Home Shoeless

I watched the brother of the shoeless NYC resident, living on the street, on the news the other night. Like many others, I was happily inspired by the police officer’s generosity in buying the man a pair of boots. Like the man’s brother, I have a different perspective of the “homeless”. It turns out the shoeless man has choices…and a home.

I had a homeless brother. I couldn’t understand why he preferred life on the streets over a more traditional existance. The fact is, he did. He told me he liked to be free. My brother was a drug addict, an IV drug user, an HIV patient, who did not follow the regimen, and died as a result of the opportunistic diseases categorized as AIDS.

Of course, he was a lot more than that. The journalist who covered his death in the Boston Globe wrote flatteringly about my brother’s activism for the plight of the homeless. A portion of the title to the piece read “A Homeless Man Who Helped Many Like Him Dead at 36”. It wasn’t the first time he’d been featured in the Globe. He was known to the reporter and had been the subject of a piece on the Cambridge drug scene, when he was released, on a day pass, from a locked TB unit, in a Jamaica Plain hospital.

He promptly withdrew his SSI money. (He was physically handicapped from birth by moderate to severe arthrogryposis affecting his jaw, hands, legs and feet.) He smoked a lot of crack and drank a fair amount of gin before he threw up. I admired the piece for its writing as well as its content and honesty. It portrayed my brother as the person he was, caring and opportunistic.

There has been disappointment in the revelation that the shoeless man has a home. People have called the cop a schmuck for spending his own hard earned dollars on a person who, seemingly, exploited the cop’s generosity. I applaud the cop’s behavior. The pinnacle of human decency is reaching inside ourselves to sacrifice for those in need.

In all of the years my brother lived, I always gave cash to “street” people. It was my choice, and it is still my choice today, what they do with it is theirs.


About elroyjones

Married, no children, responsibly self-directed, living happily.
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27 Responses to Home Shoeless

  1. “…what they do with it is theirs.” — I agree completely… no matter what my situation, I would not want anyone telling me how to live or what to do with what I have… so I try not to do that to anyone… isn’t that what Freedom is all about?

  2. To not sit in judgement of a person who defies (what we determine to be) logic is pretty damned tough, especially if they’re someone close to us.

    Ya know what? You’re somethin’.

    • elroyjones says:

      Thank you, Tim. My sister, an RN, invited him to live with her when her girls were still small. She was very generous in a way that I am not. He told me about the things he knew I could take care of, the family dynamics, making sure he was emotionally safe. He utilized our abilities to suit his needs; it was good for him and it was good for us. He loved my husband, which of course, made me exceedingly happy. In the end, he knew how much we loved him because he allowed us to participate completely in a loooooong goodbye.

  3. Rose Chimera says:

    It has always been a mystery to me why so many people view the homeless as “less than”. Less than them because they have a home I guess. People living on the street are there for a variety of reasons, some like it some don’t. Some have to place to go while others do but choose not to. Their reasons remain their own.

    It bothers me that so many look at these homeless IF they notice them at all as…less human. All homeless people have or had a mother, father, sister, brother, children, aunts, uncles or some sort of family member. They even have friends before and after life on the street. Why isn’t that enough to remember they are human beings capable of feelings and thought and wants and needs just like everyone else?

    Its a sad testimony to humankind to ignore the obvious homeless person in that doorway or to look upon that person with distain because it appears they have less than….

    • elroyjones says:

      Homeless people have friends while they are homeless. My brother had an extensive network of friends and a social life that puts mine to shame. People living in homes ignore/diminish the homeless because they are frightened of the reality. All of us are a few mishaps or one tragedy away from the street. Few of us are equipped to navigate the reality.

      • Rose Chimera says:

        Oh I know homeless people have friends, its obvious when you see them in their groups. Homeless is like cancer to some…they don’t want it and they think its contagious, neither are of course. You’re right, all of us are easily possibly one tragedy away from joining the homeless. Its a sobering thought.

  4. Ray Colon says:

    Wonderfully written. Like you, I give freely to people who approach me on the street — moreso when I lived in NYC than now, because I saw them everyday back then. Some friends would say that I was foolish, but I didn’t care about that. It was more important to me to ease a little bit of suffering if I could. I also didn’t care what they did with the money. As you wrote, once given it was theirs.

    I’m sorry for your loss. One of my brothers knocked around, bouncing from place to not so great place, and was also a drug abuser. He was the most affable and funny person that I have ever known, but his demons often got the better of him. Intervention in all of its forms did not work for him. It broke my mom’s heart. He got sick and died soon thereafter in 2009.

    The homeless are just people. I don’t understand where the vileness and ill-will that some people have against them comes from. I never will.

    • elroyjones says:

      Ray, thanks so much for the comment. I am HAPPY that you give cash.
      No parent wants to outlive a child, it defies the natural order. My mother missed my brother’s calls on her birthday and during the holidays but she said she didn’t have to wonder where he was or if he was okay because, finally, she knew. I can’t imagine the pain of uncertainty. I am sure your mom suffered greatly right along with your brother.
      Yeah, my brother was very funny too. Even as he was preparing to die he was irreverently funny about nearly everything, prone to wry observations.
      Thank you for your empathy and please accept my condolences for your loss as well.

  5. That was said perfectly and if you don’t mind me piggybacking on you, I have said the same thing for years about giving. It is my job to give. What is done with what I give is not my responsibility. I cannot be a giver and a screener, too. I must take the word of the individual or group I am giving to. That does not make me a chump. It makes me a person who believes that I have been given much and I need to give much and I will keep living my life that way! Best post yet! HF

  6. Well sure… if you are going to find out the real story instead of just making a stupid joke like I did…
    But good post. Thanks for reminding us that every life has many fascets… facsets…facets… facettes… sides to it.

  7. timetales says:

    Thanks for the brave and honest post My friend Jesus said the poor will always be with you and my friend Shakamuni Buddha tells me to be generous it is not easy for me in light of all the miracles that have worked in my own life I should be far more giving but I am working on it but like you when I saw that picture of the homeless Vet I saw there was much more to the story than appeared. Who is more worthwhile of my money a Politician , a minister whose buying a new Cadillac or a businessman who’s business is upheld hurting and destroying others to keep what he has. Yes many of the homeless are in the streets because they choose to be often having tried to make it only to be trashed by the mainstream I have used the homeless to help me on jobs and found them to be good workers I end up paying them more than I had agreed on. Often those who say they make it on their own if you look closely you find they have help why there hearts are so closed off to the suffering of others is beyond me.

    • elroyjones says:

      Exactly! You can’t pull yourself up by the bootstraps if you don’t have any boots!
      I spoke with a businessman the other day who told me he is opposed to the Affordable Care Act, even though he is uninsured himself because he doesn’t want to pay for the people who have been dragging their feet while HE has been working.
      I told him we have an obligation to help those people who do not have the intellectual ability to help themselves.
      There are people who will be minimum wage earners for their entire lives because they cannot perform at a higher level. It is unconscionable to exploit them by withholding care that will prevent their suffering.
      Thanks so much for stopping in and taking the time to comment. I hope all is well with you.

  8. judithatwood says:

    Thank you for taking the difficult side of this social argument. Obviously, you have a unique perspective on the whole situation. He needed shoes; the cop gave him boots. That is all that matters. What a shame so many are so quick to abandon the good they have seen in others.

    • elroyjones says:

      Like everyone else, homeless people can manipulate a situation to their advantage. I loved my brother, my entire family loved him, BUT his social workers were unaware of the family he had until he became gravely ill. It was beneficial for him to omit us from his history so his audience would be more sympathetic.
      While I watched the man’s brother on the news I could imagine people, who are not knowledgable on the subject of homelessness as a choice, passing judgment on the man’s family.
      We all make choices, good and bad. Having said that, I truly believe that functioning within the parameters of traditional society is beyond the abilities of some people. I know there are times that I am completely overwhelmed by the meaningless minutia of ordinary life, times when one more piece of paper or another phone call could send me over the edge. I understand the desire to be free from all the bullshit.

      • judithatwood says:

        I knew a lot of manipulative people when I worked at the AIDS Network in Bangor. But I think some of them were so beaten down emotionally that their manipulation of others was as much a defense mechanism as anything else. Maybe I’m just naive…

  9. Doug says:

    I was aware of…but avoided the “new boots” story. I knew there would be another shoe to drop for all that, gush gush, feel good. Knew it, right down to my overpriced but calf leather soft and supple Italian loafers. A leg up on sensing any eventual sourer denouement has been my curse, it seems, since baby steps. But before you stumble thinking me just the well heeled heel, I was homeless until my thirty eighth year.

    Not physically, but emotionally. Which isn’t to suggest I didn’t have means, or an abode, or a crib to share thread count sheets. I just felt like I belonged nowhere. So nowhere was home. I didn’t dig digs, cotton up to the cottage, or make a habit of a habitation.

    It took me years to stop dining out on the rechauffe of foster homes, boarding and reform schools, orphanages, as well as later local lockups and Federal FCI’s. It took every thing I had to settle. And it’s still no sure thing. It’s an everyday effort for me to, “feel” at home.

    So me too. I’m a soft touch for those with a need to practice a personal diaspora. Ready with a few bucks and good luck, and could give a damn if the dollars procure dinner or a drunk, or any other way to temporarily duck the demons. God knows I’ve got mine.

    Wonderful post. Really well written.

    Regards, to you and the husband.

    • elroyjones says:

      Ooooh; on many levels.
      I am intimately acquainted with being emotionally homeless. The reasons for it are too personal and raw, even after all this time, to describe here. Thankfully, I have found my home and have been safe between the fuzzy flannel sheets for a long time. Rest assured that I could revert to that state if it ever became necessary but I’d be very sad if it did.
      You can’t guess how I value your opinion on my writing, thanks very much.
      The husband, poor dear, is on the mend and disconsolate at the dietary restrictions and changes forced upon him. In solidarity, I have given up the good things, that he has set aside, so he won’t have to suffer alone.
      Does Coda have antlers?

  10. George says:

    Very personal . . . I am sorry about your brother.

    When I worked in Lawrence, KS, I dealt with a few homeless on a regular basis. A couple of these people—who identified themselves as homeless—did in fact have a place they could go: apartments . . . of sorts. A “home” can be really good, or really shitty—bad enough that you want to stay away.

    Like you, I applaud the cop. His actions appear to have been genuine and without the desire for recognition. Those who judged the homeless man quickly, probably shouldn’t have.

    I agree with you: if you choose to give, give, then walk away without passing judgment.

    • elroyjones says:

      Hi George, good to hear from you. I know you have been busy.
      It cracks me up that my brother, who lived his life on the edge of destitution, had newspaper columns devoted to his avocations, while those in my family who are more traditionally accomplished have not had a drop of ink spent on them. My brother would laugh right along with me.

  11. Denise Hisey says:

    I agree with you that the policeman did the right thing. His action was motivated by selfless compassion; it’s something we should all aspire to.

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