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Christine Schanes Headshot

Homelessness and Hand-to-Hand Combat

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Violence. We all know that some housed people fight with each other in physical, hand-to-hand combat. But why do some homeless people, living bereft of everything, fight?

To find out why some homeless people fight, I interviewed a 48-year-old man who lives in the streets. I thank him for his candor.

Q: From time to time you fight with people. Why do you fight?

Man: "Mostly I fight because people disrespect me."

Q: What do you mean by disrespect?

Man: "It's when someone slanders me, slanders my name, says things that aren't true in a public forum where everyone else can hear them."

Q: Can you describe your last fight?

Man: "My last fight was caused when someone was standing outside a business and disrupting the community. Certain business people asked me to remove him.

"I tried to remove him nicely. I knew that if he went with me that things would go better for him than if he continued to stay and annoy the business people.

"But he wouldn't listen to my multiple requests for him to leave, so I had to fight him. I had to take him out -- that's the only way I know how -- that's how I fight."

Q: During the fight, what happened?

Man: "The fight? I hit him. He didn't hit me one time. I hit him a couple of times until bystanders broke us up."

Q: When you were young, what were you taught about fighting?

Man: "I was brought up being told that if I let one person disrespect me, then everyone will. It's all about your elders -- you respect your elders. And you don't disrespect anyone."

Q: Are there other examples of when you feel disrespected?

Man: "It's like letting someone steal something from you. If you let one person do it, everyone will do it."

Q: What happens if someone steals from you?

Man: "You take care of it. Otherwise you're 'easy game,' an easy target. Everyone will take advantage of you, if you let them."

Q: You were housed and now you are homeless. Does that make a difference in how you react when you feel are you being disrespected?

Man: "When you're in 'the middle of the road,' people steal things all the time. Homeless people get their stuff stolen all the time. It sucks."

Q: Who steals homeless people's belongings?

Man: "Anyone who wants to. Both housed and unhoused people steal from homeless people. Ha! Homeless people are easy targets."

Q: Have people stolen from you?

Man: "Housed people stole my wheelchair -- twice. They'll steal anything because of their addictions. Everyone has vices. Stealing is just another way of surviving. It is what it is.

"It's just like the cops stealing homeless people's cars -- their homes -- by impounding them.

"But not everyone steals. I was taught not to steal. I don't steal from anyone."

Q: Do you have a general philosophy about life?

Man: "You have to prepare for the worse, expect the best and accept what's in between."