"Just as meaningful as any meal"
Finding human connection and help while on the streets.
Homelessness can happen to anyone. Michael can testify to that. At one point in his life, Michael was someone who seemed to “have it all.” But life is unpredictable, and our footing is often more precarious than we think. Michael is now stable, doing well and pursuing a fulfilling professional and personal life again. He generously shared his story with us (edited and condensed in the following version) in the hope of encouraging both understanding and perseverance. We must remember to see ourselves in the faces of those who don’t have a home.
My trouble really began in 2010. I had never even tried a drug until 2010.
I lost a $2 million house and an 841 credit score. When all of that was taken away, I didn’t know what to do with myself. Let’s throw in a bad relationship on top of that—my partner actually broke my leg. He pushed me down a flight of stairs. At that point you feel like the world and everything is against you. Now I’m in a new understanding that I have to own all of that. But that is a hard pill to swallow when you’re confused and in pain and your paradigm of life is completely thrown out the window.
In a six-year span I went to six rehabs. I’d come out of these rehabs and, because of the dynamic of my family, disjointed relationships, pride and a whole bunch of other reasons, I would have to live in a homeless shelter. And try to put on a suit and tie and try to get a job while I was in a homeless shelter. Talk about swimming up a stream. Trying to pull myself together to look professional often resulted in things getting stolen, me getting beat up, all kind of things. It was daunting at best.
That I was the idiot who actually went to college, and showed up for work every day, and saved my money and had perfect credit, had bought and sold five houses and started my own business, [and was now] the guy wandering the streets without a place to lie down…It made me so furious.
“At one point in my life I was “designer guy in Laguna Beach” with a fancy house and a fancy car. . . . If all of this had not happened, I would’ve been somebody that I don’t want to be. We don’t know what people’s tragedies are.”
Thankfully, I was able to tap into resources here in this city, GLIDE being one of them, where you feel like someone is listening to what it is that you need.
During the period when I was having a hard time looking anybody in the eyes, GLIDE invited me in, looked me straight in the eyes, knowing exactly where I was, without conversation, when I was literally hungry and really not knowing how to figure my way out of my own box. I was humanized when I was feeling dehumanized by every other person, entity and organization. Even the entities that were considered “help,” like hospitals, were shaming.
What do you do in that circumstance, when you’re so far down that your basic needs aren’t being met? What do you do? You numb out. Why wouldn’t you? The tasks are too daunting, there are too many of them, you have no resources left. Especially your main resource, which is your brain. It’s a vicious cycle where you’re pouring water on your keyboard expecting your computer to work.
That little step forward of having my belly full allowed me to take the next step to something else, like maybe getting case management. Otherwise the physical pain in addition to the emotional pain is way too much. And if you have no solutions, no money in your pocket, no one to listen to you and you’re roaming the streets on your own, it is terrifying.
And you’re expected to have normal conversations with people. You’re expected to have manners. You’re expected to say “please” and “thank you” and “I’m sorry.” When you have so much rage in yourself about what’s just occurred, to be met with a smile and someone looking you straight in the eye, is the fuel that you need to be able to rethink your position on the planet. It’s so simple and basic, yet when you’ve gone down that far, just being able to meet one of those basic needs could take you a week.
Coming to the GLIDE Meals Program, it was surprisingly new and nice. When you’re in gatherings with the people who are under the same levels of stress as you, sometimes it can be scary—it was for me. But GLIDE felt orderly, it felt safer than most of the surrounding areas and it felt clean.
And the food was good, and it was healthy, and I remember thinking, “This is the first cooked meal I’ve had in months.” You can get an EBT [California Electronic Benefit Transfer] card but that card can’t get you any cooked food. And if you have nowhere to go, then you have nowhere to cook it. So, really, you’re buying packaged food that can’t be heated.
“When you have so much rage in yourself about what’s just occurred, to be met with a smile and someone looking you straight in the eye, is the fuel that you need to be able to rethink your position on the planet.”
What I think is extremely helpful is that at GLIDE you are able to go in for your basic need of food and then to be educated on the resources that are out there to help you. It’s imperative.
I remember in my darkest times—and I’m going to be very bold here, in the times that I was most high and unhealthy, and even when I knew that I was a wreck and not presenting well and being angry and frustrated—for someone to offer respect to me no matter how high I was, I recognized it. Even when I was in my worst state, I was still cognizant enough to be able to recognize it. Which, believe it or not, is just as meaningful as any meal. I’ll never forget it.
I’ve had people on the street outside [where I work] ask me for money, because they see me totally differently now, and I’ll look them in the eyes and say, “I don’t have money for you but just keep going, you’re going to make it.”
At one point in my life I was “designer guy in Laguna Beach” with a fancy house and a fancy car. I had all of this stuff. Talking about this makes me cry. If all of this had not happened, I would’ve been somebody that I don’t want to be. We don’t know what people’s tragedies are.
Everybody is worth the opportunity to re-think their position on the planet.