BY: VEDANT BADONI
During the Covid-19 pandemic, we’ve all been so caught up in our lives with issues ranging from work, school, to just the struggle of having to do everything remotely that, unfortunately, we don’t consider the situation of poverty-stricken families and minimum wage workers such as those employed at restaurants and stores. With the closure of many of these services, roughly 20 million people lost their jobs and were hit face first with a dire financial crisis. Among the many places filled with people living on the streets is Rome, whose first responders and shelters are not only struggling to take care of the growing homeless population but are now faced with additional restrictions on having to remain socially distanced. Not only are more and more people ending up living on the streets, but homeless shelters and organizations providing for struggling families are being exhausted of their resources while risking their lives during the pandemic to support those in need. Looking at specific individuals and their stories truly helps to put these dire times in perspective. For example, Akas Kazi, a 35-year-old who came from Bangladesh to Rome was hit hard by the pandemic as the restaurant he worked at closed down and it was only a matter of time before he wasn’t able to pay the rent and found himself living on the streets. His numerous attempts at job searches returned nothing and he couldn’t live with friends either due to Covid. Unfortunately, his situation is only one amongst thousands if not millions thus reflecting the utter disaster Covid-19 has brought to the lives of many, especially those on the verge of homelessness.
As a child growing up, I remember having to move every single year because of my father’s lion of work. At least once or twice, despite making friends at school or around the neighborhood, I would be forced to say goodbye and cut ties. I dealt with this emotionally traumatic set of circumstances all throughout my childhood. That is...until I turned 16, found myself in High School and said that’s enough. We had finally stayed in the same house for three years, and when I received that familiar bit of news from my dad, I put my foot down and developed a tantrum. After a long session of negotiations, they agreed to letting me stay in the house and pay rent on my own while the family moved away. Bad move (pun not intended). Alone and vulnerable, I found myself quickly with the wrong crowds.
Later in life, I found myself getting into drugs, through the heavy use of alcohol. I could not sustain my life, let alone a job. I ended up later joining a crowd that followed the Grateful Dead around the country. I thought I was living the good life. No responsibilities, all the friends, and the resources, and all the drugs and partying. However, when all of this came to a screeching halt with the death of Jerry Garcia. All of my friends when back to their parents houses, and continued to have the life that they all wanted. My experience was not this. My parents wanted nothing to do with me after all that I had done in my life (or rather what I didn't do), and decided to enact “tough love”. I had no where to go.
I discovered an abandoned shack in the woods and decided to relay on my ability to camp for a living. I would see my friends a few blocks away at the local starbucks, hanging out and talking it up. Their parents gave them plenty of money (this was Marin County, after all). I came of my hillside every day to see them and nothing to show for. I started getting food stamps, but started trading them in for alcohol and pot. I was the only homeless kid in our group. None of them could help me out. Their parents would not allow it. Some of them, however, would venture into the woods to my shack to bring me food from their house on occasion.
Eventually, I met a girl in the Narcotics Anonymous program. She soon became my girlfriend, and I began “supporting her” by attending NA meetings with her. Eventually, I realized I needed them too. Well, that girl later cheated on me, and I met another in the NA fellowship. Almost 20 years later, I am still with her. When I met her, she was homeless too. We couch surfed alot at the beginning while attending our meetings, and eventually checked ourselves into the local homeless shelter. I new larger facility had just been built, and we eventually qualified ourselves for the transfer. Through that facility, they taught us to be responsible, to stay clean, and how to get jobs and our first apartment. We had our first child a year later.
Today, she is testing for her third degree Black Belt in Mixed Martial Arts, and is a Senior Airman in the USAF Reserves. I have spent 20+ years managing retail operations, with one store being a quarter of a million dollar operation. I have homeschooled my children, and have loved my wife fiercely. We still struggle month to month, but we know we are blessed beyond measure. At least I know I am.
I could not possibly have this life without God’s good grace, and without the incredible men and women...volunteers of Mill Street, San Rafael, Ca. and Homeward Bound of Novato, Ca. I could not have made it without those who came before me in the Fellowship of Narcotics Anonymous.
I would have possibly continued to live the homeless life. I would have never met the woman I love today. I would never have the children I am blessed with today. Perhaps I would not even be here in this moment to write this at all.
I do not take lightly those who have come in and out of my life and my world. Everyone and everything has made me who I am today. They have shaped not only who I am today, but my whole world.
So as you can see...I have many reasons why I am getting behind an organization such as Shawls4Shelters.org. Any opportunity to reach out and touch a life, is an opportunity worth living for, and worth dying for. Living the homeless life was very painful and lonely. It was nothing short of absolute depression and misery...even when at times I tried to convince myself that I loved my life and wouldn't change a thing. The tears and cries coming from the darkness of that lonely shack on a hill accused me of those lies every night. No man, woman...or child....should ever have to live that way. Many do not know that there is another way. It is incumbent upon all of us to spread this gospel of hope and love to all who live apart from the rest of us.
- Jay Jeter (aka, MineMaster General)
Member and Director of website development at Shawls4Shelters Nonprofit Foundation