Aug 15

This is the fourth post in an 8 part series on being homeless, by a guest author who goes by the name Dreamscaper. It’s my honor to share his story with my readers.

1. Eating out of garbage cans. I preferred half eaten bags of potato chips. If they were soggy they probably weren’t good. If they were crunchy they were probably fine. I hung out when the vending machines were changed. Sometimes the changer would give me left over snacks or snacks they couldn’t pack. I’m not sure if they suspected I was homeless and hungry. Most everyone else, including my closest friends, assumed I was still a student. Though they wouldn’t know that I was previously a student so all they saw was someone looking hungry at a vending machine.

Homeless Christ

Homeless Christ by Deb Hoeffner

2. I ended up joining any clubs on campus I could. The idea simply being that I needed to fill my waking hours with something to do until I could find a place I felt safe. The club I remembered most fondly was a life action role playing club. Eventually they somehow knew I was going through hard times. To “play” was a $5 fee. I don’t remember if my fee was waved or someone covered it for me. Either way, the money collected went towards pizza, soda, chips, whatever, after the sessions. I ate well. Sometimes we’d go to a 24 hour dennys to eat and talk about whatever happened during the session. I always had a couple friends that said I should order anything I wanted. One friend said he did this for a friend at a bar and they rung up a $100 bar tab together and it was good. I didn’t feel guilty asking for a burger and fries those nights.

3. Nights that I couldn’t find a building to sleep in I’d recycle cans from garbage cans that weren’t cleaned yet. Also, on weekends, I’d go through all the chairs and sofas where I was to pick up loose change. One day I pocketed $8. Every weekend wasn’t this great because it was only a week since “last cleaning”. This money I either used to watch a movie on the first showing at a theater on Sunday and try to stay in the building as long as possible. So the food I did get on my own I stole from stores. I preferred those nickel candies you pay when you take it. so I’d fill up my pockets. I also preferred shell less sunflower seeds. Nice size bag that would last all day and I could steal or pay for cheap.

One night I was sitting at a 24 hour Denny’s, pretending to study, when a homeless person sat next to me. He ended up giving me his address and drew a map on a napkin if “I was ever lonely”. Months later, I was hungry and wanted a roof over my head. I walked to his address and was yards to his door. Here I was…questioning my own sexuality and morality and willing to put everything aside in hopes of something to eat and a roof over my head for a night.

The money I did make recycling cans and finding in sofas was typically used for Sunday movies or to buy smokes. I never smoked before being homeless, but I wanted an excuse of why I was out at midnight on campus. Going for a smoke break and a stroll seemed like a good excuse. Luckily, I was never asked. During that time I started a pack a day habit that took 8 years to break cold turkey and another 6 years to stop having smoking dreams.

(Editor’s note – I am in debt to the artist Deb Hoeffner who permitted me to use the image above. You can see and purchase her beautiful artwork at her site DebHoeffner.com. This image is not in the public domain and may not be reproduced or copied.)

Next Week – Getting Rescued

written by Joe \\ tags: , ,

Aug 08

This is the third post in an 8 part series on being homeless, by a guest author who goes by the name Dreamscaper. It’s my honor to share his story with my readers.

I was homeless with my life possessions in my backpack. I was (am) bipolar. If you never been truly homeless in your life, what could a homeless person be afraid of? What could a homeless person be afraid of? What do they have to lose?

The first weeks I was homeless I hustled poker and blackjack. I found people playing for quarters. Previously I was a card counter so blackjack was easy for me. I’d play either the house or had a nice bet spread while playing the player. I made a few bucks here and there. One day I was hustling a guy in this variant of poker that was forced. I was down $150 at that point and the next had I would have been up $300. The person I was trying to hustle called it quits at $150. I bounced him a check and he threatened my life. I laughed at him. Another person I was hustling in poker I found out was a gangbanger. I actually wasn’t too concerned. A gangbanger attending a university? Besides, I was homeless – I was suicidal. Please make good on your threats. Please.

I was sleeping on sofas and chairs in a dorm I used to live in until I was caught. I learned how to sleep while still being awake so if I heard footsteps or a door open I could wake up and walk outside as if I was never there. One day I got busted and took into an office with someone who was used to my residential adviser. He told me if I wasn’t 100% honest I’d be arrested for trespassing. I was. He let me go but said if I ever came back I’d be arrested. Weeks later he saw me on campus, and gave me his last $20 because he knew I needed it.

The things I didn’t experience include getting beat up, stabbed, killed. Who would try to find someone who stabbed or killed a homeless person? Doesn’t happen. Nobody cares. It’s almost the perfect crime for wannabe gang bangers. Luckily, my shoes have never been stolen. I had no backup supply. Who cares? Stores do. Stores have a no shirt, no shoes policy. How would I be able to steal food to get by if I didn’t have shoes? How could I still pretend to be a student on a university campus without shoes? Even if I recycled enough cans at night, how could I get in a store to buy shoes?

I was harassed by other homeless people. Walking downtown asking for some change? Nope. How about my watch? Nope. How about my headphones? Sorry. My little life possessions that couldn’t even fill up a shopping cart and here was some homeless person trying to get it. I had cans stolen when I tried to hide them.

Next Week – Eating and Survival

written by Joe \\ tags: , ,

Aug 01

This is the second post in an 8 part series on being homeless, by a guest author who goes by the name Dreamscaper. It’s my honor to share his story with my readers.

Going a few days without food isn’t hard for most people. So, before you hear the rumbling of your empty belly, a new threat happens. Buildings are closing. Night is approaching and you are officially homeless for the first time in your life. Maybe you were smart enough to sleep during your first day so you can roam the streets at night. You probably have a couple options:

1. Breaking and entering

2. Finding a safe spot you won’t be bothered.

When I was homeless I chose number one. At night I would try every single door handle on campus. The janitors were usually cleaning and could find something. I’d prefer buildings I could have an excuse to be in and lock like an outdoor bathroom. If questioned, I could say I had to use the restroom while up and about and this was open. If questioned, I could say I locked the bathroom because it was the middle of the night and I was scared. As a final precaution, I usually preferred to sleep on the toilet with my pants on my ankles. I always wanted an excuse to be where ever I was. If I heard the janitor coming in I had my excuses, pulled up my pants, flushed the toilet, and nobody would be none the wiser. Luckily I was never caught. Plenty of times someone checked if the door was unlocked.

(The above image was taken by JoeTaxpayer in 1994 on his honeymoon in Paris)

Next best building was a building with a 24 hour computer lab. I slept in computer labs plenty of times where the lab monitor just told me to close the door behind me when I left. He thought I was a student. But typically a building with a computer lab if I had access to the first door (wasn’t locked) I could safely roam the entire building.

Other buildings that were opened I was thankful the cleaning crew listened to music. I just had to be on the opposite side of where the music was coming from and look for the cleanest rooms. They would have cleaned that room already and had no reason to be back if I was quiet. Once found, I’d look for parts in the room that was hidden from the door. Closets were good. Hallway bathrooms weren’t as good because I couldn’t lock them and had no excuse of being in them if the janitor needed to use it.

When no doors were accessible I started to check windows. I think one night I found a window. I had to crawl under tables to find a door to a hallway then was safe. I didn’t want to be spotted outside. One night I found a frozen burrito in the teachers’ lounge. I didn’t dare use the microwave. I ate it a few hours later when I thought it would be less frozen. It wasn’t. One night I fell asleep pretending to read a book. I got woken up by the janitor and a cop. They looked at my “stay awake” pills, ran my ID to see if I had a record, and told me to try to stay awake next time.

When nothing else was available I found myself on the streets, looking for a locked dumpster or anything else that would provide a couple hours of safety. This happened every single night I was homeless. Luckily, during the day time I found a spot I felt safe. During the weekends, though, even that wasn’t safe as buildings were closed.

Next Week – Safety From What?

written by Joe \\ tags: , ,

Jul 25

This is the first post in an 8 part series, by a guest author who goes by the name Dreamscaper. It’s my honor to share his story with my readers.

What would you do if you found yourself this morning being 100% completely homeless? All you have is the clothes in a backpack and a train ticket to a city you’ve lived in. Whatever got you to this point can’t be undone. You have no friends or family that you can turn to for help. The only way you’ll get out of your current situation is all on your own. While every homeless person has their own unique story, you can probably rest assured that your mental facilities might not be all there. After all, you are homeless, something that most people will try to avoid at every opportunity.

You have just exited the train. You took your current life possessions to a place you feel safe, a place you hopefully won’t get hassled by police or anyone else. You probably thought to pack your wallet and ID and maybe 2 to 3 sets of clothes. Maybe you also thought to take a magazine you can reread over and over again or a book or two to pass the time. You might have even brought with you a bible. That should give you plenty of reading time and maybe some inspiring words to get by. Maybe you had some room for some small electronics like a walkman and an electronic organizer. But that’s it. Your wallet is empty of money. Your walkman won’t last long if run only off batteries. Hopefully the clothes you packed are really comfortable and not “stylish”. If you packed any food it probably didn’t even survive the train trip, and, if it did, it won’t last terribly long, unless, of course, you can figure out how to get back on your feet quickly. So, what’s your plan?

1. Buy a PO Box. This will give you an address on applications.

2. Buy a prepaid cell phone. Look for the cheapest plan. This will give you a phone number for job hunting.

3. Figure out how to get food stamps. Being able to eat helps out.

4. Figure out where the homeless shelters are. Some homeless people won’t go to a homeless shelter because of their stuff stolen or diseases or anything else. Even if you are that type of person having options always helps.

5. You’ll probably need advice in seeking professional help for people without money. You might be facing other challenges or simply want health insurance in case something happens.

Now let’s look at reality. You probably didn’t think of bringing a pen and paper. You might be able to borrow it depending on where you are staying, but you aren’t quite ready to steal it yet. You don’t have money for number one or two. If you did, you’d probably rather keep that for necessities like food. Three, four, and five you simply might not know where to look and who to ask. Unless you “moved” to where to look for help, chances are you won’t be able to afford the bus money to travel there. If you could, you never did this before, so you would rather spend the little money you have on food than bus tickets. This probably doesn’t make much sense to any sane person, but when you have a choice, having something to eat really becomes a priority.

Next Week – The Battle Against Safety

written by Joe \\ tags: , ,

Jul 18

I’m in Chicago on a business trip and as my customer and I are walking from our hotel to a local restaurant, he noticed that I handed a dollar to every person with his or her hand out. We had a nice dinner, and I made sure I had enough singles for the walk back, all told, I must have given away no more than ten dollars. He asked me, “how can you give money to every person you pass by?” I didn’t miss a beat, and asked in response, “how can you walk by so many people asking for money and not reach into your pocket once?”

Years later I heard this anecdote which reminded me of my own story above. Two men of the cloth (I don’t recall the religion) are walking in an area where there are many homeless asking for money. One man gives to everyone with his hand out, the other doesn’t give at all. The non-giver says, “I don’t give to people on the street, I only donate through the soup kitchens and institutions, as I’m afraid that someone I give money to on the street will use it for alcohol.”  The giver responds, “I know that many I give to will buy alcohol or drugs, but I give to everyone with his hand out in the hope than one person will spend the money on food.”

I don’t kid myself, I know that giving away a dollar here and there probably makes me feel good more than it helps the guy on the street. On the other hand, symbolism can go a long way, and I think there’s much to be said for the act of not walking by someone in need when you can help a bit.

In an endeavor unrelated to this blog, I’ve spent some time on a board discussing Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, a system of paying people for relatively small, simple transactions. I met a writer who mentioned he had spent time being homeless, and we had some discussion on that topic. I invited him to share his story with my readers and soon after I received an article than ran over 4000 words.  It’s really an amazing story, one I look forward to sharing with you over the next eight weeks.

Next Week – The First Days

written by Joe \\ tags: ,