American Artists Art and Culture Homelessness Writers and Writing

The New Homelessness: Rodger Jacobs & The Myth of Solid Ground

It was late September when we last checked with LA journalist/author/essayist Rodger Jacobs
who, together with his girlfriend, freelance editor Lela Michael, has been battling homelessness.

He wrote very candidly and painfully about his experience in two long essays in the Las Vegas Sun during the early fall.  At the end of this week the sun will publish installment #3.

In the meantime, Rodger told me that he has received a pile of emails, Facebook messages, and the like, from other writer friends who are facing similar fiscal disasters and who praise him for his courage in “coming out” about his homelessness. They are afraid to tell anyone about their own situations, they say. Many mention the dauntingly vicious online commentary that his homeless essays engendered.

Frustrated at being cast as the point man for a new class of “starving artists,” Rodger has written on his blog, Carnytown, about what he’d been hearing from others.

Here are some snippets:

Since my New Homeless series began running in the Las Vegas Sun in September I have received literally dozens of e-mails, letters, and private messages on social networks (Facebook, Twitter) from colleagues in the creative sector – many of them complete strangers – who are all drifting in the same leaky boat, writing to thank me for my “courage” in telling my story as a writer whose income and sheer survival has been challenged by these hard economic times. These letters are coming from your friends and neighbors who wish to remain anonymous, for the most part.

“I’m encouraged by your bravery in being ‘out’ as a homeless person,” an east coast political columnist wrote me in October. “I am not out — I get enough hate mail for writing op-eds in the local paper. I haven’t been willing to deal with the kind of responses you received after your first piece in the LV Sun. I’ve made bad decisions along the way, but does that mean I should get put out on an ice floe?”

Citing the media attention that I have received from TV4 Sweden, Belgian Public Television, and La Presse in Montreal, she goes on to say: “It’s interesting that European and Canadian media aren’t afraid of your story, but U.S. media are avoiding it like the plague. I know from listening to NPR that Wall Street is good, therefore the economy is recovering. Very little of real life is reflected anywhere in the U.S. media. It’s disheartening, to say the least.”

The story that this talented writer is afraid to go public with is one that I am reading more and more often in my e-mail inbox:

“I’m having my own homeless experience here in —,” she explains. “It’s a long story that includes me spending 2009 as a caregiver to my husband who was dying of cancer. I’ve been out of full time work for almost three years. I recently moved to a trailer on a friend’s property, but I don’t get cell phone reception there, and it’s taking a while to get an internet hookup. It’s in the middle of nowhere.”

Meanwhile Rodger is still balancing on his own financial tightrope. He writes,

As of this evening we have less than $20 to our name, most of those funds on Pay Pal; tomorrow morning Lela has to take the bus to the welfare office on Rancho to sign paperwork to complete her application for SNAP benefits (this proactive move instigated by her superiors at the Threesquare food bank where she volunteers once a week in an effort to “pay it forward” to the Vegas Valley residents who have assisted us this far); after that trip to the welfare office there will be no funds left for her monthly bus pass so we have no idea how she will get to Threesquare on Friday or how I will pick up my prescription from my doctor’s office on Tuesday.

“If we don’t have $208 for rent on Wednesday,” I snapped at Lela this evening in a mild explosion of repressed stress, “it won’t matter about the goddamn bus pass because we will be locked out of our room and sleeping on the sidewalk.”

We are flat broke. We are the proverbial “starving artists” that the Otis Report hoped to debunk. We’re out there and there are thousands and thousands more like us in the night.

More soon.

And more posts on other topics later this morning.

Photo by Sam Morris, Las Vegas Sun


  • Incidentally, interesting that you picked up on my frustration with my role as point man — I thought I had downplayed my anger a bit but maybe not.

    I don’t want anyone to go through what I did, particularly the verbal bludgeoning in the comments at the Sun, but people in the creative arts community who have been wounded by the Great Recession and are now just limping along after previous years of success and I wish more of them would speak out publicly instead of only to me and a few trusted others in e-mail.

    Look at the Otis Report (which I cited in my post): the creative arts sector is second only to tourism and hotels in Southern California and New York City; we represent a multi-billion dollar industry, yet GM and Chrysler were propped up to save all those automobile industry jobs and how many financial sector jobs were saved and secured because of Wall Street props from the government?

    Professionals in journalism and the creative arts are suffering badly but we are effectively being kicked to the curb because, as Orwell noted, in western thought, if one isn’t engaged in menial labor then one is not making an “honest” living. How soon we forget the impact of the Writers Guild strike, which saw millions of slack-jawed American TV viewers with no new programming to watch — that’s a good metric for the powerful value of just one small sliver of the creative arts sector.

  • simply heart breaking. thanks for sharing this very articulate and well written story. Roger…would setting up a donation page somewhere help? If you are getting the exposure, there might be some wallets happy to help. Understandably its not as dignified as one might hope, but it will still help.

  • CCD, Lela spoke to me just yesterday about setting up a donation page so we are exploring that, probably this weekend. In the interim, U.S. Bank has set up a Special Donations account — all one has to do is go into any U.S. Bank branch in the nation, inform the teller that you want to make a deposit into the Rodger Jacobs Donation Account, and they will do the rest. It’s easy and anonymous. Pay Pal is also the default option; my Pay Pal is Thank you for asking and thanks for your thoughts. Part Three of the story will run on Sunday, December 5.

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