Sunday, January 16, 2011

Identity Unclear

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, FL
34 42.54 N 081 05.58 W

A few weeks ago in Vero, I wrote that it can be hard to distinguish between cruisers and the homeless.  That seemed to strike a chord with several readers.  Now, thanks to the Marathon Weekly newspaper, I have some other interesting data.

There are lots of homeless people here in the Florida Keys.  That should not be surprising; they come here for the same reason we do -- weather.   I see them on the highway and at the library. The most colorful ones have mountains of gear piled on their bicycles and are riding south.  Key West is the magnet that attracts them all; no doubt for symbolic reasons.

How can I tell the difference between homeless, cruisers, or just tourists?   First, they wear warm clothes even in the afternoon of hot days.  Second is the sniff test -- they don't get to shower often.

The article in Marathon Weekly told more that I wasn't aware off.  The abundant mangrove forests around here are not pure nature.  They are crisscrossed with trails leading to secret clearings where homeless pitch tents or simple sleep under the stars.   There is also a shelter and a soup kitchen 

The article mentions "Josh".  He is a 33 year old homeless main who carries everything he owns in a backpack.  "I just got tired of the 9 to 5 and wanted to have a simpler life.  I don't have a mortgage or bills.  I mean, you've seen what gas prices are doing."

The article also talks about "Bill".   Bill helped build a boat in Washington and sailed to Key West.  While there, someone stole his money.  He got on a bike, started heading north, and made a stop in Marathon.  There at the park, someone offered to sell a boat anchored in Boot Key Harbor for $1.  Bill took the offer, and he's been living out here ever since.  He's one of our neighbors.

"Herman" is a retired soldier who fell in love with Southern Florida.  He lives on his boat here in Boot Key Harbor in the winter, but sails to Honduras every spring.

As you see, the distinction between a homeless person and a cruiser can be paper thin.  That's the objective reality. It may correlate with wealth, but wealth alone can not explain it.

Subjectively, homeless people are seen as subjects worthy of pity while cruisers are seen as subjects worthy of envy.   There's an enormous contradiction there.  In fact, it is hard to think of a more extreme example in which objective/subjective social assessments can be so far out of synchronization.

I'm flummoxed at being able to come up with a conclusion for this article.  Maybe readers can supply some via comments.


  1. Homeless. How do you define homeless? I suppose if you are jobless, and have no sheltered place to bed down, you could be defined as homeless in America. We have folks here in the city, that beg on the corners all day, then go to a shelter for the night. I don't consider that homeless. They are beggars.
    I work in manufacturing. There are people there, good people, that could not make it out there if they lost their job. The manufacturing plants in the US used to be the equal opportunity employers. Believe me, we have seen quite a cross section of people. Many, had I not known them, would have fled from had I seen them alone in the street. They are good people. A little crazy, but good. With manufacturing decimated here in the states, we no longer have a place for these folks to work, making enough to prosper, and live life happily. Without a purpose, and an income, they fall off the radar, or in jail. This country puts so much emphasis on education, and that is great, but we forget that there are so many without an education, or the capability of obtaining it, yet capable of working and being productive if given the chance. Those jobs and industries that could provide, have moved elsewhere. Unless we get our act together, we could all face the possibility of being homeless.

  2. Dick,
    I think your comment on the objective/subjective social assessment is the perfect ending, and makes this, for me, one of your most thoughtful blogs.

  3. Great blog! very helpfull for us that are preparing for the cruising lifestyle and have a lot to learn..keep it up.
    I don't consider someone to be homeless if they have shelter of some kind that is both safe and legal although that distinction can also be a little blurry at times but typically not. The distinction in my mind is having 'power and control'. That is, the ability to make decisions and move around from place to place if desired regardless of wealth or income. Being financially poor and stuck in a crummy life without any options is what I consider to be poverty. Homelessness, for some, can be fairly maneagable and a lifestyle of choice for some. And as nearly every study demonstrates, the large majority of homeless people also have a developmental disability or physical disability, mental illness, or substance abuse problem that makes it nearly impossible to make it in a complex society such as ours with fewer and fewer public services

  4. I consider myself homeless even though I have a place to sleep indoors each night.

    I work in the film industry. Three years ago, the bottom fell out of it here in Vancouver, BC and I was without any work. I sent out hundreds of resumes for other work and didn't get even a call back for a single one. I found out later that it was because I had worked in film for the past 5 years and everyone 'knows' that people in film make decent money and so they assumed that when it picked up again, I would go back to it. And to be honest, I would have. So no one wanted to hire me.

    I used all of my savings and when that was gone, lost my lovely car, the home I rented, and most of my possessions. I ended up declaring bankruptcy.

    If it wasn't for the kindness and love of a good friend, I don't know where I would have been the past two years. She opened her home to me and let me have a bedroom for no rent at all. Once I started to work again (the industry picked up 6 or 7 months ago) I pay her a small rent. I have my own bed here as well as a desk and a few other bits. I went from a 4 bedroom house full of lovely furniture to this and 50 boxes stored in another friend's crawlspace. I don't know when I will have the courage to get my own place again. This is a fluctuating industry. What if it dies off again, just as I get settled into a place?

    So my plan is to buy a motorhome. That way I always have somewhere to live. I'd rather buy a boat, but as a woman I don't feel I can handle one alone. I wish I could. I love being on the water and would love to be in a much warmer climate than here.

    But back to my original thought... yes, I feel as if I am homeless without a place to call my own.

    If you want to read the story of how I tried to shake things up in my world when I had no work... click on my name and it will take you to my blog. But you have to promise me that you will start at the beginning because that's where the 'good stuff' is.

    I might turn it into a screenplay one of these days.


Type your comments here.