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His name is jehan. And, according to him, there is no homelessness problem in America.
We sat down with jehan to get the details on the question of the hour: With a life so fantastic, what's the reason we don't know who he is?
by Michael Macelli
mm:Alright, so who are you? Give us the details.
j:I'm jehan. I'm 40 years old. I'm from New York. I'm an artist.
mm:What have you been doing with your life?
j:I've been living and traveling the United States as a homeless person since October 2011 when I got involved in Occupy Wall Street.
In contrast to the majority of Occupy Wall Street activists and participants who were willing to symbolically present themselves as homeless as part of the demonstration, I've actually been living as a homeless person. I've been doing this for over three years.
mm:What kind of homeless? shelter homeless?
j:No. I mean sleeping on the street beneath the stars homeless.
mm:That's pretty homeless.
j:Yeah, I know.
mm:What's it like being homeless?
j:It's uncomfortable. You can begin to understand the sort of discomfort I'm referring to if you simply think of all things that you find to be comfortable about your home and then imagine what it would be like to not have those comfortable circumstances.
mm:I don't understand.
j:I know, but you could understand if you invested some effort in understanding. Actually, that's what I do with the majority of my time. I just sit and meditate and ponder ideas and circumstances of which I do not yet have an understanding and invest my effort in achieving an understanding of such things.
mm:That sounds religious or something.
j:It's Buddhist, actually.
mm:Are you buddhist?
j:That's an interesting question. Does it matter?
mm:I don't know. Do you have a religion?
j:I am a baptised Mormon.
mm:When did that happen?
mm:Wow. Okay. How long have you lived in Hollywood?
j:For about three months.
mm:I saw the Youtube of you singing in the New York City Subway. Have you been singing in Hollywood?
j:No. Not at all. I like singing in places with good acoustics. There's so many people and traffic noise, it's not a very enticing idea, you know?
mm:Have you tried our Metro system yet?
j:No. I walk everywhere. I walked from the airport to West Hollywood.
mm:That's serious. What other cities have you lived as a homeless person?
j:New York, New Orleans, Miami, Nashville.
mm:What about their metro systems?
j:I walked everywhere.
mm:These pictures are... I don't know. Have you taken a lot of photographs?
j:I've taken some, but I have been photographed much more often than I've actually taken photographs. But, I rarely ever see the photos!
mm:Is that weird?
j:Yeah. The only thing that's weirder than not seeing the photos is actually seeing the photo.
mm:What have you found that's worth photographing?
j:Myself. Me. Does that sound funny? It's true, though. I take photos of scense that resemble me or aspects of me. Sometimes put myself in the photo.
mm:What do you mean?
j:My shadow, foot, hand, reflection. Other than that, I like photographing my begging bowl and sign from my vantage point. Or my rucksack and bag lady bags.
mm:What does that mean to you?
j:The truth. It's a just a plain truth of my life.
mm:What do you think of... Is homelessness a big problem in America? What have you seen?
j:There is no homelessness problem in America. It's an illusion.
mm:Are you kidding? There are homeless people everywhere in some cities.
j:I've never met them or seen them. Most of the people I've seen on the street have a place to stay. In fact, I'm the only person I've ever seen on the street who didn't have a place to live.
mm:If that's true, if what you're saying is true, then what are we seeing all of these commericals and charity drives for?
j:I don't know.
j:I'm speaking solely from my experience. In my experience, if someone is actually homeless--meaning out of doors at night, as I am and have been for three years--it's only for a short while, because people seem to be so afraid of that, that they are willing to do anything to have a roof over their heads. And when I say "anything", I mean anything. Women are willing to do things that many women pray they'll never have to do and men are willing to do the same. There's the mentally and they are usually housed by the state very quickly.
mm:So who are the homeless people we see on the street?
j:The only homeless person you've seen on the street is me. Those other people? They just appear homeless. Maybe they're out and about to panhandle or get food or maybe they just don't have anything else to do.
mm:Are you serious?
j:Yes. I knew someone I met during Occupy Wall Street who was skilled tradesman. He worked nights and slept whereever he could during the day. On the subway, park benches, etc. He said that he preferred to save the money that he would spend on rent to do other things. When his kids visited him, he'd take them to his mother's house.
mm:That's amazing. So what have you been doing this for?
j:To illustrate the universality of human needs. I believe in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that humans should have their fundamental needs provided without having to sacrifice their dignity.
mm:What does that mean?
j:You've seen CraigsList personal ads, right?
j:Should women or men have to seek "situations" with "generous" people just to have food and shelter? No. I believe the answer to that question is "No". That's the real problem. Not homelessness, but the scarce availability of dignified living conditions that do not destroy the soul of the individual. I am actually homeless, sleeping beneath the stars because I refuse to accept a "situation" that would destroy my soul. The life that I am living is the cost of refusing to trade my body, heart and mind for a roof.
mm:Whoa. Okay. Wow. So if you're saying that the mentally ill are housed by the state and the sane people utilize CraigsList or something similar...
mm:Then what about families?
j:Families live in shelters. If you have a child, you are housed immediately.
j:The elderly get immediate housing. Either social security or disabling ailments.
mm:So who's left?
j:Me. The only people left are the people that are unwilling to "sell" themselves.
mm:How many of "you" are there?
j:Not very many.
mm:So the problem is what? How do we solve a problem that doesn't exist?
j:Solve the problem that does exist: Scarce availability of dignified living conditions.
mm:How do we do that?
j:Without changing the entire system? We could share. If you have a large house and you're the only one living there, offer a room to someone who might need it.
mm:You're not kidding, are you?
j:Listen, if you were a young man or woman who suddenly found themselves in need of a place to stay and you had a choice between a CraigsList "situation" and a free room in a large house with a kind person who is willing to allow you the time to get back on your feet, what would you choose?
mm:The free room with the kind person, of course.
j:That's the problem and that's the solution. There are lot's of empty apartments in New York City that will be empty for years because of rent laws and all manner of New York City trivia. There's no shortage of housing. There are lot's of houses and homeowners with empty mother-in-law suites that re vacant. If they were made available for free to people in need, a lot of people could keep their dignity.
mm:Are you happy being homeless?
j:It's not about happiness. It's about being at peace with yourself. Being homeless is uncomfortable, it's a difficult life, but I love myself and I like myself. I believe that's something that many of the briefly homeless now living in "situations" would love to have.
mm:What makes you happy?
j:Am I happy?
mm:Good question. Are you happy?
j:I don't know. I think so. There are things that I'm happy about. I lost 200lbs. That is a very happy sort of thing.
mm: What happened with that?
j: That's funny. Well, in the interest of clarity, suffice it to say that sitting at my desk all day whilst ingesting carbohydrates was not the best life strategy for me. I acquired a lot from my time in Seattle, but obesity was not something I appreciated.
mm:How'd you get rid of that?
j:I changed the way I ate. I started living an active lifestyle. I walked. I took the stairs. To this day, I take the stairs. If there's only an escalator, I climb the escalator.
mm:You know what my next question is, right? What's your secret? Which diet?
j:Each person has their specific body chemistry. My body works best with proteins, fats and very little sugar or carbohydrates. Recently, I'm eating a vegan diet consisting of nuts, green leafy vegetables and low sugar fruits only. It's amazing.
mm:Is veganism something you "acquired" from Seattle?
j:Yes and no.
mm:Was that before or after you saved the world by giving us iTunes?
j:That was after, actually.
mm:Give us the details on the iTunes thing.
j:Suffice it to say, if the company I was working for hadn't tried so hard to convince me to quit, you probably wouldn't know what iTunes is or at the very least, iTunes and iPods wouldn't be such a big deal.
j:I can scarcely believe it myself, actually.
mm:Well, did it work? Did they convince you to quit?
j:No, but once iTunes premiered, they were so, like, not happy that they suggested that I, you know...
mm:Was that before or after you learned German and Spanish?
j:That was after I started learning German and before I learned Spanish.
mm:What's the reason you chose German?
j:I like it.
j:It seemed like a good idea.
mm:Do you speak any other languages?
j:I have a foundation in Arabic. I'm starting with Hebrew.
mm:Um, okay. So, iTunes premieres and the company's like, "Argh!" and you decided that you'd do what?
j:I worked independently for awhile, managing websites and building web applications and then I decided that I didn't want to be fat anymore and I wanted to complete my bachelor's degree. So, I left my husband and I moved to New York.
mm:Was that before or after you became a man?
j:I've always been a man, actually. I was born with a female body, but I've always been a man. In answer to your question though, when I moved from Seattle to New York, the woman thing was a thing.
mm:So, you're a guy now?
j:It's not that complicated. Earning my bachelor's degree was harder than accepting myself as a man.
j:Well, they're both fraternities, right? Being a man and having a four year degree? But, to join the fraternity of college graduates, you have to actually do the coursework. You don't have to do anything when you're just living truthfully.
mm:So, how long are you going to do this homeless thing?
j:Until I find something better to do.
mm:What would you like to do?
j:I'm an artist. I'd like to do more artwork.
mm:Do you consider what you're doing now as artistic?
j:Being homeless? Being homeless is not artwork. However, somehow the experience of life as a homeless person? I believe that can be construed as art.
Michael Macelli lives in Los Angeles.