Any World That I'm Welcome To
When I attended the University of Minnesota in the early nineties I worked with an unusual individual I have referred to in the past as the Racially Ambiguous Hippie. He was a free-spirited, drug-taking, haiku-writing misfit, but a very funny, smart and nice guy.
One January night after our shift of supervising hourly employees, he asked me if I wanted to go to a homeless person's house. Knowing that he liked to play pranks on shorthaired Republican-types like myself and Saint Paul, (who also worked there) I was somewhat hesitant, but he insured me it would be an interesting trip so I agreed.
It was probably ten below when we walked through Dinkytown and down a trail to the railroad tracks that run directly under the area. The snow was deep, but there were well-worn trails that ran parallel to the tracks for about a quarter of a mile. The trail went right and about 50 feet from the tracks in a clump of small trees was the "house" we had set out for.
It was made of railroad timbers and covered with a tarp, which was then covered with snow for concealment. "Kieran!" the RAH called out and a small plywood door swung open on the side of the house. Appearing before us was a man, probably about 50 years old with long red hair and a beard, dressed in a snowmobile suit.
His face showed that he had lived a hard life and judging by the looks of him had been on the streets for probably ten of those. He embraced the RAH with a soul brother hug and I was introduced. "Did you guys bring anything?" was the first thing he asked. I sheepishly handed him a can of spaghettios I had brought along, but I think he was more interested in what the RAH had on him, which turned out to be nothing.
He invited us in and I was amazed at the cozy dwelling the guy had created for himself. He had a radio, a lightbulb, a small heater, a hot plate (all powered by a marine radio) and pets. There was a large dog in the corner and a hamster or gerbil in a small aquarium (!).
He also had 2 cases of Milwaukee's Best and immediately offered us one. Although I was freezing, I accepted and we began to talk. He told the story of how he bailed on society years ago because he "Couldn't handle" normal life with a wife and kids and instead turned to a life of begging and alcoholism.
"Do you want a house?" I asked. "Hell no!" he said and explained how he preferred life on the streets and how he had established himself as a regular in Dinkytown and people took pretty good care of him in the way of canned food and spare change.
Chain smoking generic cigarettes and downing an alarming number of beers in 3-4 swigs, he was very clear that he preferred the life he had literally carved out of this part of the world even with the attendant dangers.
So what's the point of this little vignette, this anecdotal story? I guess there isn't one, other than to point out that it is obvious that some homeless PREFER to be on the street. Not all, but some and perhaps most would rather take their chances doing what they want to do (drink) than live in a shelter that would force them to clean up and face reality.