This August, specifically the end of August, will mark a year since I was last homeless. It will mark the end of a year in which the goal was to stay stable for a year, keep doing what I was doing, have a stable place to live, etc.
saying for what feels like forever now. Since last year, when I was evicted from the VA Grant Per Diem (GPD) program, transitional housing for veterans, operated by Porchlight Inc of Madison WI, no one from Porchlight has ever called, or written, or emailed to see if I was all right. No one from the VA Hospital's social work office, or the VA Hospitals' patient advocate office, or from the VA's Madison homeless veterans program office has ever followed up to see how I'm doing.
My first reaction to that is fuck off, you VA and Porchlight bastards left me out on the street and didn't care if I lived or died. Guess what? I'm still here. Yes, I'm still angry about it. I'm trying to let the anger go and just move on, but it's difficult. When I do trust someone, and they violate that trust-- as both the VA and Porchlight did-- I don't easily forgive and forget. I hope that karma, for the people at the VA and at Porchlight that tossed me aside like a sack of shit, truly is a bitch.
If you knew me personally, you'd know that I don't say that kind of thing about many people. I'm probably one of the kindest, most gentle and down to earth veterans with PTSD you're likely to ever meet (although admittedly I do have my triggers).
I've been struggling on and off lately. Part of it is that the anniversary of the start of Desert Shield is coming up soon, part of it is the lingering anger I have over everything that has happened over the past couple of years, and part of it-- the part that I'm just now realizing is a part of it-- is what's been
happening in Madison WI lately.
tl;dr The city doesn't have a practical day shelter for homeless people, the city (especially the Mayor's office) has decided that Madison has been far too soft on homeless people for far too long, and so ordinances like "you can't sit on a bench for more than an hour" are being proposed. The city has been
Madison seems, like a lot of other places, to wish that all of its homeless people would just either find places to live or drift somewhere else. Out of sight, out of mind. You never hear about the quiet homeless people, the ones that do their best (as I always did) to fly under the radar. You hear about the ones that get drunk or high and yell at people, or the ones that panhandle too aggressively, or the guy that pissed against the wall downtown and got arrested.
You don't see the homeless people that fly under the radar-- or you might, but they just look a little out of place, a little transient. Some hide it better than others. I recognize them right away, but then again, I know what to look for.
There's talk of Housing First, an initiative that considers the cost of taking care of people living on the street vs putting people into places to live-- the idea being that it's far cheaper and far more effective to get people off the street first, and then address each person's problems once they have a stable place to live. As I understand it, that's pretty closely aligned with the VA's idea of transitional housing. Get the veteran off the street, and into a managed environment where they have access to all of the resources they need to put life back together and not be homeless.
What a concept-- until you end up back on the street because the so-called charity that runs the program (and soaks up a metric shit ton of government money for doing so) decides they don't like you. Consider that for the transitional housing building I lived in, Porchlight gets market rent for every person that lives there. (True, as a program resident you only pay 30% of your income up to a certain amount, but the VA/HUD/etc fills in the rest up to market rate rent).
It still really bothers me that the system-- the VA, Porchlight, transitional housing-- chewed me up and spit me out the way it did. It's not something I can resolve. I'm trying to find something, closure maybe, that puts it all into perspective and I can't do it, at least not yet. I'm very cynical about it all, which takes a lot of energy that I'd rather use doing other, more productive, things.
Say what you want about ending homelessness. Say what you want about getting every veteran off the streets of America. It's just another "War on X", it's just more bullshit, until you actually do something about it, something more than just try to sweep the undesirables out of sight. You can even give everyone on the streets a place to stay and claim you've eliminated homelessness, but you're lying. It's a hard thing, seeing so many people promising to get every veteran off the street when the system did everything it could to put me, a veteran, back on the street.
I'm angry, but I'm proud, too.
I'm proud that I managed to get the rent paid for an entire year, on time enough that my landlord (butthead though he may be) offered me a lease for another year. This time next year, I'll have the Holy Grail of the Formerly Homeless-- two years at one address, with a good rent reference. Maybe, by then, I'll be far enough in time that the anger will have lessened, that I won't be so triggered every time I see a homeless person or read something in the news on how Madison is trying to get rid of the riff-raff.
By then, I'll be packing and getting ready to bug out though. See you in August 2016, California.