Native America: The author's teepee in Zuccotti Park
My exit from the New York City 30th St. Men's shelter (Bellevue) on November 3rd was uneventful. Resolved maybe. It wasn't so hard to choose not to have one's psyche attacked by the government and the myriad of insane laws against the homeless in search of more US budget cutting as cities spend millions to rid their centers of anti-corporate/government 'Occupations'. It made a lot more sense to become an occupier of public spaces, instead of remaining a prisoner in them. Why not build a teepee on Wall Street and really piss em' off? When one has nothing to loose they don't feel so much revolutionary but rather evolutionary - the old rules having outgrown any usefulness and a set of new ones just waiting to be written. When the government criminalizes the state of not being able to make enough money to survive in even a modicum of decency (click prior for Huffington Post story), one doesn't feel so much like an outlaw as they might feel like a pioneer - breaking ground that will not be common for quite some time, but common to be - just getting there first.
The Beginning of the Beginning
The police raid of the Occupy Wall St. camp in the early hours of November 15th came at just the right time, a time when the movement was running out of steam and festering in its own philosophical excrement. "Time to put that rubber to the road boys", said the government. "Let's see if this is just an adolescent camp-out or a real social upheaval. Nothing like pouring a few vats of boiling oil over the walls of the castle to see what those peasants are made of", they said.
And so we left - most of us. A few stayed to make an impassioned stand at the center of the camp but that was pre-scriptedly pointless and those of us who left voluntarily already knew that. I walked with a guy named Steve up to Foley Square to find the first refugees but that was pointless as well. The majority of those would simply go home to a nice warm bed once they figured out there was nothing more to prove by occupying a place nobody gave a sh*t about anymore. Steve and I were headed for an all-night cafe with wifi so we could follow the news feeds and begin to fight the fight digitally. Neither of us slept at all that night.
The next night at Judson church at Washington Square opened for maybe 50 occupiers. That worked for a few nights and was haphazardly served with food and blankets for sleeping by OWS. Here it became apparent the the organizers had no plan post Zuccotti Park, but also had no idea just how many real homeless and psychologically challenged occupiers they really had. They had a lot. The church was plagued by incidents of thefts, drug use and gay sex in a room for 50. Personally, I didn't see any of that, but that doesn't mean it didn't happen. The church simply closed its doors after a few nights with no real word of what had happened.
Riverside Church: Shelter from the Lord
I spent the next night at the Riverside Church at 122nd street just below Harlem after being turned away from a church on 86th St. because they were full. Built by John D. Rockefeller and a former host to Dr. Martin Luther King, the Riverside sports a 24 storey bell tower (fully functional with classrooms and offices) that imposes itself on the Hudson. Sleeping in a basketball gym attached to the church, we dined on the remains of someone's banquet served for dinner - with tons of cheese, something occupiers rarely see. But the nefarious activities continued as phones disappeared and drug use was reported. We lasted a few nights there until we arrived one night to find the doors locked and no explanation as to why. I walked with two others in the pouring rain to 86th street again, only to be turned away by a very stressed staff. 50 more occupiers had just hit the streets with nowhere to go. We all jumped the turnstyles at the subway to find other places to stay. I ended up at Grand Central station and hid myself behind a Christmas display to sleep. Luckily no one saw. Luckily no one knew me or that I was occupying a capitalist manger. No room at the inn had led to this. Where are the three wise men when you need them?
The next night saw me pulling up some tables for shelter in front of a restaurant on 2nd Avenue at 2am and sleeping under them without a cover. The Ukranian owner woke me up the next morning screaming he would call the police if I didn't get the hell out - so I got the hell out.
The Middle of the Beginning
That evening I had my first meeting with Dr. Kim Hopper. Dr. Hopper, adjunct professor, Columbia School of Law is a medical anthropologist who also works as a research scientist at the Nathan S. Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research where he co-directs the Center for the Study of Issues in Public Mental Health. He is author of Reckoning with Homelessness (Cornell University Press, 2003), a stocktaking of two decades of research, advocacy, and theoretical work in that field, He also served as president of the National Coalition for the Homeless from 1991-1993. Shirley Lindenbaum of the CUNY Graduate Center summarizes Dr. Hopper's book as such: "In its poetic sensibility, passion, and political purpose, Kim Hopper's tale of homelessness in the United States rivals George Orwell's classic account of unemployment in pr-war Britain.
A man and his box: The author in Zuccotti Park
Kim and I were introduced by Cynthia, a psychiatrist who had found me in Zuccotti park, painting a box. A box which said, "I think Outside My Box". If interested in me as an artist, a cliche writer with a visual twist or as a clinical study, Cindy visited me on a few different days and then suggested that Kim and I meet. It had taken nearly two months to make that happen. Once introduced we talk of collaborating on a project for one of his university studies.One of the things I am told often by other homeless and people familiar with the academic study of the subject is that, "You don't know anything about the homeless unless you've been there".