Post-Traumatic Stress After 1,460 Days in a Tent

How does it feel to be free from homelessness? It’s like a soldier coming home from war and being forced to cope with a life that has changed forever. Like veterans, homeless people suffer from post-traumatic stress. In both cases, help is hard to find — and people die in both cases.

by Ron Anderson

One thousand, four hundred and sixty days of homelessness — every day crawling into a tiny tent. My only entertainment was the woman in the tent next to mine singing, “Oh Lord Why Me? Why Me?” over and over again.

I actually believed that once I moved into my one-bedroom apartment, my homeless life would be like last summer — gone for good. But it was not like that.

The living nightmare had been permanently imprinted in my mind. And if that was not enough, the nightmare is everywhere I look, even outside my five-story apartment window. I felt like an American citizen living in a health epidemic environment — dead rats and plenty of garbage for everyone.

Life after the encampment means I can lay in my bed not having to get up to see what the encampment residents are doing at the crack of dawn. The memory is seared in my mind of young girls and grown women running their hands viciously through their hair to get rid of any bugs that might be there.

Now, in my apartment, I lay there miserable and ask myself why am I doing this. Why can’t I forget? Is it because right before I go to bed, I tell the encampment “good night” and then leave the blinds open so I can check on them during the night?

Is it because I became what I lived? Once a homeless person, always a homeless person, like a policeman who is no longer on the force but will always be a cop.

I’ve been asked, how does it feel to finally be free from homelessness? I answer, it’s like a soldier coming home from war being forced to adjust and cope with a life that has been changed forever.

I feel that going to war and being homeless can be placed in the same circle. People die in both situations. Both suffer from post-traumatic stress and help is hard to find. Kill two birds at the same time. (Another proposal to city leaders, maybe?)

Life after the encampment is like dealing with the horror of having total recall. I walk past a restaurant garbage dumpster, and I see myself, hungry and lost, going through the garbage for food. Some days I feel like a homeless person with door keys, because I still have to go to the Food Bank for food like I did when I was out there on the street.

Many tent encampments have been set up in Oakland and Berkeley due to the critical shortage of housing and shelter beds.

 

There are days I feel like I am walking on egg shells, taking soft and careful steps to make good decisions between buying food for the month and paying my medication co-pay.

I feel alive when I go to Capitol Hill as a Senior Advocate with St. Mary’s Center Hope & Justice Program, chanting with hundreds of other poor people, “We need more money for SSI!”

Life after the encampment means going to a men’s support group to release any and all things that have piled up inside of me. It means seeing my caseworker once a week, plenty of Narcotics Anonymous meetings and especially sharing my story.

I would like to start a Homeless Anonymous meeting. People from both sides of homelessness, ones who are still in it and those who have overcome it, sharing their experience and insight on how to rise above the hurdles to overcoming homelessness, and then how to overcome what happens to you after homelessness.

An apartment isn’t always your way out of homelessness. The first step might be to live in a hotel room, a shelter or a transitional housing unit — but a roof and a floor is better than the sky and ground!

Life after the encampment is about unlocking the door to my home. But most of all, it is to keep on pushing upward and forward like I did when I pushed myself out of that tiny tent every day in the homeless encampment.

Berkeley shelter closes

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