It’s a world you can’t see until you leave your home and shut the door behind you forever. The switch is a tumble and can happen fast, or if you’re lucky, you get to see it coming. When you land on your back in the street, all of a sudden you lose your bearings. You stand up, brush yourself off, and take it all in – your new life in the streets. From now on, people will be able to see you, but at the same time, they will never “see” you again.
Welcome to homelessness. It’s likely that you have very little with you, if you started like me. I’ve spent many years of my life being homeless, and unless you have experienced it for yourself, you would not, could not understand it. Life through the Looking Glass is very different from a normal life where you have a home, somewhere to sleep at night.
The first thing that usually happens when you become homeless is that you’re magically cut off from those who love you and those you love, unless you’re taking them with you. I had the experience of being homeless with my 7 year old son, and it is not an experience I wish to repeat ever. But why are you cut off? It is that division between the “real” world and your new world. Automatically they don’t understand, and they can’t understand. You may stay in contact with them, and they may tell you things like “keep your head up” or “just get a job”.
They’re missing two fundamental things when they say that type of stuff. First, if you want to survive in an inherently violent environment, one packed full of drug addiction, alcoholism, and mental illness, then you actually need to keep your head down. Second, the idea of just getting a job it’s ridiculous, especially if you have children. You cannot just get a job and suddenly afford to get into a home. Even those people with the job and homes already struggle to keep their position because the wages are just too low.
Now let’s say that you actually do have a job, and child care for your children. There are still barriers that stop you from getting into a home. A couple of these are any past evictions you may have had, any money owed to any utility company, bad credit, felon status, and lack of availability of homes you can afford. So, no. It’s not just a simple matter of “get a job”.
Another thing you might not expect but it’s glaringly obvious when you’re homeless is that being homeless is incredibly expensive. You have to provide food, water, and basic necessities for you and whatever family you have with you all month long. Rinse and repeat. Many of the homeless community members are on disability so they have limited income and often that is why they are homeless. Now first of all, finding water that is accessible to you at a reasonable distance from where you’re situated can be a pain. If you go the cheaper way and buy jugs from a grocery store that you can refill, then there’s a matter of carrying the water while carrying everything else you own on your back. It’s not easy.
If you are lucky, then you can stay in a shelter. Right now, because of covid and because states have neglected their homeless populations during this time, many of the shelters around our country are simply shutting down. There’s no room for anybody, and you just can’t find a place. But in some places, the shelters are still running and if you’re lucky enough to be in one, stay there. Otherwise you’ll be illegally camping in the parks or on the sidewalks.
Another thing about being homeless that I absolutely hate is that you’re not welcome anywhere. You have to keep moving otherwise you’ll get kicked out of wherever you stop and rest. It’s best to find a nice city park and set up a spot somewhere for you and your family to just sit and chill. This works in the spring, summer,and fall usually. But once winter comes, we’re talking about a whole new beast. There are extra challenges that come in the winter time, the biggest one being how to stay warm. I went through one of the coldest winters that happened in a long time homeless with my son and we were absolutely miserable and without hope.
Since this post is running long, I will touch on one more point and then we’ll be done. Eventually you will find other people in the homeless community who you can trust, who you connect with, who you might learn to one day consider your “street family”. This is a good thing. You should be building upon this daily and nurturing those relationships. You will need them later on in life after you’re out of that situation, or if you ever go back in. Your street family is a group of people who have come together in hardship and lifted and supported each other. They are the ones who “see” you for real, and you can identify with them better than you can your regular family. Treasure this.
Living homeless is an entire different lifestyle than any other. It’s unique and at the same time undesirable. It’s extremely hard, but you get stronger as you make it through longer. It tests your survival skills in the middle of a city, and it is possible for you to come through it more confident, strengthened, and smarter. Although I would not wish it upon anybody, I know for a fact that if it were to happen to me again I would be able to make it. Until next time,