Survival Guide to Homelessness

No matter where you go, there you are.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Addictions

Smoking, alcohol, prescription drugs, marijuana, and other illicit drugs are sometimes thought of simply as vices, and vices are no one's business but your own. I want to argue that they are more than that to you. I want to suggest that this period of homelessness puts you in a position where you need to be the very best you can be as much of the time as possible. Addictions send us down a bleak road.

Cigarettes
Leaving aside the legitimate and important concerns about health, tobacco addiction costs you money, lately as much as some illegal drug habits might cost. In some states a pack of cigarettes costs ten dollars. Most smokers smoke a pack a day. That is as much as $300 per month. That cost is the same as all your other expenses combined except food and gasoline. That is cell phone, gym membership, storage, mailbox, car insurance, and entertainment. You can have all that or cigarettes, or you can work twice as hard to support both.

There's another problem with smoking. You have to do it twenty times a day. It distracts you from other tasks. All other activities get structured around it. That's unacceptable. You simply have too much to do to assure that you are comfortable to have any habits that interfere with your goals. You must resent losses of time. Ferret them out and ban them from your life.

Once you are under your cover for the night, getting out to smoke makes you vulnerable to being observed, and lighting up in the car will make the vehicle glow like a lantern. Airflow in the car is almost nonexistent while it is covered, even if you roll the windows down, so you will soon find yourself choking on your own secondhand smoke.

Cigarettes will make you a social pariah these days. One of the primary goals I've been encouraging you to pursue is a level of invisibility. You don't want negative attention for a habit. It gets people looking at you. It is a reason to deny you employment or deny you services.

Cigarette smoking is painful. It is painful every time it has been too long since your last cigarette. It is painful during cold season when you pick up any virus that is going around, and keep the illnesses long after a nonsmoker would have recovered. Believe me, there are enough sources of pain, with trying to keep warm, stay cool, avoid fights, and get enough money for food. This is a stark lifestyle. Small things can really make a difference in how happy you are. Cigarettes are not a small discomfort. They are a major discomfort.

Alcohol
You really should consider not drinking at all. There are few drugs that impair you the way alcohol does. Inhibitions are suspended. Judgment and motor skills are impaired. Aggressive tendencies are enhanced to violence. Depression can be caused or deepened by drinking. This is not a drug to play with while homeless. This is a drug that promises misery. If you really want to drink, drink moderately. Don't get drunk.

Prescription sedatives, narcotics, and tranquilizers
My main objections to the use of these drugs, even if obtained legally, are the risk of addiction and the dulling of responses. You may need all of your faculties at any moment in this lifestyle. If you've popped 10mg of valium, how capable are you of assessing the tactical needs of the moment? How easily can you put those tactics into practice? Use prescriptions for medical reasons only.

Marijuana
Much safer than alcohol, marijuana still has its share of significant problems. On the positive side, stoners don't go looking for a fight. On the negative side, you are likely to have more contacts with police than the average citizen because of your homelessness. If you have pot, you have more to fear from the cops. An irritating rousting can become a significant legal problem.

Marijuana costs a lot of money, and you have to deal with criminals to get it. Pot dealers are often armed, and often deal other drugs as well, so while stoners may be non-violent you may be coming into contact with methamphetamine users. Meth users are frequently irrational, enter rages unpredictably, and can easily become violent. The potential for problems, violence or arrest, involved in scoring make marijuana use an unacceptable risk.

And there is always the lantern factor as you light up at nighttime in your covered car. Once stoned your ability to deal with cops and thieves is impaired. You wake up less easily, and react more slowly. Marijuana takes away your edge in a conflict.

Other drugs
Violence, dull senses, impaired judgment, risk of arrest, loss of time and energy, monetary expense, if this list of disadvantages does not persuade you that staying clean is necessary for success in homelessness, then I don't know what will.

I know how hard it is to beat an addiction. Quitting smoking was the hardest thing I've ever done. This lifestyle is an opportunity for you, though. Homelessness demands careful self-examination, intense self-knowledge, because it is through that knowledge that you will win in conflicts, and keep yourself happy and healthy. This same self-knowledge is the key to defeating addiction.

31 Comments:

At 10:28 PM, Blogger temac said...

I think the dominant side effect of marijuana is the fact that it's a crime to have any. Stupid pun, but I'd like to read a "The Man in the High Castle" about a parallel universe of decriminalization.

 
At 8:50 PM, Blogger Jillian said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 12:24 PM, Blogger Noorster said...

Ten dollars for a pack of cigarettes??!? I thought I had it bad over here...

Everything you said about smoking was painfully true. I'm not homeless, I'm just broke and I have to give up on buying a lot of otherwise important and/or necessary stuff because I simply can't go without cigarettes.
When I was living in the dorms I often skipped lunch just to be able to buy cigarettes.
The health risks don't worry me that much because I'm young and ignorant.

 
At 9:20 AM, Blogger Mobile Homemaker said...

That is exactly what I am talking about, Noorster. Given the choice between smoking and a life sustaining activity, any smoker would choose to smoke. Anything that puts your priorities that far out of whack has to be excluded from your life. I believe that is true whether you are homeless or not.

 
At 2:19 PM, Blogger Woolfey said...

Interestingly.., What you have typed to the last blogger was true but in the Peoples Republic of Massachusetts it has become illegal to smoke almost anywhere. I'm not broken hearted. I lost my Dad and My Wifes dad and a great uncle as a direct result of their smoking. I'm watching another Relative commit suicide by supporting big tobacco. The thing that confuses me is this: In this state it is becoming illegal to be a gun owner, a person with an older car, Homeless, or a host of other things. I figured that judging from the crap I get from smokers about their "Right " to kill themselves I figured with the backing of the big money companies supplying the drug to these folks , they would have risen up as car clubs, gun clubs, and other organizations have to defend their "Rights". I've seen no real opposition to any smoking bans outside of the odd guy in a private club whining about the erosion of his rights. Evidently Smoking also removes your ability to care about your freedom enough to work for it.

 
At 10:14 PM, Blogger sirbarrett said...

Yeah, what the others said snaps me to consciousness. I'm trying to quit smoking but, BUT. There's always an excuse and it seems to come from me because that is the source of the feeding hand and the poisonous flow of toxins to my body and mind. Although it's a popular social activity it's always irksome to think that perhaps someone met you because you were a smoker and thus were in the place at the time to meet another smoker, but non-smokers can do things other than smoke, and they don't have the nagging habit to keep them delusional. Ah! I must work harder to be one of them! They are so cool!

 
At 7:37 PM, Anonymous Seedless said...

Nice blog, your covering all the bases. I have been homeless multiple times during my life and it is such a hopeless feeling not to have a 'home'. I live in the US of A, I should be able to call its land 'home' but the cold, dark streets tend to change your mind about what you consider 'home'. Drugs had alot to do with my homelessness and its rough in a big city such as Chicago where I reside. Fortunetly I am 'home' now, I'm not typing from my wireless connection in my camp set up underneath a freeway over-pass, nor am I typing from a computer at a homeless shelter or library. Its unfortunate the govt. and the general public treats the homeless but at least some communites provide the essentials to help one get back on thier feet.

http://www.junkylife.com/seedless

 
At 2:36 PM, Blogger jimmyjames said...

Drugs aren't all bad. Some of us in this world would quickly become suicide victims without our "chemical crutches." Addicts are not just self-indulgent or weak, most of the time we are medicating some kind of mental illness, whether the drug be legal or not. 98% of the problems with drug addiction is the fact that drugs are illegal. Take away the illegality and it becomes only a personal health problem. In fact I think most homeless people wouldn't be on the streets if they could support their addictions cheaply and legally, and the only thing stopping that from being a reality is our governments asinine war on drugs (it's a war on freedom.)

 
At 10:07 AM, Blogger Mobile Homemaker said...

You are correct that the issue of illegality creates many of the problems associated with drugs, but some of the most pernicious drugs are legal. Furthermore, what good is freedom that is sacrificed to an addiction? I'm not arguing public policy in this post. I'm arguing that YOU should avoid drug abuse, particularly if you are homeless. It is not self medication, it is self destruction, even if the urge derives from a legitimate disease.

You need to be at your best on the streets. Any less and you will suffer.

 
At 8:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes I agree, except as temac says the problem with marijuana is mainly its illegal status. In Amsterdam, being homeless and marijuana should be able to combine, as long as you aren't addicted to it. The fact that its (semi)-legal means that you get it anywhere, order it off a menu from a friendly guy/gal behind the bar, and there's no risk of getting in contact with other drugs (except alcohol but only in some coffeeshops).

 
At 4:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i am very inerested in your writing, and have enjoyed coming across it. But as i have no actual experience being homeless and therefore take what knowledge you have over any ideas i may come up with myself, i suggest you ponder this knowledge from an alcoholic addict in recovery :
Self-knowledge avails us nothing. Believing self-knowledge holds any key to defeating addiction is a common and dangerous idea for anyone struggling with addiction.

 
At 5:13 PM, Blogger Mobile Homemaker said...

I strongly disagree with that common philosophy. 12 step programs ask you to admit that you are powerless. My theme is the antithesis to that. This whole blog is about personal empowerment. My own struggles with addiction and with homelessness have taught me that there is no replacement for introspection. Giving my life over to a higher power, worldly or supernatural, has no place in my philosophy.

 
At 2:45 PM, Anonymous longhunt said...

I have been homeless on several occaisons. The longest being a two year stretch after college wherein my ex and I lived in a truck camper while running a fairly sucessfull handyman service. We only bought a "normal" house and moved off the streets when my son was born.

In my experience, methamphetamine has always been the biggest danger in the lifestyle. On one hand meth users are very prone to preying on their fellow homeless. Probably 9 out of 10 crimes I've seen committed against homeless people were done by meth users.

From the other point of view, I have seen several people just destroy themselves with the stuff. What I mean is, they were surviving pretty well on the streets. Then they started with the meth because its reasonably cheap, and maybe takes your mind off how cold and hungry you are. A few months later they'd be dead or in prison. I'm not exagerating, it was actually that fast.

For us one of the biggest challenges of being homeless was avoiding meth heads.

 
At 12:29 AM, Blogger Tommy said...

I really enjoyed your tips and suggestions. I just got evicted and am packing up having no where else to go, so it's helped to at least have some ideas on how to survive. Regarding addiction I definatly agree with the smoking. Even though I smoke rollies due to how cheap they are, it definatly puts a constraint on money. Same with alcohol which I pretty much drank myself homeless. I just think about how much I would of saved each 12 pack or bottle and missed days at work being too hung over. I guess that's one good thing about being homeless. You really have no where to drink without getting hassled by the man, and it's easy to get depressed being homeless and don't need a depressant to worsen it. It 's been my self-medication, but also my self-destruction, and maybe I subconsciously made myself homeless to try and get out of the cycle. I had plenty of chances to o turn around and maybe save money for a deposit or something somewhere else, but I'm at where I'm at and have to accept it. Can't change the past. Thanks again for the tips and making me feel a little more optimistic and wiser about the situation!!!

 
At 7:56 AM, Anonymous Been there! said...

If you need help from ANY agency you need to know that any use of alcohol or drugs in your lifetime will be considered abuse that needs imediate attention. All help wil stop and you will be forced into the 12 step religion, mental illness groups and so labeled, which they will release into their data base available to anyone.

 
At 8:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you are homeless you will be classified as mentally ill and and alcoholic/addict. Telling any agency otherwise will be responded by telling you are in DENIAL which requires even more restrictions on your life.

 
At 7:25 AM, Blogger Lee said...

This is definately a touchy subject. I just lost my house also and am packing up today and hittin the road for the first time. I drink and theres a point to be made that maybe I could have paid more bills from money saved on alcohol, but then again for some people alcohol and drugs can be a life sustaining activity. It can drain your money but can improve your mood at least temporarily anyway and I think theres something to be said for that. People react differently to different substances from what ive noticed, for better or for worse depending on the individual -

 
At 6:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

At 16 I ran away from home because of problems with my parents, I went to the library and looked up depression and anxiety, I went to the doctor claiming to have this and was given a 'sickness benefit' which I used a fake address. I slept during the day when it was warm and during the night would do what I love most play games at the internet cafe. It was a good life and anyone who says otherwise hasn't experienced it for themselves. all it takes is a little brains and you can make what you want of life

 
At 9:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous deserve a mention. I'm biased, having been clean & sober for several years, but not hopelessly so. Involvement with these groups really can help people deal with addictions and their causes and consequences. At their best, meetings can be life-changing spaces of support. At their worst, admittedly, they can be as bad as the worst Bible thumper church that demands people endure a sermon before their humanity is acknowledged. I know for certain that people who are homeless are treated as people and welcomed in many meetings. Minimally, they provide a space where someone could stay warm or cool for an hour or more.

 
At 12:33 PM, Blogger Mobile Homemaker said...

I don't like 12 step groups for a whole lot of reasons, but it is hard to argue with success. I've beaten my addictions without them.

 
At 7:49 AM, Blogger Jack said...

Thats a great blog about homeless and addiction and should be common sense for anyone facing homelessness.
Unfortunately sometimes addictions get the best of some people and no amount of negative reinforcement will work.

 
At 12:51 AM, Anonymous Mafiasoldierix said...

I've read all your posts and I like what you have to say. I'm currently 22 years old failing college and I'm not sure if my family will be able to support me in the near future. I have some sort of disease that makes me tired and in pain all the time and the doctors don't know what it is so I imagine I'll have quite the time if I ever become homeless. Well, just wanted to let you know that I'm reading and looking forward to more.

 
At 4:47 PM, Anonymous mark said...

The subjects seem to run-amuc and gets truely off coarse when methods of controlling and managing addictions are voiced.
"Mobil Homeaker" opened his web site with {in my mind is key knowledge worth daily and cohearent indulgance} and that is "CONTROLLING DESPERATION". Again, its my own experiance that coming down on any drugs addicted or not, has been time and endless time again the biggest cause of my "desperation".The desperation always sneaks in all most as soon as you have done your tase of whatever.
I see a lot of younger teens wanting to experience the freedom that we homeless and hobo types are either cast into or stepped into by choice of adventure,escape,demise,mental, physical illness etc.
BEST of luck to all. I have the utmost respect to younger homeless people who can steer clear of the need to score a gram and get high to see them through the day..Hats off to all of you who are focusing on more important things. Every day you are out there if your focus is strong and your mind sharp {not drunk or downed out of your goard} you will be noticed by those whom you depend the most to make sure you end your day with a good meal,some good drink and tuck yourself in with a smile in your soul to really give you a good kick start for tommorrow..
Still homeless in colorado.11/13/10

 
At 5:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh yea,speaking of such things, I was going to mention, I only have 6 cigaretts left.When they are gone I am quitting for good and most all of the reasons afore mentioned in the comments plus, I am just plain ol tired of the smell,distractions,the way I am viewed,being broker than i need to be,others constantly trying to mooch bla,bla,bla. Wish me luck, I'll keep you up to date .Homeless in colorado

 
At 6:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Homeless in colorado back at you so soon.I feel the Host and Author of this "survival Guide" is really on target with his wisdom. The energy he {the author} puts into this website is designed to aid humans that are in a negative and not so rewarding enviroment to take charge of their situation and offer them positive tools to use on a daily or at times minute to minute basis. I commend the man for not trying to pass off any religeous beliefs or judgment other than Believe In Your Self for starters and or go for whatever works for you
My experiance to homelessness has lasted on and off for 37 years. I am 56 now and surley have some tales to tell.I say this not to stand taller than anyone else or brag.That is not nessesary for my ego, but I am mentioning my rank as An Honest and Noble Homeless man who follows the code of the road and would never steal from another no matter how desperate or hungary or jones"n I am.
I will try to contribute A lot of time to this site for my sanity. It is wonderfull to have A place to post the comments we who are displaced have to share with others of our kind.As well as the rest of the world if they are so inclined to take time to read sites like these.

 
At 6:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey man,wanted to bounce back and say my last smoke is gone. I had six smokes left yesterday and wrote in to this web{dident see it posted} that I was Done smokeing. The largest influence on my desision was from the addiction column and the wise things things every one had to say.Thank you Mobile Homemaker.
Now its gonna' be put up or shut up for me..best of luck to me.
Thanks all, homeless in colorado.

 
At 7:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Mobile,
I admire so much your take on addiction and the 12 step program. Maybe it is easier (not easy but easier) for some than others to use or not use. I don't know but I admire your take on it.

 
At 11:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

addiction was one of the first things that I thought of when I saw myself -without money and without means to get money. I listed everything I was addicted to, food, and cigarettes. Not many people have a chance to get ahold of the herbs I used or find the solitude I found, but it helped, I've been smoke free for a year. I've even quite smoking pot. I never was a drinker- and never plan on starting.

finding shelter is an issue for a lone female-staying away from people becomes important (just babbling now)

 
At 2:35 PM, Anonymous Becoming Legit said...

Quick comment on addictions and homelessness. I agree with mobile homemaker on most points. Addictions are an extra challenge to deal with while you are homeless. I quit heroin and cocaine while homeless and focused completely on doing what I needed to move forward. I wouldn't even drink the free coffee, as it was another thing to worry about getting if I didn't have it. Also, I found the 12 Step groups really annoying and patronizing, choosing to quit without following their dogma. Several years later, I am still doing my own thing... and no longer homeless.

 
At 3:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

im on my way to the streets do to my work they ben messing me over taking my info refusing to file the claim for std i waited then called still they sent me no forms or my doctor been 2 weeks i got 20 days to respond called them up told im iun a panic I said no just waiting your forms to respond they said couldnt deal with me im in a panic even im calmim headed for the streets

 
At 3:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a legitimate claim but my company is giving me the runaround im so screwed

 

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