This is a very difficult story to tell, but I feel compelled to share and bring awareness to a problem that is growing.
10 things I learned from being homeless
Sharing a tent in the woods with three teenage boys and six special needs cats. Sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, doesn’t it? That was my reality Summer 2016.
One day I am attending HOA meetings, balancing three teens’ sports and activities, and speed racing through grocery aisles while Googling “Quick easy dinners” and trying to avoid clicking on that viral kitten video. The next moment we are living in the dirt, starting fires to prepare meals, and hauling water. And wishing we had a viral kitten video to click on. Our world and sanity was ripped apart when we found ourselves suddenly thrown onto the street without notice, finances or a vehicle.
Here are 10 hacks to ensure you are prepared for your journey into the world of the Dwelling Challenged.
10. Activate Stealth Ninja Mode.
Constantly scan your surroundings for places to sleep, everywhere you go. Consider its safety and if it’s hidden enough yet allows for easy access. Imagine your boys coming and going, and weigh the possibilities of avoidance of such threats as human and animal predators, the elements, door to door salesmen…
9 You are on your own.
Unless you have children in diapers, (who are an appropriate age for diapers), or you’re a single fella who doesn’t mind the indignities you’re forced to endure to acquire the coveted shelter reservation each night, there just isn’t any room in the inn. The majority of shelters have a rule against housing boys aged 12 to 18, citing “the bad things that happen to boys that age in shelters”. After weeks of calling each shelter daily to inquire about open availability, you will eventually hit the lottery and be put on a waiting list. So what if it’s 18 months long, that’s shorter than the reservation list for that trendy new downtown restaurant! Seattle’s world famous Tent Cities have a waiting list of only 4 to 6 months if you don’t mind your fellow homeless tenters as your law enforcement, judge and jury. Sure, there are resources out there. To save money on laundry you can choose one outfit twice a week from a clothing closet that distributes Goodwill’s rejected duds. Dine at rotating soup kitchens a couple nights a week. On other nights you can dine al fresco on cans of dented creamed corn you’ve acquired from the food pantries. (Typically, rules are one food bank visit per household per week.) If you are lucky, you might be given a brand new shiny tent from a generous organization. If you are super fortunate to have a vehicle, you can be granted gas vouchers to ensure you can gather the most out of your weekly food bank excursions, and save three hours a day transit time.
8 How to budget time.
You might be able to make money, but you can’t make time. When you are homeless everything takes longer. The public shakes their collective head, mumbling “Oh, why doesn’t he just go get a job?” Picture this: You awaken naturally with the rise of the sun, walk to your water source, haul a few gallons back to camp, build and start a fire, then prepare and cook breakfast for your family. After eating, you brush your teeth and douse the fire. Then tote your dirty plates and utensils back to the water source and clean them, then bathe yourself. While you’re at it wash your families clothing articles to save time. You dry yourself, dress in clean clothes, and do what you can with your hair with your little fist sized mirror and no styling products. Then haul your clean kitchenware, bathing supplies and laundry soap, refilled water jugs, and freshly laundered clothing back to camp. Put everything away, hang clothes to dry on nearby trees (or in your tent if you are lucky) and gather your resume (carefully inspecting your hands for filth before touching it), job section from the newspaper, etc, and maneuver to the nearest road to get a ride to town. By this point, you are dusty if its nice weather, muddy if its rainy. Now, if you are a guy, hitchhiking is presumably a bit less scary, but it is stressful if not downright terrifying if you are a female.
Okay, you’ve made it to a company that’s hiring. It’s now lunchtime, and you are in desperate need of a shower as you are starting to smell a bit funky from the stress sweat that even the clinical deodorant can’t mask. Fill out an application and get an appointment for an interview if the Gods are smiling upon you. In that case, find your way back to camp and do it all over again on the day of your interview, with the added stress of not knowing if someone will stop for your outstretched thumb. Then hope you can make it to work each day and your family will be safe while unsupervised in the forest. Try not to wonder how you will juggle trying to get to and from work each day with finding and preparing meals, and keep them sane, healthy, and safe from predators- both two and four legged.
7 Cabin Fever.
Entertainment while trapped in insanity. Some turn to drugs. Others to alcohol. But the Dwelling Challenged have to have something to occupy the mind or entertain. It’s easy to lose a couple hours bingeing on Netflix, or get lost scrolling steemit, but what do you do when there is no wifi and after unpacking your backpacks you just can’t find that deck of cards you are sure you brought? What do you do when your children, who left behind hundreds of hours of gaming platforms, look to you for a reason to stop the bickering? This is one of the hardest parts about being homeless. Coming up with activities to quell the injustices of the day. We were fortunate to have a solar device charger so the kiddos were able to play a few game apps and listen to the music on their phones. But that doesn't last as long as you hope. Find easy and free hobbies to master. Learn to whittle wood, you never know when you may need the skill!!
6 Who your friends are.
I am going to be realistic here- no-one has room. Not for someone with the homeless stigma cloud looming over them like Pigpens fog of filth. Some friends, who truly love you, will simply stop talking with you. It’s not that they are unsupportive, although it will certainly feel like it. It is because they truly do not know what to say or do. They wish they could help but lack the resources or ideas. You must ask. They want to help. People want to help you! Be specific.
5 Being Dwelling Challenged is the best workout.
Seriously, if you want to lose a ton of fat and gain mad muscle, give up your apartment and all but a backpack full of your most important (and necessary for living on the street) belongings, and haul that bad boy all over the county all day, every day. Guaranteed you will lose dozens of pounds and be ripped in a month!
4 Learn from the best.
There are classes of homelessness. You have your Jocks, who live for and in the outdoors in search of the next mountain to summit and slope to ski, not bothering to waste money on trivials such as rent. There are the Preppy homeless, who were able to foresee their financial demise on the horizon so sold their home and purchased new RVs. They possess fun electronics, satellite cable, thousand-dollar gas grills, and blow-dryers. If you can befriend one of these, go for it! You will eat well at their cookouts, and there’s always beer. But they look down on the rest so be sure your attention capitol is immense. Then there's the Slackers, typically street kids who ran away from home years ago and dabble in chemical opulence. You can spot them by their super large backpacks and sunburned thumbs. They accept the fact they are not rejoining society so they’ve learned to make the best of it. Of course there’s a fair share of hippies, perpetually happy living in their natural environment among the trees and flowers. And cloyingly sickening considering your situation- you WISH you could be so happy! But the best to learn from are the perpetually homeless young families. They like to refer to themselves as “Gypsies”, have a number of small children and travel about the country consuming resources until they wear out their welcome. They are in possession of a plethora of valuable knowledge. Befriend them, they will enlighten you to a variety of hacks accumulated from their years of manipulating the system. Learn from them, watch them. But never trust them. Their knife will surely find your back the moment they see something in you they covet.
3 You are wrong.
Everything you thought you knew about the homeless is terribly wrong. Yes, there are many people on the street who are mentally ill, and there are a fair share who arrived there due to poor choices. But there is a small subset of the unhoused population that was simply one paycheck away from a life on the street. Stacy was shift manager of a pizza joint. One morning she arrived to work to find signs across the doors that the building closed. The employees standing around, wondering what was going on, their phone calls to the owners going straight to voicemail. After the local news crew arrived, interviewed and investigated, there were more questions than answers. The unemployment checks were not enough to cover rent, and neither Stacy nor her roommate who also worked at the restaurant could find a job in the tight market fast enough to avoid eviction. Stacy was young, naive and easy on the eyes, so a series of unfortunate events revolving predators shattered her already shaky safety net. She chose to sleep in stealth in the woods while saving for a deposit on her own apartment doing odd jobs over exchanging her body for a place to call home. Homelessnessism is a little like racism, and felt by it’s victims just as profoundly.
2 Comfortably numb.
In the beginning, you will shed many tears each time you have to tell or even think about your story. You will fall, and you will fall hard. You must learn to never panic. Panic kills. Keep your head, as best you can, and keep moving forward and upward. Homelessness is the most difficult challenge to overcome in life. I was the victim of an attempted murder and kidnapping years ago. I escaped with 19 broken bones. That experience was much easier to survive than this- at least I could see the way out.
1 Once you pop- you can’t stop.
The moment anyone finds out you were homeless, you are granted a dark shroud. Even after the fact. I worked extremely hard to pull my family out. There was no help. Sure, we were the recipients of a few helpful items like sleeping bags (all we were able to escape with were our comforters) cookware, and once a bundle of pre cut wood. But what we needed had already been consumed by the thousands who came before us. We are still cleaning up the mess we were forced to endure, and we learned the hard way to stop telling people we meet our story. I worked hard, it wasn’t even an option not to, but I had to do it alone. Many must give up because there is no light at the end of the tunnel, and day to day survival takes up all time and effort.
There is an obscene amount of homeless people in America. That little patch of green behind the grocery store? There’s probably a young family living in stealth, desperately trying to keep their kids quiet and hidden. There are 800 families with registered schoolchildren in my county alone which boasts a population of only 269,000.
References: NT Public Schools Homeless Advocate
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For the second in the series, please click here https://steemit.com/homeless/@arbitrarykitten/10-more-things-i-learned-from-being-homeless