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.
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.
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.
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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.