THE UNDETECTABLE HOMELESS

computer"
A Weekly Cyberlog


Before I begin this week’s Cyberlog stories, I want to emphasize that there is no media
“conspiracy” to hide the plight of the unemployed and potentially homeless.  On August 29th
(2003), DATELINE (NBC) highlighted the experiences of four families in which loss of jobs
and retirement plans (one named as Enron) led to crises that are examples of what is hap-
pening often in “today’s America.”  The title of the segment was: “Chasing the American
Dream.”  Before that, on July 4th (2003), DATELINE presented  a segment called ‘No Place
Like Home” with stories from people who had advanced degrees who were too long un-
employed, still looking for jobs.  Major problems with the system(s) were outlined.  What is
different about my research?  I AM FINDING OUT WHAT HAPPENS TO THOSE WHO ARE
NOT AVAILABLE FOR MONTHS OF FILMING AS THEY SEARCH FOR JOBS AND DIS-
CUSS THEIR FAMILY DYNAMICS.  I am focusing on those who do not have a home to keep–
even if temporarily–and have already gone through the agony of the daily experiences that the
DATELINE interviews reveal. “MY” ladies (and a few men) are in hiding...living out of vehicles
and in places in which one does not expect anyone to dwell.  “MY” ladies have refused to use
Welfare or other government systems which immediately identify and control one’s life.  In
other words, I take over where the professional media (and other authors of “the homeless”
books) have to stop.  If it hadn’t happened to me, I wouldn’t know anything more than the pro-
fessional media reporters or those researchers who pretend to be homeless for a short time
or interview people who are in shelters, unemployment lines, and any part of the “system.”  But
it did happen to me, and in 25 years or so, I have learned about an entire population that not
only increases every year, but includes those so safely ensconced in job and financial comfort
that they never thought for a moment that this horror could happen to them–and moreover, no
one else in America did either.  Many were so secure as corporate employees that they had
built a sizable savings plan (whether company or self-designed) and some were only a few
years from a retirement that meant a continuation of satisfying lifestyle, family, and bank
account.

It is the end of summer, and now is the time for so many hidden homeless to alter dwelling
places.  Seasonal homes are in transition, not only for the owners, but for some women who
have their eyes open for which houses will be vacant from approximately the end of October
to the beginning of May.  I am going to address the phenomenon in this Cyberlog, but first, I
want to tell you about Dana, whom I met recently at one of the many country fairs I attend in
which I find homeless women utilizing the various freebies.  We started chatting in what pas-
sed as the “ladies room.”  She brought back memories of a few women I have met since the
1980s and into the ‘90s when intentional communities were in their heyday.  Dana has moved
from one intentional community to another in all parts of the country and in-between, has tried
living in communes and at long retreats as well.  Some authors have tried to make a con-
nection between intentional communities and co-housing (a Swedish concept/movement
which drifted to America in the 1980s due to one popular book), but there are major differences.
Money, zoning, stability, and building problems are among the major differences.  I will address
some women’s stories about co-housing and communes another time.
 

“I had it and left maybe 6 months ago.  I don’t mind saying I’m homeless and was seeking
an easy way to have a place to sleep and eat that wasn’t a shelter–geez; those are awful
stinky places–and was ready to try just about anything....I went to this intentional com-
munity that advertised that it was based on peace and working for animal rights and a
serene life.  I got through the first couple of weeks with no problems, fitting in by working
hard, doing the cooking and cleaning with some of the other older women.  I didn’t hear
much about the issues, but figured that soon I would....And then I kept hearing little parts
of conversations about the men from the kitchen gossip....It seems that a serene life
also includes a rather open sexual life, with everyone just moving from bed to bed.  One
really pretty girl, with a probable IQ of about 90, let it out that she wasn’t happy with the
guy she was sleeping with and he wouldn’t let her go unless she left the community.
Then all hell broke loose in the kitchen and I never would have believed some of the
stories if I didn’t really believe these gals....Most of the females were under maybe 40,
and since I’m older by a few years and not all that attractive, I wasn’t the object of any
guy’s attention. It seems that one of the rules, even if they don’t call it that, is that any
guy who wants a gal to sleep with him has that right....This is serene!  And these guys
don’t believe in condoms, either, since they insist it dulls the senses....I never was into
smoking any funny cigarettes, so I didn’t notice that a lot of them were into pot.  I just
thought they were too funny and hungry....One girl got pregnant, and whether it was on
purpose or not–him being a big shot--one of the men was able to perform abortions.
And he did, often.  I heard, but I’m not sure, that he was once a doctor who had lost
everything in a malpractice case and joined because his wife left him and he had no
other place to go....After that gossip session, I had my ears on.  There wasn’t any plan
to do anything about peace or animal rights except for not eating meat.  But the ad kept
appearing in some magazines, and people did come and join.  Sometimes for a short
time, but the guys had it good and most stayed....I did my chores and didn’t say anything,
but I found that I didn’t have anything in common with these people.  I certainly did like
to take showers, and when I did, guys would just walk into the tent with me and look me
over....The last straw was when about three guys had one woman in a yurt and I heard
her crying that she didn’t want sex with them all....I’m now looking into a new group that’s
forming in VT and the word is that they are into farming and more interested in growing
organic vegetables than babies.  So, I’m on my way, and just will keep my eyes open
from day one....Maybe you’ll be out that way come next summer and can visit and see
if I’m still there....”(Dana, age 49, 2003 in NH)


There are a LOT of intentional communities across the country, and by no means am I suggest-
ing that they are all questionable.  I have some stories that point to a lack of members who pull
their weight with assigned duties and other problems, but I also have met some women who
really love the life they lead in a group with likemindedness and good fellowship.  The problem
is that no one knows the backgrounds of these people or if they are emotionally stable.  Most
intentional communities do not survive for long because the original members are “outvoted” by
the growing new members and when the original members leave, either the group becomes
dysfunctional or just dies from a lack of following the purpose of the intent.  There are numerous
reasons for forming an intentional community, and the main ones are philosophical, religious,
or for organic farming and humane animal raising.  I have been filming and writing about the
growing interest in organic farms this summer, and will talk about my findings later on....

Back to the seasonal homes being scrutinized by women looking for a place to spend the cold
months.  I have known Louisa since I met her in 2001 when she was scouting one of the isolated
upscale Maine peninsulas for homes that were closing for the season.  I was renting nearby and
noticed her sizing up the situation.  She was peering into a window when I walked over and
began a conversation.  Anyway, she appeared farther south this year, near where I stayed for
a week on a long and “partitioned” peninsula.  We both had sought out a  library which allowed
internet access.  I caught her eye, and she didn’t seem to be “upset” that we were meeting again.
 

“I spent the last two winters between the biggest malls and a house that I saw for rent in
a local newspaper.  The price was so high that I figured it was worth staying close enough
to see if it did rent.  By December, I sort of snooped around, calling the agency to see if
there were already any interested takers, and listening to the gossip at the Post Office....
All of the local papers have columns about what the summer residents have been doing,
and what they have planned for the winter.  I follow them regularly....I know that some of
these houses have no water in the winter.  Unless they have wells, water is usually turned
off by a town water company in October.  I don’t really care.  My bathroom is a pail and I
just dump it outside.  I can get bottled water for cooking and drinking, or use melted snow.
 If electricity is turned off, I use candles or kerosene lamps and I have a flashlight.  But all
of the homes have flashlights too, so light isn’t a problem.  I can cook on my own kerosene
camping stove.  I just love soup and pasta, and I can eat that all winter.  Bread and
peanut butter and preserves are my fill-ins.  Snow is my refrigerator, and after an icy
storm, I collect the hanging roof icicles and put them into a big cooler I have....I don’t
worry about heat, either, since I love the cold and can make do with parkas and insulated
sleeping bags.  I find one room with sun in the afternoon, and close it up carefully.
Sometimes I cover walls which seem to be drafty with heavy duty plastic and it remains
warm enough after a couple of sunny days....I’m looking at any ads on the Chamber of
Commerce websites and their links....I have some local papers now, and I’m going to
look at a couple of places today.  Want to come along?”
(Louisa age 61, 2003 in ME)



Click to next Cyberlog

 

© 2003 Marjorie Bard.  All Rights Reserved.
This can in no way be copied or distributed.