Monday, November 19, 2012

ANNA FREEMAN - "She has absolutely no one..."

     On the same, rainy Saturday Morning that I interviewed Jay Smith, Jay pointed out a much younger woman who was sitting on the other side of the room and asked me, "Have you interviewed Anna Freeman yet?"
     "No," I answered. "I’ve never seen here before today."
     "Well, you really should interview Anna," Jay says. "Her parents are dead, and she has no family around here. She has absolutely no one around here who can help her."
     I made a point of meeting and interviewing Anna before the morning was over.
     She is twenty-four years old, and has been homeless, off and on, for a little more than a year.
     She first moved up to the Auburn area with her fiancé. They had a place to stay, with some friends of her fiance.
     But an agreement was made that Anna and her fiancé would have to find full-time jobs within a month, or else they would have to move out.
     Anna was unable to obtain a full-time job (she was working part-time at McDonalds). So, after a month, her fiance’s friends kicked her out.
     But they allowed her fiancé to stay, in spite of the fact that he had been unable to obtain any employment at all.
     Anna says that her fiance’s friends didn’t like her, and that they eventually turned her fiancé against her as well. This led to she and her fiancé breaking up.
     She stayed with some friends for a few days. Then, she stayed for a time with the Lazarus Project. But she couldn’t stand the stress of working at McDonalds, so she lost her job at McDonalds, and had to leave the Lazarus Project when she couldn’t pay her rent there.
     She did some seasonal work at Macy’s. She was able to stay with Macy’s until March. But when Macy’s finally laid her off, she had no money to pay rent, and she had no where to go.
     She ended up sleeping at the Gathering Inn.
     But then, she started to have seizures. She went to the hospital, and discovered that she had a growth in her brain that was causing the seizures.
     The people at the Gathering Inn told her that she couldn’t stay with them any longer, because they were not a hospital and they simply were not equipped to handle her seizures.
     From there, she stayed briefly with her grandparents, and then was in and out of a series of her friends’ homes.
     Now, she is homeless.
     Her medical condition has improved. She has medication for her seizures, and as long as she stays on the medication, she doesn’t have seizures.
     Because her medical problem is resolved, she has been allowed to return to sleeping at the Gathering Inn.
     I asked Anna what is the hardest part of being homeless for her.
     "No love," she answers. "And being angry so much of the time.
     "I’ve learned now that as long as my most basic needs are provided, I can survive.
     "But... there’s something about having a place that you can go to and call your home.
     "I have no place I can go to where I can just lay down my head, and really rest.
     "I mean, sure, I can go to the Gathering Inn, and I can get a night of sleep. But when I wake up in the morning, I’m not really rested. It’s hard to sleep at the Gathering Inn. There are so many people there. With all those people comes all of their drama. I don’t like drama.
     "If you try to rest in a park, the cops come and hassle you.
     "It’s weird. It’s almost as if we have some kind of a sign on our backs that says, ‘Homeless.’ I mean, how do the cops know that we are homeless?
     "Before I became homeless, I could hang out in the park all day long, and the cops would never say a word to me.
     "But... as soon as I became homeless, the cops just seemed to know that I was homeless. Now, if I go to the park, I’m going to get hassled.
     "There’s also the dangers that come from the other homeless people. I’d be scared to death to be out here, if I didn’t at least have a cell phone, so that I can call for help, if I need it.
     "When you’re homeless, you’re always worried. You’re always looking over your shoulder.
     "You would think that homeless people would be more considerate of each other, because all of us have so little. But, as soon as you have anything that someone else might want, there is always someone else around who is going to say, ‘I want it.’
     "Material wealth means nothing to me now. It will never mean the same to me again.
     "When ever you have something of value out here, you feel like a deer, when the huntsman comes.
     "You can’t stop running. The huntsman is coming for you. So, you have to keep moving, all the time.
     "If you stop, the huntsman will get you.
     "I can’t trust people any more."
     If Anna had a magic wand, so that she could be or do absolutely anything, what would she be doing?
     "Most people would want to be rich," Anna says.
     "I actually want very little.
     "I’d take the basics.
     "I’d like to have a full-time, minimum-wage job, and a studio apartment where I could lay down my head and rest.
     "I’d like just enough income to get by.
     "I’d like to have my boyfriend back from Florida.
     "And I’d like to have just enough to be comfortable."
     I ask Anna if she has a message for the world.
     Before Anna answers, she gives the question some long, careful thought.
     Finally, she says, "Basically, just look around you before you judge. A lot of people don’t think about the situations of the people around them.
     "Up until a few months ago, I had a job, and I had a place of my own.
     "Be careful when you sit there and turn your nose up at me.
     "With the way that things are with the economy right now, most people are just one or two paychecks away from ending up homeless, just like me.
     "If you turn your nose up at me, a few days later, I might find you, living in a cardboard box in some back alley.
     "If I do find you living in a cardboard box, I’ll ask you if you need some food, or some help.
     "Nothing in life is a sure thing.
     "If you turn your nose up at me, you clearly don’t appreciate what you have.
     "What would your life be like, if you lost it all?
     "If you were out here, I would help you.
     I ask Anna what she believes it is about her that makes her special and unique in the world.
     "I’ve been told by many people that I shine.... My smile.
     "When I walk into a room, I effect the whole room. If I’m happy and smiling, I brighten the whole room. And when I’m sad, or angry, the mood of the room goes down.
     "I’m a writer. And I love people, and different cultures."
     I remember seeing Anna across the room earlier in the day.
     It’s true.
     For what ever reason, she really does have the power to either light up a room with happiness, or to bring the mood down.
     I tell her this.
     I tell her that this is a great gift that she has been given.
     I tell her that it is a great power. And with great power comes great responsibility. I ask her to work hard to bring a smile and happiness, instead of anger or sorrow, to as many rooms in her life as possible.
     She smiles, and nods. "I try to always do that. Life is a story. I try to write a happy story. I try to make people laugh, and to smile.
     "Love is the greatest thing out there," she says.
     "When I love, I love like nobody understands." She says this with great power in her voice.
     "I try to love everybody.
     "I don’t know how to hate people. I could be mad at you, but I could never hate.
     "Right now, I need love.
     "I don’t mean the romantic kind of love. I mean... just... that other kind of love."
     I tell Anna that I know what kind of love she means. Some people call it Agape love.
     Anna tells me the Bible story about Peter, when he passes the beggar at the gate. The beggar asks Peter for money. But Peter says, "I have no money to give you. But I give you something of far greater value. I give you Christ’s love. Rise up, and walk."
     "Love is the greatest gift that you could ever give to anybody," Anna says.
     We end the interview on that note.
     At the end of the morning, I see Anna one more time.
     As I am leaving the church building, I see an older homeless man who has become one of my friends. He is standing underneath the awning that is just outside the door to the church kitchen, where they serve the free breakfast. I noticed that he has been standing there for a long time. He is soaking wet, and almost blue from the cold.
     I ask him if he is standing there just to get in out of the rain.
     He nods.
     I suggest that he go inside, where they are conducting the church service. If he went inside, he could be warm, and dry.
     He thanks me for the suggestion. But he doesn’t want to go inside. He feels too wet and dirty.
     As we stand there, talking, Anna comes out of the building, and walks past us.
     Anna is much shorter than either one of us. And she is young enough to be the daughter of either one of us.
     She hesitates at the edge of the awning, just before she goes out into the pouring rain.
     She turns back to the two of us, and says, "I hate to ask you this silly question, but, do either on of you happen to have anything that I might be able to put over my head? I mean, an old beanie, or anything? I’m so dumb. I came out into this pouring rain, and I have nothing that I can put over my head."
     Earlier in the morning, I had been passing out dry socks. Maybe that is why Anna thought that I might have some hats as well.
     But I have nothing that could be used as a hat. I try to think of something. But I have nothing.
     The older, soaking-wet homeless man who is standing next to me is bare-headed. He is almost shivering from the cold, and his long, stringy hair is soaking wet.
     Nevertheless, he looks at this much-younger woman and simply smiles. Then, without saying a word, he reaches into his coat pocket, and pulls out a gray wool beanie.
     He hands the beanie to Anna.
     Anna smiles, and thanks him.
     She pulls the beanie down over her ears, and then walks out into the pouring rain.
     I look at my older, homeless friend. I have known him for about two weeks now. And I’m pretty sure that he has just given away his only hat.
     I look into his eyes, wanting to ask him if that was his only hat.
     But I don’t have to ask.
     The answer is already there, in his eyes.
     He just looks at me, and smiles.

     This is the ninety-ninth in a series of articles about Auburn-area homeless people, written by local attorney, author, and Sierra College Instructor Bob Litchfield.

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