Poems From Street Level
Updated on December 2/2006
Hello, my name is Bonnie Briggs. This page is a collection of my poems which I call "Poems From Street Level" because that is where they are written from. They come out of experiences and stories of homeless people, including myself as a former homeless person. These poems also come out of the attitudes that Society has about homeless people. By exposing these attitudes, I hope to create dialogue that will lead to change. This book is more than a collection of poems. It is also a story of what happens to people when life crashes in on them. I have been writing for many years. This is the first time I have published all my poems in one place.If you would like to learn more about me, just go to my Home page. Want to talk to me? Just
Here is the Forward my husband wrote for my book.
This is my forward for this book, but we have not humanly moved forward. Seemingly, we have kept going backward in terms of real human living conditions, only the scenery changes. The stereotyped views of poor people haven't moved forward in over 200 years.
This book is all about what it is really like to be homeless, in a food bank, and it is about what real poverty is like, a living nightmare that doesn't discriminate. It is also about how it can happen to any of us-for any and all number of reasons. It can happen to anyone, anywhere, and all so quickly.
I have been homeless, on Welfare, and in food banks. I, (and the authouress of this book), know what poverty is like. We know what it feels like, and how it destroys so many lives and so many spirits. That is what this book is about. It is no longer something that happens to someone else-behind the false security of a newspaper, or a magazine, or a radio, or a television screen. It can happen to your family, your friends, your neighbours. It can happen to you-in an instant, in so many ways.
On the verge of a new Millennium, in the most technologically-advanced society in history, we seem doomed to begin a new Millennium the way we began this one; in a feudal-like society where the poor are subservient to the rich. The rich live in modern castles behind electronic walls that shield them from the lives of the poor. We seem doomed to begin this Millennium living in an hypocritical age. We may have more electronic toys, but in terms of social class, it well could still be long ago, at any time in past history.
We send space probes to other planets and galaxies, but we refuse to deal with lives on our own planet. We use our technology to worry about the lives of celebrities, but we don't bother about the many non-celebrities who live in poverty. We care nothing about them, everything about celebrities most of us will never meet and who care nothing for us.
The fact that we have so grossly misplaced our life and social priorities is inexcusable, by any degree of human dignity. In this society, we talk possible solutions to death, while people die from our talking, our inaction. In other places and times, people got really angry, took action, and Governments rightfully fell. We seem so willing to walk down the same roads, to find out the same way that they did. We have learned nothing from history's miseries. Read this book, see and feel its words to the fullest. Become motivated into making the day come when this book, and its conditions won't be about anyone and possibly, not about you.
"Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it."
I will never be homeless,
It won't happen to me.
I will never be homeless,
I'm doing so well, don't you see?
I have a good job, a nice house and a car,
I have everything I need to go far.
I am not like those Welfare bums,
To whom prosperity never comes.
You know, the ones who don't want to work,
Any kind of physical labour, they shirk.
All they want to do is drink,
Some are not clean, and they stink.
Then, I see a man, lying in the street,
A tattered coat around him and no shoes on his feet.
But, I sense that something is wrong,
That somehow, this man does not belong.
So, I decide to stop to say hello,
And ask him why he fell so low.
He once worked on a street called Bay,
Making good money every day.
Then, one day his job was gone.
He was told, "just go on home."
He soon just didn't care,
His purpose in life no longer there.
He lost his family, his home, and his car.
In just a few months, he fell so far.
So here he was, on the street,
With a tattered coat around him and no shoes on his feet.
Then I saw the lines on his face and the pain in his eyes,
I will never be homeless, will I?
So, it's off to the food bank one more time,
Hours of waiting in that long, long line.
Every month you make this trip,
Ask yourself, is it worth it?
Half-dead vegetables and second-hand food,
You rarely get anything that's any good.
Canned food and that horrid Kraft Dinner,
We all know that stuff's not a winner.
All around us food banks close,
They say, to ease the financial load.
But what about the load of hunger we bear?
What about us? Does anyone care?
We need food, to live we must eat,
Even those who live on the street.
Because Welfare rates are so low,
To rent, our food money must go.
What will replace the food banks that close?
We need to be making more of those.
So I'm off on my monthly trip to the city,
Believe me, the picture's not pretty.
I'm hungry because there's no food,
I am sick because the food is no good.
This is the life of a person who's poor,
Is that all there is? Is there nothing more?
You're a bum, you're on Welfare,
I'm paying for you, don't you care?
You buy your beer, your drugs, your smokes,
You think that my hard work's a joke.
Get a job, you lazy lout!
Learn what hard work's all about.
I worked for what I own,
My VCR, my car, my home,
Wait a minute, What's the news?
Am I singing the Unemployment Blues?
The factory's closed, it's moved down South?!
How will I put food into my mouth?
Go on Welfare? I refuse!
Any other way to choose?
UIC and savings soon run out.
It's the Welfare line I must scout.
I'm on Welfare, oh the shame,
Oh, the blot on my good name.
How do you live on your cheque?
Do you feel a millstone on your neck?
I get my cheque, the money's spent,
When I buy food and pay the rent.
You're a survivor, you're on Welfare,
Not enough people care.
Welfare, UIC, FBA,
Facts of street life every day.
Liquor, beer, crack cocaine,
Found in almost every lane.
The panhandler casts a hopeful eye,
To all the people passing by.
The hooker, on the corner there,
Smokes, and fusses with her hair.
The guy in the doorway, what's he smoking?
Could that be a joint he's toking?
See that guy by the door?
He's just been to the liquor store.
Lost denizens of the street,
Many of whom you'll never meet.
But they're all human, with faces and names,
No different from us, just the same.
They have aspirations, hopes, and dreams,
They have stories to tell, reams and reams.
So, don't ignore them as you pass by,
Let these people give you the eye.
Talk to them, sit down on the curb.
Let their world, your world disturb.
Do you dare to let them tell?
Of their long, long trip to Hell?
This next poem won the Voice of the Homeless Award. The Award can be viewed on my website. This poem is based on the Christmas song, "Pretty Paper."
All alone he sat, on the sidewalk cold,
Ragged coat, beaten hat, stooped over, looking old.
He asked for change for a coffee and a smoke,
Of all the people passing by, who thought him just a joke.
He was just another homeless guy, another bum on the street,
On the street, he'll probably die, right at the Christmas shoppers' feet.
It's the time of good will to men, when, for all, we're supposed to care. We hear that time and time again. Why then was he still there? On the dirty side of town, Where does this man go? On his sodden way down?
Nobody knows about his past, nobody knows his sad story. Why has he gone down so fast? All the way to ruin from glory.
I came upon him on the street and put five dollars in his hat,
Right about then, we began to talk, I joined him where he sat.
"Do you have a smoke?" he asked as I sat down,
Soon he was enjoying his smoke, there on the dirty side of town.
He told me the story of his life, about the trail of abuse and neglect. How his soul "died" when he lost his wife, how his family he began to reject.
He finally hit rock bottom. He had nowhere else to go.
Where the booze had finally got him, what then? He didn't know.
I said, "I know how you feel, helpless and alone."
"You need a bed and a hot meal, and someplace to call home."
I'll send you to a friend of mine, he'll help you on your way,
And the bus fare I will lend, you go and see him today."
"He runs the South-Side Mission, on the other side of town,"
"You talk to him, he'll listen. Get him to show you around."
I gave him the change for the bus and heartily shook his hand,
I thought, "He's the same as one of us, throughout this great big land."
As I watched him go down the street, I wondered to myself, "will he come back?" Will we ever again meet, on the better side of the tracks?"
I realized it was getting late, I had to get to a Christmas Party,
I hurried to make my appointed date, for eggnog and turkey hearty.
As I hurried on through the snow, I wondered to myself,
"Where does all our compassion go? Is it put upon the shelf?"
At this Christmas time of year,
Let us think of those who are with us all the year.
The homeless, the hungry, the destitute, who live on our streets each day. Let us show them a better route, where they can find their way.
It's Christmas time, Do you care? Will you help another one?
Come on people, show you care. Do what the Master would have done.
Just think, if that was you, sitting on the sidewalk cold,
Wouldn't you want some help too? Or would you rather die in the cold?
We're getting a Megacity,
It's not going to be pretty.
We already said no,
We're not going to go.
Down the road to Almagamation,
The road that leads to devastation.
But Harris still forced it through,
He said, "this is what you're going to do."
"Melt all the cities into one,"
"You don't stop until you're done."
"You don't like it? I don't care,"
My Will will be followed everywhere."
So we went to court, saying it's not right,
Harris' vision has no foresight.
Megacity means mega problems for all,
By year's end, all borders will fall.
oe huge city, one seat of control,
In local Government, heads will roll.
Job losses and homelessness will rise,
The city will die before our eyes.
We've got to stop this Megacity,
We've got to make Toronto pretty.
This is all due to our dear "Uncle Mike,"
Does what only his rich friends like.
Let's bring his Government down,
Let's bring happiness back to this town.
Homeless Memorial, "We Are You",
The homeless are people too.
The homeless die, who remembers?
That Society has lost some of its members?
We have a moument to remember and show,
What Society needs to know.
The reality of life on the street,
What an incredible challenge to meet.
This moument will be in St. James Park,
It will be lighted daytime and dark.
There will be tapes of peoples' stories,
Tellig their tales of horrors and glories.
You can come and leave a note,
Let others see what you wrote.
Come and visit, the call for change,
Our priorities, rearrange.
More housing is what we need,
Not the politicians' greed.
"We Are You", "You Are Us",
There is much we need to discuss.
Come and visit the Memorial today,
Come see what the homeless have to say.
The Homeless Memorial has changed since that poem was written. It is no longer going to be at St. James Park. Instead, it will be at its new home. The site is finished. Please go and visit.
Well, there you have it. Those are all my Social Justice poems. I hope you like them. I also hope they made you think. Will you help to make change? The homeless are waiting for your answer. Please leave your comments in the feedback form below. Thanks.
I had some other poems here for you to read, but I moved them all to their own page, Poems From Street Level, Book 2, on March 10/2003 to Angelfire.com Please come and check it out.
To talk to me, just e-mail Bonnie Briggs
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