Survival Guide to Homelessness

No matter where you go, there you are.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Changing Your Life

It has been said before, but it is worth repeating: the homeless problem is the problem the housed have with the homeless.

I was just reading a terrific little blog item about a kid in Washington that had managed to set himself up as a computer consultant using a Starbucks wifi network while homeless. When Starbucks was closed, he spent the night at Kinko's. He scrounged for food and computer equipment. He worked for tips. He kept himself very clean. He surfed the internet for girls. In short, he had created a lifestyle. The blogger who was writing about him gave him a substantial amount of money hoping he would change his life. Of course, he couldn't understand why the wifi kid spent it on computer equipment.

The blogger couldn't understand it because he refused to acknowledge that this man had a legitimate and sustainable lifestyle. When given money, he reinvested it in that lifestyle, as any responsible, reasonable person does. The blogger was angry at him. Why, oh why, didn't he struggle to get a home? The man was already home.

Homelessness changes you. So does having a house. Your priorities become the priorities of the extant lifestyle. What you do with money has much to do with how you are living. All lifestyles are investments, and we continue to add resources in an effort to improve their performance. Abandoning a lifestyle is something we never do without a serious push. Once a lifestyle is comfortable, why should it be abandoned?

This is another reason that charity is so unsavory. It comes from a position of superiority. The charitable feel they have a right to determine the goals, purposes, and uses of their charity. It lacks dignity. I don't mean for the recipient. I mean it is not dignified to try to direct the lives of others, to be so involved in the details of other lives. It's a failure to understand boundaries.


At 8:12 AM, Anonymous Crimethinc said...

No doubt.

Glad to see you dropping knowledge again man. Keep it coming, there are a lot of cats like me that can use your experience and wisdom.

At 2:47 PM, Anonymous mary said...

This woman who became homeless after the end of a relationship gone bad, and business failure, said she wished someone would write a guide so people like her won't have to learn it the hard way.

I tried my whole life to buy a home, and failed. Living in sunny, Southern California, so much to do, not enough off work hours to do it, affordable housing going bye-bye, seems silly to spend anymore time to get tied down to a home. If I ever get back on my feet, won't buy a home, nor rent an apartment, would get a nice little Van to live in, despite the regulations making that a crime.

At 2:07 PM, Blogger walford said...

I have to agree with you about the indignity of charity and the haughty response that often obtains if you are foolish to tell most people how you live.

Right now, I finally have some steady employment and hope to use the money to first rehab my vehicle, then buy a small, windowless cargo trailer in which to sleep unnoticed and comfortable.

I shall turn over more than half of my income to student loans and taxes. Can't avoid that. Fine. With what's left I'm then expected to struggle to pay rent, live in a bad neighborhood with roomies and have nothing left.

Sorry. Won't do that. The money that would otherwise go to rent will be invested for my senior years -- which are less than 2 decades away. And ya know what I'll do then? Buy a plot of land to park my trailer and shoot rock salt at any kids who come too close.

I like dreams that are attainable.

At 4:17 PM, Blogger yp said...

I personally think that homelessness is the ultimate freedom. The freedom from the pressure by society to consume. It's almost as if one day I woke up, and realized that all the predicatable things that I do everyday are useless and unnecessary. My childhoods was one enormous brain washing session that told me that consumption is good and that in order to have a good life you must live respectfully, and that that respect comes from having a job - which enables you to buy stuff and live in a nice home.

At 5:23 PM, Anonymous cris said...

Good to read the unembellished TRUTH. I've spent the past decade doing it all the way I'm "supposed" to. More than 50% of my take home goes to rent alone. The jobs I've been able to get are killing me physically. My employers suck money out of my paychecks for health insurance, and I can't afford to use the health benefits I'm paying for. Anyway, all most doctors have to offer are toxic drugs. This is an insane way to live. All my time off from work I spent sleeping---to recover to go back to work. I work and pay the bills and can't buy food--for as long as two weeks, sometimes. I don't know what I'm going to do but I'm not going to live like this anymore. There's no freedom in a life like this. And by the way, I don't use drugs, drink booze, smoke, gamble, or go to church. Thanks for your blog.

At 1:31 AM, Anonymous formerly homeless in a2 said...

If I had the computer know how, I probably done the same thing when I was homeless...

At 12:51 PM, Anonymous Jim said...

People who give willingly of their money to those in need have no right to determine how that money is spent. If the don't like how it's being spent, then they just don't give it anymore. However, money that comes from government funded programs, which gets their money from tax dollars, is a different story.

People in this situation cannot just "stop giving" their money. So, while they might completely disagree with the whole concept and hate where their money is going, they are stuck. Rightfully so, some of these people become frustrated and vent those frustrations.

To them, it is their money and they would rather see it spent in their way, on their lifestyle. It at least makes them feel somewhat better to see thier money, which is a reflection of their societal effort, spent in a way they deem fit.

I think an extremely small percentage of people would have any problems at all with a self sufficient "homeless" person. Most of their angst is focused on those who would exploit the system and others generosity for their own gain, while contributing nothing in return.

At 6:16 AM, Blogger Lacey Chick said...

I'm on the verge of being homeless, though not quite there yet. Refuse to accept help or even ask for it from my family because they are of the mindset that if they give help, I have to live by their rules. I'm an adult with a son, and I have a recently diagnosed disability that makes it difficult to work a "real" job. I work, I make enough money to pay rent and buy food, but not much else some months. I've often thought of saving up to buy a small camper or motor home and just live in that. So much easier than trying to scrape to pay rent and utilities every month, then getting electric shut off because they stiffed you with a $2000 back bill from their own accounting error.

At 8:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Often I hear friends and other people justify their selfishness by judging those who ask for help. "They're only going to use it on drugs, alcohol, etc." is usually their excuse. But who cares? It isn't your job to tell them what to use it on. It is simply... give because you can and because it is needed.
And you don't know. Yes, maybe they will buy drugs with it. But what if that's what they needed that moment to prevent suicide? What if you helped to save a life? What if they went and bought some food? You can never know and no one should judge.

At 3:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am on the verge of being without a home again. I just read your"changing your life." It was something because it was so clear about a lifestyle we all are in. Amazing. I have been homeless before and am about to be again and I do like the way I live because in part I feel free. Sure some days it is hard because I would like to have friends over but I have come to accept that in my life period I am where I am. Thank you.

At 1:40 PM, Blogger Mr Stuart Brown Esq. said...

A lot of what is in this blog I find really interesting and uplifting, but at some points I feel uncomfortable.

I work in a 'wet' hostel in Scotland for homeless people with varying degrees of alcohol abuse issues. Now, I don't know if in America charitable organisations are ran differently in regards to this but we very much to work towards the individual's goals - not ones we determine for them. I find the attitude in this entry a bit disconcerting and in a way very insulting and narrow minded.

There is a very real and bleakness to homelessness, as well as its potential for liberation in an anarchic sense. Although some may find a freedom in homelessness - family members of mine included - my own experience in working with homeless people is that there are people who are prisoners of homelessness in the UK. They are imprisoned by anything from mental health to substance misuse issues, to criminal records, to a lack of social provision. I've seen people who are in a precarious position with out any wish or ambition to be there. But I am not better than any of those people and neither is anyone I have ever met.

I count every one of the residents as a friend, as well as a client and the staff team I work with all passionately aim to address each individual's goals and needs. I am not superior to the residents of the hostel where I work, I am as much them as they are me.

Please think before you tar all charitable organisations with one brush. The world is a very large and diverse place, and two people's experience of similar circumstances are just that - similar - they are never the same.

For some, living outside the margins of accepted social norms and boundaries can be profoundly liberating, for others it can be soul-destroying, dehumanising, degrading and a prison cell.

At 4:57 PM, Blogger Mobile Homemaker said...

Your comment seems to be against my posts opposing shelters, so I will respond as if you placed it under one of them. I've said it over and over, shelters are for someone else. Not for me. Not for the people I am giving advice to. Those people don't have severe mental health issues preventing them from looking after their own interests.

At 6:45 PM, Blogger Rick's World said...

"The charitable feel they have a right to determine the goals, purposes, and uses of their charity."

Thought-provoking post. I'm glad I stumbled into your blog, because you are addressing the issues intelligently. I can't say I agree with everything in your post, though. Charitable people have the right to expect the money to be spent in a certain way, if they choose, without it affecting their dignity. What if the money had been spent on cocaine? Who is to make the decision on how the money is to be spent, the giver or the receiver? The dignified thing would be for the giver to tell his expectations up front, before the money was given or spent. Then the receiver could choose to accept or reject it.

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

I don't disagree with you, but what you are saying is why I argue against receiving charity. I don't want you that involved with my life. It's undignified. Once money is in my hands, I'll spend it as I choose, and I don't want to answer to your judgments of my lifestyle or my choices.

At 5:35 PM, Blogger Cinamingrl said...

I was homeless for a while and went to a bad shelter. Then i found a very good shelter and found a REAL job. I'd been working at Disneyland and that didn't help me. So them I save a lot of money from my new job and finally got an apartment. I'm still in my apartment too. I have a kitten also. I started a blog about being homeless, but it's so awful that I have to make it so that only I can read it. One day I will publish it. But I do have another blog.

I am a woman and it was the single most difficult thing to do in my life, to be homeless. I was taken advantage of. But I lived to tell about it.

I live in southern California. Life is still difficult. I also lived in a convent for a while before moving to my apartment, nuns are super nice and helpful to the homeless. I still go there for breakfast with them and dinner sometimes, Chinese food.

At 12:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ahh, homelessness. Well, it's about time someone get down to earth about it. I spent 4 years living in a city, homeless. No one cared, not even missions that house homeless and destitute persons. It's cold, wet and miserable if you choose to live outside instead of trying to live with others, roaches, lice and other things that you may not live with right now. Get started by getting food stamps, money from DSHS if necessary such as GAU or even SSI or, preferably, a job, beg or do something to get food and money from people, go to dumpsters where fresh burgers and fries are dumped at the end of a McDonald's day if need be (don't be ashamed, just don't eat what's been eaten already or has a hard or soggy bun on it), go to "poor-man" stores that help people with clothing for free like those run by Catholics, so you can get a job and for all purposes, get a battery-operated alarm clock so you can get up to go to a job or appointments. Don't waste time wondering what to do, just get busy earning money however you have one can fault you. If you can, save your money and some food stamps each month and put some thought into buying or renting some place to live. That's about all you can do in a city. Giving plasma weekly, provided you're not an addict of some sort, washing windows, cleaning for the elderly or rich for a few dollars, home oil changes for a cheap price, whatever ideas you can come up with and promote, door-to-door if you have to, may help. Anyway, whoever may be homeless or will be in the near future, good luck and may God Almighty be on your side because our economy seems to be getting worse every week and more and more business owners are doing the work where employees used to. Hopefully, things will turn around for our nation and again be fruitful. If you have property of your own and need some money, then plant an acre or so of spuds, veggies or other things that people always buy and sell them below what they go for in the stores.

At 8:27 AM, Blogger Mobile Homemaker said...

Thinking outside the box... maybe you should write a blog for the more visibly homeless than I've been targeting. Unashamedly Homeless, perhaps.

Thanks for the good advice.

At 7:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i remember reading a book about genghis khan and the mongols which mentioned that there was always a deep divide between nomadic and settled peoples. the book said that when the nomads conquered, they would force the settled people to be more like them - to roam around and not stay tied down to certain parcels of land. in the same way, when settled peoples conquered nomads, the nomads were hemmed into settlements.

there is a great, almost insurmountable difference between the two lifestyles. its the same reason why the gypsies of europe were so often despised and suspected, to give one example.

this is a good blog btw.

At 2:40 PM, Blogger Anjru said...

Eyes Wide Shut

By Andrew Malekoff

One recent independent and obscure film that stands out for me is Wendy and Lucy. In this film we meet a young woman who is hanging by a thread. Wendy is doing her best, with little support and money, to survive day to day and maintain her dignity. Along the way she loses her dog Lucy, the only stable and loving relationship in her life. Ultimately, she is faced with making a heartbreaking decision that their mutual welfare depends upon.

As Wendy’s car that also serves as her bed breaks down and her resources dwindle, she collects cans and bottles and shoplifts dog food. She encounters a group of homeless people making a fire, a self-righteous store clerk, a smug auto mechanic, a sympathetic security guard, and a psychotic drifter, among others. We see each of them from the unique perspective of a young woman alone and on the verge of economic collapse and homeless destitution.

Wendy offers a lens through which we can see such a transformation evolve. Many homeless people were something and somewhere else first. Wendy is such a person.

Although this low budget, spare film is a dramatic and moving work of fiction, it reminds me that we cannot afford to overlook the impact - the anxieties and fears - that the downturn of the economy has on today’s teenager. Parents need to be open and direct with their children.

According to Allen Cardoza, founder of West Shield Adolescent Services in Newport Beach, California, here are four significant ways parents can help teens survive and thrive in an economic downturn:

1. Speak immediately and honestly about the family financial and employment situation. Provide reassurance that the economic situation is not their fault. You cannot predict when it will end, only that as a family you will get through it.

2. Be firm about spending changes that will need to be made. Allow reductions across the board. Prioritize what is needed most by whom.

3. Assist your teenager with income producing ideas such as a dog walking service, grocery delivery, mowing lawns, etc. Allow your teenagers to contribute a percentage to the household budget and keep a portion for their own "extras."

4. Budget a fun family activity at regular intervals to keep everyone connected and motivated.

Wendy and Lucy is a film that offers a window on an extreme situation in which a young woman barely out of her teens demonstrates resilience in her quest to overcome the significant risks she faces. Teenagers today, despite what might be projected as apathy, have strong feelings about what is happening in our world and in their family. We need to keep them informed without imposing guilt or blame.

Wendy and Lucy pleads with us to do what we must all do with children and teens we care about during these difficult times - not to close our eyes or turn our backs on them.

Originally published in the Anton Newspaper chain, Long Island, NY, in February 2009.

At 1:20 PM, Anonymous Bill Cady said...

I can attest, from the 4+ years I spent homeless until May, the most burning reactions I experienced were the utter lack of respect for the homeless. As if we were contagious lepers, or pedophiles.

When I was finally able to get out, I had a badge made, (looks like a sheriff's badge), with my name and the words "Human Being". Not only do I get respect from people who see me now, (they never read the badge, just see the star), but cops now give me a friendly "brother officer" nod.

Like Aretha said, "R-E-S-P-E-C-T, tell you what it means to me."

At 12:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was homeless at two points during my life--once as a single young man, and once when married with three young kids. Neither of those times was very long by the standards here, but they were valuable learning experiences. While homeless with my family, we eventually were taken in by another family that let us stay in a room in their attic. At the time, I joked that I was the only homeless guy in St. Paul with a cell phone, because I was still attempting to run my computer repair business after losing our apartment. Things did get better for us, and we eventually ended up going the way of getting a house out of the city. We've taken in others who need places to stay. I do understand, though, how much owning a home (and other stuff) ties you down. I'd love to live a more transient lifestyle again, but this time by choice. I have no qualms with those who choose to give, even if they give with strings attached. I just know that, when I give, I give. Once it (be it money or goods) is out of my hands, it is no longer up to me how it should be used. People get mixed up into thinking that their charity is only "good" if the recipient uses it in some specific way. How sad. The good is from giving, especially if it is not out of your excess, but from your own limited needs. The good is in the giving, and each who receives is responsible for using such gifts--that's not up to the giver.

At 10:53 AM, Anonymous Mommy Tyme said...

I was glad I stumbled across your blog today- and I hope you don't mind me promoting it on my blog- I think that too often we project our standards onto others. However, having a home and owning a home are two different things. No one should have to own a home, but everyone should have a place to call home. Unfortunately there are many who do not. And of the homeless, a huge population is children, and I dont think - given the choice- they would all choose to continue that lifestyle. But you make some great points and it helped me see things a little differently.

At 2:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regarding charity, I don't practice charity as you describe. When I give, I give without strings attached. If you want to buy booze, drugs, food, toothbrush or computers with my money -- it's your choice. I don't feel superior to homeless. I consider homeless people to be my brothers and sisters. Maybe I am in the minority. Fine. But I wanted you to know that not every giver feels superior.

At 1:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The other issue is some of us homeless are stereotyped in 2 categories...Alcoholics...Substance Abusers.
I would say about 1/3 of us are neither of those.

But in order to receive help we have to admit as being one of those.

I am a Computer Tech, a full time student working on my degree in Computer Graphics/Desktop Publishing and Web Design.

All I want is a job and a roof over my head that I can go to after class and be able to do my studies so I can improve my life and make a living to support myself.
But for a homeless person, I am asking too much.
So I am sleeping on the streets.

At 1:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The other issue is some of us homeless are stereotyped in 2 categories...Alcoholics...Substance Abusers.
I would say about 1/3 of us are neither of those.

But in order to receive help we have to admit as being one of those.

I am a Computer Tech, a full time student working on my degree in Computer Graphics/Desktop Publishing and Web Design.

All I want is a job and a roof over my head that I can go to after class and be able to do my studies so I can improve my life and make a living to support myself.
But for a homeless person, I am asking too much.
So I am sleeping on the streets.

At 7:02 AM, Anonymous mkearnels said...

Cool blog man and good post. I am not one to spam my blog across the net but I have just done a post on a homeless guy I just interviewed on camera. He has quiet a cool story to tell having been in the army for 17 years and because of war trauma finds himself on the streets. Was such a cool interesting guy to meet and didn't any money at all. He is one of them many that is being pushed to other cities out of London when the Olympics arrive. I would love his story to be told and would appreciate you posting this link to my site.


At 8:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent, especially the part about charity and control freaks. :-)

At 4:50 AM, Blogger wayaoutthere said...

ya thats not really charity true charity is love which enables true understanding which is the best platform for change


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