Posts Tagged ‘Homelessness’

What is Home? – Melody Nixon

In Melody Nixon, nonfiction on July 31, 2011 at 4:07 pm

What is Home?


What is home to you? That’s the interview question I asked most frequently this month. It’s also a question I regularly ask myself. What is my home? What does home mean to me? And what does the loss of home really entail? Similarly, what freedoms does the rejection of home (society) provide for those for whom homelessness is a conscious choice?


The responses I received from the people I talked to this month were as unique as those who gave them. Read On…


When I Realized I Might Become Homeless, Jaytee Starr – Melody Nixon

In Melody Nixon, nonfiction on July 30, 2011 at 1:39 pm

In the second half of my interview with Jaytee Starr, I asked Jaytee whether he ever thought he’d be homeless and living in the shelter system. He replied that he realized he might become homeless when he had to tell his dad about his sexuality.

Like many LGBTQ youths in the NYC shelter system, Jaytee can no longer draw on family support because his father disowned him once he came out as being gay. There are twice as many LGBTQ young people in the homeless shelter system than there are in the general population. Harassment in the shelter system by heterosexual co-habitants or shelter workers, alarmingly high suicide rates (62%, compared to an also alarmingly high rate of 29% among heterosexual homeless youth), and sexual violence are just some of the issues LGBTQ youth face in addition to the other traumas of homelessness.


MN: Did you ever imagine you’d become homeless?

When it came to the point I had to tell my dad about my sexuality, I thought homelessness might be a possibility.


MN: Can you tell me the story of how you ended up homeless?

When I was 17 years old, I moved away to college.  Away from my parents and their conservative community I was able to actually tell people that I was gay.  People were accepting and after a year of being “out” in college, going back home and into the closet again for the summer was absolute torture. I read a lot about other people coming out to their parents and I heard so many encouraging stories… I thought it would be the same for me.  My parents said they loved me unconditionally. Read On…

Interview with Jaytee – Melody Nixon

In Melody Nixon, nonfiction on July 29, 2011 at 11:41 pm

Jaytee Starr is a member of the homeless LGBT youth community in New York City. This community, he asserts, has a different feel to the generally ‘low-functioning’ adult mainstream homeless community. He says he found some of the interviews and encounters I’ve run so far on CollaboratElaborate pretty depressing, and he hopes to steal the title of the “Least Depressing Interviewee” on this blog. Here’s a quote from his own blog, on MySpace, two years ago:

 “I believe happiness comes by choice.  I am a happy person because a while ago I made the decision to not be brought down.  Some people say that I am childish and immature…  At times I am, but I can make people laugh.  I know when to be serious, and I know when to shut my mouth.  I am a charismatic entity of joy, and I hope to shine and brighten the days of all those around me.  Oh look, a cliché!”

When I found out about Jaytee on Twitter I was compelled by his determination. His Twitter account profile says it all: “The Best Wannabe You Know. I’m a homeless youth in NYC striving to get out of the shelter and into a good life!” Keep Reading…

Interview with Dark 2 – Melody Nixon

In Melody Nixon, nonfiction on July 28, 2011 at 11:56 pm

Dark and I have been in contact to hash out some follow-up questions from our first interview. Dark provides a refreshing point of view that almost fits the idealized version I used to have of homelessness – that is, that homelessness is a choice, a political statement, a way of rebelling from mainstream monotony and choosing to live outside of society. Embodying the statement that ‘society might serve you, but it doesn’t serve me.’ Until about 6 or 7 years ago I thought many homeless people had made a similar choice to rebel, live freely, outside. Now I’ve come to believe that the reasons for homelessness are as multiple and varied as people, and that the circumstances which lead up to life on the streets can sometimes make the descriptor ‘choice’ seem greatly inadequate.


But not so, I think, with Dark. He’s an old-skool squatter and street-sleeper, interested in the fact that homelessness is synonymous with poverty these days because while ‘life on the streets is a heck of a lot cheaper than paying bills’ he doesn’t seem to associate it with destitution, pity or heart-ache. In fact I get the sense that he thinks people living within the system are sometimes a lot worse off. Yesterday he sent me this quote, which he particularly loves:

“We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry , naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is
the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty.” Keep Reading…

Three Encounters: number three – Melody Nixon

In Melody Nixon, nonfiction on July 27, 2011 at 11:56 pm


I’ve been trying to decide between an encounter with one of the men who sleeps on my street, on the synagogue steps, and one of the men I met in the soup kitchen tonight. In the end the soup kitchen encounter wins, because it is a story of recovery and slipping and recovery.  MORE…

Three encounters: number two – Melody Nixon

In Melody Nixon, nonfiction on July 26, 2011 at 10:25 pm


He (it’s usually, most often, a he) is letting people enter the basement kitchen for their free dinner in groups of ten. When ten people have entered, he raises his hand like a caring cross-guard swinging a STOP sign out onto the road. Stop. The line stops. The gathered people stand patiently for their turn, and he makes chitchat. “Didn’t I see you at lunch?” he jokes. “Can’t get enough of our food huh?” Keep Reading…

Three Encounters: number one – Melody Nixon

In Melody Nixon, nonfiction on July 25, 2011 at 11:50 pm



I am leaving the Rescue Mission and the day is so hot that when I step out of the front door onto the street it is like stepping into another substance – sulphur, jelly, steam. I move slowly, cautiously, out onto the footpath. Reset my pace. If I want to get around in this heat, I must be patient.


On the next block south I notice a youngish (mid-twenties?) couple counting out cans of sweetcorn in the doorway of an office building. I assume they’ve just received these from the food bank the Mission runs each afternoon. Most of the people who use the food bank are referred by the family court. A lot of them are in housing. The couple look up for a moment as I pass then quickly look back down at the ground and resume counting.


Interview with Dark – Melody Nixon

In Melody Nixon, nonfiction on July 24, 2011 at 9:50 pm

Dark Forbid is a homeless blogger in Oxford, U.K. I found out about him when he linked one of my posts to his blog: “Life on the Streets – down and out and blogging.” Dark lives on the streets of Oxford, sleeping rough and visiting drop-in centers during the day. He says he’s been living on the streets for over 8 years now, after he “gave up on this society’s version of life.”  The homeless life was, at first:

freedom from the relentless pay to exist society the UK has become, not an easy life but hell of a lot cheaper. Freedom from the consumable must haves, a way to kiss goodbye to this [life] in a box society.


For a time Dark sold Big Issue copies to make enough money to pay for food, but he grew disillusioned with the loosening of controls over who could sell the magazine when he found himself competing for sales with people who were not homeless. He then reluctantly returned to receiving Government benefits of 65 pounds per week, something he finds ‘robs him of all hope of a normal life.’ Selling Big Issue magazines gave him a sense of pride, “I like the fact that what I earn a day is all I have to live on.” He often kept his sales low, choosing to limit his income so that he could only pay for his basic needs. He thought this should help him “give up my addictions, or at least control them.” He kept his daily income below £10.


Like many of today’s people who live on the streets, Dark uses free wifi to blog from his smartphone, or writes longer pieces at the free computers at the homeless day center. He is an active commenter on online news articles and forums, commenting on issues such as whether ‘gipsy’s’ (the Romani ethnic group who in Britain, like many other countries in the world, face institutional and cultural discrimination) should be allowed to park trailers on ‘green belt’ land they have bought; and the issue of theft of private property. He has been quoted in local media in Oxford, and interviewed/filmed by a range of people including arts students, a television producer, and the BBC (for its ‘Inside Out – South’ radio series).


Aside from spending nights on construction sites and other outdoor hideaway spots, Dark squats abandoned buildings in winter. For a while in December 2010 he lived on a boat.


Last week Dark and I began an interview via email. Here is the beginning of our conversation…




MN: In NYC, many people live on the streets because of a shortage of low-income housing in the city. Is the situation similar in Oxford?

DF: Oxford has a real low income housing problem, but the main problem here is being able to afford the housing you get. being a big university town much of the low cost accommodation is taken by students.


MN: You say “the homeless are not just the un-housed.” I am curious to hear more of your thoughts on this. How can someone have a house, yet still be homeless?

DF: Sorry bad quote… homelessness is not housing issue, for most people its keeping the house you get… I know many people who are just unable to be housed, like chronic hoarders, pyromaniac fire [users] etc..


MN: Do you meet a full range of homeless types on the street there, or is there one ‘typical’ kind of homeless person?

DF: That made me smile… what is “full range” homeless… Oxford has them all from trolley pushers,  insane drug addicts, and those who just like the life.


MN: What do you think about people who travel full-time, living in campervans or camping on the beach? I mean, people who are wanderers. Do you think they are homeless too?

DF: I think it depends if they enjoy the lifestyle they have, a campervan liver who likes the life it gives is different from someone desperate for a flat forced to live in a van… It’s being happy with the life their accommodation provides.


MN: Do you think a person can be “emotionally homeless?” And how about “spiritually homeless”? (I’m not sure how I would define spiritually homeless, so whatever this means to you… if you have any thoughts on it.)

DF: That all comes down to what you seeking from your life… can bad housing ever be called home?… Spiritually homeless? If your belief is affected by your housing, you must have the wrong God, or are you talking about the misery sub-standard housing brings to those forced to live there?


MN: In all your time on the streets, have you ever felt “at home?”

DF: Me I’m at home every where… some say Dark was born homeless.


MN: Do you think you need a house now, to feel at home, or do you think that something else makes up a home for you?

DF: I squat empty houses sometimes… usually winter, a house of my own differs by having bills I’d never pay.


MN: In the video of Jeff on here: (if you scroll down, Jeff’s story is the second one, below Amy’s), Jeff says that the last time he slept inside on a ‘real’ bed he felt “caged.” Has this ever been your experience, or have you heard about other homeless people having trouble sleeping inside after years on the streets?

DF: No I sleep inside fine… I sometimes use the whole claustrophobic story to avoid staying with people I rather not live with.


MN: Alexander Masters is a British author who wrote a biography of a homeless man. The book is called “Stuart: A Life Backwards.” In that, he says that self-confidence can play a role in why people end up on the streets, for example if they have had a bad divorce or a business failure. I’m not sure I agree with his viewpoint, but I’d like to hear your perspective. Do you think self-confidence is an important factor in why people become homeless?  Do you think it has played a role in your own homelessness?

DF: Most would say my self-confidence is fine… over critical of myself is just the way I am.


MN: Finally, what does “home” really mean to you?

DF: Nothing really never had roots so deep it would cause me pain to leave… but for most, happiness-safety and home should never be apart.


Just being nice – Melody Nixon

In Melody Nixon, nonfiction on July 23, 2011 at 6:28 pm

Well, I passed another night in the soup kitchen while successfully avoiding dilettantism. Phew!  It was a battle, but I managed to unplug the tentacles of apathy.


Last night’s work in the soup kitchen was actually really fun. I was the green salad server, and I worked alongside Trev, who served macaroni salad and turkey salad. He was so funny, he is a homeless man from the south and he talked in a way I could barely decipher – the most rolling and deep accent ever. He kept making jokes and shouting, and I just kept laughing.

Keep Reading…

Self-Selecting into a Product – Melody Nixon

In Melody Nixon, nonfiction on July 22, 2011 at 3:55 pm

The pragmatism of modern corporate-speak is almost gorgeous. I mean, where else can you find such literal speech? Phrases like “learnings to take away” (no, not a kind of fried gangly meat from a fast food joint), “impactful experience” and “multi-session explorations” are so much more reaching and ambitious than “stuff we learned today,” “interesting,” and “lots of different periods of time talking about the same thing.”