The September 2006 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

Police Raids on Fresno Homeless

Memorial to Mary Who Died

New Orleans After Katrina

Troubles for the Berkeley Housing Authority

Link Between Foster Care and Homelessness

An Epidemic of Rising Poverty

Angel Behind Prison Bars

Blaming Street People for Cody's Demise

MASC Storage Lockers Offer New Help

Interview with Osha Neumann, Artist/Attorney

Resisting Unjust CEO Pay Rates

Liberation from Hell of Addiction

Poor Leonard's Almanack: On Social Change

Sept. Poetry of the Streets

Review of Jan Steckel's Poems


July 2006

June 2006

May 2006

April 2006

March 2006

February 2006

January 2006

November 2005

October 2005

September 2005

August 2005

July 2005

June 2005

May 2005

April 2005

March 2005

February 2005




Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

All works are copyrighted by the authors.

The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.

Stepping Through the Looking Glass

by Nancy (McBlair) Delaney

Art by Christa Occhiogrosso

My brother and sister were placed in other foster homes where we couldn't even see each other or grow up together or watch out for each other. This contributed to my believing I somehow didn't belong, the way others did, and didn't deserve to have a family or a home.

They asked me how I became homeless. The causes seemed clear enough: I no longer had money for rent; things weren't going well with the landlord or housemates. These were the reasons on the surface. What I did not see for years is that I was preconditioned to expect to lose my home when I was taken out of my family as a child and moved from stranger's family to stranger's family by other strangers about once a year while I was trying to grow up.

When I was a child, any little thing could cause me to lose my home. Questioning the opinion of the religion of a foster family, a job change by two of my foster fathers, a mother reacting to losing her mate, the jealous exclusivity of a stepmother: each caused the loss of a home for me. Being separated from everyone and everything I had ever known added to my feelings of being kidnapped, the sensation of having my life hijacked. I ended up feeling I had no right to define the future, and didn't have anyone help me to imagine I even had a future.

My brother and sister were placed in other foster homes where we couldn't even see each other or grow up together or watch out for each other. This contributed to my believing I somehow didn't belong, the way others did, and didn't deserve to have a family or a home. I believed that I, for some reason, belonged outside society, at the edges of humanity, in the margins of life, almost falling off a cliff, or sometimes even in free-fall.

But I didn't know I felt that way because I was feeling it in a vacuum, beneath the surface. Nobody thought to ask me about it. They just wanted me to act right and seem okay. I didn't know why I felt that way and didn't know back then to even wonder about it. I just tried to survive. How was I to know that all that "marginalized family life" had caused me to feel that "my home" was outside -- at the edges of society -- doing without? Nobody told me anything about that.

When I became homeless as an adult, after years of working, being married, and being housed, I did find that the people who lived outside had also been conditioned to believe they too belonged at the edges of society, on the margins of life. Many of them were also products of foster homes or otherwise had been abandoned or assaulted in their so-called homes before they escaped... to the outdoors.

There was a time I thought alcohol or recreational drugs could lighten the load. After a while, I saw that they only added layers of estrangement -- from myself and from my possible future. Now, it has been 30 years since I chose sobriety. During some of the last 30 years of sobriety, I still have gone homeless off and on.

I still hadn't recognized how I had been preconditioned by losing my family and being placed in several families of strangers by other strangers, all certified by the courts of the land.

Now, I know that, during those long years of living in foster homes, I was becoming preconditioned to assume at a deep level that I didn't belong in the human race in the usual way that others belong, and didn't deserve to have a real home for a real person.

Fourteen years ago, I moved into a shared house with someone who had been homeless and had affection for people in struggle. Over the next 13 years, I began to realize I had been compulsively moving outdoors when things didn't go well. I began to try to grow new ways to cope with the ordinary difficulties that come up from time to time. I resolved that I wouldn't just move out when the going got rough.

My housemate and I came to respect each other and share the affection of people who know how they can count on each other. When he died last fall, I began to have that feeling again that I was about to go homeless.

It's been nine months now. I have to say that I still feel that old "I'm-going-to-go-homeless" feeling a lot of the time -- sometimes worse than others. It feels like an undertow at sea.

After many years of hunting, I have found a therapist who can help me begin to face the experience of being taken from my family and being moved about "legally" through numerous strangers' homes by other strangers. I have found someone who is able to understand and help me get to the bottom of it. I think I can start to heal and reclaim parts of myself I had to lock away in a subliminal closet while I tried to survive in those strangers' homes and afterward.

Even so, I have to admit I still feel like I am water-skiing in choppy waters in slow motion with an undertow dragging at me from right below the surface.

I am 62 years old and am only now beginning to be able to put into words how I came to be homeless. The issue for me now is how to counteract that "ready-to-go-homeless" preconditioning and the post-traumatic stress that lasts long after the initial problem.

I share this story because it took 34 years after the first time I ended up homeless as an adult, and then went homeless off and on for over three decades, for me to be able to put this into words. I have been seeing it for years but couldn't find the words. For many years before I could say it, and even before I could see it, I was even so being moved around by this unrecognized preconditioning. It happened over and over again, and I went homeless.

I am hoping that someone who reads this story will recognize what I'm describing as familiar. Maybe it won't take him or her so many years to notice what has been going on underneath the surface.

Maybe I can save somebody some time in figuring out what's going on so they won't have to go homeless over and over like I did. Maybe they'll find their way to knowing that they do deserve to have a home for good and a family and to be at home in the human race -- just the same as everybody else.

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