose to be addicts. It’s a disease and should be treated as such. They need help. They can’t do it on their own, but they want it on their own terms.