Tag Archives: homeless

Dining at Chez De bris

FF176 Ceayr

copyright Ceayr

The pulsing music from the stadium above almost drowned out Sadie’s rumbling stomach.

“I hope it’s a football game,” Daryl said. “Football fans eat the best food.”

After football games, when the last happy fan had stumbled out, Sadie and Daryl would sneak out for a buffet of hot dog ends, dropped nachos, and half-full cups of beer forgotten under seats.

“I’ll go find out,” Daryl said. He came back an hour later with a flyer and a disappointed expression.

Sadie took it. “World Poverty Fundraising Rally,” she read. She looked at Daryl. “What kind of food do they eat?”

Burn Table

Burn Table

The mayor was here a week ago. News crews scurried around, getting the best angles and making sure the audio was clear as the mayor stood on cracked and weed-strewn concrete and talked about urban revitalization. He used the word “rebirth” nine times in his thirteen-minute speech.

The thing about birth is that everyone thinks of the end result. No one thinks about the labor.

A week later, and it was just me and the soot boys, getting ready to burn down 1300 abandoned houses. It’s funny how ‘R’ words like revitalization and rebirth sound nice, but raze, ruin, and rip out really don’t, even when they’re two sides of the same coin.

“Go down Derby Street,” I told the soot boys, consulting the burn table. “We’ll take down the left side this morning, numbers 34 to 68.” We had to check each house to make sure they were empty, then Ronnie and Jimmy went in with what were basically commercial flamethrowers and physics did the rest. We didn’t have a firefighter crew on standby. If the fire ever did spread, that would just mean less work for us further down the road. We were at least five miles away from any property worth saving.

“Got a squatter in number 44,” Andy said over the radio.

“So make him move,” I said. “He’s got ten minutes.”

“He won’t go.”

I sighed and walked down to the house. The man looked like a typical squatter: long, unkempt hair and clothes whose time between washings was probably measured in years.

“I’m sorry sir, but you’re going to have to move,” I said. “We’re burning this house this morning.”

“You don’t understand.” There were tears in his eyes. “I live here.”

“I understand, but you can move to another house.” No point in mentioning that we’d be burning them all down eventually.

“You don’t get it. I bought this house fifteen years ago,” he said. “The bank took it after we’d been living here for ten years. My kids were born here!” He was crying now, but didn’t try to wipe the tears away.

“I’m sorry, sir,” I said again. I hated to see the human face of the job I had been contracted to do so I put on my best mask of professionalism. “The bank has sold this property to the city revitalization trust. They have contracted me to remove all existing properties. This particular property is on the schedule for today.” I showed him the burn table.

“This used to be a thriving neighborhood,” he said, throwing out a skinny arm to encompass the morgue of broken-windowed, sagging-roofed houses that surrounded us. “You know, the first weekend we moved in, all the neighbors came over and helped us move. John Grant, over there at number 55—”

I didn’t want to hear any more. “I’ll give you until this afternoon,” I said. I picked up the radio. “Change of plan, guys. Switch to the right side for this morning.” I walked away before I could see if this pitiable creature was grateful or angry.

There were no squatters in any of the houses from 29 Derby Street to number 59 and soon Ronnie and Jimmy were walking down the street, spewing roaring, smoky destruction onto the decaying embodiments of failed dreams. I wonder how they thought about it, but knowing those two, it was nothing more than x dollars per hour. The whole row was a wall of flames by 10:30, and we retreated back to the truck to eat snacks and watch the fire do our work for us.

“I think it jumped,” Andy said, pointing down the road. There was smoke rising from the left side of the street.

“Crap! He didn’t, did he?”

“So let him. Less work for us.”

“What if he’s inside?” I said. They didn’t care; he was just another squatter to them, but to me it was an investigation and possibly a reprimand if someone died on my watch. I didn’t want to get the truck that close to the fires, so I walked as quickly as I could down the left hand sidewalk, knowing there was nothing I could do if the squatter had set the house on fire with him inside.

The man was sitting on the sidewalk, watching as greedy tongues of fire snaked out through blackened glass and out from under the eaves. He was not crying any longer, but the look of pain on his face was worse.

“Sorry, it just didn’t seem right to have strangers do it,” he said. “Will I get in trouble?”

I shook my head. “Be careful, though,” I said. Then, “You want something to eat?”

He nodded and stood up. With one last look at the doomed house, he turned his back and we walked away.



Living in a House of Leaves

copyright Al Forbes

copyright Al Forbes

“And dry leaves can make good insulation for cold winter nights!” Dr. James Hunt said, a touch too cheerfully, Alex his assistant thought. She bit her lip. Teaching homeless people how to survive on the streets seemed like a good idea on paper, but out here, it was a joke.

“Of course,” James continued, “newspaper is even better for insulation. I’ll pass out a list of recycling centers.” The assembled faces watched him impassively, just waiting—Alex was sure—for this to be over so they could get their promised free meal. They knew all this already; they must. It was a like a Boy Scout leader teaching a platoon of Special Forces about pocketknife safety.

“Well, I think that went well,” James said after the class. “What did you think?”

“It was a band-aid solution on the real problem.”

“Sometimes a wound needs a band-aid while healing takes place. I’m addressing the city council in a few months on the issue. I’ll share my research with them.”

“What research?”

“The research where I live on the street for two weeks,” James said. “I’m starting in a month.”

Alex stopped. “You’re crazy, it’s almost winter.”


“So what if you die?”

“Then that will speak much louder than I ever could.”

“Tell me where you’ll be, at least. I’ll bring you soup.”

“Only if you bring enough for everyone.”

“How many homeless people are in the city?”

“About 13,000.”

“Be careful.”

He put a hand on her shoulder. “I’ll try.”

I Woke up on Monday as a Dog

I woke up on Monday as a dog—a sloppy, tangle-furred St. Bernard who had grown up on the streets. Everyone in the neighborhood knew me and as the sun peeked between the brownstone houses that lined the east side of the street, I set out to discover breakfast. A few people called out to me, but I just barked and kept going. People around here might know me, but no one ever fed me.

No one except Mae, my adopted mother. She was blind—poor thing—but loved me no matter what. She fed me the same fare regardless of my form, sometimes with terrible results. There was a freezing day in February where I came to her as a goat only to find she had saved a steak just for me, cooked to medium-rare perfection. It repulsed me and as much as it hurt me to reject it, I could not touch it.

Mae was sitting on the porch steps when I bounded up. She could always tell when it was me. “Good morning, Harry. Come sit and talk to me for a while.” I barked at her and she nodded. “Maybe another day then.”

I wolfed down the bacon and eggs she had set out on the steps and lapped at the water next to it. The rest of the day was spent running around the streets and tearing into the garbage bags behind the McDonalds, searching for abandoned scraps and running away from the shouts and threats of the workers. It was a glorious existence.

On Tuesday, I woke up as a man and the grimmer reality that came with it. I ran a hand through my greasy hair, tried to straighten my clothes, and shuffled over to Mae’s where I ate with fork and knife and we talked about the weather and the arthritis she was getting in her knees. I brought my dishes in, washed them and the rest of the pile there, then took out her garbage. I was walking over to the park to sleep when I heard a shout.

“Harry, come here for a second.” It was a cop. I don’t know which one: I’m not good with faces, or names. He waited until I had approached the car, then kept looking at me until I was thoroughly unnerved.

“Some people complained about you urinating on the street yesterday.”

“Aw, Officer, I wasn’t myself yesterday,” I said. “You don’t arrest other dogs for marking their territory.”

The officer sighed and looked down. “I gotta take you in again, Harry. You know I hate to do it.”

“For what? What did I do?”

“You want the list?”

I went quietly. Violence is not what I’m about. I sat in the corner of the public cell but the other prisoners seemed to know me and left me alone. Luckily, the next day I woke up briefly to find that I was a sloth and then slept most of the day. When I did wake, it took half an hour to get over to the can and back to the bunk. At the end of the day, an official came in and talked to me privately but I was too sleepy to hear much. I caught the words “psychiatric” and “trial” but it didn’t concern me.

The next day, I woke up as a dragon.

The shock of sudden strength after a day as a sloth was electrifying. I had only been a dragon once before and that was when I had a horde to protect and I had spent the whole day sleeping on it. But not this time. I sat hunched on my bunk, eyes closed but flexing the muscles in my limbs and wings, feeling the deadly power in my claws.

“Harry, it’s time to go,” I heard someone call. I didn’t move. “Just go get him,” someone else said. “Cuffs but no shackles. He’s not a high risk.” The tip of my tail flicked back and forth in anticipation.

The cell door open and I sprang with a roar. I caught one look at the shocked expression on the guard’s face before I was on him, raking my talons across his face. My tail slammed him against the bars and I was free, my huge bulk crashing through the next room. It was pure exhilaration and I reveled in the power that I suddenly possessed.

I smashed through one room after another until suddenly, I was outside and then I was airborne and flying over the city. But where to go now? I couldn’t visit Mae—the weight of this new form would crush her house. I could not retreat to the subway system like I often did, not with my huge frame.

In the end, the form that gave me freedom caused my downfall. A dragon cannot hide well and they found me and netted me and brought me to another facility. A man came and talked to me, but all I could do was roar at him. It was his own fault for trying to talk to a dragon.

Today I woke up as a cat but they still guarded me as if I were a dragon. It’s a shame and I suppose I’ll never get out of here unless I turn into something stronger than a dragon, something strong enough to bend steel and smash concrete. I look out my window and see the beautiful blue sky. A perfect day for a cat to go exploring—a beautiful tabby cat with golden eyes who’s never hurt a person in his life.

I Bought Him Shoes

This is a flash fiction piece, inspired by a prompt by Eric Alagan. The point is to write a 55-word story about a hobo, but never use that word in the story. Go read his as well; it’s really excellent.

This is based on a true story, but since I only know it secondhand, it may not be entirely accurate. Perhaps the person associated with it will read this and let me know. 🙂

old shoes

I bought him shoes when he passed through town. He didn’t want a home; said he already had one—with an expansive gesture. But the new Reeboks keep him warm and dry.

He sends emails sometimes, when his meandering journey passes a library.

It’s freezing out now. I trust his wits, but I still pray.

Slumming on the Ceiling – Visual Fiction

Taken in Daejeon, South Korea

Taken in Daejeon, South Korea

Drunk. Bum. Loser. Deadbeat.

Freddie had heard them all and much worse as he sat in his underpass and watched people go by. He had a battered cardboard box in front of him with a few coins in it. Occasionally, more would be thrown in, but not usually. If the police chased him out, he waited until they walked away and then went back.

Thursday night had started as a good night. He had been able to buy a bottle of cheap liquor and had found a new blanket in a donation box. Half the bottle was gone when he suddenly began to feel lighter. Light began to filter in through the stairwells, increasing until it became as bright as day.

This is it, he thought. The angels, the angels are coming for me at last. One too many brown bag comforts, I suppose.

Freddie rose off the floor, floating up until he hit the ceiling. His perspective shifted and he found that the ceiling was now down for him, while the floor was above him. He sat in surprise and watched his handful of coins disappear into a light fixture. He tried to get them but burned his hand. It didn’t seem like he was dead.

With a shrug, he took a swig from the bottle and laid down on the ceiling. Freddie was used to life handing him surprises. Might as well make the best of it.


This is an alternate perspective on a couple of other stories I did, called What is it? and Why it’s bad to destroy the Earth.


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