By Julie McCurdy
I was asked the other day by a very well-intentioned woman about the “face” of homelessness. She asked if I could describe a “typical” homeless person. I looked at her and said there’s no such thing, but if I must, then look in the mirror. With her slightly offended look, I touched her hand and smiled, saying, “I wasn’t trying to be unkind, But I am the face of homelessness. That man to your left, sleeping in the doorway, and potentially you, me, we are all the face of homelessness.”
After the conversation, we were both a bit more at ease with each other, relaxed. Which was a good thing, since I didn’t want to be a bitch about it.
The reason I bring this up is because I just finished, not three hours ago, marching in San Francisco for homelessness and housing rights as part of the Western Regional Advocacy Project. You know those experiences in your life that are so powerful and moving, that they render you speechless? This was the WRAP protest for me. It’s certainly a turning point in my life, because now I know that we are the only ones that are going to bring about real change. I know this because I got to see this up close and personal. At one point in the march I was just standing there, tears running down my face, thinking to myself that this is what the people in the Civil Rights movement might have felt during their long march to equality. This very moment, as I write this in a church in Oakland, Calif., with my friends who just marched right alongside me, I am overcome with emotion. What can I say? The majesty of this moment.
After a year of sleeping through thick and thin, on a concrete mattress in Portland, I had come to believe that the concrete bed that I made every night rendered me completely voiceless, powerless and inivisible. And some secret side of my soul believed that people honestly didn’t give a shit about me anymore.
Well, today, I saw the housed and the unhoused, rich and poor, standing together. Today, we shouted together, screamed together, laughed together and cried together. I realized that the very spot where I stood, the place that I was inhabiting, could be changed. And that together we could make a difference.
Still, as I write this, it’s overwhelming, and the words come to the page without even thinking about them. This was my first protest, and it was special. I sit here still, huddled in the corner of this church where we will sleep tonight, under a warm roof, sobbing in joy and sadness. I weep for all the others who share that concrete mattress with me, not only in Portland, but around this country. For anyone out there who will read this column, who has ever lost faith in humanity, I found it today, it exists within us all.
Julie McCurdy writes the Diaries of the Disenfranchised column each month in Street Roots.
Thank you so much for sharing your experiences so eloquently Julie. I too, was and am still enWRAPtured by the solidarity and spirit of the event.
Someone posed the question whether anything “substantive” came from the event and I’de like to share my response –
“I guess that depends on ones expectations and perspective. Personally, I both temporarily lost my voice, and found a part of my soul that I didn’t know even existed. Because of all the feedback I’ve personally received, I can say with certainty that the energy shared by the approximately 700 folks involved in the event extended far beyond ourselves. Adding your support to the “Homelessness Ends With A Home” petition will help demonstrate the importance of the event.
Peace, Bwell, and thank you for Being!
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I am the current Chair of the National Consumer Advisory Board for Health Care for the Homeless and I flew in from Massachusetts on Sunday the 17th to attend the WRAP Demonstration in San Francisco and it was my first protest as well. It was truely an amazing thing to see so many people come together for this very important issue. Because I got there early, I had the pleasure to help make all of the WRAP picket signs to be used on Wednesday. I was the person who put the tape on the handles so that no one would get splinters. It was so cool to hang out at WRAP with the guys and observe all the last minute details that had to be done. Great thanks should go to Paul, Michael, Mikey, and Ahmed for all of their hard work in making sure people had places to stay, food to eat, security was in place, medics were in place, and everything they did to make this important event take place. i will never forget being a part of it.
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