A friend of mine cooked dinner for a bunch of homeless people on Christmas day. She put up a post on Facebook about this and all kinds of people fell all over each other telling her how great she was.
This was my comment:￼
￼You are very smart and savvy, Delia. Serving others who are even more in need than you is maybe the best way to tune in to spirit.
When I am most broke, I try to give things away – even things I really want. It makes me feel prosperous.
I have been blessed with a couple of big opportunities to bring homeless people into my home.
When I had an apartment at Battery Park Apartments, I first brought in a friend who had had a cat bite and was very sick and homeless. He stayed with me for a couple of months, then got on his feet and got his own apartment – with rent assistance from Homeward Bound.
During those two months, he and I became quite close – it was a beautiful friendship. I had for years been lamenting “Why do I never make it to the mountains?” A silly part of me was waiting around for a girlfriend to share that experience with.
My houseguest was a big hiker and got me big-time out to the mountains. It was awesome. And we talked about everything while we hiked. He was the buddy I had been missing for a while.
Most recently, last February I brought my wonderful friend, brilliant bluesman Eric Freeman, into my home. That worked out extremely well.
We got so tight that I was thinking of him as my young black alter ego – and he was thinking of me as some kind of a cross between white father, drinking-and-getting-into-trouble buddy – and just generally the fool that I am.
Eric incites my badass self in a way that is really great for me. I had no idea back then how much I would be leaning into this badass side of myself in the coming year. This development has been extraordinarily liberating for me – and I credit Eric with opening up this area for me.
Last April, Pancho and I fled Battery Park Apartments to stay ahead of the Covid. For a week we lived in my old Suzuki – with Eric, who had already been living in it for a couple of weeks.
With me attempting to sleep in the driver’s seat, Eric sleeping soundly in the shotgun seat – and the backseat and wayback totally stuffed with my remaining worldly possessions, poor Pancho had no turf at all. Her only choices were to sleep in my lap or Eric’s.
On those occasions when she chose to sleep in Eric’s lap, that big softy who likes to play gruff tried to act irritated about this – but it was clear to me that it tickled him when she chose his lap to sleep on instead of mine.
Since then, Pancho and I have had an amazing journey, which has included glorious experiences out in the mountains – in dialectic tension with, at times, a lot of poverty…both out in the mountains and back here in Asheville.
Through Eric, who has been surviving on the streets since he left my place, we have gotten intimately connected with the Asheville homeless community.
We have upgraded to a camper van, which is way more comfortable than the old Suzuki – but because we live in our vehicle, in this state we are technically homeless.
And at times we have been dramatically poor.
I have come to truly love homeless people. Recently, when a middle-class friend gave me $16 to replace my drivers license, but would not give me $4 for cigarettes, I said to her,
“I’ll take a good homeless person with no pretenses any day over some middle-class person who thinks she has the right to judge what I need to do to get through the day. I need better friends than you.“
Poor people are way more generous than rich people – they will literally give you the shirt off their back.
If you are homeless, you lose things a lot – or have things stolen from you. It really helps you get non-attached to things.
A homeless guy told me one day that he wasn’t wearing a coat because he had lost it. I asked him “Do you find that when you’re homeless you lose things a lot?“
He said, “Everything – everything goes away.” Homelessness is a crash course in Buddhism.
Quite clearly, life has scripted me to really identify with homeless people and to find ways to make a contribution to them.
A few weeks ago, Pancho and I were in the middle of making a big getaway back up to the mountains – where we are super-happy even when we are poor.
Life apparently decided that there was a risk of me forgetting my roots. I was just getting too high on my new prosperity.
Amy Steinberg sings a haunting, brilliant song called Wide Sky Life – that has a lyric that goes “As easy as it comes, it can be taken from you.”
So I made a wrong turn trying to find a shortcut, my old van broke down on a back road, the police came around and very nicely said that they had to get the car towed because it was in a dangerous place.
Because I had no money to pay for the tow, the car was impounded.
A very kind police officer, rather than just leave Pancho and I stranded on the country road, gave me 20 minutes to put whatever I most needed in a backpack and then – against department protocol – actually gave us a ride back into Asheville.
At 12 PM, he deposited us at the top of Ann Street downtown, because A-Hope homeless services are just down the street from there.
I had about $5, a sleeping bag, a few clothes and my trusty dog.
It got down to the low 30s that night – and we slept in the grass behind Haywood Street Community church.
It was quite a miserable night – and somehow none of it touched me. I knew in my heart that life was right to teach me that lesson – that there was, in fact, a danger that I was gonna run off to the North country and forget my people in Asheville.
The next two days were pretty difficult. I shot this video walking down Louisiana Street two days later. I think it is a pretty good snapshot of a moment in the life of a homeless person.
All fall, I dreaded the onset of winter for my homeless friends. Even though we have had the shelter of our camper van, we have gone through some very uncomfortable bitter cold nights.
When I decided not to go south for the winter, I decided to look for some kind of an apartment or a little house inside for the winter.
But we have had very little money and housing out in the North country is in extremely short supply. As recently as a week ago, I was really believing that we might have to ride out the winter in the camper van.
My best homeless friends, Diana Buchanan and Eric Freeman, both are very clear that if you are living in a vehicle you are not truly homeless. And I see that difference extremely clearly. But still I was honestly pretty scared of the prospect of spending the winter in our van.
Life has changed pretty dramatically for us in just the last couple of weeks.
When the really bad weather hit, my friend Stef got worried about us in the van. She had reason to be worried. My Christmas day Facebook post describes how that day went from potentially terrible to miraculous.
Stef, who is not a wealthy person, has paid for us to get inside in a little motel in Spruce Pine. It’s very sweet, very modest – and we are very happy here.
January 1, I start renting a totally adequate little 1-room apartment, with a very sweet landlord (and new friend) upstairs – on 350 spectacular acres, way out in the mountains north of Spruce Pine.
My landlord and I have both been kind of worried about whether I could stretch my Social Security check to cover the rent and my other expenses.
Yesterday I was simply updating a friend in Chicago of my worries about not having paid my new landlord the $200 earnest money I promised her for Friday. Mary Ellen astonished me by saying,
“That Covid relief fund I am administrator for will allow me to pay three months rent for you upfront. Ask your landlord how I can send her the money.”￼ That made the prosperity turn-around I have experienced since Christmas morning almost unbelievable￼.
I have finally started to post some of my 200+ videos of all the many things I’ve been learning in the north country. You can find them at healingvalidations.com. (This blog where you are reading this.)￼
So you are right, Delia, to serve the poor. All of us who are blessed and cursed with being middle class owe it to ourselves to bust out of our shells and learn from those people.
It’s nice that so many people told you you’re great for doing it, but I think they may be missing the point.
You are getting way more than you’re giving. A middle-class person who doesn’t have a homeless friend is living an impoverished life. There’s almost no chance of them seeing through the blinders of being asleep in the middle class.
Haywood Street Community ￼church invites the general public to come to their Wednesday lunch every week. It is about 80 to 90% homeless people, but there are some “straight people“ who also come.
I would encourage people to go.