Homelessness

“The Wall”: An Oral History of Homelessness, Poverty, Grief & Love with Howie & Carmel (Part One) 

(This week, Howie and Carmel discuss what they endured together over the past few years in an oral history with Hard Times Review. We discuss the loss, grief, stress, suffering, and love that comes with hard times, with living perpetually down and out in America. Carmel is 49 years old and Howie is 38. We are also with a friend of ours, identified in previous HTR stories as “Glenn.” This is part one of their oral history.)

How did you two meet?

Carmel: Well, there used to be this place called “The Wall,” over behind the machine shop on Flat Street, and we were homeless, and I had run across the street to go to the bathroom, and I noticed Howie from behind and so I went over and sexually propositioned him and took him home, been together ever since (laughs)

Howie: I’d just gotten out of jail a month before and heard about The Wall, so that’s what brought me down to it. 

How long ago was that?

Carmel: Goin on five years. 

Howie: Been together five years, off the streets from bein homeless for four. 

Each of you talk about how you became homeless.

Carmel: I became homeless in Brattleboro, because I was staying with a friend, who was supposed to be a friend, and I went in to take a shower and I turned around to him masturbating on me and so I got outta there as quick as I possibly could, because he was a creeper. So, that’s how I ended up becoming homeless.

Howie: As for me, I got in trouble with the law. I was on probation and nobody wanted to take in someone that was in the Department of Corrections, so I wound up gettin a tent and goin from there. 

How long were each of you homeless? 

Carmel: Almost a year.

Howie: Yeah, we were on The Wall for seven months and then did the Seasonal Overflow Shelter on the Austine campus for the whole winter. We got kicked out a month before we were accepted to our apartment, so we had to do another month homeless.

Carmel: Not, like, “kicked out.” It just closed for the season. 

What was being homeless like?  

Howie: Honestly, I think it was easier bein homeless, because we didn’t have landlords or anyone tellin ya what you could do, when ya could do it, harassin ya about rent. Our spot was perfect. Everyone hung out. Like, we’d have 50 to 100 people a day around our campsite, but they knew it was our spot, our waiting area, and no one bothered us. 

Carmel: (pause) I found it hard, because I’m older, and just…  with the animals…  (trails off) And I am also a recovering drug addict. So, at the time, I was addicted to heroin and did bundles, like, five, six bundles a day, easily. I was pretty deep into my addiction when I met my fiance. 

Howie: Wake up at five in the morning and it’d be time to go. 

Carmel: As soon as it got daylight, like, because I didn’t sleep for shit, because I was dopesick and then, finally, I said, “I’m fuckin tired a this shit, man.” 

Howie: I gave her the ultimatum. 

Carmel: So, I ended up goin to the methadone clinic and I’ve been clean off dope now for four years.

Howie, you discussed some of the good times. What were some of the harder things about being homeless for you?

Carmel: People goin in our tents.

Howie: Yeah, people goin in our tents, day to day struggle. I mean, people think it’s easy to hold a cardboard sign, but I’d like to see anyone try it. 

Carmel: Yeah, and listen to the rude comments. I mean, one time, I was standing over on the bridge and had somebody throw a roll of quarters and hit me and gave me a black eye. 

Howie: And our signs never say anything about money, none of that. “Any act of kindness helps,” any act of kindness. It could be a banana, a bottle of water. 

Carmel: So, we’ve definitely had our hard times through bein homeless, definitely. 

Howie: She was hit by a car one day. 

Carmel: Yep, on the bridge over here, holdin my sign. The guy hit the accelerator instead of the brake, and if I didn’t jump outta the way, he would’ve killed me. He would’ve squashed me between the guardrail and his car.

Howie: But, the scariest part for us, I feel, bein homeless, was the night that somebody backed their car right up next to us, over here on Flat Street, by The Wall. We didn’t even hear the car door, nothin. 

Carmel: And I’m the lightest sleeper ever. 

Howie: All we heard was the guy cocking his hand pistol.

Carmel: His gun. He was lookin for somebody.

Howie: Nine millimeter. 

Carmel: Right to our heads. 

Howie: Two in the morning. 

Carmel: Woke up to that over there. That was the scariest thing.

Howie: We dealt with racoons, 23, 25 skunks a night. That didn’t bother us. But, that one night… 

Carmel: That one night was definitely the scariest. And he was lookin for somebody.

Howie: We’ve had people say, “Oh, if we could sleep on The Wall at night, we would,” and they’d put their sleeping bags out next to us and everything.

Carmel: And none of em could do it. 

Howie: Couple hours later… 

Carmel: They’d be gone a couple hours later. 

Howie: Because of the skunks and racoons. “We don’t know how you guys do it.”