Firstly I want to make it very clear that I am not in any way trying to demean a homeless person. I speak here about homelessness from pure experience. I was once a homeless person. My thoughts here are very serious. While it may not be helpful to those that are homeless as they cannot read it since they have no home PC to view it on. Unless they happen to have a working smartphone. In which case, I wonder why they are homeless if they can afford wireless service. Though it can be shared by the readers here to those they meet in such a situation.
Being homeless in and of itself is demeaning enough. However, I find it even more demeaning to anyone who would simply give up and start begging for others to bail them out of their situation. It actually irritates me to no end seeing someone stand on a street corner for hours of the day in the hot sun with a sign in their hands expecting a miracle. Especially if they are healthy enough to stand there like that. They can go out and find some sort of work. Even if it’s shoveling manure or sweeping floors on the midnight shift somewhere. Those who are handicapped, I am more than certain they can find some sort of assistance program for folks in their situation. They could also look for jobs as greeters in different stores. I just can’t think of any reason at all that anyone would need to beg or panhandle for a living. Especially since we have so many who fake it to get over on those who would fall for it. I’ve experienced that issue myself as well. A guy begged for change from me with a story of needing bus fare to go see some relative at the hospital. The very next week he approached me with the exact same story in the same parking lot. When I confronted him, he denied ever having been in that parking lot before.
I realize the economy is coming down on everyone in my income bracket. As well as those who are contractors that are now finding it very hard to scrounge up any decent work. Having gone through more than my share of financial devastation for the third time in my life, as well as overwhelming medical bills due to my recent heart attacks… I too, do not have a home of my own at this time. I share a house with others, I share my free internet service from the company I work for, in exchange for low cost rent. As much as I hate having roommates, it’s what I have to do to get by these days. Even though our great president says the private sector is doing fine. I’m not doing so fine, and the increase of people holding cardboard signs in their hands while standing on street corners is a sign he’s full of it.
However, let me take you back to late March, 1993 in “Northern Lower Michigan” (which is supposed to describe the area in just below the upper peninsula). I had just split up from my first wife. We had recently moved good distance away from family and friends. Unfortunately, I was also let go from my job shortly after making the move. We only had one car between us, and I let her keep it as she had custody of our two young sons. So it was up to me to make it on my own. The only wage earning talents I had at the time, was to make a mean hand tossed pizza (and I do mean tossing the dough by hand), and to count change in my head from making deliveries.
As you can imagine, March in Michigan is quite cold and there was still quite a bit of snow to be found. Although blessed enough, there were patches of open ground. From my last paycheck, I managed to buy a small tent, a sleeping bag, a duffel bag and a foam cooler. Along with the basics to keep my hygiene up. Such as toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant and a razor. Also some bread, peanut butter, a couple of lighters and some garbage bags to keep dirty clothes in and keep what few belongings I had dry.
I had no car and I had no where really to go. Except the woods. I spent some hours locating a secluded place that was rather difficult to get too and just so happened to be in a valley near a stream. This way I could get water and be out of sight, even if I started a fire. I didn’t want to be found by anyone for any reason. Such as trespassing, fire dangers or anything that might get me into trouble. Carrying all that stuff was a real pain to get to that spot. Then I had to worry if someone found it and them taking my stuff when I wasn’t around. Either just to remove me or to steal from me. In no way did I want to risk losing what little I had.
Keeping warm at night was my first hurdle. During the day I could just sit by a fire and be alright. At night I would build a fire, then open my tent and let the heat in to warm up my sleeping bag and clothing. Not wanting to risk causing a wildfire, I’d make sure the fire was just about out before I’d crawl into the sleeping bag and pile my clothing on top. My dirty clothes would be in a garbage bag underneath me to help keep me off the cold ground.
After a couple of days, I knew I had to start making more money. I needed a job. Didn’t much care what I did for work. I had to look presentable and I needed a place to wash up. Still having a bit of money on me, I took my personal hygiene items and put them in my pocket, grabbed my dirty laundry and walked to the nearest laundry mat. Luckily it was only a couple miles away. While I washed a load of laundry and soaked up the warmth, I slipped into the laundry mat bathroom to wash myself using the sink as best I could. Since I went in as they opened, there was nearly no one there. I used the bar soap as shaving cream, shaved myself and washed my hair in the sink. Redressed myself and finished my laundry.
Then I walked back to my tent, secured my items as best I could and then proceeded to try to camouflage my tent with branches. I had no way to lock up, so it was best to not be found. Then I walked back to town and started walking down the different streets to apply for any job I could find. I didn’t care if they had a help wanted sign, I didn’t stop to ask if they were hiring either. I see that a lot these days. People walk into my office or call asking if we are hiring. I always tell them the same thing. It never hurts to drop off a resume or fill out an application. Oddly every time, they chose to do neither. Shows me they have no initiative, so therefore they wouldn’t get hired anyways.
I did this every day for several days. If I didn’t have any laundry to do, I would wait until the place was busy enough that no one noticed me coming in every day to use the bathroom. On those days, I would do a more hurried job to not have someone come banging at the door. I didn’t desire to draw attention to myself.
After what seemed like an eternity, but only was a few weeks. I managed to land a job at Subway. Making sandwiches. Sadly I had to use my old home address before I could get hired. So I just prayed my soon to be ex wife would be nice enough to hold my mail for me. I had to go visit my kids as well, so I’d pick up the mail then.
A few weeks of managing to work, my ex wife decided on my second visitation, that I should get the car in the divorce and she bought a cheap car for herself. This also would keep her from having to pick me up and drop me off before and after the visit with my kids. Of course it had payments to go with it. So I had some wheels, but not yet able to afford an apartment and barely gas and insurance. Now I could’ve opted to live in the car. But again, having myself or my belongings in my car would draw attention of some sort. Either a policemen trying to kick me out of where ever I was trying to sleep, or someone who would’ve broken into my car and stolen my items. So I still slept in my little valley in a tent in the cold.
Sadly my employment at Subway only lasted until summer. Apparently you shouldn’t complain about the boss lady’s bad attitude in the store as the security cameras had audio. It also taught me that I should’ve have gotten so ungrateful for having a job since I still had no home.
However, I managed to find another job quickly at the local Hardee’s. Managed to make some friends there as well. We grouped up and got an apartment together. That was around fall of that year, getting closer to winter. This was my first experience with roommates and it sucked badly. But I don’t want to get side tracked.
While finally no longer homeless, I didn’t consider myself financially capable of sustaining a life of my own at that point either. As the weather got colder, I still couldn’t make a go of getting ahead and I wasn’t having much luck finding a better job. That’s when I found out a very good friend of mine from my younger days, joined the Navy. We had happened to start talking now that I had a home and a phone to reach her with. She told me all about how she had found a field to work in she liked and the Navy was teaching her all about it. February 1994, I joined the Navy. I had no real idea what I wanted to do, so I took a shot at the Supply field. Logistics. While there, I got interested in computers. I found an old machine in a closet. Figured out how to restore it and have been teaching myself about computers ever since. With the help of many friends.
Sadly outsourcing took it’s toll on that career. But that’s a story for another day.
OK, so it’s not really so much a guide as me sharing my personal experience with having been homeless. The point of my story is. I never held that sign you see in the picture above. I never begged. Sure I cried. When I was alone. But I got myself out of being homeless. Should it happen again, I’d do it just as I did then. It is hard today. Damned hard. I don’t relish what these folks are going through on the streets. However, I truly believe if they wanted too, they could get out of it too on their own. I certainly can’t afford to help them carry their burdens. I doubt anyone reading this could either.