Since 2013, Veterans Project & The Family Assistance Campaign has provided free food assistance to more than 20,000 Veterans and their family members, distributing 445,000 lbs. of food. Feed Our Vets mission is to help Veterans in the United States, their spouses and children, whose circumstances have left them on the battlefield of hunger, and to involve the public in fighting Veteran hunger, through: (1) Community food pantries that provide regular, free food to Veterans and their families, (2) Distribution of related goods and services, (3) Public education and outreach.
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Power is of two kinds. One is obtained by the fear of punishment
and the other by acts of love. Power based on love
is a thousand times more effective and permanent
then the one derived from fear of punishment.
- Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi
INTRODUCTION TO VETERANS PROJECT & The Family Assistants Campaign.
Tuesday, January 10, 2017
Survival and Homelessness
Introduction to the Project
I spent nearly a year from mid-1996 to the beginning of 1997, homeless, or as I liked to call it with a distributed household. I had storage, shelter, mailbox, telephone, shower, bathroom facilities, cooking equipment, and transportation, even access to television, radio, computer equipment, and ac power. I had the essence of a home. It was simply more geographically scattered than is traditional in our culture.
I'm not the first to do what I did, to live homeless well. I'm not the first to find advantage in homelessness. It is a well kept secret that homelessness can be freedom and comfort can attend it. The secret is well kept because revealing that you are homeless in this society is dangerous. There is stigma. There are even laws prohibiting it. Imagine that. There are laws against being homeless. Let me say that one more time. There are laws against being homeless.
There are laws against sleeping in public, in your car, on the beach, anywhere in the public view. It is the only law that I know that prohibits a behavior that is involuntary. You must sleep. There is no choice. You must do it. If you do not sleep for approximately one third of your life, you will suffer. The less sleep you get, the more physical and psychological symptoms you will suffer, until your mental faculties break down, your grasp of reality disintegrates, your self-control disappears. Your body will make you sleep, and if you use stimulants to avoid it, you will rapidly begin to become psychotic, with unpredictable mood swings, displays of aggression, and hallucinations. Nevertheless, the law in nearly every municipality forbids sleeping unless you are rich enough to afford a house or hotel to do it in. It's a human rights violation, but I will get back to that.
I've been thinking about writing this book, a guide to living well, for years. People think it will be easy to be homeless, that it is a lazy choice. Nothing could be further from true. Homelessness is very hard work. Homelessness can be very uncomfortable until you solve some basic problems. It is vital, for instance, to have a place of concealment. It is vital to assure that you will be warm, and to provide for safety, and for hygiene, and for communications, and even for a source of income. If you are newly homeless, you will not be meeting all of these basic needs, and to the extent that you don't, you will pay for that. This book will teach you to meet those needs effectively and fast.
There is nothing so bad that it will not pass. If there is one thing the world teaches it is that all things change. If you cannot think of what to do, if you believe that all hope has gone, if you are tired of trying, then pause. Breathe deeply. Do you have any money at all? If you do, spend it on a good meal, even if you are spending every dime. Get a good meal, and sit in a warm place eating it, with friendly people serving it. Eat and enjoy, and think about good things. Think about your favorite color, your best friend when you were in grade school, how flannel feels when you rub it between your fingers. Think about those gold coin chocolates that always made you feel rich even though the chocolate was waxy and tasted like tin. When you were a kid, you had a knack for feeling rich when you had next to nothing.
There is nothing so painful as desperation. Nothing so counterproductive. Now that you are feeling good again, nothing has changed, except you. You are different. Now you can think. Where will you sleep tonight? What will you do tomorrow? Don't focus on what you can't do or haven't got. You have a lot of resources, if only you will recognize them. Try to identify your most pressing problems individually, and find a straight line to a solution. You need a warm place out of the rain? How about a hotel lobby, or a hospital waiting room, or a laundromat, or a bus station, or a fast food restaurant? You need to clean up? That's easy. You need some food? You can fill your belly on less than a dollar's worth of rice. I'm not going to teach you any techniques in this section. That isn't my point. My point is that to begin surviving, you need to change your head. Abandon anger, desperation, depression, melancholy. Embrace confidence, strength, abilities, resources. Be positive, by all means.
Years ago, before I decided to be homeless and make it work, I was staying with relatives and my welcome had suddenly worn out. I was so angry my head started to pound. The anger was a mask for my desperation. I had, perhaps, $300, barely enough to stay in a seedy motel for a week. I've got to find a real room, I thought, but $300 won't move me in. I went down to the liquor store, steaming, bought a newspaper, and started scanning the classified ads. There was nothing, nothing, nothing, and my mood became darker, almost violent, though with no outlet, no target. This was, after all, my problem, my fault.
At just this rather difficult moment a man in his fifties approached me, hand out, and rage flooded over me. The man saw it, and withdrew his hand, stung. He began to turn. I called out, "Wait." I pulled out my money, peeled off a twenty, and handed it to him, and he, maybe even more frightened now, thanked me and left. For me a spell was broken, and I began to laugh quietly at myself, at my rage, at the terrible seriousness I was approaching life with.
The worst thing about my situation was my attitude, and I paid twenty dollars to change it. It was a bargain at twice the price.
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.
You may be thinking, who needs this? I have a home. I have a life. I'm not one of those bums.
I'm not a bum either, and I never have been, but in 1996 I had a reversal of fortune. I'd gone off to college and it just didn't work out at the school I'd chosen. Unhappy, I dropped out and headed back to my hometown. With dropping out my financial aid came to an end, and I found myself nearly broke and without an income stream. Homelessness followed quickly and naturally from the situation.
How secure are you really? How many paychecks could you go without before the rent, the mortgage, the credit card, and the car are not being paid? If you said two, you are doing better than most. If you would be immediately using whatever consumer credit you have available, you're like most of us. Like storms, earthquakes, and car accidents, homelessness happens. It happens to decent, hardworking people. It happens because our lives are a system, and when part of that system fails the whole thing can come crashing down.
What you are more than who you are will determine the resources that are available to you. Women can rely more easily on family than men can. A man who runs to his parents suffers an amazing ego shot, in addition to the abuse he takes from others. Certain ethnic groups are good at supporting members until they get on their feet, immigrant groups for instance. If you are a single, young, strong man, of American birth, then you, my friend, have no one but yourself to depend on. If you are a teen runaway, you have people actively trying to exploit you. If you are a young woman without family resources, you really ought to prepare for this possibility before you have any idea that you might become homeless. A young family? You need to have a plan in place.
It is good just to think about these things, whether you prepare or not. If you think about how to be homeless successfully, comfortably, then you are 80% prepared just from putting your mind into that space. The best preparation for homelessness is knowing that you could be, and looking at the resources around you with that in mind.
I'd like you to forget what you know about the homeless as you read this book. The ideas that we've been taught about who they are, the veterans, the mentally ill or retarded, are simply stereotypes, and they contain much more fiction than fact. If you are already homeless, you must dismiss these stigmatizing images, and when you see someone that matches the stereotype, deal with the individual. Very often they will have deep knowledge that will help you to live well. If you can get that knowledge, well, you may see that bum with new eyes.
You'd be surprised how many advantages there are to a homeless lifestyle. While there is an aspect of difficulty and hardship, there is also an element of easy living. I was made homeless by circumstances, but I stayed homeless by choice.
Imagine working two weeks to pay for your expenses for two months. You can easily go to college with an income requirement so low. My expenses, excluding food, averaged $300 per month for the five years I was homeless. That included storage, mailbox, telephone or pager, gasoline, vehicle insurance, health club membership, dry cleaning, laundry, new clothes, and entertainment. I went to the movies a lot. Imagine what you could do with the time if your work week was two days and your weekend was five.
I went to museums, libraries, volunteered, went to concerts, went to college, watched trials at the local courthouse, spent time with friends, played chess, practiced yoga, read, went to movies, and spent time just thinking.
The freedom is awesome. It is also somewhat daunting. It is hard to be prepared for so much time on your hands. In a strange way I felt a kinship with prisoners. The time can draw out and overwhelm you, so don't be surprised by this experience. Depression can sometimes attend this amazing freedom. In the end, the freedom to do as you please is addictive.
There are advantages to homelessness. You are no longer slave to a wage.
There are two classes of homelessness, with car and without car. Without car is hard, very hard. I don't recommend it to anyone. If you are homeless and without a car, my best advice to you is couch surf. Stay with your friends until you can get a car. Sell anything you have to get a car. It is best if the car runs, but running is not essential as long as it is small enough to push. The car can be in any condition, damaged, new, old, used, stinky, cruddy, rusty. Who cares? It is a car. I don't even care if you can drive. Get a car.
If you can't drive, you're going to want to fix that. That's for another time, though.
A car is shelter. A car is a place to sleep. A car is a mobile storage unit. There is no other device that will do as much for you, short of ending your homelessness. But a car, on its own, is not enough. If you sleep in your car in a city, you will meet with local law enforcement. There is nothing quite so unpleasant to wake up to as the sound of a baton hitting a window beside your head. Take it from one who knows by experience.
To provide for concealment, get yourself a car cover. Cover the car and while no one is looking slip up under the edge, open the door as far as you are able, slip into the car, close the door and go to sleep. Whack, whack, whack. What the hell? Meet your local sheriff.
It isn't quite enough to have the car and to use the car cover. Car covers have a nasty habit of being blown about by wind, and you can easily be uncovered as you sleep. An even bigger complicating problem is that car covers attract car thieves. Your car will be an even bigger target for thieves because of your necessary choice of parking locations. To deal with this problem you will need to tie the cover down at four points, front and rear bumper, and both sides. I usually send a line underneath the car (by attaching a weight to the line and tossing it under) and tie the sides of the car cover to itself. This procedure makes it more difficult to get into the car, but if thieves or police come, you will have warning and time to compose yourself before you have to face the problem.
There is a combat element to homelessness, but as every martial artist you ask will tell you, the best way to win a fight is not to be in the fight. Car thieves are easy to deal with, if you understand the psychology of thievery. Thieves will be attracted to a covered car, because they will believe that it is more valuable than the average vehicle. After all, the owner is taking good care of it. The thief will approach, leery of police, and to a lesser extent worried about being observed by citizens. He will begin trying to remove the cover, and you will hear the commotion. Adrenaline will course through your body, and you may be tempted to yell. Don't.
Be patient. Be sure it is not a cop. Look through the cover, to the extent you can. Search for glints that would reveal a badge. Look for the beam of a flashlight. Look for the red and blue strobes that reveal a police vehicle. Look for these things, because police require different tactics.
Now, when you are sure it is a thief, lean on the horn. The thief, terrified by the unfamiliar will retreat. In all my years in a car, I only had one thief return for a second try. They all ran away, and only one came back. That one did not return after a second blast of the horn. This plan works for several reasons. One is that the loudness of a car horn attracts unwanted (for the thief) attention that a car alarm never brings. People are looking out their windows, getting angry. The thief imagines that soon they will be coming out of their houses, calling the police, making noise complaints. His imagination isn't even focused. He just knows that he didn't plan this, and for a criminal any unplanned event is frightening. If you had yelled instead, he might have continued to attack. A thief may be well prepared for a fight. He may even welcome the chance to mug you. He never considered the possibility that a horn would sound though, and that scares him, because he has no plan. He runs.
Now the police are another matter entirely. One thing you definitely do not want to do is present a police officer with an unfamiliar and frightening situation. Police are dangerous, and they are trained to press the attack forward when confronted with novel problems. Novel equals criminal in the mind of a police officer. Don't scare them.
Once you are certain it is a police officer, you need to establish communications. Ask them to identify themselves. Who's out there? They'll tell you it's the cops. Placate them. Let them know they have nothing to fear. Tell them what you are doing. Okay. Give me a minute. I need to put some shoes on. Okay, I'm opening the door now. Okay, I'm coming out. This is going to be a bit unpleasant for awhile. They're going to ask you what you were doing. They're going to tell you that you can't do that. They're going to require you to move on. Be submissive. Don't argue. Don't tell them much. Tell them your girlfriend, or boyfriend, kicked you out and you haven't figured out where to go yet. If it doesn't fly, don't worry too much about it.
They're going to want to search your car. My advice is not to consent to the search. If you have anything even vaguely illegal, weapons, drugs, whatever, do not consent to a search, but I advise you not to consent on general principles. Remember, too, that it is not unknown for a police officer to plant evidence. It's harder for them to do that if you don't consent to the search. The fourth amendment states:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Trust me, they do not have a warrant. You may worry that they could charge you with sleeping in your car. Tell them you weren't sleeping, they came along and made that impossible. You were meditating. In any case, it is a law used to give the police power. I have spoken with city attorneys in several cities and emailed several more around the country. Every one said that they do not prosecute people on the basis of that law. For awhile I asked police to charge me because I wanted to challenge the law on human rights grounds, and each time the police said they preferred to let me off with a warning. The danger of these municipal ordinances is that they empower the police to threaten the homeless. They do not empower them to prosecute the homeless. Know that and you take their power away.
Choosing the right parking place is an essential survival skill. Choosing the wrong one will draw the attention of residents, business owners, and police, and you will be moved on early. There is enough work involved in setting up for the night that moving on costs you at least an hour, and it is an unpleasant hour, one in which you have to listen to a self righteous jerk with a badge and a stick tell you how you ought to be living.
Don't get me wrong. I like police when they're chasing criminals. Somehow, though, they become something different when they are preventing me from attending to my most basic biological needs. Somehow, when they are standing between me and sleep they seem less than heroic.
A good parking space is difficult to find. It needs to be isolated, but your car can't stand out. It needs to be near other cars, but away from the prying eyes of property owners and tenants. It needs to be well lit, and yet your car should be unnoticable. Ideally your spot should be shaded from the morning sun. Such places exist, but usually you accept some flaws.
A residential area is never ideal, but it is the most reliable supplier of an acceptable spot. The advantage, your car never looks out of place. If police cruise by they won't be wondering what a car is doing parked there. The disadvantage, lots of eyes. You want to park so that you are not in front of anyone's front door. Along a fenceline is good, particularly a tall fenceline. That shelters you from view on one side. Best is a place just on the cusp between a residential and a commercial zone. You want to be removed from the houses, so the residents don't notice or care about you, but you want the car to look natural in the place you've parked.
It is best to be under a streetlamp. A well lit area allows you to have the dome light on in the car without light shining out through your car cover, so you can read or write without fear. Light also deters thieves. Darkness has no real advantages. It may allow you to get into the car unobserved more easily, but this is really trading a full nighttime of increased danger for a few seconds of lower exposure. You can find the right moment to enter the car in the bright light.
Business Areas and Parking Lots
First let's clear one thing up, paying for parking is unnecessary and wasteful, so if you are thinking of one of those pay to park parking structures, think some more. Pay parking lots are regularly patrolled by three kinds of people you'd like to avoid, cops, security guards, and thieves. It is way too high profile, and frequently they are locked overnight. You don't ever want to be locked in anywhere. The overriding quality you are looking for in a parking place is flexibility on entrance and exit.
Don't park where traffic will prevent you from getting into or out of your car safely. Don't park on busy streets. On those few occasions when I did park on a busy street I couldn't shake the fear that someone might sideswipe my parked car. It happens. You don't want it to happen while you are in the vehicle.
Don't park where people will be arriving in large numbers at certain times of day or night because it will make it harder for you to get out unobserved.
Never park near a grade school or a high school. People take child safety very seriously, and rightly or wrongly the homeless are going to be perceived as a threat.
Most of the time supermarket or department store parking lots are no good. Your vehicle sticks out in an empty lot. Walmart, though, allows RV's to park overnight in their lots. I'm told that some Walmarts even have utility hookups for the RV's. I have never tried this, because I was unaware of the Walmart policy, but where RV's go will probably be safe for you in a car. I would park near any RV's that were there ahead of me, and I wouldn't concern myself with hiding my car living ways from their owners. This is one of those exceptional situations where you can relax a little.
Hotel and motel parking lots will do in a pinch. This is a good choice if for some reason you've lost your car cover. The cops won't bother you and a lot of hotels and motels will tolerate you. When approached by hotel staff, just tell them you are only looking for a place to sleep that night. Most of the time they will look the other way.
Service stations are pretty good for a one night stint also, especially those that think of themselves as a freeway rest stop. You can generally sleep till morning without anyone disturbing you.
RV's and campers and truckers tend to find lonely stretches of road and congregate. These can often be found near beaches, near lakes, just off the highway, and in other more or less remote places. Where you find such a congregation, you can park with safety. Watch the crowd. It knows more than individuals do. The favorite in a horse race wins about 33% of the time, but the very best handicappers in the world pick the winner 17% of the time. Crowds know. These are places that are ignored by law enforcement, yet offer no particular temptations to criminals.
Yeah, campgrounds work, I suppose. Lots of people use them. Personally I hate camping. It's cold. In a car, you are well above the ground. In a tent you are on the ground, and even with a pad it's a powerful heat sink. In a car, the wind can't touch you. The wind will take your tent and put it in the next county. Your car is impervious to the rain. Your tent keeps some of the rain out, I guess, unless, of course, you pitched it in a dry creek bed. Yeah. You want to camp? Camp. It isn't for me.
Many campgrounds even require that you pay for all this luxury.
Campgrounds are also separated from all the places you do business, usually by quite a distance. Cold, uncomfortable, often at a cost of money, and in an inconvenient location, well, they must have something to recommend them, but I am having trouble thinking what it is. You are still exposed, even moreso really. Now instead of just thieves and cops you've got paranoid marijuana growers, bears, mountain lions, and the occasional (though admittedly very rare) serial killer to worry about. On the plus side, you can have a fire, but you will probably have to have brought some wood. In my experience, wood that will burn easily is rare at a campground.
Freeway rest stops are good, but they are crowded, the restrooms are unsanitary, and they have posted rules about how long you can be there. In California the rule is usually six hours, because some bureaucrat thought it would be funny to make sure no one got a full night's sleep. Irony creeps in everywhere, even at rest stops.
The good news is no one has ever enforced the time limit on me. I haven't used them a lot, but when I have, I've usually been there eight or ten hours without a problem.
Rotate Your Sites
It is a good idea to have three to ten good parking places scouted out, and rotate from one to the next. It is a bad idea to park in the same place three nights in a row. You should scatter your sites through several neighboring cities if you are in a big county like Los Angeles, so that you don't get too well known to one police department. Speaking of that, county land is often less patrolled or controlled than city land is. If you know of a group of streets that have no city claims to them, check those out for good places to park.
It's a bad idea to have a regular pattern, like always being in the same place on Tuesdays. Think about it. You might have been observed, and a complaint may have been made, but the police failed to catch you. If the complaint contains an observation of a pattern, they'll get you on the next cycle, the next Tuesday. Sound paranoid? Police have told me they were waiting for me.
If you are homeless long enough, you will break most of these rules from time to time. That's fine. Sometimes there will be some advantage, some exception to the rule. Sometimes you will just be too tired or too lazy to do things right. Sometimes you will pay a price for that, but that is part of this. Some things you just have to learn the hard way.
Be alert. Choose parking carefully. Stay safe.
Hygiene on the Road
You've seen the movies. On road trips you've done it yourself. You pull over at the Shell station, find that the bathroom is not filthy, just ill appointed, a galvanized steel toilet and sink, cracked tiles, a scratched steel mirror, rusty pipes, a small pool of water somewhere near the middle of the room. You lock the door behind you, do a half strip, wash under your armpits with frigid water, shave, brush, someone knocks, hurry up in there, you finish, gas up and leave. That's a shower at the Lincoln Hotel, the Volkswagen Motorlodge. That's Zen and the Art of Homeless Living. Everyone knows it. Jewel describes her life in a van, prior to recording stardom, in just this way. If that's the way you want to bathe, be my guest, but day in, day out, you're going to get pretty stinky and pretty tired of it.
It's important to know some "roughing it" techniques. Below I will teach you to make an adult version of baby wipes in a bottle, for a scrub down in the car, and offer you a great alternative to a dry shave, but first, let's talk about available facilities, and last, let's talk about a real shower.
Of the three types of restroom baths available, for those days when a shower is out of the question, gas stations are the worst. Gas stations are just slightly more sanitary, on average, than a portapotty, and frequently the water doesn't work. Gas stations are for those moments of desperation, when your creativity has failed you. This is equally true for public park and bus station restrooms. I'd rather spray down with a garden hose, or with the wand at a do it yourself car wash stall. That's not terribly fun either, but if you have a bathing suit, you can make it work. That is for the bold, for you are bathing in full view. If that's your style, you might also consider the showers that are often on public beaches or at public swimming pools. They're cold, but free.
Fast food joints are somewhat better than gas stations for a quick wash. Many allow you to lock the door and scrub up privately. Many require quarters for entry, though, or are for customers only, and maybe it's me, but I don't like having to run a gauntlet of minimum wage hall monitors to get to the lavatory. Laundromat restrooms rank higher, but nearly always require quarters to enter.
That leaves supermarket restrooms. I always favor these. They are always free, and the employees will tell you where to find them without any resistance at all. Unfortunately, they often aren't very private. No locks. Happily, they are not heavily trafficked. When you simply need to use the restroom, this is the best type of business to approach. Other interesting places to find a restroom are the lobby of a hotel and any floor above the fourth in an office building. Why above the fourth? Because many office buildings lock restrooms on the lower levels, and don't bother to higher up. Just go in dressed decently and pretend you've gone to the wrong floor if you are confronted by a security desk when the elevator doors open.
Sometimes you'll have neither time nor the inclination to search out a restroom or a shower room. Take heart. You can stay clean another day with one or two preparations while you sit at the wheel of your car.
Don't like a dry shave? Nobody does. Buy yourself some generic sex lube. It's only a couple of bucks at Walmart or Target or, really, any drugstore. A little dab and a disposable razor and you can get a nice shave. Rub a thimbleful of water over your face and wipe off to finish. It may sound funny, and of course your razor is ruined unless you rinse it out right away, but this works very well. It's one of my favorite tricks.
A dab of sex gel will help you comb out your hair in the morning, too, and it disappears completely into the hair, as if it were never there.
For washing up, make my homemade, adult version of baby wipes in a bottle. First, find some hand and body lotion that has a scent you'd like to wear, buy some baby oil, and get some relatively scent free shower gel or shampoo. Pour a couple of teaspoons of each into a small water bottle, say half a liter. Maybe skimp a little on the baby oil and be a little generous with the shampoo. Fill the bottle halfway with warm water, cap it and shake to mix. Now take a napkin from your favorite fast food place, saturate it with the mixture, and give yourself a good wipe down. It takes the smell off, trust me. Add a bit of witch hazel to the mix if you like an astringent quality.
You can brush your teeth with two mouthfuls of water, one to rinse your mouth with, and one to rinse the brush with. It isn't that hard.
Shampoo? 16 ounces of water can get the job done on short to medium hair. Put a bowl on the ground to catch the water you use to get the hair wet and use it again to rinse with. Conservation takes on new meaning when you don't have endless running water at your fingertips. You can do things in creative ways.
I don't like to do this too many days in a row. I've always been a real fan of hot showers.
Showers. Beautiful hot showers are available at the locker room nearest you. You can find a locker room on campus, if you're a student, or if you pretend to be a student. Colleges often don't check student id to get into the shower room. No one seems to take advantage of this fact, which always sort of surprises me, because there are certainly a lot of homeless students, but the locker room on campus does not seem to have entered homeless culture. That's good for you. It's good for me. If a lot of people start using them, colleges may decide to restrict access.
The most reliable shower, though, is a membership at a gym. Watch out for contracts. You don't need to be signing one. You don't know where you will be in two years, and no one needs Bally's trashing his credit. Clubs, including the YMCA (which tends to be more expensive than the competition) will charge an initiation fee of a couple of hundred bucks, and then you pay monthly dues of 20 to 40 dollars, depending on the level of access you want. You want unrestricted access to the shower room and plenty of convenient locations. Other features matter only if you like to work out.
If you can't pay the initiation fee and you want to spoil yourself with a shower, get 10 or 12 bucks together and buy a day pass. It only gets you in for the day, but the water is nice and hot and there is plenty of it. If you feel like putting up with a sales pitch, it is often possible to get into the facility for nothing for the day. That trick only works once at most gyms.
If you're in it for the long term, a gym membership is the only way to go. I had one with 24 hour fitness for the five years I was out of doors, and I calculate that it cost me under 50 cents a shower. Well worth it for the good shave, bright lights, and hot water, and on top of it I learned yoga and stayed in shape. It was also a nice, warm place to go when it was cold or stormy out and I just needed to get out of the weather.
There is an exception to the rule that gas stations are bad places to clean up, and that is a truck stop. These were never on my radar until recently, and tonight was my first time using one for a shower. One thing you'll find is that you don't have to find all the possible solutions to your problems. You'll find solutions that work, get a routine going and look no further. When you do that, you're home. You aren't homeless anymore. You've found your comfort zone. Tonight though, for the sake of research, for you, I put my body, and my pocket money, on the line.
There are certain franchises that have set up specifically to cater to the needs of truckers. They've got phones and phone cards, internet connections, special fueling areas, attached fast food restaurants, trip insurance, video game arcades, snacks, ephedra supplements (legal, though dangerous, stimulants), and most importantly showers. One of these chains is Pilot. I'm sure there are others, depending on where you are in the country. They space themselves out about every 100 miles, and all the truckers know where to find them. There are even maps that list their locations, available on their website and I'm told, predictably, at truck stops.
For seven bucks tonight, at my local Pilot, I got a key to a small room, number six in a hall filled with eight or ten identical stalls, and one larger stall set up to accommodate the disabled. Well lit, the rooms have a beautiful mirror and sink, a toilet, an oscillating fan, hooks to hang clothes on, and a shower stall. Conveniences include a fresh towel, a washcloth, a paper bath mat (one is tempted to ask why), some of those tiny soaps you might find in a motel, a built in place to sit down, and plenty of hot water. After each shower a maintenance crew cleans the stalls and sets out fresh towels and soap. I brought my own shampoo, and used that instead of the soap, because frankly, soap is just nasty.
The place was identical to a good motel room without the bed and t.v. For seven bucks, I have no complaints. It's too much money to use daily, but for that time when you haven't got a gym membership, if you have a local truck stop, this beats a day pass to the gym. Private, safe, and clean, this is a five star solution to the problem of getting clean. Treat yourself sometimes. A good shower can change your whole outlook on living.
I don't know if you only post personal experience or not, but here's one you should know. With the truck stop showers they are FREE if you have a refueling slip. When a trucker fills up his tank he/she gets a refueling slip. They're usually good for a week, and can be redeemed at any truck stop of the same brand as they came from (Pilot, T&A, Flying J, whatever). Most truckers get a stack of these things that they never use. If you're polite they'll usually give you one if you ask. Just hang out by the fuel pumps and catch them coming to or from their trucks. If they say yes, then just hang and be patient and wait until they give it to you. Then you get everything you described for free.
I was homeless for almost a year, and then again for a few months, and this was my preferred method of showering and it never cost me a dime.
You're doing a great service and i wish you'd been around when i was doing this. Keep up the good work, and if there's any kind of help you need with the site please feel free to ask. I've worked as a web designer and a copy editor and i'd be more than happy to lend a hand.
Thank you again.
Twice I've gone to a shelter, both times as a teen. These experiences are why I don't back the faith-based initiatives that the federal government has promoted in recent years. These places, these pockets of hell staffed by well meaning, misguided people, these are the most degrading, humiliating, stigmatizing places in the world. I've actually never spent the night in anything called a homeless shelter. I preferred to return to the cold, rather than sit in the pew.
Let me tell you about my first time. Long term stable homeless living as an adult came later, but I was also a teen runaway. I was sixteen, but looked older. They can't let you in if you're under eighteen, unless it is exclusively a youth hostel. I approached the shelter, and was confronted by two very large men, security I guess. I told them I just had to lay down, didn't they have a cot I could sleep on? They said no. First I had to sit through the service. Exhausted and cold, I agreed, and I was taken into a pew. The preacher was chastising us for our sin in a rhythmic way, almost singing. If it were not so mean a message, I might have found it comforting. A supplicant converted, tears in his eyes, crying out testimony, confessing his bad ways and begging for forgiveness. The scene was surreal, as if I had a fever. I thought this stuff only happened in movies.
Appalled, angry, I stood up. I didn't need to be yelled at. I didn't need anything but a place to sleep. A warm place was what I needed and I was being attacked for my sins by someone who knew nothing about me, someone who knew nothing about the thirty other unhappy souls in the room seeking not God, but simple human comfort. As I stood up, two ushers came toward me, stern, gesturing me back to my seat. Big men. Scary. I was outnumbered, outmuscled, humiliated, but I was leaving. I waved them back. I said, "I want to leave. Show me the door."
A change came over them. Their eyes became shaded, and they escorted me out. No violence. No anger. They didn't ask me why. They didn't ask me what I would do now. They didn't care. I wasn't one of them.
Maybe it's different when shelters are run by Red Cross or by FEMA. I don't know. I've never been to one of those and am not likely to go to one, not even if my house were torn down by a natural disaster. Homeless shelters are crowded. You have to line up for beds at most shelters in the mid-afternoon, making it impossible to have both a job and a bed on the same day. You move through the shelter like a cog on an assembly line, from soup kitchen to bed, with no freedom to vary from the program. Personal security is low, and you are likely to have things stolen as you sleep. And more important than any of that, homeless shelters deprive you of dignity. They scream out that you have failed to take care of yourself, that you need.
No matter how much you need, you shouldn't feel that way.
I believe there is no tougher job than being a beggar. Nothing is harder than asking for compassion from people who hold you in contempt. Begging does a service, because it is a reminder to the fortunate that they could fall too, but it is a service I cannot perform.
We, each of us, deserve more dignity. Shelters are for someone else.
Bother! I guess I've got to go stay the night at a local shelter. Be watching for the next installment of Shelters Are For Someone Else.
Shelter life is a life of waiting. You wait on the charity, the good feeling, and on the whim of others. You wait, and you wait, and you wait, and all the while tension builds, as you wonder whether you will get what you need.
Recently, as part of my research for this book, I spent a night in a shelter. As shelters go it was a kind and gentle experience. The shelter was located in Santa Cruz, California, a city friendly to the homeless, on the cutting edge of homeless advocacy and politics. There was no church service, no preacher, no active condemnation. Still the experience was brutal, and brutal in a way that the homeless are so accustomed to that no one even grumbled. No one even seemed to notice.
After much searching, I found the place, a complex of buildings and construction at 115 Coral Street. The website tells you that registration and check-in begin at 3:30pm, but that, like nearly everything told to me that day, was inaccurate. Sign up for emergency shelter actually begins and ends at 3:00pm, when everyone who will be taken is enrolled. The website says they try to never turn anyone away. In fact, most people who need a place to sleep are turned away. There is no sign to indicate where sign-in is, and I was easily mislead. In the end, I was turned away, rather gruffly, but I am a persistent investigator.
I went over to the River Street Shelter, a place for alcohol and drug rehabilitation, and waited. When one of their coordinators started taking people in from a long waiting list, I was there asking if they had a bed I could use for the night. They didn't. No chance. But, they were taking in a new guy for the first time, and he already had a seat on the church bus, so that guy took me over to the first guy (the gruff one) and told him he wouldn't be needing a bed. So I was in.
Like I won the lottery.
This was getting really painful, and it was only starting. I'm asking for help, over and over, asking for someone to make my life okay for me. And the worst thing is, I know that because I am getting the bed, someone else isn't.
There are rules everywhere. In the same center where you sign in for the night's shelter, there's a "Hygiene Bay". Toilets, sinks, lockers, showers, television, laundry, get in line and use what you want. There were no lines in the afternoon, either, so just use what you need. But there were rules, rules, rules posted. On the refrigerator, You touch you die! Staff only! On the wall, No dumpster diving or 30 day ban! Another flier reads, No parking bicycles! And chalked on a board, Parents, your children must be with you at all times! In the agreement I had to sign to be allowed into the shelter for the night were the admonitions No weapons! and No sex! and Maintain a minimum level of hygiene! Everything was punctuated with exclamation points, as if the force of the orders would otherwise fail to impress itself upon us. Everything, it seemed, was punishable by thirty days expulsion.
On the church van, it was no better. Three identical flyers were taped up in the van. Here there was little punctuation. Here, in fact, there were not even capital letters, and yet the force and aggression of the rule-makers were not lost on me. Here is how it read, word for word:
Rule on bus
1. no eating on the bus no drinks without lids
2. no throwing trash on floor
3. no fighting, no yelling, no races comments
4. nothing in aisle, bring only what you can carry
failure to follow these rules will result in night out
The dramatic increase in font size on rule four made it clear that this was a more important rule than no fighting, or yelling, or "races" comments.
These rules everywhere made it seem as if the very furniture was berating us. Perhaps this is the source of some of the violent thoughts so commonly expressed by my fellows in this adventure. We passed a store selling china, and one of the men commented on how much he'd like to throw a rock. Others grunted. It's hard not to have a dark mood in such a toxic world. It's hard not to have a dark mood when those offering you life sustaining services are constantly threatening to deprive you of those services. Those threats were not idle. Make no mistake, the majority of the men in that community of homeless spent the night sleeping in the open. The demand for shelter so outweighs the supply of beds that any reason is a good reason to expel someone from the program.
Everything takes so long. You have to sign up for the shelter at 3:00pm, but the van doesn't come until 4:00pm. You get to the church where you will spend the night at 4:20, but the free dinner of greasy chicken, bread, and green salad, with milk or juice won't be there till almost 6:00. Then camp pads and a couple of blankets each are passed around and 14 guys find a corner or a wall to sleep against on the cold floor. Stake your claim and then the majority go outside to smoke Top and discuss the presidential election. The consensus seemed pro Kerry, but who can tell? The power distribution in the conversation was a great deal more complex than I could figure out in a night. The entire group watches Jeopardy, then the television is turned off and people begin to settle in. 9:00pm the lights are turned out. I stared at the ceiling for three hours, then slept fitfully and uncomfortably until 5:20am.
Which is when they get you up. 5:20am. You don't choose when the day is over. You don't choose when the day begins. With a bit of a sardonic grin I dared to say to the coordinator, "you know, when the sun is not out, we call it night." He wasn't amused. He simply said, "Well in 19 minutes the bus is leaving." The driver also spent the night, so really, I think we could have negotiated. Threat and control were involved in every exchange, though. So, off we went, and arrived at the original place just after 6:00, ready to take a shower. The hygiene bay, however, doesn't open until 7:00. So people stood around, fueled by a little coffee and no breakfast, and passed a bottle of bourbon that had been poured into a two liter Diet Coke container. Happy hour is in the morning because the shelters won't take you if you are drunk.
It seems to me that you could wait to sign people into these shelters until 6:00pm or 7:00pm, assuring that people who found work that day might still be able to find shelter. Then people might find a way out of their difficulties. If it were me, I'd let people stay in the shelter until the sun began to warm the world up a little, and I would not return them to a closed hygiene center. I'd coordinate drop off time with the time the hygiene center opened. The total time controlled by the center was sixteen hours, from 3:00pm to 7:00am. That is two thirds of life regulated by the rules of others, one third remaining to try to build something better. Is it any wonder that they opt to simply pass a bottle between themselves? These are people who have little in the way of reserves, and you've just taken two thirds of their time.
The Utter Lack of Privacy
The most dismal thing about a lack of privacy is that it forbids expression of dissent or resentment. This was the horror George Orwell traded on in his classic 1984. Even if only expressed to oneself, in a private moment, with a frown, a scowl, a grumble, expression of resentment is necessary to good mental health. In the shelter there was never a moment when I could scowl and decompress about my experience. There was never a time when those in power were not near.
On a purely aesthetic level, fourteen old men sleeping on the floor of a church snore more than I would have ever believed, and that was not the worst of it. Greasy chicken and ill health caused flatulence more impressive than I can effectively describe. While these men bathed regularly, the smell of methane was not conducive to easy sleep.
There is an ethical issue I should address. Was I justified in taking a bed, when I was perfectly okay without one? My answer is an unequivocal yes. I cannot know what the center is like by volunteering. I cannot know what this place is like by interviews. I can't know this place to tell you about it until I walk the mile myself, not until I wear the shoes of the visible homeless. I've never put those shoes on before, and I didn't like the fit. Maybe, because I've told you why, you will realize that homelessness must be done right, must be planned. If you realize that, then you can make sure that you never need the shelters.
The people who staffed this center and the church had charity and kindness in their hearts, and yet the experience was excruciating. Let me teach you a better way. Shelters are for someone else.
Everyone knows you can't work when you are homeless. Homeless people couldn't hold down a job if you gave them one. You'd have to supervise them all the time. They have no skills. They're probably illiterate. They have no moral values. If they did, they wouldn't be homeless.
Nonsense. What does it take to convince you to set aside what everyone knows? Homeless people come from all parts of society. They become homeless by choice or by circumstance. They have all levels and all kinds of skills, and homelessness has nothing to do with moral values.
Being homeless does not mean you are disabled. It doesn't mean you can't hold down a job. Holding down a job may require that you camouflage your homelessness, though, depending on what kind of work you do. If you are a white collar worker or a service industry worker, you must keep your secret hidden. Here is a brief prescription for maintaining the illusion of a home.
Read and follow the advice in the section on hygiene. The foremost giveaway of homelessness is bad odor.
Have work shirts laundered and pressed at a dry cleaner. Best is to hang them on a hook in the backseat of your car, but you can also have the laundry fold them and place them in boxes. They will have extra creases if you get them boxed. Take them in just three at a time, and get them out in groups of three. This will help you to keep them crisp. The dry cleaner will become your closet. Don't let anything stay at the cleaners for more than 30 days. Keep your cleaning tickets in your glove compartment, where you can find them.
Fold slacks flat and place them where they will not get rumpled. I usually kept them in my car's backseat. You don't need as many of them. Two or three pairs of pants will take you through a work week. People don't notice how often you change your pants. They notice your shirt.
Socks and underwear can be stored in a pillowcase, and even used as a pillow. Undershirts, casual shirts, and casual pants should be folded in half lengthwise, rolled, and also stored in a pillowcase. This is the most efficient possible use of your space.
Get a cheap pager, and use it as your home phone. Tell prospective employers that a page is the best way to reach you because otherwise members of your family may fail to give you messages. When you can afford it, generally after you've found some employment, move up to a cell phone.
Get a mailbox at a UPS store or similar establishment, and use that as your home address. Don't get a post office box. PO Boxes are dead giveaways, but a commercial mailbox has a street address. The address will read 1234 Anystreet, PMB123. PMB stands for private mailbox. When you give your address substitute a pound sign (#), or Apt. Never write PMB. This will not affect delivery of mail.
Okay, now you look like the rest of the housed world. Keep clean, wear a smile, and market the skills you have. You can add finishing touches to your look by keeping a nice haircut, and getting a $6 manicure at your nearest nail salon. Yes, men, too, can and should get manicures. Clean nails and hands convey the impression of wealth.
Staying warm is one of the single most important problems facing a human being. If it were not for the need to stay warm, I believe few people would fear homelessness. There are only a limited number of strategies available to keep the cold at bay.
You can dress warmly. Wear lots of layers. Wear thermal underwear during winter. Wear more than one pair of socks at a time. If you are in a place that gets down to 30 or 40 degrees fahrenheit, wear earmuffs and wear warm gloves. The thermals are available in department stores. Try Target or Walmart first, Sears, JC Penney, and others after, to get them at the lowest available prices. Gloves and fleece earmuffs will be there too. For other layers at a discount price, try wearing multiple undershirts or check with Goodwill and Salvation Army for cheap, warm clothing. If even that is out of budget, an old hobo trick is to stuff your clothes with crumpled newspaper. It does help.
I always had three blankets in my car during winter, and one was always a Mexican, loosely woven blanket. The loose weave leaves air spaces that make for good insulation. The other two can be any inexpensive cotton, fleece, or poly blend you like. I avoid wool, because although it is an exceptional insulator, itchiness is simply unacceptable. You may disagree, particularly in freezing climates.
An astronaut's mylar blanket is always handy, too. They only cost a couple of dollars and can usually be found in army surplus stores and sporting goods stores in the camping section. Wrapped around you, they retain 95% of your body heat by reflecting it back at you. You can save less heat, but be more comfortable, if you simply place the mylar between a couple of other blankets. One of the problems with mylar is it can get slick with condensation from your body's sweat, and that is unpleasant and can cause a chill. If they're thin blankets, I recommend you fold the mylar sandwich all together, to make it easier to get ready for bed the following evening. The slickest way is to fold the blankets in half once and roll it like a sleeping bag.
Stores supplying camping gear will also have hand warmers. These chemical pouches run a couple of dollars a piece, but it is handy to have a few for particularly cold moments. You can optimize their value by using them under a mylar blanket.
Another great source of heat is a hot water bottle (usually available in drugstores). Buy a propane stove, again available in camping supplies for under thirty dollars. You are going to want one to cook with anyway. Propane bottles are about two dollars each and last quite a while. Boil some water and fill the water bottle before you find your final parking spot for the evening, so that neighborhood busybodies are not tipped off to your presence. Wrap the bottle in a towel to avoid leaks, or at least place a towel under it. Leaks will happen without warning. Boiling water is hotter than the rubber bottle is designed to take, but for the bottle to work most of the night, it has to be boiling. The leak will happen as it cools, and it will be slow. I never got burned by a leak, but caution is in order while filling the bottle. Scalding is a hazard. I usually went through two bottles per winter.
When all else fails, you can make sure the exhaust pipe of your car is not under the car cover, and run the engine and heater for a while. It is a giveaway that you are there, of course, but there are few people about on a cold night. I took the chance quite a lot some winters.
That is about the whole list, unless you want to get a steel barrel and start a fire in it. Best to do that on the outskirts of town.
If, as I suggest, you are sleeping in a car with a car cover, your problems don't end with staying warm at night. On most days the sun will enforce a wake up time. Cars heat up. On sunny days in California, sleeping past 10:00am will make you sympathize with baked potatoes, so get up before you get cooked. Also try to park under shade trees or next to a building that will cast a morning shadow on you.
During really hot times of the year, under blistering sun, even getting out of the car and finding shade may not be enough. At those times, exploit the commercial sector. Malls are a great place to hang out. Loitering is not prohibited in malls, so long as you don't look like a stereotypical homeless person. Go in dressed well. Bring your hygiene supplies and get cleaned up in one of the mall bathrooms. You may as well solve two problems at once. Spend the day window shopping and eating samples at the food court. On a hot day, when you are feeling idle, you could do worse.
Go to a movie matinee. It's the cheapest time to see a movie, and it is in the hottest time of the day, between noon and 4:00pm. Movie theaters are air conditioned, restful environments and if you aren't interested in the movie, no one will notice you snoozing unless you snore. Even then, many matinees run without an audience. You may have the entire theater to yourself.
McDonald's, Jack in the Box, Carl's Jr., Burger King, Wendy's, KFC, Church's, Taco Bell, these places have two things in common, bad food and air conditioning. Buy a soda and you can sit and nurse it for several hours. Often the refills are free as long as you are in the dining room. This will keep you out of the sun in the afternoon.
Wear sunscreen. Seriously, wear it. Sunburn is a terrible hazard to the homeless. You can get a sunburn even on overcast days, since the radiation that burns isn't even slowed down by cloud cover. Chronic sunburns can lead to open sores and infections. It is thought that skin cancer can be caused by only a few serious sunburns, and may show up decades later, so stay safe. A sunburn is a tipoff that you are homeless, in addition to being a health hazard. During the summer, wear sunscreen or keep out of the sun.
If it is really hot, dress appropriately. Don't try to carry everything you own. The car is a great storage bay. Dress lightly, but bring a windbreaker. When you go into the movie theater, restaurant, or mall it may be too cold for comfort. People overcompensate.
A Word About Violence & Revenge
There may be times when you are stolen from. You may be attacked or threatened. It may happen at the worst possible moment, when you really needed comfort, money, and kindness. You may be told to move on by police, get yelled at by a business or property owner, or be denied service. You might get a parking ticket, or have your vehicle towed. You might get cut off, pushed out of line, or otherwise mistreated. A security guard or bicycle cop may compensate for his bruised ego by being a total tyrant toward you. If you are a normal human being, with a normal level of natural steroids, you may feel just that spark of aggression.
You might be tempted to stand up for yourself.
May I suggest an alternative? Don't.
Oh, I know, it's hard, but walk away. Get out of the fight. Give the mugger your wallet. Go to a different business if they don't want your money at this one. Thank police for the ticket. Be submissive toward police, and even toward security guards and bike cops. Especially toward security guards and bike cops, because they have something to prove about how tough they are. Insecurities make people all the more dangerous.
Take the path of least violence, always. Never fight when you can run. If you see someone who has wronged you in the past, do not plot revenge. Your goal in survival is to get the things done that assist you, and avoid things that damage you. Karma is real, but it is instant. Those who fight get hurt. If you fight when you don't have to, you are a fool. If you are violent, harm will come to you.
I don't mean not to defend yourself, and your rights. I always inform police that I will not waive my fourth amendment right against unwarranted search, or my fifth amendment right not to incriminate myself, or my sixth amendment rights to know the charges against me and to have counsel to assist me in my defense. If someone is attacking me, I fight until I can flee. If someone else is being victimized, I will assist him to the best of my ability, but I do mean that you should take the path of least violence. You should understand what winning is in a conflict, and stop fighting when you win.
Let me give you an example of a successful bloodless conflict. I was packing up a storage unit one day, and I had only that day to finish. In the same facility a man was screaming at his soon-to-be-ex-wife on a cell phone, and creating an atmosphere that I found intolerable. I decided to stop this guy from yelling. I yelled at him forcefully, Hey! Shut the hell up!
Well, predictably this brought the man's wrath toward me. He started yelling at me and making aggressive gestures, and at that moment I did something he could not have expected. I submitted. I wimped out. I apologized and said I should mind my own business. I backed down.
Now, the soon-to-be-ex-wife was no longer on the phone, so he couldn't yell at her. He had no way to yell at me, or continue to bring a fight to me, because I had backed down. He grumbled and muttered and hurled a few insults at me, but he stopped yelling and I got back to work in blissful quiet. Understanding the nature of winning, the precise goals I was trying to achieve, allowed me to give my opponent the illusion that he won while I got everything I wanted.
And no one got hurt. Always seek the scenario in which no one gets hurt.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When I ran away from home, I knew nothing about how to make my way, homeless or sheltered. I had a few skills, but very few that could easily be converted to money. I didn't know what challenges I would face, and I had no idea how much danger I was in.
I was bullied in grade school, and I quit high school when I was sixteen, a year before I ran. The alienation I'd learned from this fueled my decision to leave home, but did not teach me how to do it. I ran naked, no money, no work, no future, no plans, no rights. I survived by luck. Had my environment been even a little bit more hostile, I should have died.
My early bouts with homelessness cannot be termed anything but failures. I escaped my homelessness by relying upon friends to take me in. It took years before I found my own way, and in the process I became every kind of victim.
Homelessness, while it falls frequently upon the weak, is not for the weak or the unprepared. Teen shelters are virtually non-existant, and if they do exist, you wouldn't want to be in them. They'd resemble youth authority jails or group homes, and either model is miserable and dangerous. Adult shelters will not accept a teenager. They come with too much legal murkiness, but in any case adult shelters are horrible even when kindly intended. I spent a week or so in a place called 1706 House in Hermosa Beach, California. Their chief mission was to intervene with the family and get the teen runaway to return home, and they had a two week policy. You could stay there for two weeks, but then you were out, for good. Nothing comes up for them on a Google search now, so I can only guess that the outfit folded. No loss. They served the system, and were indifferent to the individual.
I look back on this time with a detached horror. I can hardly relate to that earlier self. When kids write to me asking me to help them run away, I never know how to respond. The one thing I know is that they should never run without a plan. You have to know where you are going, and how you expect to earn money. Without that plan, your survival will be a roll of dice.
I learned to survive homeless simply by increasing my knowledge in a general way. I had far greater analytical skills when I was twenty eight than I had when I was seventeen. I had the experience of teen homelessness to inform my meditations. Perhaps most importantly I had a driver's license, a car, and the right to legally work. Those are powerful tools.
Interactive List of the Best
I'd like your help with this post. I'm going to post some of my favorite things for travelers, the homeless, or just anyone, and I am going to post some categories and items that I need suggestions on. If you have a real favorite item, and I mean an unequivocal ten on a scale of one to ten, respond with it in the comments, or drop me an email, and I will revise the post, unless I disagree. Tell everyone what makes it a really good product. We can have more than one best in a given area, for instance, a best quality, and a best deal. I'd like to get a core list for homeless perfection.
Best All-Around Personal Care Product: Generic KY Jelly - There are lots of good reasons to make things slick, a waterless shave, a hair tamer, and of course there is the original use. No one ever felt cheated of their two bucks for a tube of sex gel.
Best Razor: There is no comparable disposable razor to the Mach 3 triple blade, but it is pricey at two bucks each, and it is only the first two or three shaves with each razor that are really good. For my money, I like the Gillette Good News razor with lubricating strip. It is a very high quality double blade, most shaves are bloodless, and at thirtyfive to fourtyfive cents each I feel okay about discarding them after two or three shaves, thus I am always shaving with a sharp razor, and life is good.
Best Portable Propane Stove: The worst is any of them that balance a single burner on top of a 16 ounce propane bottle. I used these stoves for years before I realized how annoying and dangerous they are. One little bump, an uneven surface, a badly balanced pan and over it goes, causing scalds and wasting food. I hate them. By contrast, Coleman makes a dandy two burner stove that folds up like a briefcase and takes up very little room in the car. It is usually sold for around $60, but the link I have provided is for a Walmart clearance that has them down to $35. Target and Kmart and Walmart continously knock off copycats that are just as good and sell them for under forty bucks. You are just looking for a two burner, briefcase style, propane stove.
Trial Sizes: The best place to look for your hygiene needs is the trial size aisle or end cap at your local supermarket or drug store. You'll find all sorts of neat items, containers, travel toothbrushes, mouthwashes, picks, floss, shampoo, combs, brushes, razors, creams, lotions, antiseptics, astringents, analgesics, cold medicines, bandages, caffeine stimulants, and much more for pennies. It is a sort of mobile lifestyle treasure spot. Look for it.
Best Hot Water Bottle:
Best Hand Warmer: The EZ Heat Reusable Handwarmer is a real star. I had one of these many years ago and had not known where to find another until this reader suggestion. Click the metal disk for instant heat lasting more than half an hour, and boil it to reset. Enjoy the residual heat on both sides of the cycle. Oh! I so love this product. The best seven bucks you've ever spent. Do a quick Google search and you will find scads of sites selling them.
Best Road Blanket:
Best Car Cover: We're looking for one that is not very translucent, has good tie down points, and allows you to get into and out of the car fairly easily after it is installed.
Help me out here. Tell me your best tips. Only tens. No nines.
Current Status of the Blog
People often ask about the current status of this blog. In one word it's GROWING SLOWLY
The blog, as it stands, seems to keep finding new readers and maintains a gratifying amount of response. I continue to moderate comments to keep away haters and spammers, but most of the comments are positive and get published. I occasionally get requests for personal advice, and I do my best to answer questions, but in the end, remember, there are no experts for how you should live your life. None but you.
As for me I changed my lifestyle. It wasn't easy. I still miss the way things were in the way that nostalgia always pains you. You forget the hardships of youth, and remember only the freedoms. Mostly you forget how lonely you were.
I've done alright for myself. I've got a middle class, job b y working for myself, I've got a wife and a son and daughter with no some special needs unfortunately we lost our oldest son in 2012 to suicide that out of all the violence and pain I have experienced changed my life and me forever . I never bought a house, but like most Americans, I often can't see any options to the way I am living. I rent and I work. I go fishing. Last year I caught two white sea bass, one 25 lbs and the other a whopping 40 lbs, on the same trip. It was one of the great thrills of my life.
I do projects for people and lend my education and services to our community at home and around the country I'm planning to go gold panning on the central coast of California just to try to find color in the pan. I'm going to go hunting for jade near Big Sur.
My younger child is Dakota as his own issues since the loss of his brother we have had to place a bit of extra protection around him not sure if it is him or us we are protecting but we do it as a family and that is all that matters and he is so bright he'd make your head spin, and so charming he makes George Clooney seem like a dork. He taught himself to read at better than a second grade level when he was four, even though he could not speak in sentences and no one was teaching reading to him. He's a genius hidden inside a closed box. One day I hope to help him find his way out.
In the end, everything changes. Everything changes all the time. That is the great lesson of my life. It is the lesson I've been learning all my life. I've been a teen runaway, an artist, a student, a soldier a homeless adult, , a friend, , .. I believe in the living god It is hard to believe he would create a world so difficult, so painful, so competitive. Of course, that's beside the point. God or no god, life is, and we are responsible for making it as good as we can, even when the world is determined to be stacked against us.
We are not responsible for how hard the world is. If you feel like giving up, if you want to die, if you have lost everything, I hope you'll come here and read my post Controlling Desperation. That is my manifesto. In the end, if you wait, every problem that seems permanent will change, and you will find a way through. Never give up. No matter where you go, there you are, and that makes you wealthy.
I get too much praise for this blog. The veterans project and the Family assistance campaign The praise is extreme. I think I have an idea why. I'm one of the few people that doesn't try to give you a path to leave homelessness, and that is a welcome relief. I don't try to save you. I don't humiliate you.
Homelessness is isolating. No one understands what you are going through. People who know you are homeless are constantly trying to cure you of the condition. Cure you, like you have a disease. They have telethons, church fundraisers, comedians get together and have television specials to raise millions for the homeless. By the way, where the heck did that money go? Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, Whoopie Goldberg, if you are reading this, please explain how Comic Relief ever assisted me, or really anyone.
The first problem with relief efforts is they reach the rich. It's easy for a donor to find Comic Relief and make a donation, but it is very, very hard for Comic Relief to find a homeless teenager, figure out what that child needs and provide it, even if the charity had unlimited funds. The second problem is the charity is deaf in a far more profound way than a person might be deaf. Deaf people find ways to communicate, form communities, learn to listen with their eyes and talk with their hands. Charities, by contrast, and I don't mean to single out Comic Relief, never talk to the people they are "helping". They are deaf, blind, and stupidly attached to their assessment of the problem.
As a homeless person, I do not want someone to feed me. I do not want someone to house me. I do not want a blanket, and I will not work for food! You have to ask me what it is I need if you want to have an effect. As a homeless person, I am not even trying to find a way out of homelessness. It is too simple to say that I was going just fine until someone took my shelter away, and now I am in chaos. If only someone would give me back my shelter the chaos would abate. Nonsense. I'm not in chaos. I have a definable set of problems and giving me shelter won't solve them. It is only a tiny piece. Furthermore, I don't want a cure for my life. Most people who write to me who are homeless chose homelessness. Homelessness was their answer to another problem, a foreclosed home, a lost job, a catastrophic disease which left them bankrupt and disabled, an abusive family, a lack. Alas, this is the hardest thing to explain. Homelessness was a positive step toward solving other problems.
Robin, Whoopie, Billy, I love you guys. I watch your movies. I like your stand up. I could do without The View but you can't please everyone all the time. I don't expect you to solve homelessness. It doesn't need solving. People who are homeless could use some help sometimes, but you have to listen and see and think about how to offer that help. Money and laughs won't do it. You are just salving the guilt of society. Don't do that. Society needs to be uncomfortable.
I've thought a long time about what would be useful to the homeless. We need public toilets. Not filthy portapotties, but proper restrooms that are private and clean. We need safe places to sleep. Capsule hotels, which are found in Tokyo and some other places in the world, would be most excellent. The rooms should be very cheap, and I mean five bucks is too much. They should be subsidized, and there should be twice as many as there is a demand for them. They should be extremely secure, and you should be allowed to stay for as long as you want. We need showers. Safe, secure, single occupancy showers. Those are answers that would help people.
If cities want us off the streets, they should offer these alternatives. They would be cheap and easy.
Teen runaways who declare that they are without guardianship should not be treated as criminals, and should not be compelled to live a criminal life. They should be issued cards which confer the right to work upon them. Forget child labor laws. They have a perverse outcome, effectively forcing children to become prostitutes, drug dealers, and thieves. Emancipation should be an on-demand right for all children.
Get rid of laws which forbid sleep. Who are you kidding? Those laws contribute to the meth problem in this country. Those laws destroy lives.
You want to solve problems? Homeless people have problems, they are not the problem. Don't treat them as something that needs a cure.and if you wish to help a homeless person or veteran here is your chance to do just that by giving a contribution to our cause
Homeless “survival kits.” We Create and distribute kits This pack you see here is and advanced pack we build this Pack is given to a veteran or homeless individual with a $75 contribution our survival pack progress up to our ultimate pack which go with a $100 contribution to our cause advanced survival Pack
Basic survival pack
Just $25 helps provide basic homeless survival packs $10 provides one homeless individual for two days less countrymen or women or child a meal
4veterans & none Veterans@ https://www.gofundme.com/URBAN-SURVIVAL-PACKS
Pro Deo et Constitutione –
Libertas aut Mors Semper Vigilans Fortis
Paratus et Fidelis
Mobile Homemaker / Joseph F Barber
Ultimate Survival pack
“Life Is a Gift from God.
We hold from God the gift which includes all others. This gift is life -- physical, intellectual, and moral life
To help insure the satiety of those we help here @the veterans Project we have come up with a Survival Guide to Homelessness
No matter where you go, there you are.IT CAN BE VIEWD @ THE LINK PROVIDED:https://josephfreedomoranarchy.blogspot.com/2016/05/survival-without-rent.html
You have a right to live. You have a right to be. You have these rights regardless of money, health, social status, or class. You have these rights, man, woman, or child. These rights can never be taken away from you, they can only be infringed. When someone violates your rights, remember, it is not your fault.
You were wronged.
when you are on the streets alone no resources you have to act with extreme measures Some people look down upon panhandling. But at some point it's something you might have to resort to. If you are going to be out there on the road you are going to need a few things to survive. Maybe you are thinking about giving panhandling a try for the first time but you're not sure what you need. Here's what you'll need to get started:https://josephfreedomoranarchy.blogspot.com/2016/05/panhandling-starter-kit.html
Ok that is a start to just some of the things we have developed this year in this next post we are asking you to contribute $1, to are cause or what ever gift you can aford to give, We would be gratful for all your support.In more ways than you know This project is and has always belong to the people IN ORDER To protect OUR Independence I will except no Governments funds, our fastest way to help a citizeN or a veteran man wmoen or child and yes their are children on the streets of America, so again if you have been blessed with away to assist us in effort to help those who seem to have lost there way praise god AN again $10 bucks is all we ask that is not even a cup of coffee these days but with unity and support we can meet are goal
Please provide whatever you can- $1, $5, $10, $20, $50, $100- To Use your debit/credit card or check click here:https://www.gofundme.com/URBAN-SURVIVAL-PACKS
From Your Hand to the Homeless Veterans and citizens and children
Help ease their burden. Just $25 helps provide Basic homeless survival packs $10 provides one homeless individual for two days less countrymen or women or child a meal
4veterans & none veterans.@ https://www.gofundme.com/URBAN-SURVIVAL-PACKS
or if it is best for you and your family please Mail your Donation to 11050 pegLeg rd,victorville ,Ca,92392
Care of Suzanne D Button Project manager,Contact Info
WEB PAGES :https://www.facebook.com/lawfulrebelion/
sponsored by Tradesmen Company@ https://www.facebook.com/JosephBarberMastercarpenterBuilder/ & https://tradesmen.blogspot.com/
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
― Marianne Williamson,
STAND FREE PEOPLE STAND YOUR GROUND AND FEED ALL YOU CAN LET US THE FREE THE DISSIDENT CALL IT LAWFUL REBELLION STANDING FOR WHAT IS RIGHT https://josephfreedomoranarchy.blogspot.com/2014/07/veterans-project.html