It had just started to drizzle and I had ducked under a freeway overpass to keep dry. I was tired from walking all day and sat down on a worn, discarded mattress. I looked around at bottles and trash strewn everywhere and a rat scurried near my foot. It was starting to get dark so I decided to take my chances in the rain. I headed out, not sure where I was going, hungry, getting cold and I had to go the bathroom. My cell phone rang. It was my wife. She was finally home! I had locked myself out and left my wallet home. Homeless for a day? No, I was keyless.
There are many people we call homeless, who to me, are better described as keyless. They were born here, raised here and went to school here. They came home from Vietnam, played sports for the home team and to them for all extent and purpose they are home!
I once interviewed a young man (18 years old) who was trying to get into a homeless shelter. He told me he was born and raised in Oakland, his parents live in Oakland, and he also had friends in the area. I looked him straight in the eye and said, “Why did you rip your family off?” “How did you know that?” he asked. I told him, “When you have family and friends nearby, and you can only live with strangers, you must be doing something wrong. No one trusts you with keys!”
Unfortunately the word homeless is too often being used as a noun, but keyless is still an adjective. We’ve moved from describing people as homeless, and are now calling them The Homeless. Recently the news media stopped calling victims of Hurricane Katrina homeless and referred to them as evacuees.
Think about it! Many of the actions for which homeless and street people are derided, are the same things we do—sleeping, drinking, arguing, urinating. These are not aberrant behaviors! Most of us do the same thing everyday, but it’s behind closed doors. The difference is we have keys.
Winston Burton is a Berkeley resident.l