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Just Do What You Can: A poem on the challenges of being homeless

July 22, 2021


Elevating the voices of people with lived experience with homelessness, recovery, and incarceration is integral to Pallet’s mission. In addition to telling the personal stories of our team and people living in Pallet shelter villages, we aim to raise the voices of system-impacted and marginalized persons everywhere.

We’ve partnered with Path with Art (PWA) to share personal narratives. PWA is a Seattle-based nonprofit that uses arts engagement to foster the restoration of individuals, groups, and society from the effects of trauma. The organization offers year-round arts education classes, workshops, exhibitions, and showcases to low-to-no income adults.

Aaron Hill, a longtime PWA participant, says creative writing helps him cope with past traumatic events. The following is an original poem he wrote.


Just Do What You Can
by aaronjhill

nowhere to go for Thanksgiving and Christmas
nothing to do on July 4th

life is LONELY
i am not a people-person
i have a hard time trusting people

libraries closed
no place to SLEEP
no place to go
“you can’t be here.”
private property
public property

who to ASK for help?
the bureaucracy is HELL
red tape and no empathy
why so little COMPASSION for people?

reminds me of Steinbeck
and The Grapes of Wrath
Great Depression
Dust Bowl
economic recessions come and go 

my ancestors have been through the same
cycles, never-ending cycles
haves and have-nots
does it ever end?
life can be BRUTAL
i remember that just a SMILE from strangers would LIFT me up
do what you can

once i needed shoes for the WINTER
i put up a request on Craigslist
a young woman responded
we met at the Bellevue library
she and her husband had bought me
brand-new, waterproof BOOTS
fit me perfectly
also handed me a gift card for pizza 

i was so surprised
their care for a homeless man
do not forget that YOU can do that too
just DO what you can


Q&A with Aaron

Pallet: How long have you been taking Path With Art classes?
Aaron: A long time. I have tried to remember my first class. It may have been printmaking, which I love. Being able to create at the Frye Art Museum is such a joy. I love that space. It has been eight or nine years, I think.

Pallet: What's been your favorite class?
Aaron: Anything to do with printmaking or clay. I love the other classes as well. I have taken so many and learned so much, from watercolors to ceramics. It is therapeutic to get my hands into clay and start creating something. I like to work organically, seeing what comes out of my crazy head and how the medium works. Becoming friends with the teaching artists and creative mentors is an added bonus.

Pallet: How long have you been writing poetry?
Aaron: I have been writing poetry since elementary school. One teacher loved haikus, so I wrote a lot of those. I learned of E.E. Cummings and I immediately became a fan. Later, in high school, I started reading Edgar Allan Poe and became addicted to his short stories. My teachers earn a lot of the credit. They drilled us in writing.

Pallet: How long did you experience homelessness?
Aaron: One day I was trying to calculate just how long I have lived on the streets. I came up with a collective ten years. It is something like that. The first episode was so traumatic for me, a middle class kid who never dreamed that such a nightmare could happen, that I cannot remember key details. My mind has blocked it out. I was sent back home to live with my parents and felt like such a failure.

Pallet: What have been the benefits of writing about your experiences?
Aaron: Writing helps me cope with past traumatic events. Also, it is a place where you can dream. You can create anything. You can play around and experiment. It may not work, but then you try to figure out how to change that. “How can I make this work?” I want to write at least one book. Of course, it takes discipline, which I lack at the moment. But once I get going, it is hard to stop. One of my short stories for a college class developed into a novel, which got lost along the way. I lost most of my belongings and have had to start over a few times. Having mental breakdowns result in a lot of repercussions.

If you or someone you know is experiencing homelessness and need help. call 2-1-1 or check this list of resources from The National Alliance to End Homelessness.


Profile: Chris Hernandez, Chandler Street Tiny Home Village case manager
Community check in: Riverside, California
What’s in a name? How we chose Pallet

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