Survival Guide to Homelessness

No matter where you go, there you are.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Shelters are for Someone Else, Part 2

Shelter life is a life of waiting. You wait on the charity, the good feeling, and on the whim of others. You wait, and you wait, and you wait, and all the while tension builds, as you wonder whether you will get what you need.

Recently, as part of my research for this book, I spent a night in a shelter. As shelters go it was a kind and gentle experience. The shelter was located in Santa Cruz, California, a city friendly to the homeless, on the cutting edge of homeless advocacy and politics. There was no church service, no preacher, no active condemnation. Still the experience was brutal, and brutal in a way that the homeless are so accustomed to that no one even grumbled. No one even seemed to notice.

After much searching, I found the place, a complex of buildings and construction at 115 Coral Street. The website tells you that registration and check-in begin at 3:30pm, but that, like nearly everything told to me that day, was inaccurate. Sign up for emergency shelter actually begins and ends at 3:00pm, when everyone who will be taken is enrolled. The website says they try to never turn anyone away. In fact, most people who need a place to sleep are turned away. There is no sign to indicate where sign-in is, and I was easily mislead. In the end, I was turned away, rather gruffly, but I am a persistent investigator.

I went over to the River Street Shelter, a place for alcohol and drug rehabilitation, and waited. When one of their coordinators started taking people in from a long waiting list, I was there asking if they had a bed I could use for the night. They didn't. No chance. But, they were taking in a new guy for the first time, and he already had a seat on the church bus, so that guy took me over to the first guy (the gruff one) and told him he wouldn't be needing a bed. So I was in.

Like I won the lottery.

This was getting really painful, and it was only starting. I'm asking for help, over and over, asking for someone to make my life okay for me. And the worst thing is, I know that because I am getting the bed, someone else isn't.

The Rules
There are rules everywhere. In the same center where you sign in for the night's shelter, there's a "Hygiene Bay". Toilets, sinks, lockers, showers, television, laundry, get in line and use what you want. There were no lines in the afternoon, either, so just use what you need. But there were rules, rules, rules posted. On the refrigerator, You touch you die! Staff only! On the wall, No dumpster diving or 30 day ban! Another flier reads, No parking bicycles! And chalked on a board, Parents, your children must be with you at all times! In the agreement I had to sign to be allowed into the shelter for the night were the admonitions No weapons! and No sex! and Maintain a minimum level of hygiene! Everything was punctuated with exclamation points, as if the force of the orders would otherwise fail to impress itself upon us. Everything, it seemed, was punishable by thirty days expulsion.

On the church van, it was no better. Three identical flyers were taped up in the van. Here there was little punctuation. Here, in fact, there were not even capital letters, and yet the force and aggression of the rulemakers were not lost on me. Here is how it read, word for word:

rule on bus
1. no eating on the bus no drinks without lids
2. no throwing trash on floor
3. no fighting, no yelling, no races comments
4. nothing in aisle, bring only what you can carry

failure to follow these rules will result in night out

The dramatic increase in font size on rule four made it clear that this was a more important rule than no fighting, or yelling, or "races" comments.

These rules everywhere made it seem as if the very furniture was berating us. Perhaps this is the source of some of the violent thoughts so commonly expressed by my fellows in this adventure. We passed a store selling china, and one of the men commented on how much he'd like to throw a rock. Others grunted. It's hard not to have a dark mood in such a toxic world. It's hard not to have a dark mood when those offering you life sustaining services are constantly threatening to deprive you of those services. Those threats were not idle. Make no mistake, the majority of the men in that community of homeless spent the night sleeping in the open. The demand for shelter so outweighs the supply of beds that any reason is a good reason to expel someone from the program.

The Waiting
Everything takes so long. You have to sign up for the shelter at 3:00pm, but the van doesn't come until 4:00pm. You get to the church where you will spend the night at 4:20, but the free dinner of greasy chicken, bread, and green salad, with milk or juice won't be there till almost 6:00. Then camp pads and a couple of blankets each are passed around and 14 guys find a corner or a wall to sleep against on the cold floor. Stake your claim and then the majority go outside to smoke Top and discuss the presidential election. The consensus seemed pro Kerry, but who can tell? The power distribution in the conversation was a great deal more complex than I could figure out in a night. The entire group watches Jeopardy, then the television is turned off and people begin to settle in. 9:00pm the lights are turned out. I stared at the ceiling for three hours, then slept fitfully and uncomfortably until 5:20am.

Which is when they get you up. 5:20am. You don't choose when the day is over. You don't choose when the day begins. With a bit of a sardonic grin I dared to say to the coordinator, "you know, when the sun is not out, we call it night." He wasn't amused. He simply said, "Well in 19 minutes the bus is leaving." The driver also spent the night, so really, I think we could have negotiated. Threat and control were involved in every exchange, though. So, off we went, and arrived at the original place just after 6:00, ready to take a shower. The hygiene bay, however, doesn't open until 7:00. So people stood around, fueled by a little coffee and no breakfast, and passed a bottle of bourbon that had been poured into a two liter Diet Coke container. Happy hour is in the morning because the shelters won't take you if you are drunk.

It seems to me that you could wait to sign people into these shelters until 6:00pm or 7:00pm, assuring that people who found work that day might still be able to find shelter. Then people might find a way out of their difficulties. If it were me, I'd let people stay in the shelter until the sun began to warm the world up a little, and I would not return them to a closed hygiene center. I'd coordinate drop off time with the time the hygiene center opened. The total time controlled by the center was sixteen hours, from 3:00pm to 7:00am. That is two thirds of life regulated by the rules of others, one third remaining to try to build something better. Is it any wonder that they opt to simply pass a bottle between themselves? These are people who have little in the way of reserves, and you've just taken two thirds of their time.

The Utter Lack of Privacy
The most dismal thing about a lack of privacy is that it forbids expression of dissent or resentment. This was the horror George Orwell traded on in his classic 1984. Even if only expressed to oneself, in a private moment, with a frown, a scowl, a grumble, expression of resentment is necessary to good mental health. In the shelter there was never a moment when I could scowl and decompress about my experience. There was never a time when those in power were not near.

On a purely aesthetic level, fourteen old men sleeping on the floor of a church snore more than I would have ever believed, and that was not the worst of it. Greasy chicken and ill health caused flatulence more impressive than I can effectively describe. While these men bathed regularly, the smell of methane was not conducive to easy sleep.

There is an ethical issue I should address. Was I justified in taking a bed, when I was perfectly okay without one? My answer is an unequivocal yes. I cannot know what the center is like by volunteering. I cannot know what this place is like by interviews. I can't know this place to tell you about it until I walk the mile myself, not until I wear the shoes of the visible homeless. I've never put those shoes on before, and I didn't like the fit. Maybe, because I've told you why, you will realize that homelessness must be done right, must be planned. If you realize that, then you can make sure that you never need the shelters.

The people who staffed this center and the church had charity and kindness in their hearts, and yet the experience was excruciating. Let me teach you a better way. Shelters are for someone else.


At 4:58 AM, Blogger The Lioness said...

This was excruciating to read as well. :( I so wish people like you were in charge of shelters. I so wish your voice could be heard higher and louder. But this I know: IT WILL. One day it will. And then you will change the lives of some of those who are lost and have no hope. And that is worth fighting and waiting for.

At 5:11 AM, Blogger The Lioness said...

I've been meaning to tell you, I sent Blogger a message re your blog. It should definitely be amongst the Blogs of Note. Who knows, maybe they will listen.

At 1:30 PM, Blogger T. Bradley Dean said...

Perhaps rather then (or in addition to) saying 'Shelters are for someone else', we should be concentrating on fixing the shelters. It doesn't seem like the problems with the shelter you visited are all that horrendous - some changes in policy would go a long way.

Have you thought about contacting the church that runs the shelter and showing them this article?

We still have to deal with the problem of the people who didn't make it in of course.

At 6:28 PM, Blogger Mobile Homemaker said...

Reforming institutions for good is a career unto itself. I prefer to inform individuals, so that they can defend themselves.

You are right, of course. Many things could be changed, and much improvement could be realized. It would take enlightened leadership and a great deal of will to do the job. It would be great if my writing inspired that.

At 3:57 PM, Blogger Maudelina said...

Your Blog is excellent! My son has recently stayed in a shelter, in order to remain, in that county and continue in school. This, too, was a faith based shelter. Because he had a Doctors appointment and missed his kitchen chore, he was suspended for 30 days. After staying with friends until that folded, he turned to this place. Need I say the Christian kindness overflowed.....yes, I am being sarcastic. Thank you for bringing this problem to the attention of those who can benefit from your experiences.

At 3:16 PM, Blogger corygroussell said...

I understand idealism is your perferred school of thought. I respect the ideas, but perhaps the phrase "beggars cant be chosers" applys to these posts on shelters. I dont understand how you can critisize Christians and other shelter providers this way. They are offering you an opportunity, you are free to decide not to participate, the point that these places are unpleasant and that people there tend to be rude is moot. They have their own agenda which most likely does not have your emotional welfare at the top of the list. They dont have to. Because they have what you want. These people are offering you SOMETHING, they do not claim to offer you some sort of perfect utopian, no-questions-asked service. They cant! People have the right to offer you whatever the hell they want. If that offer includes sitting through biblethumping preachers condemning you to hell, inhaling a significant quantities of gas that came out of another persons butt and losing 2/3 of your day, its their perogative. You actually consider your feelings of injury to pride noteworth? It's part of our wonderful system of life which we all agree to live by when we take our breaths. It makes sense.

At 4:54 PM, Blogger Mobile Homemaker said...

I'm going to let your comment stand, not because I respect it, but because it helps me make my point that shelters are not a useful survival aid. Why should I respect or thank someone for such dismal charity? Why should I be thankful for such disrespectful treatment? And why would anyone want anything from someone who, like yourself, speaks with such contempt of the recipients of such "largess".

Please don't pollute my site with your trolling again.

At 9:16 AM, Blogger daniel313 said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 10:38 AM, Blogger Mobile Homemaker said...

Daniel313, your post to my blog is rude, disempowering, and filled with spurious conclusions about me and my background. It is in everyway uninteresting to me, and does not contribute to this blog at all. If you wish to continue a conversation with me about how bad I am, please feel free to do so in email. You may write me at homelessnessATgmailDOTcom. If you wish to make public commentary on the foolishness of my blog, feel free to write your own blog, advertise it well, and link to me so people know what you are talking about.

At 11:33 AM, Blogger daniel313 said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 12:19 PM, Blogger Mobile Homemaker said...

Email, Daniel. This isn't a forum, it is my blog.

At 11:34 PM, Blogger Alice2 said...

I love your blog. I hadn't been here before, but was purposely homeless (in a van) for about six months once. I learned alot, and some of what you are posting about here!

I went to a homeless shelter for a day and had a similar experience to yours. All I wanted to do was sleep in safety for a reasonable amount of time, but fortune brought me to the place at around 2 in the afternoon and there was no sleeping or dozing allowed before . . . whenever bedtime was. (it was approx. 15 years ago now.)

Anyways, all I wanted to do was post a response here and I had to register, so now I have got my own blog with my first entry to boot and now I'm off to bed.

I love this subject for some reason. Homelessness by choice or accident is a fascinating thing, and I can see both sides.

A big part of me wants to try it again, and do it right this time, and I hope I can plan it out right. I also hope it is by choice rather than by circumstance. . .


At 10:50 AM, Blogger Sandy Ryan said...

This entire blog is fascinating and beautifully written. I was on the road a few years ago in an underfunded travel gig and lived out of my car for part of the time. It took some doing; I have enormous respect for anyone who can keep it up.

What do you suggest that people who want to address the proximate problems of homelessness do,if shelters aren't the answer?

At 7:45 AM, Blogger Scott Roche said...

There was a book written recently (I won't post the title unless you want it as I don't want to be guilty of shilling) by a couple of Christian guys that lived the homeless life for a while to find out what the church was doing about it among other things. The end result was as depressing to me as your post was. I don't know if they offer advice as good as yours as I haven't read it yet, but keep writing. Keep helping people the way you see fit. I will keep reading.

At 7:59 PM, Anonymous mikchael o'connor said...

i myself have been homeless and a visitor to the river street shelter or drug haven if you are into that i was not impressed with the things i seen and heard going on there but as with any other place it was a place for the night

At 8:00 PM, Anonymous michael o'connor said...

i had a typo on the last one sorry

At 11:13 PM, Anonymous mycroft said...

The trend now among some shelters is to rent beds and lockers on a weekly basis. Sally in Denver is getting fat off this and the government money they get ( that's why a lot of these subsidized shelters don't make you sit through the ear pounding before the bowl of beans). In Cheyenne they chase all ther tramps out in July to rent out the shelter beds to cowboys visiting the rodeo. Traveler's Aid in SLC is nice, not too many rules and no early wake ups. Food right across the street. Only problem is getting in past the home guard who seem to be unclear about the "Traveler" part.

On balance, I agree whole heartedly with you about shelters. Some, like the Sally in Sacramento, could cost you your life, if not just your personal belongings. Colorado Springs and St. George, Utah are probably the friendliest. Don't EVER go to Las Vegas expecting help or you'll be sitting on the wall with the rest of the ducks waiting to hop the next train out to anywhere.

At 10:38 PM, Blogger scottgolemon said...

I live on the street.Been there for eight years. And I have stayed in shelters from Montana to Colorado, where I still live on the streets.And I have just discoverd your site,and love it! But when I read what corygroussell had to say I had to speak up. These rude beggars that can't afford to be choosers are also,though they have so little are some of the most giving people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. Granted there is a lot of bad,but keep in mind that the homeless are just a microcosim of society as a whole.All what people see is exactly what gose anywhere in America,but with out the walls and doors. I have so many choises in this lifestyle it's not funny. And one great choise is not to degrade myself with others selfrightous charity. Though I will thank who ever for the food and shelters given freely in the true nature of humanity. And I will look @ this site daily,and look forward to all youn have to say, even if we might not agree.

At 11:45 AM, Anonymous Ashley said...

I must say that I whole heartedly agree with your Blog. Truly, I do.

One of my best friends was recently thrown out of her apartment when her father decided that she wasn't worth his time and effort and decided to stop helping her with rent. Seeing as she had a less than minimum wage job, she wasn't able to make rent and was evicted. She's been homeless for well over six months now.
Yes, we tried to offer help, but she doesn't want it, saying she can make it on her own. She tried a shelter, and after only two nights at one, she showed up at me and my roomie's apartment nearly begging for help; she been miserable at a shelter.

We went to the above mentioned shelter a week later, and the conditions were appalling. We filed several reports, and, coinicidentally, said shelter is no more.

Please, keep writing this! People need to realize that just because a person doesn't have a place to stay, they shouldn't have to sink so low as to throw themselves at the mercy of a shelter who can't understand the position they are in. And many of the people who comment rudely have never been in that position themself (I was in it for a period of a week, and just THAT was hell!). How could they know what it is like?

Thanks so much for writing this Blog.


At 2:55 PM, Blogger Genecks said...

Anything get stolen?

At 3:35 PM, Blogger Mobile Homemaker said...

Good question. Actually a book was stolen from me early in the evening, just after we arrived at the shelter and before dinner. Ironically, poetically, the book was Walden.

At 1:26 AM, Anonymous formerly homeless in A2 said...

I spent some time in the shelter here in Ann Arbor MI, and the main thing I didn't like about it is that the staff automatically assumes you are an alcoholic or a drug addict if you were homeless. So, one of the rules was that you had to go to AT LEAST 2 AA or NA meetings a day (with the meetings around here, talk about being preached to)ALONG WITH looking for work and finding a place to live.All on 2 only bus tokens a week (if you're lucky)And the staff doesn't tell you about the social services available, or where you might actually GET a job...(try using the phone number to the shelter for a contact-I'll bet you every employer in the COUNTY knows it by heart...)

At 2:29 PM, Anonymous mary said...

True beggars can't be choosers, but the po-lice insist people have to go to the shelters, even tho' the shelters (Long Beach/LA CA) simply don't have enough "beds" (cots/mats on floor). They receive Federal/State/City funding to provide Shelters. There are regulations that they need to follow, like providing showers, toilets, meals.

I completely forgot about these thoughts I had that were so foregin to me, until reading this post, like wanting to throw rocks through windows. Good blog.

At 11:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Quote: "It's part of our wonderful system of life which we all agree to live by when we take our breaths. It makes sense."

Not only did I never agree to this nightmare that others before have created and have forced upon me, but it most certainly does NOT make sense.

At 6:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey um i came upon thi site from google. I just recently got out of a homeless shelter for teens. i have to say it was interesting but not a bad experience. My mother contacted my school my school contacted YFS and yfs made me go to new beginnings. New baginnings got me into a TLP which is much better. Like an apartment but oyu don't have to pay if your in school. you have to work and such i don't know but living as a homeless teen in maine there is like nothing no resources you can pool on. you have couch hopping shelters and begging your parents. I tried all but the last one.

At 5:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Years ago, back in the '70's, I was hitch-hiking through Canada and stayed at one of their shelters. I had some coaching from some other homeless guys, and viewed getting in as a game, and surviving as a game. This helped a whole lot! I was lucky enough to meet some cool guys there and hung out with them for a couple of days. We protected each other. They had lockers at the shelter and we locked some stuff up, but kept other stuff in our bunk when we slept. You have to protect yourself. I was young and strong then and so were my friends, so nobody messed with me. I had a great time. But had circumstances been different, I could see how some of the horrible experiences other people have described could happen so easy. If there is one tip I would give it would be: make good friends and stick together! (OK, one other tip would be: Watch your stuff like a hawk.)

At 3:01 AM, Anonymous Trying to do some good said...

I find interesting that you remove comments that disagree with you.

I'm not homeless and hopefully I never will be. I knit items for charity, mainly wamr clothing for homeless people. Life changing? No, but hopefully it can make someones life a little better. If someone is genuinely trying to help anything they offer should be appreciated even if its not wanted. Taking the time to help someone else is so rare in this day and age. Your attitude only makes it easier for someone to ignore those less fortunate than themselves.

At 1:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A few notes of points not covered on the response to the antagonistic 'beggars/choosers' post.

Over the course of my life I've given a substantive amount of money to charity (I gave $1000 to an overseas charitgy while living in an RV once). Like any donor, when I engage in philanthropy I expect it to benefit the target population, not the provider.
If the charity is a homeless shelter I expect the shelter to respect the dignity of it's residents. I expect that rules are for the safety of the guests, not the convenience of staff. I expect that the structure of the institution help, rather than hinder, people in finding a functional lifestyle.

At 8:07 PM, Anonymous Lei said...

i was appalled to read about your expierence. i would have left, been gone after seeing the "hygeine bay" we are not animals! people are really disturbed... every one deserves dignity, not just the ones that can afford it.

and for all those people preaching "beggars cannot be choosers" i hope you are in this situation one day. i'd rather sleep in a tent and take a shower at the ymca locker room then go to a "hygiene bay" like some kind of farm animal.

At 1:49 AM, Anonymous marcia said...

i remember staying in shelters with my mother in chicago, I dont know how many, but one of the first ones was a catholic shelter, my mother asked another one of the mothers there for a cig, and the nuns had a fit! then i remember being a little bit older about 7 or 8 and staying in a better shelter in TX, it was like our own little apts. I'm 26 now, new to CO, and my husband wants to kick me out. I have two little girls olivia and amelia, 2 and 3 years old.

At 12:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Recently I have been getting closer and closer to a homeless situation (foreclosure). I have on occasion recently wondered if getting oneself committed to jail might be a solution. What are your thoughts or advice about this idea?

At 3:05 PM, Blogger Mobile Homemaker said...

I think voluntarily being jailed is about the dumbest strategy possible. It is not as if jail is a warm, womblike, happy, well-fed, and safe haven from the ills of the world. I can't really believe I have to argue on this point. You don't leave society by entering a jail. Rather, you enter another, more hostile society. Both your security and your resources are substantially reduced.

I am not a fan of any institutional environment, but consider other institutions if you must be wrapped in that kind of security. Possible choices are the military, the forest service, spiritual communities like monasteries, commune style organizations often boasting intentional living (such as vegans, freegans, zero carbon experimental living, and so forth). In other words, get creative. Get together with other people facing foreclosure. There are lots of them now. Maybe you can pool resources. Crime and punishment is not the right direction.

At 4:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reading that, I got angry on your behalf. This kind of incompetence is needed least of all where people's basic human needs/rights are involved.

At 9:38 PM, Anonymous Lauren R. said...

OH MY GOSH! You are a prophet. Thank you. I have lived in a YWCA for almost 10 years and it's just the worst. Like you said, rules rules rules. It's wonder people choose to live under bridges. I am definitely more traumatized by living in the shelter than I am by the abuse that got me here...and the shelter is not helping me to leave. (Can't give up that wonderful $$$$$rent$$$$).

At my YWCA we have rules, no yelling (hahaha), no drinking (hahaha), no stealing (hahahah), and the #1 unofficial rule of all time: DON'T GET CAUGHT. Also don't complain...staff will do nothing, and you'll be branded a troublemaker, no matter how serious the complaint. We (many of us in the shelter) once reported threats made by an unmedicated paranoid schizophrenic who said she would cut off the breats of every woman in the shelter, and when she finally left, 6 months later, her room was found to be full of knives.

So now when I go for PTSD counseling, they question why I'm traumatized by the "wonderful" place. Nobody understands till they've been there...and I'm not a bum either, I got my job, and I wasn't a bum before I got it either. Becoming homeless is not for the faint of heart or the intellectually stupid.

I can't wait to read the rest of your posts.

At 9:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was homeless in Santa Cruz for two years. Ive never once slept in a shelter...nor considered it. To me, shelters were always for women with kids, the elderly, and frankly --the scared. I know this was written a few years's gotten worse in SC. All the rules and regualtions he speaks of has now leaked out into the streets. You cant even sit on the sidewalk anymore downtown.

At 8:46 PM, Anonymous sillybillydilly said...

They don't want to make shelter life comfortable, because then a lot of people would really like it and not search to have their own homes. In fact, you may not notice, but you're being set up and studied more than you realize. You're a very special person, living on the edge, and you're not supposed to be able to keep it together like you do. That's dangerous because it threatens the system built on being enslaved to bills and expenses. You get manipulated more than you realize. When someone stands up and cries and confesses their sins, that's a trap for someone else like you to go ahead and imitate them. That confessor is in on the whole thing, he's faking it, trying to make you behave in a way you wouldn't normally.

At 10:54 AM, Blogger Madame Morticia said...

A very interesting read. Have you read "Down & Out In Paris & London" by George Orwell? It is reminiscent of your experiences here. Orwell does go into some detail regarding the shelters he stayed in at that time, and it seems things have not changed very much from his time, till now. Read that book if you get the chance!

At 10:55 AM, Blogger Madame Morticia said...

Have you ever read "Down & Out In Paris & London" by George Orwell? His experiences with homelessness, or living on the margins of society, described in that book are reminiscent of what you've recounted here. How interesting to see how little has changed from his time, till now. Read that book if you get the chance, I'm sure you'd find it quite interesting.

At 6:28 PM, Blogger Cinamingrl said...

I agree with you on the lack of privacy. I call it lack of boundaries, one isn't allowed either of these things in the bad shelters. And what's worse, is that the people who are 'in charge' are more screwed up than anyone else. In some cases they are homeless too, and have been for much longer than any of the residents who come to the shelters.

And the comments about 'flatulence'. Oh, yah, that is funny. But at the time that it happens, it isn't so entertaining I am sure.

I hope you post more on this blog. I too was considering writing a book. Do you have a publisher yet? I will email you.

At 6:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I too had post traumatic stress disorder after being homeless for a while.

For me, the part that hurt me more than anything, and still does is the fact that my family didn't care.

At 9:24 AM, Blogger tyler said...

Wow, this reminds me of UGM in Dallas, TX. I suppose these shelters are much the same everywhere. As in less than 24 hours I will be homeless again, I will continue to read this blog to make my next stint less horrible.

At 8:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

At present, I'm not homeless, but I'm in public housing. The interesting thing is that we have the same thing here. TONS of harshly worded rules with exclaimation points that show nothing but contempt. The message is: "You are getting money of your rent. This shows that you are irresponsible, and can not be trusted to do the right thing. You need to be taught that there are other people then just yourself. We don't expect you to behave properly, but we'll try to teach you how to act like a human"

One read, "Please pick up your dog's waste. YOU wouldn't like to step in it, would you?"

Every single one had a wording that said. "You can't be expected to do the right thing, but we will teach you WHY you should do the right thing!"

At 7:16 AM, Anonymous James said...

In the space of 6 week's time:

I left my wife (she cheated with the best man at our wedding),

I had my (paid off) car impounded over a fine that was 2 years old, that I couldn't prove that I had paid,

I was fired for something that I couldn't prove I DIDN'T do,

and by losing the job, I lost my place to stay, and had no where to go.

Does that sound like someone that chooses to be homeless or to stay in a shelter? I saw what Bri, our mobile homemaker saw. I felt the same shame and shock of the rules and the terrible treatment in the way they were enforced, the way she felt.

She speaks the truth...and we as a society should be ashamed of ourselves for not listening to such people. For she is showing us all what needs to be done and should be applauded for her efforts to help those that need her advice the most.

I'm not here to praise her-she is far too humble for that, and that makes her even better. But if we condone and keep allowing the conditions and treatment of what she has suffered firsthand, to continue, then who are we to judge? Those that have homes and jobs and money are no better, and I dare say, are actually worse.

At 2:41 PM, OpenID ____deakins said...

Hey, I just ran across your site and read a few interesting articles. I really like the overtone of self-sufficiency and will continue reading more. I just wanted to raise a few points others have raised, but not for any sort of berating or trivial purpose.

I can see how having to spend two-thirds of a day simply trying to rest, eat, and bathe could really prevent someone from working more than a couple hours a day. The fact that you were given an early bedtime and wake-up call seems only logical, though. You mentioned that there were only a small number of spots available each night, and a conflict that you were taking a potential warm night from somebody else; it seems only right that only a full night's sleep would be allotted. And although 5:20 is rather early, the professional world is usually awake and in motion by 6:00 or 7:00 am.

"4. nothing in aisle, bring only what you can carry"

This is a safety standard in every bus I've ever been on, and is strictly enforced. In case of emergencies, anything blocking the aisle would dangerously exasperate the situation. As for the other rules: banning anyone for 30 days for anything less than theft or assault seems extreme; also, I should like to think any homeless shelter would have bike racks and locks, and encourage their use.

You mentioned feeling restricted in showing dissent, frowning, grumbling, etc. because the "power was always around." Is that to say there were consequences for such behavior?

And if "shelters are for someone else," who do you suggest they're for?


At 3:01 PM, Blogger Mobile Homemaker said...

I could not care less what good reasons the people had for their rules, only that the rules were oppressive. I do not know who shelters are for, but they are not for me.

At 9:51 PM, Blogger Spooky said...

Thank you for sharing this. So often I've heard people contemptuously say that if the homeless really wanted they could go stay in a shelter, get cleaned up, do something with themselves. I've had the good fortune to always have a roof over my head so I couldn't give them any better argument than that I'd heard the shelters weren't very nice. Now that I've read a firsthand account of why they're so disliked I can understand better. It's also useful because I've always wanted to help somehow and I feel like having a better understanding of what it's like allows one not just to mean well, but to do well. God knows if I were in that position I would want nothing more than a warm meal or a place to lay my head, no sermons or qualifications.

At 5:04 AM, Anonymous NAB said...

Would like to share a shelter experience I had recently.

I was homeless five years ago due to circumstances beyond my control. I had the good fortune of finding a Christian shelter during the rainy months of Northern California, where I would have surely been discovered early morning frozen to death.

The shelter I had stayed at feed you, sign in was quick, but time-sensitive. Before the dinner though, they either had preachers come in and preach at you, or would put on one of those video taped sermons. I remember, from the very first day I was there, I would ask every preacher who showed up as they were leaving if they would like to stay and have dinner with us.

I'll let you guess how many said yes. I had endured the words of men who would call themselves followers of Christ, because the alternative was death.

Before letting you have a bed, you had to take a shower. They provided pajamas. Oh, you had to shower with three other dudes, at the same time, in a.... I'm gonna say 20 foot by 20 foot public shower. Was it actually that? I don't know, I've never actually measured it. But I endured it, because the alternative was death.

I did manage to luck out, and land a job, and eventually get myself back onto my feet. Would I stay at a shelter again if I were to go homeless?

Only if the alternative is death.

At 10:01 AM, Blogger Mobile Homemaker said...

Eloquent comments, NAB. Thank you for that.

At 1:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This was written a long time ago and it seems nothing has changed. I work in an ER and people have the same reasons for not wanting to stay in shelters. You have to be there at 3:30pm, get up and out by 6am, no privacy, stuff gets stolen and lots of problems keeping your meds safe. On the other hand, and this will probably be seen as judgmental, they wouldn't make those signs if there were no reason to do so.

At 8:11 PM, Blogger Mobile Homemaker said...

My working theory is the signs are a direct result of the efforts of the sign makers to believe they are better than those they are "helping".

At 1:59 PM, Anonymous Stephen said...

Me and my fiance have been homeless together for many many years, we have started to think that we should try and set up a homeless shelter.
Now that I read this, I'm very iffy about doing this. Where I live though I feel we should help others out.
Are there any suggestions that you can give me that would make a good shelter? I've never stayed at one because my fiance and I weren't able to stay together.

At 3:44 PM, Anonymous Blue Collar Man said...

WOW. That was downright painful to read. I have slept in places that many wouldn't consider, and I have gone to the free meals at churches and stuff, but I have to admit, I have never been to the shelter. After reading thaat, I never will.

Thanks for all the information. In an effort to simplify my life, I am working to get back to some of the basics. I was kicked out when I was 17, and couch surfed for 2.5 years thereafter. Then I lived in a series of cars until I was 23. After that I got an apartment, and have kept a steady job since I was 20. I'm 30 now, and I miss the simplifity of the basics.

I have plans to be homeless again, something I think I can do while still holding my job. Your experience is useful, and I thank you for sharing. Safe travels.

At 5:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had heard the shelter near me is horrible but they still give out food to those who show up from 7:30 - 8:30 PM. You might miss your chance though...

Also I'd like to point out that many Christian organizations aren't like the shelters while still helping the homeless. 1 called the Haven you can sign-in around 8pm and leave at around 5am and still get food. The quarters aren't that close either.

At 9:10 PM, Blogger David said...

I've spent quite a bit of time in shelters. Between a pretty ugly criminal record and anxiety and depression issues, housing is hard for me to come by. What you describe here is the best of shelters. Even when you pay $5 a night, its just like this. The free shelters are worse. As you say, the people working and running the shelters have the best of intentions, but the result is what it is. Something to note: most of the first line shelter workers are homeless folks that have entered whatever 'program' the shelter offers. I remember at the $5 shelter, a man named Dave who loved to threaten barring, even though he entered the shelter a couple days after me. But he entered the program, so he gained that power.

Shelters are horrific, degrading, paternalistic kindness at its finest. 'm couch-surfing now, but if I hadn't burnt the bridge at the $5 shelter by speaking my mind, I'd go back, cuz couch-surfing sucks, too. The whole situation is hideous.

At 9:54 PM, Blogger Mobile Homemaker said...

David, first I want to thank you for supporting my suspicions that all shelters, without exception, are like this one or worse. I wonder, why do you stay in them? Why do you couch surf? Can't you get a cheap car and do it my way? Even if you have a suspended or revoked license, that only means you can't drive the car. You could pay someone a couple of bucks to help you move it around. Isn't there a better way than subjecting yourself to this horror?

At 5:20 PM, Blogger Mobile Homemaker said...

About an hour ago someone left a comment telling me about all the things he believed homeless people are. I haven't published it because freedom of speech doesn't extend into my blog space, and I am not going to have my readers who are homeless subjected to hateful statements.

Don't think of this blog as a public square. Think of it as my home. You wouldn't want me to come into your home and trash the place. (Trust me, you wouldn't. I can knock a house down to the foundations.) Don't come into my home with hate.

At 10:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

back in the '90's i was going to school to enable me to obtain gainful employment after being a stay-at-home mom for 18 years. I heard about a christian shelter that was run a couple of blocks away. i inquired, got trained, and then manned the shelter about 3 times before they no longer required my services. you see, one night one of the homeless was having a very difficult time sleeping and got up and wanted to talk at a table with anyone. we were conversing quietly for about 20 minutes before some "control freak" came over and told the man to go lay down. I explained to the oppressor the situation and he cited "the rules" and what would happen if everyone wanted to stay up? I really though he was kidding for a moment, it was so ludicrous! He persisted, and rather than make a scene, i suggested that he go lay down. I was contacted by a woman in the organization a few days later. Apparently, the control freak made out an incident report and she wanted my side. i told her and they never called me back. in my opinion, their attitudes lacked compassion, understanding and christian charity and if they wanted to run it that way, i didn't want any part of it.

At 9:07 PM, Blogger Jan Bernstein Chargin said...

I've been homeless -- now I'm with a group starting up a day center and eventually shelter in a community that doesn't have either. I can tell you the reason for all of the garishly posted rules: the US Department of Housing and Urban Development requires that Client Rules, and an appeals process, be prominently posted (the exclamation marks and misspellings are optional.)

At 3:30 PM, Anonymous Charlotte Gruetter said...

I'm a disabled lady 65 years old,and have been living in my car for 4 years. I have even heard from some very large muscular men that they are afraid of these places. I once knew a man who loved a Christian Illinois shelter. This was a place where people were regularly searched for drugs, and or alcohol upon entering. Well, this guy used to get there around the first of the month to get close to the crack heads. The third of the month, when the dopers get their social security checks, he got rich. I receive a disability check, but can't afford a place to live. If I get a job for any amount of time, I will lose medicine that I need to live. I went to a health club, and by swimming for long periods was able to repair the left lobe of my heart. The heart is a muscle. If I could find employment that would allow me to earn enough money to live on I would be very happy. People that have had good intentions in the past have tried to engage me in programs that don't work.Quite sadly these same people have judged my lifestyle,and said that nobody would hire me because of my age. Shades of Soylent Green! Somebody from Wal-Mart complained to the police about my sleeping there. I was told that I could no longer sleep there. I can shop there, but not sleep there. Police wanted me to go to a shelter, but I told them I can't because I have a small dog. He let it go then. I am running out of places to go. At Wal-Mart there was a homeless man who also parked there every night. He was a nice man, and I felt protected when he was around. Is there anyone who would like to join with me in finding a safe place? My E mail is

At 11:27 AM, Blogger Phrustrated in Phoenix said...

"Can't you get a cheap car and do it my way? Even if you have a suspended or revoked license, that only means you can't drive the car."

^^^from a post of Mobile Homemaker's earlier...

Here in Phoenix, AZ you can't get license plates (tags) with a suspended or revoked drivers license.

Having a car with expired, or missing tags is a sure way to have it towed away....

I tried a stint in Phoenix's "acclaimed" C.A.S.S. (Central Arizona Shelter Services) and your suspicion that all shelters "suck" holds water still. ;)

At 8:07 PM, Blogger imasquirrel said...


Been down every path in life, looking for tips came across this blog, freekin awsum!

Im 35 now. Mom bounced when I was very young never saw here again. My dad a was a logger till he almost got cut in half and became permanently disabled. Dude a violent piece of crap. Homeless couch serfing living in car, camping till I Graduated high school then almost immediately did a year for committing felony burglary. Construction for 10 years, alcoholism early on big time, I was able to give up,still sober to this day. Later on drugs after ex fiance got me hooked prescription pain pills which I gave up, the mother of all addictions. Still after all these years fein for that crap daily. Construction took dump lost all I worked for, foreclosure, car repoed. Got job without car bought car, homeless shelter one night lived in car few weeks, moved back into ex for a while. Hooked up with her friend and moved in with here while working full time temping making decent cash. Couldnt stand her moved into car for about 5 months then into trucking for last few years. Just rolled semi-truck now homeless going to buy a small mini-van with small amount of saved up funds and go that route till I get another job. Sorry bout run on sentence.

spent about 3hrs reading about everything in this blog, once again friggen awsum! A few things from my perspective.

"Beggars cant be choosy" My opinion of a beggar; someone who has underling mental condition, alcoholic, and or junkie (I aint judging, been there), people who mentally become victims to there circumstance and choose not to fight it(depression). People who are just lazy with no self esteem or others. The lost soles or the helpless.

Those who want to better themselves and who have the ability to do so, should choose at all cost stay out of the shelters. Two quotes I remember I forget from where; "If you put a low price tag on yourself, no one else will raise the price" and "If you dont stand for something you will fall for anything" Homeless shelters for all there good intentions do nothing but try to lower the price tag on everyone. If you choose to live in a shelter its just a matter of time b4 u submit and lower your own personal value of yourself to where you consider yourself no more of value than the norm (as stated above) of shelter residents. In a car or other you can maintain your personal self esteem or personal value. You want 2 get a job and a better life very little speaks to potential employers like self confidence. Want to get laid? Chicks just dig guys who have there head down with a "who is me attitude"

Last thing. Avoid the temptation of drugs and alcohol at all cost. Your in this situation you need a clear sharp mind, just like in chess sharpness and aggressiveness (hitting the pavement every morning with the boots down lookin for work) is the key. Both serious addictions I had, I gave up after looking around and seeing the alcoholics and junkies in the shelters just seeing lost soles, death, people existing for no other reason than to exist whom maby death would be better. Those are the long term residents of shelters who will not hesitate to bring you down to there level. Stay sharp.

Never ever give up hope! Never drop the value of yourself or let anybody else drop it for you.

At 2:37 PM, Anonymous Steve said...

I tried doing the shelter thing. Lasted about two weeks. Finally gave up on it last night. Around here, they have this program where they shuttle you off to a different church each week. I don't mind the churches so much, I happen to be a Christian, but to me it is a very personal and private thing and I resent being proselytized. What bugs me is the level of condescension and contempt I encountered. I had to take a breathalyzer every day, sometimes more than one, although I have not had a drink in 15 years. Generally, I was treated as if I were an alcoholic, drug addict, and common criminal. One night, staying in this drafty old church, I was really cold. So the next night, I asked the guy in charge if he had an extra blanket. No, he replied, then he told me that he had set the thermostat at 68 degrees, same as his house, as if to imply that I had no right to be cold, then he told me that it was better than sleeping outside. First of all, what a crummy thing to say. Second, what a crummy thing to hear from a guy who has never actually spent a night outside. But last night was the proverbial final straw. After a full day at work at my full time job, I drove to the shelter, went inside to check in, ate some dinner, then went back out to my vehicle to retrieve some of my pposessions. The lady in charge chased me into the parking lot with the breathalyzer, made me blow, then informed me that I was not permitted to go back out to my vehicle after checking in. I asked her why and she replied that it was against the rules. I had had enough. I told her that I could not take being treated this way any longer and that I was leaving. That's your choice, she replied. I then thanked her for acknowledging that I was allowed to have a choice, then turned around and left. I will never return to that horrible program.

At 5:37 PM, Anonymous Anthony K said...

I've been staying at a shelter called Mission Solano in Fairfield, California off and on now for about two years, since just after my 18th birthday. These articles really speak to me, I've been going through nearly identical crap now for my entire adult life. I now hold a deep resentment for religious dogma, and constantly berate or snap at people of a religous persuasion. I wasn't like this when I was younger. Sure, I've always been against religion, but I never got into drawn out debates or talked down to people with faith. Now I can't help it. Mission Solano bred within me a deep contemptment for Christianity and most everyone that practices it. These so called "blessed" and "godly" people look at you like a piece of trash, and treat you like dogshit. The facade of a smile is on their face, but their eyes tell all. They hate you. You're a drug addict, drunkard, sinner, criminal, a useless bum in their eyes. My homosexuality makes it even worse, whenever its mentioned its "my choice", like I woke up one day and said "Boy, I sure would like a cock right about now!". I've never been attracted to women in my life. I followed the norm for society until I turned 17, put away me fear, and came out. These Christians look upon you with such loathing and distrust you can feel it physically, deep down in your gut and in your soul. I've just recently got the balls to get out of the system that I hated and relied on, and I couldn't be happier.

At 4:11 PM, Anonymous Samantha said...

I have also experienced this one night and I agree, it is excruciating. I left after only one night, determined come hell or high water to find a better arrangement, and miraculously I did. Thank you for this blog, although I would encourage you to do some research specific to women threatened by homelessness, for there are issues we face that men do not in the same situation. Unfortunately, for the first tie in over 25 year, I am once again n the brink of homelessness. I am heartened by reading your blog, but I cannot help but notice things that stand out as major concerns for me, that obviously were not a concern for you as a male.

At 10:16 AM, Blogger Squirrel said...

What is the answer? Mobile Homemaker? Or even ONE answer, an answer to alternative hostels ...
I would love to help but I feel threatened by people on the streets - because of drink problems, drug problems, professional begging or even the ungrateful attitude that I feel I am reading here that 'what you are offering is not helpful' 'you are judgmental' I think we are all judgmental when we look from our lives into the lives of others and compare them to our own, but acting disrespectfully in reaction to our judgement is a different matter and at least we are looking into the lives of others and trying to think of a way to help.
What do I do? I give food, generally, I often go and buy fresh food from the nearby supermarket and then give it to the three or four people sitting on the roadside, different ones each time but almost always someone there.
I would like to provide a sleeping and sanitation facility sometime in the future. My vision has been similar to the capsule hotels ... I saw a picture of a disused set of about 5 public toilets that were being used as places for people to sleep - it occurred to me then that a small room with a bed could be provided in the same way as coin-operated public toilets. A line of coin-operated washrooms, a line of coin-operated bedrooms, and the cleaning paid for using the coins collected. However this wouldn't enable people to leave any items securely during the day, and there would be some form of time restriction - otherwise how would one days' rent end and another begin? How would there be a time to keep the facilities clean and safe? So I would hope to have a row of lockers as well.
I realise this is overly simplistic and optimistic - of course it is, because I am on the outside of this lifestyle looking in and I have no direct experience. However I would be interested in hearing your view on this type of facility.

At 4:59 PM, Blogger Mobile Homemaker said...

Hi Samantha,
I'm glad you're finding value in the blog. I can't imagine why you think I would be the right person to write on issues that mostly affect women. Since I am not a woman, I'm barred from the experiences I would need to write intelligently on those issues. I'd be happy to read articles by someone who had those experiences.

At 3:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I refuse to do shelters because you can't pay me to sleep in a bed full of lice, fleas, scabies, bed bugs. Add to that shouted curse words, moaning, off-key singing, fighting, arguments...

For the two months that I've been without a roof over my head, I've slept in train/bus stations, airport, movie theatre, church steps, other people's patio furniture.

I just can't do the shelter. No way.

At 11:47 AM, Blogger Monika Carpenter said...

I am an over 50 female veteran (and widow w/o any ssi or insurance settlement) I lost my job over a year ago, my unemployment has run out and I can't find a job. I lost my housing. I have 4 kids one still a minor in school. My only income is the veterans disability I get now, it is a little over $200 a month, I have been eligible to get it for 30 years but I never needed it and wanted those who did need it to have it.

I have a minor child who is living at my mom's house, I can not stay there by her request, though she does help me as she can besides giving my youngest a home. My oldest lives 90 miles away in the country and the 6 weeks I stayed with him about drove me insane, no jobs at all and I could not referee their contentious marriage any longer. My next oldest lives in town and I stayed 2 weeks until his wife found out I was not getting food stamps so that was that. My next to last son is living at friends in whatever amounts of days he can and he has stayed with me as well, so I guess you would say he and I are both homeless together.

I am lucky enough to have a car, but I also have slept in the shelter, once was enough, yes lice scabies, illness, theft and violence. There are good things about the shelter here at least. You can park and car sleep all you want no fuss no muss and no cops. They will let you in 24 hours a day to pee which as a female (no peeing in a jar for me) is awesome. Shower access, tv and computers when you need them and I can get 2-3 meals a day for nothing but being frisked when I enter, no one trying to force feed me Christianity.
Since I am also a vet and it allows me to network with other homeless vets and find out what is new for a vet (the VA has some homeless services for us, they do clothing drives and we get first pick before they donate the rest type things, medical care etc) and the guys will always help me if I need it. Come wake me and see if I want breakfast and if I don't half the time they bring me food later. So these are some of the good things about a shelter, but for the most part they are 16 hours (unless you have a job, here they will hold your bed until you get off plus one hour travel time but you must bring a note from your employer everyday, total fun hey boss can I have a note for the homeless shelter I live in?) of do as you are told or hit the streets. Do not kid yourself a worker will put you out in a second if they don't like you for any reason. The one here is a for profit and they make tons of money even if they are not full they get millions in fees AND donations. The only good thing is that if they have no beds you can sleep in the TV room in a plastic chair, sleeping on the floor gets you put out and hope that a bed becomes available. The one church run one we have is for men only.

If I did not have the other vets it would be very scary, they are housing a lot of the mentally ill, it is a wet shelter meaning you can be drunk or high and not be turned away and people from the homeless camps come in a few days a month for showers and they have a definite hierarchy you want to avoid.

All in all a shelter is humiliating and depressing and enough days of that and you are no good to yourself or anyone else. Joblessness and homelessness if involuntary (it sounds like you choose this life and have the resources to change it if you want too) sucks completely. I should be working, housed, enjoying my last child's senior year in high school and cooking holiday meals for my 6 grandkids. This was not the way I dreamed my life would be as a girl or as a soldier protecting our country, unfortunately life is what it is and not what we would want and in this country now we are all about money and all other values take a back seat.

At 5:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah this is why I loathe shelters. I tried one last year and lasted 2 nights. They had limited beds and made sure to let everyone know if they didn't behave there bed could be taken. Then the rules and curfew. I am not a child I am a grown women. I will not be told when I can sleep, when I can use the toilet, and when to shower. I felt like I was under control of people who let the power get to there head. They turned it into abuse in my opinion. Making us all feel like we were less then them. The only way I go back is if there's a code blue and I dont have a friend to go to to crash.


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