I Lived on Violent, Ruthless Streets

The streets where I lived were ruthless and frequently violent. I often suffered from hunger, and would go days without something to eat. There was violence almost every night — from shootings to robberies and rape. This caused me extreme fear. Every little noise, you wake up.

by Sharon Carter

 

Editor’s note: Sharon Carter gave this vivid description of her years of homelessness as part of the International Day observance at St. Mary’s Center.

My name is Sharon. I am a 57-year-old homeless woman living in poverty and I am considered by most to be destitute. I have been homeless for approximately seven years, and living from pillar to post. The streets where I lived were ruthless and frequently violent. I often suffered from hunger, going days without something to eat.

There were periods that I received County General Assistance and food stamps. The amounts that I received were extremely small and only lasted for three months of the year. Imagine living on the streets, receiving General Assistance for three months and then having to wait another year to reapply for benefits. What happens for the other nine months?

There was violence almost every night, from shootings, to robberies and rape. This caused me extreme fear. Every little noise, you wake up.

I remember the first time I was in the shelter. Every hour I would wake up on the hour. That’s one of the ways I knew how to survive. You need a safe place in order to get a good night’s rest, and when you are an older woman on the streets, a good night’s rest is impossible. First, you’ve got to keep moving, and walk around until you are absolutely worn out, and you still try not to sleep. Feet and legs swollen, and you still have to move.

I also witnessed a lot of prostitution, sometimes for drugs, sometimes just to be out there in hopes of something better. It made me feel horrible, seeing young girls about 15 years old, every night making money. The Johns, mainly older dudes, dogging them around. Some of the girls didn’t get paid. These girls are just out there, not knowing, constantly thinking something wonderful is going to happen.

Sharon Carter testified about her experience of being homeless in Oakland for several years before a gathering on the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. Photo by Janny Castillo

 

Then there is the panhandling — asking for handouts. I rarely did it because I couldn’t stand being talked to like a dog. Sometimes when you get a little bit of money, other folks see that and start following you, sticking around you trying to leech, waiting for the right time to strike.

Lord, I am so glad my life on the streets is over. I never want that life again. But never say never, because you never know. But I am going to fight my hardest to remain housed. Nobody deserves to be homeless.

People in my community need food, housing, and health care, just as I did when I was out there homeless.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Society’s Failure to Care Is the Root of Homelessness

In one of the richest places in the world, people become so wrapped up in their own comfort and status that they don’t care about the human beings they are stepping over.

Visionary Art of Leon Kennedy

In Leon Kennedy’s painting, his living friends are portrayed next to long-gone elders and assassinated civil rights leaders. Even death does not shatter the bonds of love and community.

Welcome to Homelessness

The worst thing about homelessness, I sensed, would have nothing to do with bad weather, hunger or sleep deprivation. It would be the way I soon would be cast out like a leper, as though one would contract a deadly disease just from being in my presence.

Big Money Spends a Fortune to Fight Rent Control

Wealthy landlords, realtors and developers have teamed up and are spending a fortune to fight the efforts of renters to repeal the Costa-Hawkins Act, the law that severely limits the rent control options of California cities. Tenants have also launched rent control campaigns in 10 California cities.

Vicious and Cruel Assault on the Poorest of the Poor

Elected leaders of the national tenants union denounced the housing bill proposed by HUD Secretary Ben Carson as a vicious and cruel assault on the poorest of the poor. “Millions will be displaced if these deeply cruel proposals see the light of day. Congress should reject them out of hand.”

The DBA’s Assault on Free Speech in Berkeley

The DBA launched a new poster destruction policy, despite being warned it was unconstitutional by the City Attorney. Tearing down fliers is a textbook example of a free speech violation. No one has the right to make content-based distinctions about what is allowed to be posted or said in legal, public places.