“… Humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat.” — Ralph Ellison
All love and admiration to Ralph Ellison, author of the great classic and timeless masterpiece, “The Invisible Man.”
I am homeless. Like the narrator of this story, I move through a bizarre reality that requires a daily coating of pretense. Others refuse to see me.
My humanity is assaulted and tested daily, but I use my skills to continue seeking a breakthrough in my displacement. Homelessness means no job. There is no money to speak of, although the Social Security check is some consolation. I cannot rent an apartment. I have no checking account or savings. They ran out.
I am an expert with Metro bus and rail since I have no car. No dating is allowed for homeless people! I call it the 5 No’s: no job, no money, no savings, no apartment…. and no dating!
The way homelessness removes you from legitimate social interaction weighs down on your soul.
So, who am I? I am Barry Hobbs, 63 years young, born and raised in New York City. We call it “The Big Apple.” I am the first born of seven sons. I did well in school and even played point guard on my high school basketball team. I attended St. John’s University in Queens in the 1970s, when they were called the Redmen. I was young, talented, energetic and full of dreams.
The second half of my life has been spent in the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. One day I left New York to visit my grandmother for two weeks in the Maryland suburbs and wound up staying. Before long I secured great employment in the field of television broadcasting, as a cameraman working on field and studio production. For more than a decade I worked for Howard University’s fledgling TV studio (WHUR) now WHUT, the early startup Satellite News Network (SNN). I freelanced for the Larry King Show, did vacation relief at WJLA#7, NBC- 4/WRC and BET. Eventually, I secured permanent employment with the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) as a computer tech assistant at McKinley High School, where I later worked as a substitute teacher. I also assisted with the communications magnet program as a field producer for the advanced video production crew. My life was meaningful.
My economic situation changed incrementally. The school system revamped substitute hires and payment. For a while I was a salesman with Koon’s Automotive, and after that with Mattress Discounters. By this time I was around 53 years old, I was living with my elderly mother who relocated from New York with my younger brother, Michael, who suffered from mental illness. She survived a series of strokes and two heart attacks in the D.C. Metro area but gave up the fight at 80 years old.
My mom died when I was 59. Eventually I had to send my brother back to New York for services and support from my other brothers. Rent began to drain my funds. Substitute teaching in various school systems and freelance video production did not guarantee enough money for me to keep the unit.
First cable goes off. Then Pepco cuts the lights. Now I have no shadow. Dollar store candles help with the heat and give me back my shadow. Eventually, I was evicted for not paying rent.
I have used the services of Catholic Charities and Central Union Mission for shelter — I thank God for them and other community outreach organizations such as Street Sense Media.
Social Services have sent me on a goose chase with no resolution, but I continue to freelance, submit resumes, fill out applications, and visit offices — unfortunately to no avail. No one can recommend me to any place or service for relief. Turning 63 has not helped me secure housing, a hip replacement, or temporary assistance.
Maybe someone will see my story and read my essay. Maybe they will understand that homelessness is not a crime or some punishment sent from above or from down below. It is a cross you have to carry to receive your crown. I still volunteer in the community. I have become a pretty good video editor with a following of my visual music essays on YouTube. I make calls, talk with service providers, and know that I still have a voice and my humanity.