Tuesday, May 20, 2014

"On Homelessness" by Frank Calisi

This is my third time being homeless. I do not like being in a shelter. It is a daily struggle. I must follow the rules and yet my fellow vets make me feel conflicted about what is right. It isn’t always easy to follow what your instincts tell you is the right path. I currently reside in the NECHV. It’s a dry shelter on paper, although many here do still drink. It’s a shell game as to who gets caught – who is more drunk than the next. I’ve only drank a few times. It is nerve wracking. I do not enjoy it – at least not here. I also go to AA meetings. To drink is like going against the grain of what I know is right, what is expected of me and what I feel like doing. I know deep inside that it is therapeutic to have these constraints. This place is a microcosm of the real world except that we are all veterans. At times, it’s like walking on eggshells around here. Don’t rock the boat. That’s my inner self talking to me. Do your KPS, deck duty, make all medical and social appointments. There’s a sub drug culture here, too. Another one of my downfalls – just the thought of being thrown out scares me into being on the straight and narrow.

I have been here five months. It’s time to move on. Yes, I have applied to various apartments. I have been rejected by three because of my past record. Today I looked at a market rate one in Lynn – kinda small, 50’s style, old, but solid. They accepted my application but I want to still look. Don’t want to jump into anything. It’s scary and hard to transition from one institution to being all free. These walls play tricks on my mind. I guess you could safely say that I am institutionalized. I’ve been doing the routine. I have become dependent in many ways on this institution. Transitioning to an apartment is scary.

I have been accepted to the bridges program. It does just that – gives you a way back onto the mainland of society. I get an outside caseworker who will visit me for 9 months, who will help make sure I fit into the community I will live in. Mental health, sobriety and physical well-being are my goals. I will follow-through. This English class keeps my mind in check. I am grateful for it. It allows me to pass the time constructively. Yes, you can say it’s therapeutic. Just writing this paper right now is therapeutic. It gives me room to write honestly and perhaps to see the virtue in life. “It’s a journey,” I heard one of the other students say. I feel like my journey stretches out in front of me into thousands of miles  -  I feel like I have covered maybe a few hundred so far. I must keep one foot in front of the other, walk the straight and narrow line of this life.

Frank Calisi is a U.S. veteran and a resident at the New England Center for Homeless Veterans, where he is a member of the Glass House Shelter Project, a writing partnership with the University of Massachusetts Boston.

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