Hope Street: How I navigated my way through homelessness (Part 1)

Hope Street: How I navigated my way through homelessness (Part 1)

John Smith 2 years ago

PART I: Resourcefulness comes with the territory

I never thought I'd be homeless at 53 with a Masters degree. 

But, as thoughts are things, it's true that in looking back I brought it on myself. It started out as an adventure. After saving $3,000, I left my job, we gave up our apartment and headed to the Mississippi River. Our plan? To host round table discussions in river towns, talking about how the people can bring about peace on Earth. A laudable goal, but unfortunately not sustainable at that time.

After three months, I found myself without a place to sleep and with no money. I was blessed to travel with my beautiful 2-year-old boxer-chow Curious George and my best friend and teacher, James, who had been a wanderer before.

I never really got why my grandmother would save every single glass jar that the family ever bought. After becoming homeless, I finally saw the light. Resourcefulness. It's what enables people to get through the wars and tough times. It's all about having a purpose for everything, and making the most of what you have and can find. It involves ingenuity and the right attitude, creating something out of nothing. When homeless, the most pressing daily issues are where to find food, how to get money, and where to lay your head. (Showering is, of course, pleasant, too).

Finding food isn't tough if one treats it like a job. Most towns have a Coalition for the Homeless that offers a flyer listing the various shelters, churches, and organizations in the area. Almost everyday, there's someone making a meal or giving out food. You just need to have some good walking shoes or save some change for the bus. Most food banks offer two types of food packages: one for people with a kitchen, one for people without. The items we received were peanut butter and crackers, tuna fish and nuts. 

We also took our mug to the convenience store, asked if we could get hot water (never was refused), and made instant coffee or ramen. When you meet other homeless people, you can split up and each go to a different location to get food, and bring it back to a park. If someone has a little money, you can buy hot dogs and have a cookout. I’ll never forget our Memorial Day picnic when I was homeless.

Getting work while homeless is easier than ever. Many people, homeless or not, make their money from the internet. Craigslist is great for seeking out odd jobs and for posting your talents. Look under gigs. I remember crafting an email to some of my former clients offering my writing, and when some said yes, I'd do it on the library computer and get paid via PayPal. We also traded staying at a hotel for doing marketing work for them. Think about using all of your resources (like a camera) to make money. There is always someone who needs help if you're not afraid to ask.

Finally, a safe place to sleep. That is, apart from having no privacy, the hardest challenge when homeless. Often, the police are relentless in making you move. You want to find a place out of the way and make sure that only those you trust know where you sleep. You want to rise with the sun and be out of your spot by 6:00 a.m. 

It's good to have a plastic stash bag to keep your favorite blankets close by. Always keep what's important to you on your person. Sleeping outdoors is fun when you finally find a dry spot where you won't be bothered. Abandoned porches and in the shadows along the periphery of a park work well. Our favorite was between the bushes and the side of the Greek Orthodox Church.

To be resourceful means thinking outside the box. All of the time we were looking for places or things that we could use. The gift of resourcefulness is that you begin to see the beauty in simple things that can bring comfort when the externals of life may not be to your liking. 

Being resourceful is all about being adaptable, using keen observation, and staying in the now.

In this five-part editorial series on Storia, one writer presents an honest, hard-hitting, enlightening look at living on the street. Sometimes, without an address, all you have is hope.

CLICK HERE TO READ PART II: Hitchhiking: It's now or later

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