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The hardest thing to hold onto when you're homeless is hope.

During the time leading up to losing my own place, every time I thought life was turning around, it didn't.

The last few years did everything possible to compel me to give up: Losing my health, forgetting what stability feels like, not knowing whether there would be money tomorrow for food for me or my dog Prince, anger at my money being stolen, frustration at not being able to find work and, finally, being forced to walk away from shelter and safety.

During the eight months I have been homeless, I lined up for food only to learn that the charity had run out by the time I got inside. I stood patiently for hours when winter jackets and boots were being distributed to be told nothing in my size remained. I had my underwear stolen, my dignity assailed, my spirit beaten down. I experienced the agony of learning that people I thought were friends would turn their backs on me when I wasn't any use to them anymore.

I have dug through a dumpster behind a butcher shop looking for edible meat. I have snuck onto mass transit when I didn't have the fare. I have had to skip taking prescribed medication, hoping to stretch out what was left because I cannot afford a refill and used up the drug company's "We help poor people but not for long" benefit.

I tried killing myself once, seriously, and have thought about it more than once since the failed attempt.

Yet I've tried to keep moving forward. Over the last 12 months alone, I answered more than 300 ads and sent off an additional 200 resumes with cover letters. For my trouble, I received five phone calls and no interviews.

Home Improvement

Some days I wake up feeling alright, that things will get better; then, within hours, something happens to leave me feeling like my life will never turn around.

Clinging to even the slimmest scrap of hope is damn near impossible.

And yet.

Suddenly, I have honest-to-goodness job interviews. Three in all, two of them in journalism: One from an application made sent so long ago it took me forever to find it in a directory; one from a resume sent three weeks ago, and one from an inquiry I shot off just a few days ago.

Now I battle from letting the euphoria I felt after each phone call from running wild in the streets of my psyche. On the one hand, I want to remain positive and hopeful; on the other, hope has been dashed too many times and I want to avoid another monstrous crash if things don't go well.

As the days approach for the actual interviews, I keep trying to focus on something else. I cannot think too far ahead even though I know that landing any one of them means I will have enough money to get my own place. I won't be homeless but I cannot come across as desperate.


After being homeless, it's not easy to keep expectations – hope – in check.

The difference between living on the street or in a relative's spare room or on a friend's sofa, and actually feeling like you belong somewhere is enormous. The gap feels wider than the Grand Canyon, wider even than the difference between my income and Mitt Romney's.

Bridging the gap rests on the willingness of a prospective employer to nod "yes" and ask, "When can you start?"

The interviews go well, or seem to. I waltz out of the offices, feeling as if for the first time in maybe three years I can sense the beginning of the end.

Waiting to hear back is excruciating. Each time the phone rings – which isn't often – I suffer a "glonk" which is a word I made up a long time ago to describe a sudden rush of shit to the heart.

The first call is what I've come to expect: Disappointment. "We were really impressed, but … "

The second possibility did not even bother with the courtesy of a call. Instead, an e-mail showed up one morning when I logged on, a standard form note that accompanies every rejection whether for a job, a movie deal or anything else.

Days go by. No, they don't go by, they drag. I sink into darkness my old friend, cursing myself for believing in hope if even for a few days. Then, early this evening, the phone goes off for the first time in a week.

"Charley, sorry for phoning so late but we'd like to give you a try …"

The rest of the call is a blur. But I heard the important bits: A job as a reporter, a three month trial contract, no benefits, no retirement plan contributions, starting Dec. 1.

It's not a lot of money but it will be enough to rent a small apartment in a small building. I'll be able to pay for food, even if at the no name, no frills, no fancy packages store.

I might, maybe, hopefully, on my way out of the lower depths.

Please follow me on Twitter @SuddenlyHomeles and "like" this diary on Facebook.

When my book on middle class and family homelessness is published, I will donate a portion of any royalties to groups that work with homeless families.


Suddenly Homeless 36

T.S. Eliot had it wrong: April is not the cruelest month. Not if you are homeless. Then, it's likely to be November. Not only does the mere act of surviving become much more difficult as cold weather settles in across much of the nation, but the oncoming holidays are a constant reminder of how different your life is than the way most other people live.

November brings all kinds of cold and only some of it can be measured on thermometers.

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Thanks to Sandy, November saw the ranks of the homeless surge all along the east coast, from North Carolina to Massachusetts. And despite massive relief efforts by every level of government and countless aid agencies, more than a week after the storm ended tens of thousands of families and individuals remain without their own roof over their head. For many, it may be months before they have a place to live.

Norah Egan is one of them. Her house in a small, Long Island community was heavily damaged by the hurricane and three feet of water still filled the house at the beginning of the weekend. She lost everything.

“I had photos of my family and other stuff from the day I moved away (from her parent's home) and they are lost," Egan stated, pain evident in her voice. "My diary that I kept and updated every day is gone too."

Crisis Upon Crisis

In New York City alone, Mayor Michael Bloomberg estimated that 40,000 more people are homeless as a result of the storm, increasing the city's homelessness crisisby doubling the nearly 44,000 people – including some 18,250 children – living in city shelters before the storm hit. Gov. Andrew Cuomo says thousands more in the state now lack a habitable place to live. In New Jersey, unofficial estimates say the state's homeless population swelled by some five thousand but that estimate may be low, according to a variety of sources.

For instance, flooding in Hackensack increased the number of people needing help and the Bergen County Housing, Health and Human Services Center was quickly overwhelmed by requests for assistance. In New Brunswick, agencies like Elijah's Promise and Homefront, which works with homeless families, continued putting out calls for help more than a week after the storm ended.

As recently as Saturday morning, Elijah's Promise's website was still asking people to donate bagged lunches, non-perishable food and water bottles, winter clothing, blankets and gloves. Homefront is sheltering 40 additional families since the storm, severely straining its capacity.

"Power [still] out at both our facilities," Lisanne Finston, executive director of Elijah's Promise, said in a Friday e-mail. "Volunteers and staff cooking by candlelight, flashlight … like a MASH unit."

In a statement, Homefront said it is coping but just barely. "We lost freezer loads of food. We lost power. We gave shelter to 40 first-time homeless residents when they needed help. Our staff worked nonstop to make sure not only our families, but anyone living in a motel had food, water and blankets to stay warm."


Several agencies in New Jersey and Long Island say they still have only spotty power and are struggling to continue serving needy people and families. Community Foodbank of New Jerseyrsey said it has been providing 100,000 pounds of food daily to newly-homeless families and individuals despite having trouble with power, telephone and supplies.

Because devastation was so widespread, authorities are hard-pressed to put a precise number on the number of people left without a roof over their head. Said one long-time volunteer with a homeless organization, "Census numbers are always an issue, and that's when we can count everybody in one room. But now there is no real way of telling home many families are homeless."

Before the storm hit, there were an estimated 1-million homeless people every night. The figure is likely to have increased by 10% as a result, and it may be as long as six months before many of them are relocated back into their own place again.

Like Egan, many of these people are sheltering with relatives or friends so they don't get counted in official homeless estimates. Yet although they have a place to stay, it's not theirs and their future is uncertain.

Egan summed up the plight of most when she said, “I have nothing left. My friend called me a refugee.”

Please follow me on Twitter @SuddenlyHomeles.

When my book on homelessness is published, I will donate a percent of his royalties to groups working with families that are homeless.


Other than voting for Obamacare, Joe Lieberman has done little of anything good for the nation or the Senate starting with his petulant run as an Independent six years ago after Connecticut Democrats booted him out of the party.

Now that he is heading out the Senate door – finally – Lieberman is firing his parting "Fuck You, America!" shot at the country.

In a little-noticed piece of legislation he is moving through his Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Lieberman wants to strip independent regulatory agencies of their independence and power to effectively regulate just about anything.

Without holding a single hearing, Lieberman's committee wants to pass the “Independent Agency Regulatory Analysis Act of 2012” which strips the independence of a raft of federal agencies: Everything from the Securities and Exchange Commission to the Nuclear Regulatory Agency and National Labor Relations Board.

Among its many provisions, the law would require each of the agencies that Congress quite deliberately established as independent to submit all proposed rules to The White House for "vetting" before they could be published. According to a report buried election day afternoon on a back page of Tuesday's New York Times, the bill would "introduce delays to an already slow process, and would give banks and businesses yet another place to lobby for favorable treatment."

The Times also notes correctly that bad reviews from The White House would enable industry groups to use an administration's objections in mounting legal challenges to rules that are eventually put in place.

Lieberman's bill to defang regulatory agencies has bi-partisan support in the committee – perhaps not entirely surprising given that its Republican members include Tom Coburn, outgoing Senator Scott Brown, John McCain and Rand Paul. But Carl Levin also is a member as is Hawaii's Daniel Akaka, yet they are supporting the measure even though they should know better.

Moreover, Lieberman has refused to hold a public hearing on the measure despite requests from six of the primary financial regulators. Each wrote a letter to Lieberman asking to be heard on the issue. Dozens of consumer and legal advocacy groups have voiced their opposition.

And yet, there is no sign of a public hearing in the works. Even worse, it appears that Lieberman's plan is to quickly ready the bill to be included in must-pass legislation that will come up in a lame-duck session intended to deal with things such as a phony panic over the "fiscal cliff."

It may be too late to stop the Lieberman train as it pulls out of the station but it won't hurt to write to your Senators urging an end to this bit of anti-regulatory chaos, Joe Lieberman's good by gift to America.

Please follow me on Twitter @SuddenlyHomeles/.


The United States is facing its greatest Constitutional crisis since the Civil War.

With multiple studies providing incontrovertible proof that operatives of the Republican Party – either direct agents or individuals operating on its behalf – are stealing votes, then we cease being a democracy and can forget about any semblance of "representative government."

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Sun Oct 21, 2012 at 09:06 AM PDT

Romney Lies As Much As Bush

by Charley James

When George W. Bush was president, comic genius Harry Shearer wrote and recorded Songs of the Bushmen that included "Who Is Yoo? (He's The Torture Memo Man)" and "Turd Blossom Special" about Karl Rove. Also on the album was "935 Lies," which chronicled the number of times Bush & Friends lied about the Iraq war.

Ever since January, Steve Benen has been keeping track of Romney's lies on a weekly basis, first at Washington Monthly and then at Maddowblog. Although Benen does not keep a running count, my colleague Denis Campbell – editor of UK Progressive Magazine – added them up. As of Saturday morning, when Romney lied about what he'd said the previous day about the Blount Amendment that would allow employers to refuse coverage of contraception to women based on the personal beliefs of a boss, the candidate hit 856.

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Thu Oct 18, 2012 at 02:01 PM PDT

"Even I Knew Romney Was Lying."

by Charley James

Ginger considers herself a low information voter who pays no attention to politics until there's an election. She seldom watches television news and hardly ever reads a newspaper. Although she supported Barack Obama in 2008, the 47-year old executive assistant in Ohio was undecided about who would get her vote this time.

"I've been disappointed with Obama," she says. Ginger doesn't want her last name used or the city where she lives identified because she is in line for a promotion and raise, and her boss is a Romney supporter and donor. "But when I watched the debate Monday, even I knew Romney was lying.

"All politicians break promises, say they'll do one thing during a campaign and then something else once they get elected," Ginger continues. "But as little attention as I pay to current affairs, I realized that Romney kept saying things that just aren't true. I can't vote for an outright liar."

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Suddenly Homeless 34 - Homeless Hispanic Families Fight "If They're Brown, Turn 'em Down."

Being Hispanic in the parts of America where it's illegal to look Mexican is tough.

From Arizona through the Confederacy, laws written by ALEC – the far right, xenophobia and all-but-racist American Legislative Exchange Council – and passed by many legislatures make daily living extraordinarily difficult for Latino citizens. Compounding the problem is the US Border Patrol whose agents assume everyone who looks vaguely Spanish is an illegal trying to sneak into the country, never mind if they happen to be citizens.

Things are so bad that a former governor gets snared repeatedly by America's irrational paranoia.

As ThinkProgress reported, 96-year old Raul Hector Castro has been detained three times, most recently in June. Besides being a US citizen, Mr. Castro is the only Hispanic ever elected governor of Arizona and was Ambassador to three Latin American nations. Still, this summer border patrol agents acting more like Matones callejeros – barrio street thugs – forced him to sit in a sweltering tent as they checked him out while a friend begged agents not to subject the elderly man to such harsh, totally unnecessary treatment.

If a widely-revered and admired public official faces this kind of harassment, imagine the problems confronting obscure citizens of Hispanic descent who become homeless and seek help after living a middle class life contributing to their community, the tax base and their nation.

Racist Policies

Armando and his wife Julia don't have to imagine, they know precisely what it's like.

Until the recession, they owned two small clothing stores in Arizona. They lost their business in early 2009 and their home was seized in early 2010 when they fell hopelessly behind on payments. Armando was born in Mexico but moved to Arizona with his parents when he was five and has been a citizen since age 10. Julia was born in Texas to parents of Spanish heritage whose ancestors had lived there when the land belonged to Mexico.

"My bisabuela used to say we didn't cross the border, the border crossed us," Julia says, laughing at her great-grandmother's joke. Versions of the same line are uttered by many Spanish descendents across the Southwest whose families have lived for generations in what's now the United States. "But when we applied for help, they treated us like we snuck across that morning just to get welfare."

Armando is angry and bitter.

"I never know any country other than United States," he sputters indignantly. "I am citizen, I work here, I hire people here, pay taxes, go to Mass, do projects in our neighborhood. No one say 'You're Hispanic, don't pay tax, don't help on block.' How come now I am treated like illegal because I need help?"

The answer may lie in the state's unofficial policy.

"There's nothing in writing but supervisors tell us to be tough on anyone Hispanic," a public employee confides. Her job is to screen first-time applicants for assistance and frets that if even her first name is used she will be disciplined or fired despite being a career civil servant. "Well, that's more than half the people coming in for help.

"In Arizona, nearly everyone has a passport because people cross the border so often," the woman explains. "Most Mexican-Americans use their US passport as ID when they apply for help, but the unofficial policy is to make it difficult for them to qualify."

She says she ignores her supervisor's directives as much as she can, and claims many people in the department do the same.

Two others working in the same area of government confirm the woman's basic charge. One man sums up what he maintains is the unofficial word sent down repeatedly through the department from Gov. Jan Brewer's administration: "If they're brown, turn 'em down."

Gov. Brewer's office did not return a call seeking a response to the allegations.

Head Counts

As is the case elsewhere, accurate statistics quantifying the number of Hispanic homeless are hard to come by.

Green Doors advocates for housing on behalf of homeless and poor Latinos in Texas, and estimates that 15% of homeless families – are Hispanic. One federal estimate puts the number at 10% nationally.

Since the Census Bureau calculates that 16.7% of Americans have Latin or Hispanic roots, and for the country as a whole 36% are minorities generally, it appears the problem affects proportionately fewer Hispanics. Yet they seem to have more difficulty getting help than do Anglos.

But the numbers might be low because most nose counts are done at shelters, and not all homeless people use such facilities.

Like Armando and Julia, Hector and his wife plus their four children have lived with relatives ever since being forced out of their Phoenix home when the Bank of America foreclosed, thanks to a Countrywide subprime mortgage they'd been talked into getting exploded. So they don't show up in totals. As Hector says, "We don't have a home, we have my brother."

Hector and his family are US citizens – his wife and their children were born here – yet he has trouble obtaining services.

"We fight to get food help," he states with justifiable anger. "We fight to get on lists for housing. We are Americans! Why does America treat us like this?"

Harassment shows up in countless ways. Whether walking or driving, he says he's stopped about once a week for no reason, compelled by police to prove his citizenship. Hector remembers bitterly that, "Some officers, they seem mad they can't arrest me."

He remembers a cop in a small desert town who was so miffed at having stopped a US citizen he threw Hector's passport and driver's license at him through the open car window before stomping back to his squad car without so much as a "get lost, wetback."

It's no better when Hector goes to a state office. "I go to welfare and they tell me 'this form is wrong and you don't have that form.' I tell them I bring the forms last time, sometimes I even have my copy, but …" he pauses, trying to think of an English phrase before continuing in Spanish "… En esa reunión me sentí como si estuviese pintado en la pared. ¿Y yo qué, acaso estoy pintado en la pared?"

Roughly translated from what I recall of middle school Spanish with help from an on-line translator, probably as bad a resource as my dusty memory, it seems Hector is saying "I feel like I am painted on the wall. Why am I being ignored?"

Not Just Arizona

Although laws following Arizona's "paper's please" model have shown up only in the South so far, the attitude is much more widely spread, reaching into other states controlled by far-right wing governors and legislatures.

Indiana is a prime example. Its Hispanic population is relatively small – 6.2% according to the Census Bureau and only 4% of all residents are foreign-born – citizens from Latino backgrounds report having special difficulty with a bureaucracy that seems intent on blocking assistance.

"When I was homeless in 2010 I had many problems filing papers for assistance," states Alarico, who became a citizen in 1995. "They look at my face, my moustache, they think I am illegal, a migrant who comes to pick vegetables and wants to cheat."

Alarico has needed help in the past, typically when he would get laid off from one of the many blue collar jobs he has held over the years. But he says it wasn't until Mitch Daniels was elected governor that he started having trouble.

"Daniels, he is not good for people like me," the man states. "He takes my taxes but when I need some back because I am out of work or don't have money for food, he don't help."

One activist familiar with the situation in Indiana claims Hispanics there have had a much tougher time getting aid they're entitled to receive since Daniels took office. Of course, it's possible that voters in dark red states like Indiana have happy tea parties whenever the governor deprives minorities of help.

Block Grants

In a wide swath from the Southwest through Dixie and into the North, I heard repeated stories of minorities – mostly Hispanic but also African-Americans and some Asians – denied needed help by unofficial government policies that amount to de facto discrimination.

This is what makes Republican Party calls for converting federal aid and rules for Medicaid, food stamps and other assistance programs into "block grants" so dangerous.

Few people believe that a Jan Brewer would ensure that federal block grant money would be dispensed fairly and equitably; indeed, many doubt it would reach the needy at all. There's already an example in Wisconsin where Republican Gov. Scott Walker stole $26-million from his state's $140-million share of the mortgage fraud settlement intended for victims of bankster fraud, using it instead to balance the state's budget.

Since Arizona is a prime example of an already-bad situation, and it's no secret than Gov. Brewer barely hides her disdain for Mexican-Americans and other non-whites, there is a fair question to ask: How likely is it that she would take a block grant intended to pay for food, housing and medical care for the needy, disabled people, seniors and homeless families, and use it for that purpose?

A South Carolina advocate for homeless families states unequivocally that she would not trust Gov. Nikki Haley – or any elected Republican in the state, for that matter – to use federal money to help the poor if she didn't have to.

"Haley would use the money to cut taxes for her rich supporters living in fake Antebellum mansions before she gave ten cents to a homeless mother with small kids," the activist insists. "How could anyone trust her to do what's right?"

Please follow me on Twitter @SuddenlyHomeles and "like" this article on Facebook.

When my book on family and middle class homelessness is published, I've pledged a portion of any royalties to The National Center On Family Homelessness.


When you tumble from middle class to homeless, time and space isn't flat as it is for most people, it bends and curves just as Einstein predicted – even if in ways he hadn't anticipated – and it requires a major effort merely to remain upright.

Real and imagined slights, things other people might not even notice, cut intensely and take on monstrous, totally distorted, proportions.

Highs – as few as they are – send the spirit soaring in a dizzying climb towards the stratosphere. But the feeling only lasts briefly because a stomach-knotting low worse than the first drop on the world's most terrifying coaster ride is always lurking, ready to scare off hopes and dreams.

So, emotions always lurk just below the surface, all raw and rough and ragged, and triggered with no warning: An IKEA commercial about how much people love their home; that's because it's always there for them. Watching Modern Family; it wins Emmy's for Best Comedy but is too poignant to be funny for anyone without a family or home, modern or otherwise. Overhearing somebody mention a "family dinner" or "house warming party" as I pass them on the street; at times, I start weeping uncontrollably.

Channeling Janis

Janis Joplin was right: Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.  

"If this is freedom, then lock me up," sighs Wendy, a 30-year old mother who has been raising two boys under the age of eight alone since her husband disappeared after their youngest was born. She's been homeless for the past five years after her house in the New York City borough of Queens was foreclosed in late 2007. When I spoke with her and mentioned the Joplin hit, she snorted, "There's nothing left for us to lose but I don't feel very free."

During periods when she and her children aren't able to live with relatives or friends, they're forced into a tawdry motel room not far from their former house or enduring prolonged stays at roach- and rat-infested city shelters. Although the boys still attend their old school, keeping them there means Wendy has had to move frequently inside the school's boundaries.

Meanwhile, she holds down three part-time jobs all over New York to add to what little the family receives from assistance, food banks and SNAP, soup kitchens and charities. Depending on the day, she toils as an office cleaner in Manhattan, a waitress in Queens and bartender near LaGuardia Airport.

To Wendy, at times the struggle is overwhelming. "It's only the boys that keep me alive. They're all I have left. Without them, I wouldn't have a reason for living."

Bottom Of The Well

In a perverse way, Wendy is lucky because her kids give her a reason to continue battling.

For far too many other homeless people, depression becomes deadly, sinking them into an ever-deepening hole from which death becomes the way out. When the American Public Health Journal reported in June, 2012 that suicide now kills more people than car crashes every year, few activists and doctors who work with homeless families were surprised.

"For people who'd been living a fairly good life, however they defined 'good,' every material thing they valued got yanked away," says psychiatrist Dr. Irvin Wolkoff whose patient list includes men and women who became homeless. "They've gone from living well to living at the bottom of a well, barely surviving at the base of Maslow's hierarchy and can see no clear path to things getting any better.

"Suicide starts to seem like a happy alternative," he concedes, sadly.

Dr. Wolkoff is correct: I've been there, tried it, failed miserably.

Within a few weeks of being hit by a car in 2011, I saw what was coming. I'd be losing my house, money had run out and I couldn't find work, food was scarce, everything in my body hurt, neither my ankle nor my brain would work properly, days were filled with painful physical therapy and frustrating doctor's appointments while nights were lonely stretches of blackened emptiness.

One evening in mid-January, I slipped Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – the original BBC version with Alec Guinness – into the DVD player to watch one last time, began swallowing every psychotropic and prescription medicine I had in the house, and slit my wrists. The pills were washed down down with generous swigs from a bottle of a single malt Scotch someone once gave me as a gift but I'd never opened.

Earlier, I had written letters to my lawyer and my doctor with a large "privileged communications" on each envelop to discourage snooping by police; I knew they'd be called eventually and was a reporter long enough to know they're almost all corrupt. I placed a large sign prominently inside the door directing whoever found me to call my friend Lisa. She'd agreed to put my pooch Prince down if anything ever happened to me rather than having him caged and carted off to who-knew-what-fate at the Inhumane Society.

At some point, I drifted off.

Unfortunately, I'm not a bleeder and although I was unconscious for 14 hours, the blood coagulated too quickly to nudge me over the edge. Nearly a full bottle of Scotch coupled with the meds wasn't strong or sufficient enough. I came around hearing Prince barking, telling me he hadn't been fed or let out.

I wasn't successful at living and was just as big a failure at dying.

"Everything's Gone"

Me and Bobby McGee is more than a song from a time long ago and a land far away; it's a kind of bitter anthem because I have nothing left worth losing except my dog and the clothes I can carry with me. It's a common feeling.

"We sold what we could, packed the car with as much as we could, and then drove away," recalls Jaden Monroe who, along with his partner Celia, lost their home some 18 months ago. He's 48 and had built a 20-year career as a manager at a food distribution company where he earned $60,000 annually, plus benefits, until the company was sold and he was let go in . Now he works in a food warehouse earning $14 an hour but no health insurance or 401(k) plan.

"We lived modestly but were always two, maybe three paychecks away from the poor house," Jaden admits. "When I got laid off and couldn't find another job, we were trapped."

Now the couple lives in a rusting Winnebago parked behind an abandoned factory near Buffalo, New York. When the weather gets cold, they find someplace where they can hook up to power so the RV is heated. Celia admits that, "Everything's gone and most days I wish I was dead."

Celia tells me by phone this includes "our family photos, my grandmother's China and crystal, most of our clothes. I still cry when I think about it."

I know all too well what she means; I went through the same thing.

Gone is my house, my bed, nearly 2,000 books, a collection of movies and BBC dramas on DVDs, boxes of family photographs, my dad's Navy officer cap from World War II. Gone is my clock radio, most of my clothes and even a towel to dry myself with after taking a shower. Gone, too, is the hand-written family recipe book started by my great-grandmother and added to by family members who followed, including me. Gone are the cake pans and cookie sheets and pie dishes I'd use when recreating Granny's recipes.

Gone is a large box containing five unpublished manuscripts I'd written over the years, including two thoroughly mediocre novels that will never see ink-on-paper after my death because I am no John Kennedy O'Toole.

Gone, especially, is the feeling of security that comes from knowing that, whatever happened during the day, I could go to my house, lock the door and shut out the world for a few hours.

Even Prince lost his box of toys including a favorite, an old, knotted up sock he loved to tug on as I pulled the other end. I still have socks but too few pairs to turn one into a dog's toy.

In the face of any adversity, one of my grandmothers would proclaim, "At least you have your health." Sorry, Mildred, but you were wrong. Good health may be a baseline but it's not nearly enough. People need something to stop time and space from bending around them.

Please follow me on Twitter @SuddenlyHomeles and "like" this article on Facebook.

When my book on family and middle class homelessness is published, I have pledged a portion of any royalties to The National Center On Family Homelessness.


Thu Oct 04, 2012 at 11:39 AM PDT

Trolls And Flame Throwers

by Charley James

Not everyone reading this today will remember Hubert H. Humphrey, one of the great post-war, liberal Democrats. He was elected mayor of Minneapolis in 1948 before being elected US Senator, then Vice President under Lyndon Johnson and, after losing the presidency to Richard Nixon in a squeaker in 1968, became a Senator again until his death.

LBJ is rightly credited with leaving America a legacy of remarkable Great Society advances but it was Humphrey who maneuvered the massive amount of legislation through a balky Senate largely controlled by Southern, conservative, often openly racist, Dixiecrats – the Sixties version of "Blue Dogs" – who stood in the way of everything from Medicare and civil rights to equal opportunity laws and voting rights.

For several years when I was a teen, Vice President Humphrey was also my family's sort-of neighbor. My parents were active in the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party, which is what Democrats in Minnesota call themselves, so we got to know the Humphrey's well enough to be invited over for an occasional summer Sunday afternoon at their lakeside backyard.

One of the things I remember him complaining about was what made it so difficult to achieve progress on social justice legislation.

"I can deal with Republicans and the Dixiecrats," the Vice President proclaimed numerous times when talking politics with us, his favorite subject. "But heaven save me from liberals. The biggest enemy of liberals is other liberals. They quarrel with me over everything and nothing, all the time."

I got my own first-hand taste of that yesterday, learning it's as true in now as it was in the Sixties and leaving me startled to discover there are as many trolls and flame throwers on the left as there are on the right.


My life lesson came as a result of the article I wrote Wednesday based on original reporting I mostly stumbled into about rumors in Washington regarding a possible post in a second Obama term for Dr. Paul Krugman.

As an almost-lifelong journalist – both by education and profession – I've developed a large number of contacts in the US and elsewhere in politics and government, business, the arts, and activist groups. I wrote about almost nothing but politics and government from 2000 through 2009, when a serious illness returned that became the first in a series of cascading events leading to my becoming homeless.

In touching base with someone who is both a friend and a source in Washington, a well-connected lawyer I've known for a decade and trust implicitly, I learned of the possibility. A few more calls to see if these were actual rumors and I believed there was enough substance to write the story.

By four o'clock, it was published at a LA daily news outlet and at a UK magazine. I've been writing for both since early 2008 and I cross-posted the piece at Daily Kos. For the first few hours, reader comments were about what might be expected: Some people expressed a desire for it to happen; some said it was unlikely because Obama is too much of a centrist to take the Keynesian's advice; many felt that Krugman wouldn't want an appointment. Fair enough: Everyone is entitled to their opinion and, frankly, I shared some of the same doubts.

In any event, the story didn't say it was going to happen and made clear the article was reporting a rumor that I'd been told by more than one source; indeed, the headline itself was expressed as a question. In the piece, I referred to what Krugman had written previously about why he wouldn't be interested in working in The White House.

But within a few hours, it was as if the girl with a dragon tattoo had kicked over a hornet's nest. Out of nowhere – and, suspiciously, all at once – a group of comments began appearing in rapid succession attacking me for reporting the story, questioning my integrity, wondering how a homeless man could possibly have any sources, insisting that if the rumor was true the piece would have been in The New York Times first, and all but demanding that I be drawn-and-quartered.


I've been attacked before for my work; it comes with being a journalist.

For example, in 2005 I wrote Washington's Darkest Secret, using multiple sources to reveal that for years before 9/11, the CIA had a "mole" inside al Qaeda providing intelligence to Washington about bin Laden's plans and activities – including plans to highjack airplanes to strike US targets. The right swarmed all over me and I was labeled everything from a liar to a terrorist sympathizer to a truther. I stood by the story and over the years, each piece of what I wrote more than seven years ago was borne out by other reporters. The latest confirmation came this summer by journalists at both the Associated Press and New York Times.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, I authored Alaskans Speak about how Sarah Palin was regarded by people back home; follow-up pieces reported on management problems she was causing for John McCain citing sources of mine who were working on the inside. The article went viral and, again, the right wing swooped down to accuse me of everything except killing Jesus. No less a crazy than Michelle Malkin considered my reporting so dangerous to the career of the newest darling of the fringe that she devoted an entire blog post to trying to discredit me. Beyond the fact that the editor's spent a half-day on the phone fact checking my piece, all of the major components of that story were confirmed by the books written after the election by McCain campaign insiders.

Over the years, other articles have attracted equal vitriol, if on a smaller scale. I actually received a hate e-note for a recollection of Molly Ivins that I wrote after she died.

But those came from the right. I was totally unprepared for the onslaught of unvarnished hatred and illogical fury that flew at me from the left out of nowhere yesterday.


My first thought was that unlike, say, Red State where anyone to the political left of Chris Christie is booted off the site almost immediately, a group of right wing trolls held secret accounts at Daily Kos. The flurry of hate notes appeared so suddenly and simultaneously that it made me suspicious.

What some commenter's said deepened my wariness. For example, one actually found a 2008 right wing site that had attacked the Palin article and posted a chunk of it as gospel, as if something from a fringe website would discredit the article and me.

More to the point, I wondered why a handful of people were going to so much trouble and effort to take on a frankly innocuous, 900-word piece about a bit of tittle-tattle.

Some of the comments were bizarre. One suggested that if I was a real reporter, I'd be working for the Times or some other MSM outlet. Actually, I used to be very MSM but walked away from it a long time ago.

I was attacked for being homeless, the poster thinking it impossible for a homeless man to have news sources. Actually, I can thank being a techno-Luddite for having my contact list. I never succumbed to the lure of Outlook or smart phones – until I became homeless, I never had a cell phone – so my contacts are in a hand-written pocket directory with yellowing pages.

I lost most of my material possessions when I left the house but my phone directory went with me.

Someone else wondered why I provided no links, as if original reporting was impossible. In other words, if someone else didn't say it first, then it couldn't be true. The funniest was a complaint from a reader who couldn't find anything similar on Google. It reminded me of a story John Chancellor often told about his days as a correspondent covering the civil rights movement for NBC.

From somewhere in the Deep South, Chancellor called a Huntley-Brinkley producer in New York to approve his script before recording the narration. When he was done reading it aloud, the producer was doubtful: "John, that's not what The New York Times is saying."

"We don't get the Times down here," Chancellor replied.

"But it's not what UPI is reporting, either."

"I don't have access to the UPI wire."

"Well, if you don't have the Times or UPI, where are you getting your information?" the producer demanded knowing.

It's called reporting. Journalism 101. Talking to people and then writing about what was learned.

Over The Top

Some of the flame throwing was so over-the-top as to be ludicrous, a silly exercise in trolling from the left that beggars belief. One commenter was so enflamed that he wrote his own piece, all but claiming that I was single-handedly destroying the reputation of the entire site. I would include a link but can't find the article today.

I often post articles that reflect original reporting, from my Suddenly Homeless series to a report Monday about a proposed new national voter registration law that would cover elections for Congress, the Senate and White House. Where appropriate in my articles, I always include links but, for instance, in the Monday piece they were mostly to Supreme Court decisions.

Why not more links? Because by its very definition, original reporting is new as in news and there's nothing to link to.

More than anything, though, yesterday's experience got me thinking about a comment at a homeless piece a week or so ago. The article received a handful of views and comments along with some "rec's" but a reader was furious there weren't more.

"This place is for so-called liberals," he wrote, or words close to these. "It's a funny way to define 'liberal'."

Hubert Humphrey would have known what he meant.

Please follow me on Twitter @SuddenlyHomeles and "like" this article on Facebook.

When my book on middle class homelessness is published, I've pledged part of any royalties to The National Center for Family Homelessness.


Reports surfaced today that Nobel Prize Winning economist Dr. Paul Krugman will be offered the job of chairman for the White House Council of Economic Advisors.

More below the noodle.

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I learned today that Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr (D-IL) plans to introduce a national voter registration law in the new Congress. It is intended to get around the large number of voter supression laws passed by Republican-controlled state legislatures - often using a model bill created by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

More below the noodle.

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