Esther Altshul Helfgott: The Homeless One
Ellen came 12:30 pm. I gave her the usual $3.
She asked for more. I argued with her,
got nowhere, gave her another 2.
She always says she won't come the next day,
but does. I wish she would disappear.
Tomorrow if she comes, I won't answer the door.
I don't believe you won t answer the door.
I Never Promised You a Rose Garden
New American Library, 1984
Originally published in 1964
under the pseudonym
Ellen came today at 5:30 pm.
I gave her $3, plus another 2
with a lot of unsolicited advice.
She looks worn out,
doesn't know what to do.
Talk to a social worker, I say,
or a doctor at a clinic.
You answered the door.
Yes, but when she came, still again, at 6:30 p.m.
and banged throughout my dinner, until 7,
I didn't answer. (I ll deal with her tomorrow).
I do wonder if there s a way
I can get her to stop relying on me
other than refusing to answer the door
and giving her money.
Why did Ellen stop going to your neighbor,
Trudy, for money?
Did Trudy stop answering the door?
You said you've seen no hostility in Ellen,
but knocking on the door for half an hour
seems hostile to me.
Can't you call Harborview for advice?
She is menacing, Gen.
Long ago, when she was all dressed up
you said you wanted to invite her in. Did you?
No, I haven't asked Harborview for advice.
Don't know who to call, but suppose I could find out.
Yes, several years ago I did ask her to come in.
She sat in a chair
in my living room. It was a brief visit.
I can't remember what we talked about,
but it was pleasant.
When I don't answer the door
and she keeps pounding
like that, she's angry, and maybe needs money
for food and cigarettes.
I know you have a relationship with Ellen
but this menacing behavior should stop.
She's off her medication,
has probably decided not to take it.
Maybe she worries about you
when you don't answer the door.
I hope it s sunny today
and she doesn t bother you
the City has affirmed its commitment to addressing the needs
of the homeless in the City's 1999 - 2000 Consolidated Plan,
emphasizing the recommendations of the Seattle/King County
Homelessness Advisory Group; and ...
I'm afraid to get her too angry.
What if she should set my house afire
or break a window?
Pat, the checker at QFC, asks about Ellen
when I get dollar bills to have for her.
Last time we explained to the woman
bagging the groceries,
that Ellen is schizophrenic. Pat said:
She wouldn't want to lose you!
Laughing, we agreed that I m the crazy one.
One reason Ellen won't accept help,
like living in a shelter,
is she wants her freedom. Especially now
with spring and summer on the way.
the City's goals for addressing homelessness,
as stated in the 1999 2000 Consolidated Plan are:
to prevent homelessness and promote stability for low-income
and at risk populations; to alleviate immediate hardship
and meet the crisis needs of homeless families and individuals;
and to restore homeless people to their fullest
participation in the life of our community; and...
Yes, I have a relationship with her.
She's been coming over four years.
I'd feel sorry if anything bad happened to her.
I wonder about her parents and her upbringing.
I know so little about her except she loves flowers
and is artistic, has interesting handwriting,
and a good vocabulary. (She's left me notes).
When I get my new hearing aids,
maybe I'll hear her better.
She tends to mutter.
homelessness is a regional and national problem that is increasingly
impacting all jurisdictions in King County, and the City of Seattle
desires to be a partner with King County, suburban cities and the United Way
in implementing new, effective methods for reducing homelessness; and...
I phoned Trudy to ask how she got rid of Ellen.
She didn't. She still comes!
Ellen leaves bags of stuff on her porch.
Trudy gives her $1 no more,
and sometimes doesn't answer the door.
(Her house is the big maroon one
on the corner, the one with the large porch).
If Ellen doesn't take her stuff away in due time,
Trudy puts it in the garbage.
I have a small garbage can
and don't want to fill it with Ellen s junk.
You mean Trudy really throws Ellen's stuff away?
Yes, Trudy throws Ellen's stuff away
if she leaves it too long on her front porch.
Trudy is widowed. She used to clean
other peoples houses.
She liked to do it, she says.
Now she's older and not so vigorous,
she takes it easier and hasn't qualms
about telling Ellen to go way.
(With a Forward by Robert Coles)
Is there No Place for me?
Ellen came today at noon,
just as I had come home
from my writing class. I tried
Trudy's ploy of giving Ellen less money,
only $2, said: That's it and closed the door.
But Ellen wouldn't settle for that,
banged on the door again.
I opened it and gave her another $1.
Now she's here once more.
What am I to do? It s 5 p.m.
I'm busy. I won't answer, but she
will come anyway while I'm eating dinner.
Dammit. I do get tired of her.
in accordance with its commitment to addressing
the needs of homeless people,
the City affirms the goal of Safe Harbors
for people without permanent homes,
acknowledging that a safe environment
and access to services is essential to address
and reduce homelessness; and ...
I'm in the bedroom again hiding out from Ellen.
She came banging at the door about 7 pm,
just as I was about to swallow my last after-soup pill.
The knocking startled me.
I turned out the lights in the living room,
turned the TV off (the Mariners were losing pitifully),
put my tray in the kitchen, and retreated here.
I made my usual 7:30 phone call to my friend Margaret
on the portable phone here in the bedroom,
instead of on the real phone at my desk in the dining room.
Margaret thinks I'm crazy to have to hide out in my own house.
I think Ellen's given up by now. I may sneak into the front room.
Marguerite Sechehaze, Autobiography of A Schizophrenic Girl,
Grune and Stratton, 1951.
E. Fuller Torrey, M.D., Surviving Schizophrenia: A Family Manual,
Revised Edition, Harper and Row, 1988.
Simon Winchester, The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity
and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary, Harper Collins, 1998.
Saturday, March 27, 1999.
It s almost 10 a.m.
Ellen hasn't struck yet,
but I have $3 ready for her.
the goal of Safe Harbors includes
outreach to homeless persons
as an effective way to address the immediate needs
of homeless persons or persons at risk of
becoming homeless; and ...
Ellen came last night at 7:30.
I handed her $3 and shut the door.
That's it, I said. She pounded again.
I opened the door and argued with her,
said: There's a law against panhandling.
I'm not panhandling, Ellen said.
You're begging. It's the same thing!
I gave in, as usual. Another $2.
She said she wouldn't come today
and so far hasn't. What a pest!!
It was cold outside.
She showed me her knuckles.
Her hands were dry but not scratched.
I sympathized and finally smiled at her.
Told her to keep warm.
She was wearing her navy blue rain coat
and a new white mohair scarf.
I guess I won't go broke at $5 every other day,
plus 2 or 3 on alternate days.
To some, Genevieve sounds like a victim,
but, as she said herself, she'd miss Ellen if she didn't come.
It's not as if Gen doesn't have lots of friends.
She's always going somewhere with one person or another.
She'd like Ellen to have a good life, wants to help her
but doesn't want to live with her (not that she ever mentioned that).
I've told Crysta I couldn't live with her. Couldn't tolerate the drinking,
the incessant smoking. We're all so isolated in our lives. And selfish.
I wonder why Gen doesn't buy Ellen a pair of gloves.
Ellen came yesterday morning, April 10th, at 8:30,
did I tell you? It was the first time since the first of the month.
I gave her $5. She didn't come today.
Tomorrow I'm leaving at 10 am, back early afternoon,
and then out to dinner, as usual on Sunday, about 5:30 with Kathy.
I'll probably miss Ellen if she comes.
The following items, while not essential,
we feel are important for quality of life:
1. Place for trash receptacles.
2. Space for one to relax and socialize
3. An outdoor area for a small yard or garden
Ellen wore a pink sweater. I asked her if it was wool.
No it's cotton, she said. I just throw it in the washer
and dryer. I've had it a long time.
She has a washer and dryer?
I wonder where she changes her clothes.
Maybe she goes to a Laundromat.
I used to go to a doctor at Ballard Hospital.
Often, in the bathroom was a bag lady
changing her clothes. She didn't wash,
just shuffled through her plastic bags finding stuff to wear.
The bathroom smelled so bad I felt I would throw up.
I had to leave, went to the bathroom on the next floor.
I felt ashamed I didn't help her in some way,
Ellen came tonight at 8:30
in a long black and white coat.
Said she was fond of it
and had it for a long time.
Last she came, she said she was moving.
I don't know what to make of her.
She's so elusive.
When I was first in the hospital,
I didn't want to take medication.
I thought it was poison.
It was a real struggle,
being forced to take medication like that.
People on the street don't have to take medication.
That way they re free of the medical establishment.
One of the women in my group at the VA
is going through that struggle now.
She may have to go back in the hospital.
She fights that fight until she gives in.
I'm a bundle of nerves.
Ellen banged on the door at 7:15 pm.
I was reading the paper.
It's time to get rid of her.
I phoned my neighbors, asked Edward
to tell Ellen to go away.
I'm three years old. I live in two worlds:
the lying world where Mother's supposed to love me
and the real world where Mother hates me.
She wants to kill me. Everybody wants to kill me.
In this world I go to my father for safety,
for emotional support and love. I sit on his knee.
He's not cold, but he's not warm either.
No one is emotionally affectionate in my family.
We don't touch. But when we cross the street,
he holds my hand.
Genevieve is attached to Ellen
she's held hostage by her -
like solicitors at the door
or on the phone,
but not quite.
Father lived in the world of love.
Yes, he was always there. When I'd wake up scared.
I could hear him typing, I'd climb out of my crib,
walk downstairs holding onto the banister.
Mom was asleep, but Dad was up writing.
He was a night owl like me.
I'd hear the typewriter. It was always going,
and alongside the night's silence, the sound
made me feel protected, safe. He made me feel safe.
morning coffee has moved around the City
on a yearly rotation, and has been served at Westlake Mall,
under the Hammering Man, at 2nd and Yesler,
in front of churches and, most recently,
outside the Convention Center. When construction
on the Convention Center expansion began in late July,
SHARE coffee moved to the brand new West Precinct.
It's near the eagerly awaited new hygiene center,
the bus terminal, the Ride Free zone,
and certainly seemed safe to the community
it's a police station, after all.
Real Change, Aug. '99
Copyright©2003, 2004: Esther Altshul Helfgott
originally published by Kota Press, Seattle, WA. 1999, 2000
Cover graphics and design by Harry Jones
Webdesign: Rudolf Suesske: June 2004