Survival Guide to Homelessness

No matter where you go, there you are.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Play Against Type

Showering in my own apartment I looked down at my hands. I have cuts and nicks scattered across their fingers, calluses, worked in dirt that won't wash away, and a burn from an errant bit of molten metal on my right index finger. When I look in the mirror I see I am sunburned across my forehead, cheeks, and the back of my neck. I'm wearing a beard and mustache. I look homeless.

That's okay. It's okay because I have a union job and a place to lay down at night. When I was actually homeless, I would never look like this. I'd be manicured. I wouldn't have a sunburn because I would have made careful use of sunscreen and I would have kept out of the sun. I would be clean shaven.

The Hollywood set calls this playing against type, and it is an essential skill. Imagine yourself a fugitive from the law, which you actually are if you are homeless. The last thing a fugitive wants is notice. I don't care how rich he is, Grizzly Adams gets noticed when he walks into town. For the same reason that you must be comfortable lying, you must maintain a look that is cleaner than the rest of society. Don't wear torn clothing. Don't get tattoos or visible piercings. Don't participate in fashion counter-cultures. Look normal, only better.

Don't get me wrong. I am not morally, politically, or personally against any kind of fashion statement. I am not only accepting, I'm eager to see. This is survival advice. Fashion statements are for those who don't need to blend in. Fashion is for the rich.

I have the great luxury to look homeless because I am not, and everyone knows I'm not. They see me in my work clothes and work truck and they know I'm a union man. The homeless look is a look of prestige if it belongs to a union man. It's stupid, but it is what it is. Mind games, subtle psychological nudges like manicured hands and a close hair cut, are important tools for getting what you need done each day. Play against type. Look good.


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

thats so sad but probably true. I'm homeless right now and i'll take that advice. What do I do with my backpack?

At 6:06 AM, Blogger The Homeless Advisor said...

Glad to see this blog and look forward to reading more.

Tried to find where I can click to subscribe. Is that disabled here? Please advise.

At 9:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi. I have read, or so I believe, the Survival Guide to Homelessness several times now. I have alot of experience homeless, squatting, urban camping, in several major cities and small towns, currently, so that is why it interests me so. Badwriter: backpacks can be hidden (rooftops work best if you want it to still be there when you come back)or in a large urban park. Backpacks left at street level must be considered disposable. But if you must keep something, like important papers in your backpack, keep your backpack with you. Just make sure it looks like a backpack and not a suitcase on wheels. Some cities, like Portland, OR and LA, have places where you can store your property for free but its kinda a hassle, or so I believe. Check the internet.

At 2:53 PM, Blogger TMannis said...

Beautiful blog, great writing. I'll be homeless in a few days myself and plan to blog from the road. I look to blogs like yours for inspiration and advice. Thank you.

At 4:21 PM, Blogger Shawn said...

Great blog. A lot of great ideas. A lot of people write blogs about homelessness that have no clue. You are real and know what you are talking about and that's refreshing!

At 9:35 AM, Blogger Duke of Indiana said...

Good advice, but what would you recommend for someone who will draw attention no matter what? I am 6'7" tall, and even at my lowest weight I am a big, big man.

Going to take your advice and lose the beard asap. I have a cheep YMCA membership so I stay showed everyday. Also have a place to wash clothes.

My problem in the future is finding clothing. I can't go into the local good will and find anything my size, so I have to make do with what I have, and what little new I can afford.

Love the blog! Thanks for the great advice

At 8:06 PM, Anonymous Maureen said...

How bad is a suitcase on wheels? I have sort of an oversized computer case that I think blends in...but maybe I'm fooling myself.

At 11:02 PM, Blogger Mobile Homemaker said...

A suitcase on wheels beats nothing, but it's probably not long term sustainable. It doesn't look right, and the wheels usually come off pretty quick with a lot of use. I say, keep thinking, keep refining. Everything that gets you by is good, but good can be made better.

At 5:52 PM, Anonymous StreetSleeper said...

you didnt ask me but- Im a fellow Ruff Sleeper. I invested in a smaller pack asap, one with a normalish color, no molle, no frame. If you get work it can be done pretty easy- you get what you pay for just remember... I had the trouble of image with a full ruck- I got a storage unit to start and used what I had to carry only what I needed. Now im in a Metropolitan area without storage- my pack is the most important asset to image.


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