Survival Guide to Homelessness

No matter where you go, there you are.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Ridiculous Site News

I was just given a gmail invite courtesy of the nice people at Xikita, a pretty personal blog which chronicles the life and times of some friends. I'm sure they'd like people to cruise by and say hi, not least because they are using Blog Explosion to generate some traffic.

My new gmail account is HomelessnessATgmailDOTcom. Replace the AT and DOT with the appropriate symbols.

I'm selling some books on eBay, in an effort both to lighten my load and to raise some Christmas cash. If you like great big reference books on all sorts of topics, please check it out. My eBay id is Mutiny226. I'll be listing a lot of them over the next few days.

If anyone knows of a method that I can take credit cards at a reasonable rate, other than PayPal, please let me know. I've had to turn down a couple of nice donations because I don't want to incur the fees from PayPal for the right to take credit cards. I am limited to accepting bank or available funds.

Oh, and while we're at it, be sure and check out Best of Blogs Awards. Cool people have nominated me in both Best Blog and Best New Blog categories. Who knew people were actually going to want to read this stuff?

Thus endeth the commercial nonsense. Now back to your regularly scheduled internet.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Friends & Family

Being homeless does not interfere with personal associations unless you allow it to. The majority of people you have daily business with have no need to know your housing status, and you really should keep them ignorant about it. It is hard, though, both emotionally and mentally, to hide a large part of your life from close friends and family. You're going to want to come out of the closet.

This process is painful, but it really is necessary. It's one way in which you will establish and maintain your personal pride. As long as you hide your homelessness from the people who count, your self image will inevitably be one filled with shame.

When you decide to do this, though, understand that your people probably will not understand. You will get pity, advice, lectures, blame, shock, and offers of help. Be patient. Explain that you are okay, and that while you are grateful for their offers, you aren't looking for pity, advice, lectures, blame, shock, or help. It may be that you could use some help, but now is certainly not the time to accept it, not if you want your lifestyle to ever be perceived as something more than pitiable. You must have pride if you wish respect.

If you establish early that you are not a bum, then later, if you want a loan, a place to weather a storm, or someone to spend the holidays with, you may have your friends and family to lean on. No one likes a charity case. Over time, prove you aren't one.

If you are thinking that this is a little like revealing homosexuality, you're right. It has some parallels. There are some differences too, though. Homosexuals have a large part of the population that is already prepared to be supportive. The homeless do not. Homelessness, however, is something you can probably change, if you care to, while sexual preference probably is not subject to the will. This means even greater blame may attach to homelessness, but you do have an out. In the matter of social stigma and the need to attend to your personal dignity, they are the same.

Stigma is inescapable. If you are homeless, you will be seen as pitiable and incompetent. The only ways to defeat these perceptions are to conceal your homelessness or to defy expectations. Only the wisest among your friends and family will ever truly understand. Be patient with the rest. Understanding is a luxury you should not expect. Remember, you came out as a demonstration to yourself that you should feel proud of your accomplishments, and you should. Surviving homelessness is a feat of daring and courage.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Buying the Best

There are two strategies for buying that I recommend. First, meet your needs. You need shoes, you can get them for under five bucks at the Goodwill or Salvation Army thrift store. A second hand jacket, a junker car, any warm blanket, cheapest camping equipment, anything that will do in a pinch is great, but then what? You can gather so much trash into your life that instead of sustaining you, it simply adds to your burdens. When living in a car it isn't terribly easy to get at your stuff if there is too much of it. It all just gets jumbled, one thing on top of another. At some point, when your minimum needs are satisfied, you need to change your buying strategy. You need to shop for highest quality.

If you can buy two or three of something that will do, or one of something that is perfect, get the thing that is perfect. The advantages are many. The first I've mentioned, it's less to carry. Psychologically the benefits are huge, because you are sending a message to yourself that you are worth the best. It makes you feel good about yourself. When you feel good about yourself, that confidence is visible to others, and they will view you as strong, wealthy, and powerful. Your confident bearing is then reinforced by the stuff you are wearing. That public perception is golden. People only help people who do not need help. If you want good service, make an impression that says you can go somewhere else. Cops won't look at you as a potential problem. Thieves won't target you. Business owners will woo you. Feeling good is looking good, and you never feel better than when you have luxury in your life.

Payless shoes for ten bucks, or Pumas that literally love your feet for a hundred and nineteen? No contest. Buy the Pumas. You need them. They make you walk taller, happier, healthier. Sure, if you can't afford the Pumas this month, get by on the cheap stuff, but set some money aside, and when you can afford it, go large, go luxury, have fun.

I really can't overemphasize how important a survival element this is. I had a great business suit while I was homeless, and one day I was about to shower in a college locker room. I'd had a job interview that day, so I was dressed to impress, and I was taking my time, getting ready to undress for the shower, when an athlete, filled with exuberance jumped into the aisle I was in and gave a shout. Then he saw me. I am so sorry. Please, I'm so so sorry, he said. I explained he didn't need to worry, I was just another student, but my protest could not convince him. I am so so sorry.

He couldn't see past the suit.

When I was in school, people believed I was rich, though my income averaged about $600 per month. No one saw me as poor, not ever, and the thing is I didn't feel poor. I was rich in spirit, rich in time, and rich in luxuries. It really didn't matter that I didn't have a room to rent.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Getting Burned

I keep telling you to be at peace with the fact that you will be stolen from, victimized, exploited, bullied, ticketed, towed, mistreated, yelled at, irritated, annoyed, harrassed, or otherwise molested. I keep telling you to be cool about it. C'est la vie. I keep telling you, but you keep thinking you can avoid it, or that you are too tough to just take it. You ought to just stand up for yourself, you're thinking. Right?

Right, I guess. Do it if you want to. Talk to the cops. Tell them where they're wrong. Fight back. See where it gets you.

Let me tell you a thing or two about being a tough guy. Every tough guy I ever knew on the streets is dead, in jail, or one day simply vanished. That's a bad record for tough guys.

Let me tell you a thing or two about me. I was a teen runaway. I engaged in all the jobs available to teen runaways. (Don't make me spell it out.) Every one of those jobs is illegal. Later I spent five years living in a car, a lifestyle which occasions contact with authorities. In my lifetime I have had no broken bones or serious injuries arising from conflicts, and I have spent precisely zero hours in a holding cell. I have never, ever, been arrested, and according to the law, I damn well should have been. That's a pretty good survival record for the peaceful.

You may say that you aren't homeless, you don't break the law, so it doesn't matter to you. I say you will still be ripped off, you will still be victimized, and a peaceful outlook is still your best weapon. You do not gain from violence.

I keep quiet when my mouth can put me in jail. I flee rather than fight. I communicate calmly with authorities. If I need to fight them, I will do it in court, and my peaceful, cooperative, silent style will make certain that I am in the best possible position to win in that arena.

Peace, my friends, is an incredibly tough defensive stand. Follow it, and you will suffer far less.

Monday, December 06, 2004

A message to homeless teens

If you are a runaway in the United States, unless you have gone through a very difficult procedure to become emancipated, you don't have the right to work or make contracts. This puts you in the worst possible position, a position of artificial dependency, partnered with inexperience and physical awkwardness. You are in trouble.

It may seem that you have four choices: seeking charity, thievery, drug trafficking, or prostitution. Not one of these is an acceptable or sustainable lifestyle, but you may decide to try one or all of them. If you do, know this, it does not make you a beggar, a thief, a drug dealer, or a prostitute. You are who you are, the fiery, self-reliant individual who is aware that he/she has a right to be treated better than what was happening at home. You stood up for yourself, and now I want you to remember that you are worth standing up for. What you are driven to do by need is not who you are. You will prove that later in life. Believe it now.

I want you to think about your troubles one at a time. You must address the same needs an adult has, but you must do it with fewer social resources. You may not be able to get a car, so now think. Where will you find shelter? Consider abandoned buildings. Consider tent living at campsites or in national parks. Consider unused warehouses. Try to avoid people who will give you a place to live in exchange for sex. These relationships almost always end in violence. Getting a place for a night or two is one thing. Getting ensnared long term grows ugly quickly.

It is often possible to sleep on buses or subways. Bring a newspaper and hold it up in front of you while you doze off if transit police check for people sleeping.

How will you keep warm? Layers of clothing are very helpful. I recently heard an interesting suggestion from polar explorers. If the night is very cold, eat some butter or margarine. This keeps explorers warm in Antarctica, so it is worth considering. Blankets are good. Huddle up with other runaways, if you can find some to get friendly with. They are least likely to exploit you.

Know that you will be exploited, you will be stolen from, you will be victimized. Be at peace with that reality, and try to limit the damage. Try not to get hurt. Never seek revenge. This advice is not applicable to the jail or prison environment where an early show of violent strength may be critical to reducing danger in the future.

Do not use drugs. Please. Just don't do it. This is the time when you will become an addict, because life sucks, and drugs are such an easy and available escape. You must avoid this trap, or you will be paying for it for years to come.

You must survive till you're able to make some contracts, or get involved in the underground economy. You may be able to find work by making friends with Latino day laborers. They often know people who will employ you without documents. Try to obtain false documents that will establish your age at 18 or 19. If you succeed at this, buy a car at your first opportunity and follow the rest of my advice as if you were an adult. If you follow this path, you may take a great deal of pride in how you lived through being a runaway.

The most important thing I can teach is that this will change. Things will get better. Have fun every day. It will help you think. Do something silly. Each day you will find new solutions. Beware of people who want to take over responsibility for your life. What they offer is seldom worth what they want in return.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Silly Criticism

I surf around finding people who talk about this blog just to see what they are saying and the amount of reach the blog has. One silly criticism that is occasionally delivered about the blog, really one of the few negative things that gets said, is that homeless people could never read the blog.

If you are homeless, and you read the blog, please post a comment. Tell me anything you are willing to about the way you are living. How do you get access to the internet?

If you are not homeless, as I believe most of my audience lives indoors, tell me something about what draws you to the blog.

BTW: I don't allow anonymous comments, because it is hard to separate one writer from another without a handle. If you don't have a blog on blogger, registration is free and easy, and you are not obliged to write a blog to do it.

Choosing a Vehicle

Different vehicles have different advantages for homeless living. RV's, vans, and trucks with camper shells are in some ways most comfortable. They are, however, obvious residences. Police will check them. People will notice them parked on their street. Finding a secure, suitable place to park in an RV, van, or truck can be a nightmare.

Cars, are easy to park but they are cramped. They're suitable for single living, but are not a very good solution for couples or families. Don't rule out compact cars just because they are small, though. Many compacts have been engineered to maximize interior space, and they can wind up being more comfortable than a full size vehicle.
What you need to look for in a car is a way to lay down flat and stretch out full length. I'm 6'4" so the roomiest back seat will not allow me to straighten my legs. If you can't stretch out full length, leg cramps are inevitable, and certain health problems like deep vein thrombosis (a potentially life threatening blood clot arising in the deep veins of the legs) can be caused by long periods of immobility. It is essential, then, to find a comfortable way to sleep.

When I am purchasing a vehicle, I look for front seats that can be laid down flat. I like to sleep in the driver's seat. Somehow it gives me a psychological feeling of control. The very best car for this that I've ever owned was a Honda Civic. The worst car, which I liked for other reasons, was my Datsun 280Z. Any sports car will be bad. Most commuter economy vehicles will be good; they'll have a sweet spot that will be comfortable. If the front seats are no good, how is the cargo space? Can the back seats be folded down to provide more trunk room? That's a bed. Station wagons tend to be pretty good, though too big for my taste.

An alternative to using a car cover is suggested by LiveJournal user, Crasch. He recommends buying a car, removing the rear seats, stringing a curtain just behind the front seats and blacking out the rear windows. It sounds like a viable method, and I recommend his article. Then the living area you've just created can be dressed up any way you like. There are two disadvantages to his method. The first is that it is obvious that he is doing this regularly if he is discovered. I'm not sure how bad that is, though. The police are going to cite you or they aren't, and deniability probably isn't a huge factor in that decision. The other disadvantage is a shorter warning time before cops or thieves can get in. I like to sleep with few clothes on, so I need time to get dressed before the invader is confronted. He makes useful suggestions, and the article is worth the read.