Survival Guide to Homelessness

No matter where you go, there you are.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Get Comfortable Lying

I've read that the average American lies 25 times a day. I don't know how you would test that, certainly not by a survey, but I can believe it. Those lies, mostly, are little white lies. Slight embellishments on the truth. Despite that, Americans place a very high value on truth. On the playground, the worst charge one child can make against another is, "he's lying!" Political scandals center not on national security, not even on sex, but on honesty. One lie can end a politician's career. Your culture has a love affair with the truth, and because of that, most people are pretty bad at lying. You need to get good at it, at least in defense of one specific area, your privacy.

People are going to ask you all day where you live. When you go to the doctor, try to get a mailbox, try to get a cell phone or a pager, when you are interrogated by the police, when you want to join a supermarket club, when you want to get a storage unit, they'll ask. They'll want your home phone number, too. If you don't provide these pieces of information, and prove you are a member of the housed public, they will deny you services.

You don't have any time for that. You have problems you are solving just as fast as you are able, and the last thing you need is to be arguing with some salesman about the fact that the reason you want a cell phone is that you don't have a phone. They don't care. They just need you to fill in the little box on the form. So make up a phone number. What are they going to do, check?

Even in the unlikely event that you were caught, it's meaningless. It is perfectly legal to lie to the clerk at the grocery store. The worst they can do is deny you services, which they would have done if you told the truth.

You are a member of the counter culture now. Welcome. Truth is a value of the culture your life is running counter to. You're going to have to get comfortable modifying that value a bit. Your private life must be kept private. Lying defends it.

Lying is a survival skill.


At 9:25 PM, Blogger Shaft said...

This couldn't be more true. Lying is definately a survival skill. I just plain hate lying though, so I limit my lying to about 5 a week.

At 6:25 AM, Blogger Firimari said...

Alas that this is a problem to the masses with more permanent housing as well. Supermarkets and such that ask for your number can then call to sell you services, even if you are on the 'do not call' list. Of course, this is nothing compared to the trials and tribulations of not having a phone to divulge in the first place.
Hopefully the privacy efforts will make it more acceptable for the homeless to answer 'no' to the question 'May I have your home number please?'

(I realize that in situations where they are asking for a number for credit checking it could be more difficult, but if you feel like cutting down your lying, possibly lying only after they've refused the 'no' might be acceptible.)

At 6:27 PM, Blogger Marke said...

Well, for that matter, couldn't you just have a family member or friend help you out by letting you send mail to their address? Considering that they live in that city, of course. The same could be said for the phone number.

At 6:52 PM, Blogger Mobile Homemaker said...

Asking for help from a family member usually puts you in a one down position socially. My advice is intended to suggest the most dignified and most efficient solutions. I don't think dependency on the largess of relatives is efficient or safe. It's unstable.

At 6:13 AM, Blogger Woolfey said...

I'm not sure this is the place to put this ... I found a link to your Car cover post on the van dwellers board on yahoo.. But I went though all kinds of grief getting a PO box finally a friendly PO employee made a mistake on my forwarding form and my mail was going someplace... Then I had a "residence" then I was able to get a PO box cause I wanted my mail separate from the others in the place... the easiest service to get was the Phone mail... In the people's republic of massachusetts.. you can't get a Voicemail without a live phone line... unless you subscribe to a service... but then you need a phone to access it... So I asked a few folks in the same area I lived in ... if I could have a line dropped on their house... you don't have to have a phone atached... or even show up to use it... but I park near mine and use it for my dialup access... Just a thought...

At 11:07 AM, Blogger Mobile Homemaker said...

Things are changing all the time on these fronts. Mobile communications are changing everything. In California it is easy to get voice mail on a mobile pager for next to nothing. My advice is simply to keep asking what is available, and keep signing up with different people if you are being denied services.

At 1:39 AM, Blogger Recovery Road London said...

I believe if the lie is to provide oneself with basics and essentials, then pragmatism over and above some misguided sense of propriety.

Good intentions and "honour" won't keep you warm and dry, feed you or get you medicines.

At 7:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having a PO Box is very important so that you can use this as your address. Most requests for a home address will accept a PO Box including the Department of Motor Vehicles. Those entities that will not accept a PO box such as financial institutions, just use a relative or friend's address as your PHYSICAL address for those who insist on it after first clearing this with the friend or relative. After all none of these entities are ever going to drop in on you at that address. All mail will come to your mailing address - the PO Box. The most that would happen is that a piece of mail would arrive at the friend or relative's address for you. Your cell phone should be sufficient for almost all demands for a phone number. A cool thing is that my storage unit accepts FedEx, UPS USPS and other parcel deliveries so one of the advantages of homelessness is trhat, if you have a storage unit, you don't have to be home to accept deliveries. Just swsing by your storage unit every few days and p[ick up the merchandise.

At 1:00 AM, Blogger Mobile Homemaker said...

A private mailbox is infinitely better than a PO Box. When you write your address you have a street address and a unit number. Just leave out the PMB and replace it with Apt. or Ste. or # and the number. It looks like a home address and functions for your mail.

At 1:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive" In order to be a good liar one needs a good memory. A head injury, kinda removed the excellent one I once had. The "I didn't get it changed yet" lie as to why the DL's address is in a different city, works for a while. When po-lice question and you tell truth, "lived here for 9 years" you are branded a liar, due to the address that sez different.

At 12:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Grub first, then ethics."
-- Bertolt Brecht

At 4:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think lying is the answer, but deception is another thing completely. Witholding information is not lying. You have to be smart. A person should have the right to some privacy! I'd recommend reading: HOW TO BE INVISABLE by J.J. LUNA. It's not specifically about homelessness, but it has lots of information that could help you work the system, so you don't have to lie.

At 5:55 PM, Blogger rainisrian said...

I started reading this blog when my friend told me about it and I couldn't agree more. It is indeed, a blog with substance and useful content.

More power. :)

At 12:51 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Some good information here. I've worked since I was 15 years old and rarely was unemployed. That changed over the past 3 years due to the economy, trade agreements and a tax structure that rewards outsourcing. I've lost my home to foreclosure and it was a situation that I had little control over. I spent 40 years working in the film industry as an artist, animator, director, prop master and grip electrician. I also spent three years working as a Respiratory Therapist in the 70's. I have worked as a photojournalist for local newspapers and Associated Press. My latest gig was working for WalMart pulling pallets of merchandise (they can weigh from 800 to 1500 pounds) but at 59 years of age, that's a tough pull. My wife was the west coast manager of a major life insurance company until her company downsized and closed all west coast offices. Three years later she was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, IBS, Kidney Stones and a seizure disorder. Social Security says she doesn't qualify for disability. Right!

Being homeless however, does not mean I've given up. I still have my camera, voice recorder and my laptop with wifi. I want to start photographing the people I meet and document their stories. There are "intact" families on the street now. These are people who had jobs, homes and hope. None of them ever thought they'd be homeless. They didn't overbuy in the housing market but their jobs were yanked out from under them. Their stories aren't being told fairly by the media so...maybe it's time to use social networking to spread the word and correct some deliberate misconceptions about homeless families. I'll be posting their stories in my own blog eventually. Right now...I have to prepare to hit the streets with my wife and three dogs.

At 4:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was homeless for 9 months, and I found a friend who let me use his address... "c/o Mr. XXXXX"; another solution is Mailboxes, etc, oran answering service (preferably in a "good" neighborhood. It's not lying if you simply state, "This is my address". It's not where you live, but it's your address.

At 4:58 PM, Anonymous Joseph said...

Lying as a survival skill...

I remember a conversation I had with my mother when I was a kid: I had heard that Gypsies had a reputation for being liars. I asked her why that was. She said that in some countries if they had revealed who they were, they would have been hanged on the spot. One does what one must to survive.

At 6:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


In this post, you had the nail and hammer in hand, but hit your thumbnail instead.

Truthfully speaking, LYING is a value of the culture your life is running counter to...That is why they make you do it to get in, and if you don't they keep you out.
I had my drivers license taken away from me back in 2001, because I refused to lie.

I was getting it renewed cause I had a part time job as a delivery driver even though I was homeless. In there box that said "address"; I put my email and the lady said I had to have an address. I told her I was homeless, but checked my email every day at the library because it was free.

She told me that wasn't good enough and if I didn't have an address I couldn't have a license. I asked her how not having an address impaired my ability to drive. She said that's the law.

Then she told me to make one up, to use my parents or friends. I said; "But I don't live there." She said it doesn't really matter as long as they have one.

I even saught to clarify what she was saying by repeating it back to her; "You mean, if I don't lie, then I can't have my license." She looked my square in the eye and said; "yes".

I thanked her for her time and walked away. I didn't stop driving and even told my employer what happened...But he really needed somebody that could drive and figured I WAS good at it and probably wouldn't ever be pulled over or have an accident.

I still drive when neccassary. I figure some walls are placed before us, not to be stopped by it or to bang our head against, but to inspire us on the journey around it, as we learn to walk a different way.

It is those little lies that imprison us and only the TRUTH shall set you free...much as this blog does...because you share the TRUTH about lying.

your humble servant,
ancient clown

At 6:03 AM, Blogger Mobile Homemaker said...

I think you're wrong, Ancient Clown. Driving unlicensed makes you extremely vulnerable to the law, a vulnerability that is dispelled by a single procedural lie. I think you make my point.

At 12:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is nothing wrong with lying, depending on the reason. In truth, our society depends on it. (No pun intended).

If your wife asks you if these pants make her look fat and the truth is they make her butt look a sack full of fighting badgers, you have to lie to protect her feelings--and your neck.

Lying crosses the line when betrays a trust, is perjury, etc.

At 11:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I dont want to lie to be accepted by any society, any more than I would tell the truth to be accepted. Being truthful makes me feel good for myself alone. Most official documents can be collected and any address given as 'temporary'.It isnt necessary to feel dependent if one uses someone elses address as a c/o address, you might pay that person to receive your mail & keep it until collected.

At 10:35 AM, Anonymous coolrayfruge said...

I read a book on Privacy "how to enjoy it and how to keep it.
By Eden books.
One chapter on your home address.
Says;You should find a abandoned home and use its address as your home address and get a Po Box for your mailing address.

At 12:52 AM, Blogger hippie said...

If you don't have cell phone, consider signing up for Google Voice. It is free. Get a local number where you are and pretend that it is your home number.

You can record a personal greeting on Google Voice and it will store any incoming voice messages for you. It will also transcribe the voice message and email to you - you can get email at the library. It is better to listen to the voice message as the text transcriptions are not very accurate.

By the way, Virgin Mobile cost $15 or $20 every 3 months for limited usage. This is a great way to have emergency cell service on the cheap.

I think it is okay to ask a good friend or family for postal mail if you only get postal mail once in a blue moon. When it comes to phone, it is another story.

July 10, 2010

At 2:45 AM, Blogger hippie said...

While I avoid lying to my real friends, I don't want to feel bad about lying to nosy people who do not really care.

If a job applicant is car camping or homeless, it would be almost impossible to get a job without pretending that one has some "home address" not too far away. It is just too bad that very few employers would accept an email address with a cell phone number as full contact info.

July 31, 2010.

At 11:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I try not to lie.In the past,I've had to embellish the truth (in other words,twist the truth) to suit the situation.BUT,keep in mind to remember who you told what {law enforcement,etc),to save any unwanted hassles {hopefuly} later.

At 1:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know if you read these comments, given that this blog was written years ago, but is there any way to collaborate with you a bit? I am thinking of abandoning my "stable life" to live on the road for a while...

At 5:28 PM, Blogger Mobile Homemaker said...

You can email me at homelessness AT gmail DOT com

At 10:33 AM, Anonymous Matthew said...


If you are reading this and have a minute or two of spare time you don't need to lie about having a phone number. I've been using google voice for a phone number and that works great.

Also about the address thing, I will say it is nice to have an address for picking up mail. People rarely ask you where you live, they ask for your address.

Just my thoughts.

At 10:33 AM, Anonymous Sarah said...

My nephew is 21 and has mood disorders, dropped out of college. Has refused to speak to his parents for over a year. Washed out of a couple of residential programs, refuses to take anti depressants. May be bi-polar, at minimum profoundly depressed, angry, paranoid.

I feel sooner or later his parents will say he can't live at home any longer, and while I don't think they would put him on the street (they have paid many thousands for his aborted care and mess thus far) I envision soon enough he will no longer have a place to stay and will run out of rmoney. He does not have a drivers license.

Should I show him this site? If he does wind up homeless he is completely naive and unprepared. This is a kid who's been sitting on his parents couch playing video games and iTunes for 15 months....all advice much appreciated.

At 10:46 AM, Anonymous Sarah said...

To Anonymous and driving without license and insurance, you put others at risk. If you hit someone and you have no liability insurance, and they have no Uninsured Driver Insurance, then they may not be able to recoup their losses, since they will have to sue YOU and you have no money, or at least not enough for ex to cover potentially thousands in medical expenses or to replace their car.
It is not only illegal it is irresponsible to drive without minimum coverage which is essentially Liability coverage as required by the state.
Please reconsider and get the min coverage.

At 7:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have lied in order to avoid being tossed into subzero weather.

Having no place to go, I spent a night at the airport. Walking through the corridors on the way to baggage claim, I picked out an arrival schedule and memorized it.

Sure enough, five hours of warm secure blessed sleep later, a cop questioned me. I told him I was waiting for family to arrive at such and such a time. I looked the part, complete with props (trashy novel and cup of Starbucks by my side).

The cop moved on and rousted others down the row who didn't have their stories straight and didn't attempt to blend in.

An hour later, I sponged off in the airport bathroom, brushed my teeth, and left to continue on with my day. However, I also know the cop's routine now and I make sure to be gone before he starts his morning rounds. I don't think he'll believe my story a second time.

At 2:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Welp, two-and-a-half months is a good run. I finally got "made" at the airport.

Fooled police and TSA by switching terminals and keeping track of shift changes.Couldn't fool cleaning staff though.

Janitor came on to me. Got offended when I turned him down. He pointed me out to a police officer who came right on over and gave me the long goodbye.

Fortunately, I prepared for this day by collecting trial passes to local 24-hr gyms and locating businesses and schools that stay open late/early.

At 1:33 AM, Blogger Mobile Homemaker said...

Jay, if you'd like me to publish your comments, you'll need to follow some guidelines. Foremost, I am an atheist, and I find nothing so irritating than a dozen biblical quotations meant to bolster an argument. It virtually guarantees I'll reject the comment. Second, solely moral arguments pull very little weight on this blog. This is a blog about surviving and thriving as a person without a permanent residence. Comments should be practical, pragmatic, and not judgmental. I've strived for that throughout and succeeded in greater or lessor degrees. (I'm sure you can find instances here and there where I've indulged in judgment. My only defense is that is my prerogative as the author of the blog.)

At 9:53 PM, Blogger Mobile Homemaker said...

Hi Jay. I got your new post. I recommend you email me instead, if you want to talk about this. homelessnessATgmailDOTcom
I recognize that my argument that I get to be judgmental just because I own the blog is obvious hypocrisy. Still, we've been over most of this territory in the comments above. I believe in lying about things people have no business asking, others don't. See the exchanges with Ancient Clown.

That you didn't know about my very public atheism is no particular big deal. It shows you didn't read the rest of the blog, but who reads whole blogs? You read what interests you. Similarly, I don't want to read biblical citations.


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