One day Anitra and I were talking in the Real Change office and she wondered aloud whether anyone had ever started a Toastmasters Club for the homeless. "That's the problem," I replied, "when you middle-class people become homeless. You want to bring your damn culture with you!"
Anitra Freeman, like many people on the street, is miles away from any stereotype you might care to apply. The 46-year-old poet, who once worked as a programmer/analyst at Boeing, has lived in a SHARE shelter since last October.
While this is the first time she has been homeless, the disaster was a long time in coming.
"I'd just been through a long depression, and have been bi-polar most of my life," Anitra explains. "I'd resisted admitting to this and dealing with it all along, and had very intricate denial systems that finally just broke down. Hitting the street was, for me, hitting bottom. It enabled me to get help. I have more self-esteem now. I have no problem being called manic-depressive, or homeless. I don't like these things, but I don't need to cover it up, or be embarassed."
"The most shocking thing to me about becoming homeless was to sleep on a mat on a church floor next to a 60-year-old woman with arthritis. I didn't think our society allowed that sort of thing."
Anitra has written poetry seriously for over 10 years, and sees writing as a way of sorting out feelings and ideas. "I believe in creativity as a healing method," she says.
Although Anitra will be in permanent low-income housing by the time this article is published, she will not leave her homeless friends behind. She intends to continue her involvement with SHARE, Real Change, the Street Life Gallery, and the homeless women's computer training group.
"I actually almost hate becoming non-homeless," she says, "because I've enjoyed making people deal with the fact that I'm strong, intelligent, attractive, and homeless. I've really enjoyed disconcerting people with that."
The Bird Homeless