Meet the Scrapper
Hi, I’m the Scrapper. I live at Everyone Village. Scrapper isn’t my real name or my street name. I don’t even have a street name. That is how poor I am. I am choosing the name “Scrapper” for the purposes of this blog for two reasons.
First, I want to be able to write freely and honestly about my homeless experience without identifying myself or any of the people I have known or places I have lived.
I am not interested in laying blame on myself or others or calling anyone out. It just seems like it might be a good idea for any readers or donors to have some idea of what life in Everyone Village is like from the point of view of someone who lives there. In this blog I will tell you a little about myself, then how I heard about Everyone Village, what it was like to move in, and what day to day life is like. I want to share my life with you. Someone else can become the face of homelessness, thank you very much.
I hope other villagers won’t mind when I say that a lot of us see this place as a unique experience not only to be part of a cooperative community, but to help build a community from the ground up together with Gabe and Heather, the organizers and founders of this place, as well as the employees, volunteers, and each other.
The second reason I call myself the Scrapper is that it seems like a pretty good description of me, especially how I have survived on the streets for thirty years.
I was having fun thinking up names for myself and tried to make it funny at first. My favorite was “Bum Vivant,” though I discarded that because referring to yourself as a bum might not be the best move as you work your way off the street. For some reason I thought I would call myself “Restful Leg Syndrome, only that makes me sound lazy, so out it went. I also liked “Gutchek the Grateful,” since living on the streets is one long gut check. That one made me sound like an Eastern European Christian hermit, so pass. I thought “Splendor Gap,” was funny too though probably sexist since I am culturally appropriating the term “gender gap,” and I suppose using it would make a feminist mad somewhere, so no.
I did some research on real street names, like the one serious vagabonds and crusty punks use, and it seems like most of them were simple one word nicknames, often based on actions or physical appearance. Also, the street isn’t the internet, and I am pretty sure, as in days of old, other people choose your nickname not you.
So I guess I am just using a plain old pen name. I like the word ‘scrapper.’ I know it has several different meanings, and one meaning is someone who likes to get in physical fights. This doesn’t apply to me, as I am much more of an effective bluffer and confuser of angry people than someone who likes to mix it up. The only way that meaning of ‘scrapper’ could apply to me is symbolically, I guess, since homeless people have to fight on some level for everything they get, whether it is clothing, food or a safe place to sleep.
Scrapper also makes you think of the word ‘scrappy’ which is often used to describe an athlete who makes up for his lack of talent with hustle and strategy, and you have to be pretty scrappy to survive thirty years on the street, so I will take that one. I am nearly a senior, and I have spent most of my life homeless, and my health is pretty good except for my teeth, but I have to admit that the teeth that are still hanging in there are scrappers themselves, like the last leaves to fall off a tree in Fall, they are hanging on well into Winter.
The last meaning of the word is more of a personal one that my friends and I, basketball players all, used to describe people who couldn’t really play basketball, but showed up anyway, day after day, so even though they slowed down the game and lowered the level of play, you couldn’t really deny them the right to play since they were so persistent.
Generally speaking, I am that sort of scrapper too because I am very bad at playing the game of life. I have no home, no savings, no retirement fund, my credit is nonexistent, I haven’t worked for years, and many of you have probably seen me endlessly walking the streets of Eugene, on Christmas and Thanksgiving too, year after year, and at first you might have noticed me, maybe even wondered about me, searching the ashtrays for butts, and after a while, naturally you didn’t, I just became part of the background, like a street worker in a fluorescent suit.
So here is my story in a nutshell. Raised upper middle class, I ended up on the streets from depression, only it went undiagnosed from the early nineties till 2017. I just thought life sucked and that I was a loser. (There is more to the story than that, there is a spiritual component, though I think I will leave that out, since this isn’t about spiritual issues, it is about my experiences that everyone can share through this blog.
Once it was diagnosed, I was able to find a therapist, and start on anti-depressants, and that has been a rough road all itself, so it is enough to say that depression is real, it is not just feeling down, and there is help for it if you are lucky enough to find people who not only care, they know what they are doing. Caring and Knowing, you need both. If you only have one, you are in trouble.
Though I have spent most years in some sort of shelter for homeless people or another, in the early years I walked for miles and miles, from town to town, snow and rain, killer summers in deserts, often in neighborhoods I shouldn’t have been in in the first place, just restlessly moving on because I knew there was no place for me anywhere. I would say in the first two years I walked the equivalent of walking all of California, North to South.
A couple of times, in the early years, I worked my way up off the streets pretty much with no money, knowing no one, and without getting any help from anyone. I did it myself. I found someone who would let me live somewhere, even if it was on a cot in the back of their pawnshop, in exchange for work, and once that stabilized I would get a job somewhere and save money until I had enough to rent a place.
This was tough, basically two full time jobs at once, and working in exchange for rent is a nightmare and I would say just don’t do it. You always get taken advantage of, intentionally or not. Your landlord may fail to assign you enough hours of work for a couple of months, and then expect to collect it all at once without warning, or any understanding that you have a full time job. They also tend to look at it as a one sided relationship, as if they are helping you and you are lucky to know them.
One older woman felt that I should be on call any time of the day or night, and would suddenly call me at work expecting me to rush home immediately. One time, seeing that the bus was going to be late, I took a cab which pretty much cancelled out what I had earned on that shift. When I got home, the woman had forgotten all about it, having moved on to something else.
It ain’t easy being vulnerable like that, hard on the body, on the nerves, on the emotions.
Later in my life it was the memory of these times that helped keep me on the streets. I just knew I didn’t have the level of energy, at an older age, to work my way off the streets without any help from anyone.
Missions, shelters, these were where I lived after that. Every now and then I would get an opportunity to get off the streets, and the only problem was, these situations always, despite my best efforts, blew up in my face and I would again be making that long lonely trudge to the shelter. I didn’t know I was depressed, I only knew that I couldn’t figure out how to make life work, and found that my family and friends thought I was crazy, lazy, or just plain bad.
Just writing this, a memory pops into my head. The first time I went to a rescue mission, when I had run out of couches. Oh what a long walk that was! I almost died of the shame. I think I had to stop every few hundred yards to steel myself towards the fact that I was now living in a homeless shelter. It took four hours to walk a couple of miles. I just had to sit and stop and ask myself how it had come to this.
So that’s me. Right now, with therapy and anti-depressants I have come to the place where I am guardedly hopeful. I have a good place to live with good people and a small source of income. I have had such bad luck with the people out there who claim to be helping you, whether charities or government agencies. It always seemed like they talked a good game and when it eventually came to following through they just went all quiet, changed the subject, and moved on.
So I am extremely, extremely cynical when someone says they want to help me. I have simply been left holding the bag so many times. To be at Everyone Village, to trust Gabe and Heather, that they are who they say they are, well on the surface it may not seem like anything is happening, but on the inside, oh, my poor capacity to trust!
It is so fragile, so bruised and battered. It is taking quite the effort of will, having been burned by so many supposed humanitarians, to go out on a limb and trust once again. Like a little fern frond daring to open while snow is still on the ground. But I am going to do it. Take the leap.
(Next Post will be about how I heard of Everyone Village and came to get myself here.)
Happy New Year, Scrappers!