Closer to the edge than we think

Who are the invisible people?     The people who are unemployed–seems like forever. The people who use drugs or alcohol to the exclusion of anything else in their lives. The people who pass by us on the street who appear to dress pretty well, but have no home.

People who are out on the street begging with their children. The people who show up at Ms. Bea Gaddy’s for food and shelter daily. The people who can’t keep possessions from year to year. They don’t have a history like most people do–in pictures–because mementos have been left behind in their constant moves when they lose their housing.

Inheritances of money and land as well as other opportunities that some people never get and may never get in life were lost because of ignorance (even with education), drugs, lack of education, happenstance, bad luck, etc.

John died from AIDS and Hepatitis. His girl friend, a drug user, went into the hospital before him, but John died.

Shannon lives with a man she hasn’t known long while she is paroled to a house that was supposed to be for five women in transition from drugs, etc. While at this house, Shannon observes that the directress of the house uses drugs along with several of the other occupants.

Another occupant of the house, Joyce, used to have five kids living with her, but all were taken away and split up between 3 different homes because of her and her boyfriend’s drug abuse when they were living in their own rented “slum landlord” house.

Another man, Sam, appears to be on his way to becoming an invisible man. For years, Sam was independent and set in his ways and well-to-do by all accounts. He worked all the time at a great-paying job, but managed to get himself and his mortgage on his home into large arrears.   Recently, I heard that Sam had got involved with drug dealers indirectly by coming to the rescue of a former female lover, Vivian, who in recent years had developed a large drug habit and stole drugs. Vivian, once part of Sam’s household, had moved several times since she used to live with Sam. From what I’ve heard, Sam was made to sell drugs because he got involved with Vivian’s problem.

Sam was a man who was single, owned his own home, car, and had a 401K and other stock options on his job. An invisible person would think Sam was rich and lucky, but another thing that leads to invisibility is that Sam cut all ties with his family years before.

Invisible people who cut ties with family or whose families cut the ties, end up buried as “John Doe’s”. There is no insurance to cover his or her death and burial. There are no mourners to give them the proper send-off–to note that they even existed! After all, even if you never get your 15 minutes of fame, it’s still nice to be acknowledged that you were here!

Hunter is an invisible person. He’s in a coma in a terminal care facility where he’s been for 10 years. His relatives stopped visiting him long ago after his stroke worsened into the coma. They say it’s because of drug abuse. This was a man who worked for a living and had an apartment with a girl friend and a child.

Invisibility can be any color, race, ethnicity, sexual persuasion, social group, or economic standing. Once you fall between the cracks, it’s very hard to come back into the visible world.

The things the invisible people leave behind show that they exist. Before I realized there were homeless people, I used to be indignant at the piles of “rags” I thought were trash. But the “trash” was really shelter and clothing for people. That’s also when I realized why I would spell urine in so many public places.

In the present time, we are all from a paycheck to a billion dollars away from invisibility.

Rosa Griffin

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ORIGINS

I vaguely remember our family moving from downtown southeast Baltimore, Eden and Baltimore Streets, to further uptown northeast Baltimore to Boone Street, near Greenmount and North Avenues, when I was a little kid.

We kids played, laughed, and cried. We ran to the Goldman’s corner store daily for two-for-a-penny treats. I remember sweltering summer nights when the carousel sound of the ice cream truck sent kids scurrying for change. And, we kids could stay up late because there was no school the next day.

We used to be a neighborhood. We participated in the Afro-American Newspaper Clean Block every year. We kids had to keep those white marble steps and curb gutters clean. Our parents worked at places like Steel & Tin Can Company, Bethlehem Steel, and the Ward’s and Bond’s baking companies.

The riots of the 60’s made the first changes to our neighborhood. Goldman’s store, owned by Jewish merchants who brought in our meats, fresh fruit and vegetables, was burned out.

Some working class neighbors married and moved to what was then considered the suburbs, Baltimore County, like I did in the mid-70’s. To have a home of one’s own with land around it was my dream. Some working class people still live in our old neighborhood with their elderly parents or in the houses their deceased parents left them as a legacy. They waited for a “trickle down” that never came.

Drug-experimenting parties had to have a source for their drugs, so a new custom, “tea time”, started in our old neighborhood where spunky young outside entrepreneurs recruited our sons, brothers, uncles, fathers, and a few daughters to help feed poison to our kin. Drug dealing gradually and insidiously decimated my old neighborhood–the final blow! Neither was Baltimore County safe from the devastation. The cycle continues into the suburbs.

My old neighborhood is a ghost town now with very young grandchildren, parents, and very old grandparents who send the young out to get what they need. Empty lots stand where whole blocks of row-houses used to exist.

The usual gentrification of a neighborhood, when artists or hospital professionals move in, is on its way to happening in many parts of Baltimore City. The urban blight is helped along by legislators who know what is planned for the area they stopped caring about long ago.

Rosa L. Griffin