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The Psychological Shock of Becoming Homeless

March 21, 1987

If you have never been poor before, yet alone been without a place to live, it is a psychological shock to become homeless. I was a homeless person in the South Bay area of Los Angeles County for more than two years.

While you are still reeling from the shock, you realize that you must learn to adapt as quickly as possible, not because you want to, but because you have to. You have no choice.

You must learn to live without privacy, without a bathroom or shower. You must learn to sleep in terrible and strange places. You must learn to pick through garbage if necessary. Eventually, even though you appreciate the meals, you must learn to wean yourself away from the soup kitchen before the dependency cripples you altogether.

Then, as time passes and you have learned your lessons, you are called "crazy" because you are different or "lazy" because you may appear to "like" it. When you are forced to do those things you never would think of under normal circumstances, you are accused of "having the mentality of a street person."

At the gut level, you feel the thousand and one indignities and assaults to your self-worth that every poor human being has to endure every day. Like a snake shedding its skin, you feel your illusions and beliefs dropping away one by one. And, in the end, if you have acquired the "mentality of a street person." It is the common knowledge shared by all homeless people and the coyote of Indian mythology; you are the survivor. It is also the reason why most of the homeless people do not want to become the "shelter people."

MICKEY BAKER

Gardena

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