Homelessness

“Loneliness is Loneliness and Company is Company”: Down and Out During the Pandemic in America

I’ve been interviewing “Glenn” about homelessness for many years. He has become a dear friend in the process. He is in his early 50s. He has been homeless for most of the past decade and recently became housed in his own apartment in Southern Vermont, just outside of Brattleboro. 

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, I spent three years writing a book on homelessness (to be published in paperback with the Hard Times Review Press and available for sale this coming August).

Just after I finished the book, Glenn left town and moved to a sober living house in Burlington. We talked once in a while over the phone during the two years he was away. About a year after he left, the Covid-19 pandemic hit. Glenn stayed in the sober living house through the first months of the pandemic, but eventually relapsed and became homeless again.

He has recently returned to Brattleboro, where my book was based. 

A lot has changed. Life, for everyone, feels suspended by new sorts of uncertainty. 

Late June, 2021, Glenn talks with HTR about how the past couple of years have been for him, his thoughts on the present moment in American history generally, his struggles with addiction, homelessness, and finally getting his own apartment.

*

Two Octobers ago, before the pandemic started out, I was homeless, then I went ta rehab, because I was gettin outta control, then I went from rehab ta Burlington — ya know — to a sober living place, then the pandemic hit, n it was … (trails off)

I had done good. I was nine months clean, even during the pandemic, n then it was, like, because the other few guys I lived with worked, I was home alone all day, n it’s during the time when ya had ta stay in the house, n it was, like, ugh, all the sudden it was gettin ta me. 

I was doing good, NA meetings every day. Ya know. I was part of the Champlain Valley Narcotics Anonymous Activities Committee. So, I was doing good up there. 

Then, all a the sudden, it just hit me: the loneliness, bein away from friends down here and in Rutland, it just got to me n so I started drinkin again. 

We had to do urine tests at the house I was at, n it was my time ta do it, n I didn’t say nothin a anybody, so then they came back n told me. And, once you relapse, you gotta leave the house. So, then I left, n I left all my stuff there, ugh, for a little while, until November a last year, so … I was homeless until then. 

When you say, “It got to you” n you started drinkin again, what do you mean? What got to you?  

You know: the loneliness, the depression, bein home alone all the time, because my housemates worked everyday n — ya know — company is company and loneliness is loneliness, so … You know. 

You remember the month you left? 

I think it was April or May, 2020. 

Then you were homeless again until November? 

Yup. 

What was that like? 

Well, it was different than down here, different people, but ya find different places just like ya do down here, except one thing was: When I was homeless down here, I always panhandled with a sign. But, up there, I never held a sign, stopped holdin a sign this year. I was kinda an “aggressive panhandler.” I was askin. I changed my whole thing about panhandling. 

How so? 

I wasn’t holdin a sign anymore. I was goin up n askin people, so I was kind of bein an “aggressive panhandler” n — ya know — down here, I was holdin a sign all the time, so I wouldn’t ask. 

What made ya decide ta change that? 

Psh, I really didn’t give a fuck up there, after I relapsed. It’s, like, headin back out ta that same old stuff n I was mad at myself for relapsin, so … 

So, what would you say da people, when you’d go up n ask em instead of holdin a sign? 

“Got any spare change?” 

So, I mean, that doesn’t really sound, like, rude or “aggressive” ta me.  

No, no, but if you ASK EM, it’s bein aggressive. 

Even if you’re bein polite? 

Yeah, because you’re GOIN UP TO the person, but if they just seen the sign, they’re just lookin down. 

What if it was me? Like, what if I went down there in my black pants n button down shirt, all polite, askin people if they have any spare change? Would that be aggressive? 

It could be called “aggressive,” because you’re goin up ta ask the person, so …

So, you were homeless from approximately April to November? The pandemic was quite bad at several points during that time. Was that scary for you? 

A lil bit, but — you know — if you’re gonna catch it, you’re gonna catch it. I didn’t wear a mask outside. Inside, ya had to. 

I worried though, because a my health conditions. I have a weakened immune system already. So, at least I didn’t get Covid. 

(Glenn has COPD and HIV)

So, you had been there for over a year before you relapsed…

Yeah. 

Do you remember what the conversation was like when they asked you da leave? 

Well, I knew the rules. So, one a my housemates came up n said, “I need a talk to ya,” n he came back n said, “Your UA was high for alcohol,” 

So, I said, “Yeah, I know, but … ya know.” Then I said, “I already know what ta do: Get out, leave, just leave,” so …

What did you wanna do? 

Well, I would’ve loved ta stay there, but it’s the rules of the house: Once you relapse, you’re gone. 

If you had stayed there, would you have tried ta stay sober again? 

Yes, I would’ve. I was doin good, like I said, n I was clean, gettin involved with Narcotics Anonymous. 

Did you tell them that you wanted ta try to stay sober if you stayed? 

No, I didn’t, because I couldn’t, because it was not an option … unless I went back ta rehab, but I — ya know — it was, like, three, four days that I drank without tellin them, n they came back on a Monday, so … (trails off) 

Was bein homeless harder this last time than the time before? 

Yeah, you gotta wear a mask. But, at that time, in the beginning of it, they hadn’t said to social distance yet, so … 

What happened in November? 

Oh, I called a friend a mine, my friend Spin. I called up Spin n then him n his girlfriend … Well, I called him on the eighth of November of last year — I remember the date, because it was two days before my birthday — and, all the sudden, he calls me back, says, “I’m gonna come pick ya up.” 

I said, “Alright, I’ll come down for a couple days,” got down here, stayed down here, n that’s it, been relapsin ever since, dabblin in a lil bit of everything.” 

(pause)

How do you feel the pandemic was handled generally in this country?

(sigh) If we had got a hold of it right when we got hit with it at first — I think it was in Washington — we could’ve had a better grip on it, but you know President Trump: “It’s none of our business. We don’t have that here.” The government, I think, it’s a little eh, eh — ya know — screwy sometimes, especially the President. Like, President Trump was just a total asshole, really. I hate ta say it. 

Trump says, “Oh, we don’t have that here.” It was diagnosed. 

Well, n we have it now. That’s for sure.  

(laughs)

Let’s go back ta when you called Spin n he took you back to Brattleboro n you ended up staying here. So, he n his girlfriend came n got you. 

Yep, n I stayed at his house a couple nights. 

Then I got pneumonia bad, in November or December. In December, I started stayin at the Quality Inn. 

(Motels in Brattleboro were used to shelter the homeless during the pandemic, a program that ended July 1, 2021.)

My pneumonia was so bad, it was comin outta my lungs n I had ta get the cyst drained, because it became, like, a big cyst outside my lungs, at the Quality Inn, n I stayed there until June when I got my apartment. 

What was it like, bein in that condition? 

Ugh, terrible, spent a couple weeks in the hospital, had a have it lanced, the cyst. 

Must’ve been scary. 

Yeah, it really was. It looked like I had a tit. It really did. 

How long were you in that condition before you got treated for it? 

About a week, because I didn’t wanna go ta the hospital n then my friend said I gotta go. 

How do you feel about where you are right now?

Right now, well, you know I got my apartment, so that’s a plus. I went ta the Quality Inn n my caseworker helped me out with gettin an apartment, because I was workin with Groundworks before I went ta Burlington, about gettin a place, so it was kinda easier, because I got mail up in Burlington that had been down here at Groundworks for me, which said that I was good for housing before, but I wasn’t here, so I didn’t get the letters n stuff.

So, I got my place. That’s a good thing. 

And how do you feel about where the country is now, compared ta when you left Brattleboro? 

Well … (pause), it’s still different. At least we’re openin up. You know? It’s gonna be better, because — you know — isolation kills. 

I have a lot of friends that overdosed during — you know — the past waves of it. I would say five, six people who I really know, have died from overdoses during this. 

I do know people that have gotten Covid, too, because we had to quarantine 14 days at da motel, because one a the clients caught it, so the whole motel had a be quarantined for 14 days. That was rough, on top a bein isolated, but … You know. 

That was maybe four months ago. 

Was that scary? 

A lil bit, because I smoked with the person the day before they first found out, but — you know — then we all got our tests, like, three a week. 

(pause)

What a ya think about Joe Biden? 

Eh, well, least we got a Democrat. 

(laughs) 

I guess that’s pretty much all we can say about him.

Hey, I think he’s doin alright right now. I don’t hear much from him, so I think he’s doin alright. 

What a you think he should do? Like, if Joe Biden called me up right now n was like, “Hey, get Glenn on the phone …” 

Do more for the homeless. I hate ta say it, but the homeless are still goin through shit, especially now, because — ya know — July 1st, the motels are opening. 

Oh, so they’re havin everybody leave …

Most of em. You’re gonna have to have criteria now. Before July 1st, ya didn’t have ta have criteria. It’s, like, people that have mental health problems, people who are on disability, other stuff like that. 

What da you think is the reason for that change?  

I don’t know. Motels have a lotta people in em. You know. 

Where is everybody gonna go when the motels open up? 

Ah, I know Groundworks is givin out tents, gonna be another tent city around probably, somewhere, n they’re given incentive: 2,500 bucks. When they leave, they’re gonna give ya 2,500 bucks. 

(On the topic of transitioning the Vermont homeless population out of motels and issuing payments to those transitioning, The Brattleboro Reformer reports, “Households may be eligible for payments of $2,500 to help with expenses related to their basic needs … They may qualify for Vermont Emergency Rental Assistance to help with security deposits, rent for up to 12 months and utility bills …”) 

Maybe that’ll help people get places? 

Yeah, but come on now. That money’s not gonna go da helpin people find a place. The motels were the main hubs for everything. So — you know — there’s still gonna be that. 

(pause) 

So, what’s next for you?

Aw, I dunno yet, still got time. Some point, I’m gonna try ta make it up ta Rutland a see my brothers n sisters for a couple days. 

I’m just happy I got my apartment right now. 

What about the country? What’s next for the country? Where da you see us goin from here? 

I dunno. I just … I hope it’s good, all I can say. 

Categories: Homelessness, oral history