Being homeless has opened my eyes to just how much non-homeless folks don't realize about homelessness, especially when they voice opinions that are out of touch with the day-to-day reality I, and others like me, live in. Here's a list of what you may not know:
1. Lack of help -- Not being able to get help before an eviction notice or being able to find a safe place to stay when fleeing a domestic violence situation is the number one reason I see so many people out here without a place to go.
2. Loss of property/home -- Most folks start selling off anything of value they have just to make rent and when that runs out, they lose their home which is exactly what happened to me.
3. Shock phase -- The first night we spent in the car in a Wal-Mart parking lot, I stayed up all night thinking about how I couldn't believe we were homeless. I replayed in my mind every possible thing that I could've done differently even though I already knew that no matter how hard or long I worked, it was never enough.
4. Depression -- I find that this is a natural reaction to not being able to have the basic necessities of life and having to deal with judgmental attitudes on how you became homeless. How can you have hope when you're living in a hopeless situation?
5. Navigating your way around local community help -- For me, figuring out where the food banks/pantries, soup kitchens, feeds and mobile medical clinics were helped us get through all the times child support never showed up and when food stamps ran out before the end of the month.
6. Keeping up with hygiene -- Seems to me that being homeless obviously means you don't have access to a place to take a shower let alone do your laundry at.
7. Rationing -- Sometimes you have to skip meals to make ends meet because you already know food stamps (if you can get them) will run out before the end of the month and what little cash you might get in a temp job or panhandling won't last forever.
8. Running out of money before the end of the month -- This is a constant dread for me because food stamps do not last until the end of the month and what little we get in either child support or a temp job won't get us out of homelessness.
9. Figuring out who to avoid -- I don't know of any community that doesn't have an individual or two that everybody knows is bad news.
10. Tickets/towed/jail time -- If you live out of a vehicle, you will worry about being parked in one place for too long especially if you don't have the money to keep up with vehicle maintenance and gas. Getting a ticket means you have an expense you can't afford which could lead to losing your only home and transportation. If you get towed, where will you find the money to get your home back? There's also going to jail for having nowhere to sleep or be and that's called being trespassed by the police for being publicly homeless.
11. Fatigue/sickness -- If I can't find a steady place to park or sleep every night, that means taking a chance on parking on a side street somewhere or in a parking lot to sleep for a few hours before moving to another location because you don't know if someone will call the cops on you or if the cops or a security guard will happen to drive by and see you. If you don't get enough rest regularly, your stamina goes down and before you know it, you've got a cold, the flu, bronchitis or pneumonia, all of which I've had. The other thing I've noticed is that people who live in crammed warehouse style shelters tend to get sicker more often and for longer periods of time.
12. Exposure to violence -- I've seen more than my share of violent crimes out on the streets and I do everything I can to avoid situations that will put us in the vicinity of it but for those involved in drugs, prostitution and crime, exposure to violence happens frequently.
13. Addiction -- I've spoken to quite a few out here who use drugs or alcohol as an escape vehicle to numb the pain of being homeless and losing everything they had. Some self- medicate because they can't get access to mental health services even though in reality, addictions make life much harder.
14. Prostitution -- Unfortunately, selling your body for money is a desperate choice for many and it's not just women who are prostitutes. Homeless youth who can't qualify for services due to age requirements or can't get hired to a job will often resort to prostitution.
15. Theft -- Stealing food from grocery stores is something many homeless people have told me they have engaged in when they had no money or food stamps to get something to eat. Stealing a warm coat or shoes from other homeless people is something I have seen happen and I've also seen people with drug habits steal purses, electronics, bikes and jewelry to support their habits.
16. Suicide -- How do you explain what it's like to watch a homeless man jump in front of a train to end his life because he was tired of being homeless or find out that the kid you were trying to find resources for decided to end their misery by overdose? Suicide often becomes the final solution for too many people that can't find the help they need WHEN they needed it.
Even though the homeless experience is different from person to person, each one of us has our own inevitable events that happen every month. In addition to dealing with daily survival, I also have to be a parent so my list is actually longer than the 16 I just wrote about. For homeless kids, peer pressure is a heavy ordeal and my kids know what it's like to deal with other kids making fun of them for not being housed or not having the same things their peers have.
So the next time you think you know why a homeless person is homeless or how the homeless live, think again. Unless you're out here living the life, you really have no idea what you're talking about.