It was nine years ago when I first slept on the street.
Sleeping on the street is lonely. Sleeping on the street is maddening. Sleeping on the street changes one’s perspective about how others are using their own lives, their own potential and their own worthiness to be representatives of our good God’s stewardship.
When I fell into homeless at twenty nine years old, I became enraged. I was already brutally heartbroken. I did not understand how, in an environment where we possessed so much materially and purported to have sound morals that had propelled us to great heights, I had to suffer so much.
Thankfulness and gratitude did not come easily then and do not come easily now.
It is hard to be thankful for peanut butter and jelly that comes from funds raised at galas featuring lavish beef entrées and free-flowing wine. It is hard to be thankful about a society and a culture of homeless services that often seems to treat you like a liability or a commodity to be exploited. Sometimes the sheer total helplessness of the situation blinds one to the amount of blessings one actually possesses.
Being hungry and alone gives one a true perspective on how small actions like sharing a meal with others and a simple conversation are blessings. We live in a world that can cause one to be deprived of these simple joys, so I try to be thankful in every moment.
When I became “houseless,” I was sad, angry, confused and most importantly, I felt alone.
I was working as a pedicab driver, giving tours of my awesome town to tourists and locals, as well as shuttling patrons from point to point in the uptown area. I also worked at Outback Steakhouse.
Then my roommate asked me to move out.
It was all rather abrupt and somewhat without warning.
Even before I became “houseless,” I had many problems with how poor people were treated. To me, it is simply unfair for us to allow others to remain impoverished; it is to their detriment and to our own. When I see “the homeless” hanging out on park benches and vagrantly existing in the heart of my city, it’s embarrassing, disconcerting and annoying. I felt this way before I became homeless.
Often when I would pedicab drive, I would give five to ten dollars of my money to those who panhandled all weekend long.
Usually, I found that giving my money that I earned pedaling my legs lifted my spirits and also gave me some financial sowing-and-reaping karma that carried over into my business. I quickly made friends with some of the homeless because of this. I did not expect to one day be in the same position.
But there I was. I did not have any money saved up to start renting my own place. Homeless, one of them.
Instead of hiding myself away in an abandoned part of town, unseen by civilized people who I felt were my peers, I placed my homeless self in one of the most visible portions of the city, at the corner of two busy streets, on a park bench underneath a well-endowed shelter owned by a rich church. It was my hope that the more philanthropic members of the congregation would see me on the bench and approach and ask me about my presence there. I desperately wanted a to be noticed. I desperately wanted to be cared for. I desperately wanted to not feel so alone.
Unfortunately, this is not what occurred.
Instead, I was ignored. In the morning, I would wake up to the local coalition of mom joggers would running by, discussing their important lives. And I’d hear the “whoosh” of cyclists riding by on their morning workout session. As they noticed me on the bench and I attempted to maintain an appearance of actual sleep, their volume actually increased, almost as if to indicate, “We are trying super hard to appear as though we don’t notice you on that bench, so we’ll get louder!”
I never felt more alone than on those mornings surrounded by people busily working hard to ignore me. Oftentimes, I consider how so much in my life might have been better if someone had just taken the time or had the courage to say ,“Hello! You don’t belong here! Allow me to help.”
I have a lot of positivity in my life now, positivity that I am quite grateful for, yet I will never forget those lonely nights in the well-heeled neighborhoods when I waited for someone, anyone, to simply drop by and say, “Hey!”
Matt Hoffman died suddenly in November 2018. He is missed every day.