A Mouse and the Lack of Housing

December 18, 2018 Opinion , OPINION/NEWS

flickr photo



Bob McNeil



Sad to say, there was a death on the 8th floor of the 30th Street Men’s Shelter in Manhattan. A mouse was found dead in the stairwell of the facility. Mice, roaches, and bedbugs in this HRA Men’s Shelter are as common as a stench in a bathroom. Therefore, such a dead rodent should have been expected. The reaction to the passing of the vermin was what trapped my imagination in glue.


Two middle-aged security guards, a black one and a white one, saw the 10 cm mouse. Both found the idea of picking up the creature to be repugnant. Neither one wanted to get a broom, either. What they agreed upon was kicking the creature to another floor.


Other staff members, everybody from custodians to administrators, over the course of that day, kicked the thing down the stairs. Even shelter residents enjoyed kicking the carcass. They seemed pleased about feeling superior to something.


Finally, the dead mass of hair and tail made it to the first floor. Its presence was met by a white woman whose buttocks looked like someone poured lemon juice on it. She stared at the mouse. Fastidious to the point of seeming militaristic, she yelled, “Don’t forget, my job is not to clean up dead mice. I need a custodian to sweep this thing up from here, now. I mean, now.”


Subsequently, nature’s creature found its resting place—the garbage. That mouse, although it was dead, served as a living metaphor for homelessness in major cities. There are thousands upon thousands of homeless humans in NYC and other locales who get treated the same way as that mouse. Displaced masses are kicked from place to place, level to level, of the system with no regard. They only end up dead in bureaucratic garbage while waiting for a real economic solution to homelessness.


Both my grandmothers, back when I was younger, told me about a person who would have probably cared about that mouse as well as those individuals without housing. They said he quit being a carpenter. Unemployed and homeless, he wandered the desert. Unconcerned with legal tender, he did not pay taxes. Contrary to the advice of certain peers, he paid his respect to a Lord no one could see. Even now, their story makes me wonder about the way the system would treat such a man if he were poor, sick and dying in a Men’s Shelter stairwell.





Bob McNeil

Tenaciously, Bob McNeil tries to compose literary stun guns and Tasers, weapons for the downtrodden in their effort to trounce oppression. His poems and stories want to be fortresses against despotic politics. 

After years of being a professional illustrator, spoken word artist and writer, Bob still wants his work to express one cause—justice. 

Editor review


  1. Edna Garcia January 21, at 21:52

    Through this thoughtful, provocative piece, Bob Mc Neil questions why homelessness continues to be unaddressed in the wealthiest country in the world. McNeil questions why is it that bandage continues to be placed on the problem. His narrative essay exposes how the shelter system, which function mostly without any true government oversight, continues to further victimize those in need of assistance.

  2. thewriterstuff December 28, at 17:15

    This nation is creating a population of sad, angry and desperate people that continues to grow exponentially. Homelessness is a major reason for this discontent. A day of reckoning is coming.

  3. Wiil Mayo December 27, at 18:53

    I love this tale of Bob McNeil's! Here he captures the spirit of the carpenter from Nazareth which so many holy rollers in our time seem to have missed entirely. I look forward to seeing more of Bob McNeil's work here and elsewhere in the future. He is one extraordinary individual.

  4. Clover Mathis December 22, at 01:10

    Syntax and grammar, meaning, clarity, metaphor, character: "A Mouse and the Lack of Housing" contains all of these elements of good fiction and then some. The extra is contained in the last paragraph. Bob McNeil's reference to Jesus Christ and how he probably would have responded to both the dead mouse and the homeless populations, everywhere in the USA, puts a spotlight on the epidemic and the current social climate of selfishness. Part of the artist's responsibility is to make us see ourselves as we are and show us by his offerings, hopefully, how we can fulfill the potential in us for becoming better persons. Bob McNeil does this brilliantly in "A Mouse and the Lack of Housing", which is an allegory of spiritual darkness in Manhattan and the rest of the USA. He reminds us that somewhere along the line we stopped aiming to treat others---human and nonhuman---as we want to be treated; with tolerance, consideration and compassion.

  5. Tara Bartley December 21, at 06:32

    Provocative; A lot of dark humor to really punch the greater point into your gut. Bob McNeil, this piece is a strong vision of the plight of homeless Americans.

  6. Ayame December 19, at 16:05

    An article that makes sense. And yet when tried to help it just seems like it is only a dent in the problem

  7. Jazzy December 19, at 14:23

    I love how you tied the metaphor in with the reality: "Displaced masses are kicked from place to place, level to level, of the system with no regard. They only end up dead in bureaucratic garbage while waiting for a real economic solution to homelessness." Good piece.

  8. Genius is Common Movement December 19, at 00:07

    Wow! Thanks for your powerful metaphor about rodents and homelessness. It's shameful that in the richest country in the world, that there is even one homeless soul. SMH.

  9. Gordon P. Bois December 18, at 21:33

    It's heartbreaking to know that there's still a majority of individuals who elevate themselves as being greater than that of vermin, and mirroring this same sad stance towards their fellow man, woman, and child. Instead of putting forth an effort to aid those who're less fortunate, these same people would sooner ignore the issue of homelessness, deeming it someone else's problem, while regarding those having to live this way like they were human trash.

  10. Abayomi Ogunniyi December 18, at 19:16

    Mr Bob, this piece is similar to life in lagos. Homelessness is a big issue especially for refugee Nice one.

  11. Brian Howland December 18, at 18:29

    Bob is a force of nature, a catalyst for change. This story of a mouse is a metaphor for the discarded people of our society. We have apparently accepted a great increase in homelessness and hopelessness for our brothers and sisters. I thank Bob for speaking up on their behalf. We share a passion for Justice.


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