Friday, March 21, 2014

5 Lessons of Kinda-Sorta Homelessness

I am voluntarily homeless. I quit all my jobs, jumped in a car and headed west. I spent most of the first quarter of 2014 traveling around the country, enjoying as much of the natural beauty of the western portion of America as one can possibly shove into 50 days. Now I have found myself in a new place I call “home,” without the operative object to suggest the title, a home. This is by no means the kind of homeless that would make a CNN special, or demand the attention of a special interest group, but none-the-less it has been eye opening. I have learn a variety of valuable lessons, and noticed some things I have taken for granted throughout life. I have developed a system of sorts that has allowed me to survive rather comfortably whilst being house-less. 
Most things you don’t think about in day-to-day life become huge considerations. Below I have laid out some issues I have encountered so that if you decide to just throw away a comfortable life in favor of living in a two-seater car in the city with one of the highest cost of living in the country you will be slightly better prepared than I was (end run on sentence).

5. Hygiene
Finding a place to sleep is actually really easy, you have a variety of inexpensive or free options from camping (free camp sites exist if you are willing to hike, sometimes it’s as little as 100 yards!) to the not-so-secret go to of Walmart parking lots, and in worse case scenarios you can just pull over on the side of the road and hope for the best. Finding a place to shower however is much more difficult. I have gone upwards of four days without a shower, with two days not being acceptably uncommon. My go to system has been alternating between sleeping in a car or tent one or two nights and then hitting up a hostel to grab a warm shower. 
There is not as much giggling involved.
In between showering, a liberal application of deodorants, brushing teeth and changing cloths can stave off a majority of the grossness. Even simply washing your hands makes you feel significantly clearer. 
Shaving becomes increasingly difficult, as your beard takes over your face, slowly growing longer and thicker, hostels are convenient for a quick trim up, but a full shave is nearly impossible unless you grab a hotel room, so you forgo shaving and the beard slowly becomes part of you, which is fine because you need it to stay warm while sleeping on cold nights. 

4. Eating Healthy
Eating healthy is difficult enough as is without the added the variable of not having anyway of preserving food. If you are camping, you need to limit your supplies so you can easily transport the food from car to bear safe lockers at the camp site. So you increasingly find yourself eating a variety of granola bars and crackers. Eating crackers and granola bars is, not that shockingly, very insufficient so you find yourself supplementing your diet with unacceptable quantities of fast food. You have no option for left overs so you find a new appreciation for the value of a meal, refusing to not finish every last bite, usually eating far past the time you were full. But there is a little consolation…
Dinner is served!
3. Drinking
Luckily, you save calories from drinking alcohol. You certainly don’t want to have the smell of alcohol of your breath is a cop is to come along and question why you are sleeping in your car. Hostels all have a no alcohol policy, and being hung over isn’t something you want to deal with when your day is going to consist of hanging out in parks or posting up in a Starbucks to steal their WiFi, speaking of which…

2. Entertainment
You never realize how valuable having something to do is until you have nothing to do and nowhere to be at to do nothing. Having a laptop with me certainly sets me apart from most of the traditional homeless, and has allowed me to keep myself entertained cheaply. Starbucks is a great place to get wifi and watch Netflix or Amazon Prime, if you are lucky enough to be near a library that doesn’t require a library card to log onto their wifi, that’s the cheapest, because it’s free, option. Late at night finding WiFi gets harder, but you can easily still get it parked outside a McDonald's, Starbucks or, and I have found this to be the best, Target. 

At the end of the day staying entertained isn’t nearly as important as feeling safe and having a place to chill out and sleep. The biggest thing I have learned is that a lot of people are willing to help you out, but when the struggle is self inflicted it can be really difficult to…

1. Accept Help
Multiple people have stepped up to offer me help, whether it’s been a place to sleep, help finding a job, letting me do laundry or just simply offering to pay for my food, and I appreciate every offer. The food is a bit extreme, I can afford to feed myself after all, but when someone wants to throw a home cooked meal down my gullet I’d be hard pressed to decline. The housing has been amazingly helpful, allowing me to not only save money, but get far better sleep than I get at most hostels (sharing the room with 23 other people doesn’t lend itself to undisturbed sleep). 
Manatees are adorable!
I find it difficult to accept this help, I feel somewhat like a burden and even more like a mooch. I don’t mind sleeping in my car as much as people seem to mind me sleeping in my car, the first couple nights I did it back in the Midwest and temperatures dropped below freezing was difficult, but a nice cool night and with now being accustomed to the endeavor, it’s not all that bad. I really appreciate the showers though! It feels so nice to wake up in the morning and cleanse oneself. So to everyone who has helped me in 2014 (or ever for that matter), in whatever way you have helped, thank you! I hope someday I can repay you, although I don’t hope it’s by offering you shelter while you are homeless.

And the bonus thing I have learned is how hard it really is to be homeless, if I didn't have good friends and enough money to gas up my car and drive to campsites or afford a hostel from time to time I'm not sure how one could do it. How do you apply for work if you haven't showered in days? How do you keep your head up when you haven't washed your cloths in weeks? How do you make it through a day when you haven't had a good nights rest in what seems like forever? The one thing we all take for granted in our everyday life is knowing where we are going to sleep at night.

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