The first time I was officially homeless was when I was 17. I slept in a motel parking lot in my car somewhere in Louisiana. The next day, it was Galveston, Texas for the next several months. I mostly slept in my car in the Kroger parking lot, but sometimes I would lay out on the beach, which was right across the street from Kroger, and sleep there. It was great, waking in the middle of the night and walking across the sand to pee in the ocean. It’s not often in life that your nightly pee precedes a short walk along the beach.
I paid a campsite $3.00 each time that I wanted to use their showers, so at the very most being homeless cost me $90 per month in Galveston. Eventually I found a graveyard shift job at Circle K, right across from the beach. Many mornings after work I would walk across the street and sleep on the beach during the day for 8 hours.
Being homeless gave me complete freedom from pretty much all financial responsibility. No rent, no utility bills, no place to be, nobody to answer to. Since I always kept a job and never had all the normal expenses of life, I had plenty of cash. I spent my days exploring the island, reading at the library, playing video games and watching TV at the campground, and using the computers at the community college. Eventually I found roommates and got a house, but those first few months of homelessness were quite an experience.
My next experience with homelessness was in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. I moved there with pretty much no money at all so my first month was spent sleeping in my car in various parking lots from North Myrtle Beach to Surfside Beach. One night a cop started banging on my car window, I think with his flashlight. I was in a deep sleep and ended up screaming when I opened my eyes and saw him there.
He made me get out of my car and attempted to search through all my stuff, I guess for drugs. I told him I was just passing through town on my way to North Carolina. He let me go and said if he ever caught me sleeping in my car again, he’d arrest me. I slept in my car for another week or so in Myrtle Beach, but finally found a place to live with roommates.
I didn’t have to pay for showers in Myrtle Beach. There were a lot of campgrounds along the beaches, and I would ask the guards if I could take a look around their campground to see if I wanted to stay there. I would drive to their shower house, take care of everything, and then leave. Eventually a guard remembered me and told me to get lost and don’t come back. After that, I just started entering the campgrounds by getting on the public beaches and walking to their back entrances.
Sylvia and I were homeless once or twice. Once we spent the night behind a gas station somewhere in Illinois, the night before we hitchhiked to Normal. Our plan was to be homeless in Normal, but instead she convinced Chris to let us stay in his dorm room for a couple months. Then we lived in Los Angeles for awhile and I really wanted to be homeless there, just for the experience. But instead we stayed with her mom for awhile and then a friend of mine for awhile. Not that I’m complaining, but being homeless in Hollywood would have been a lot more memorable.
Back in Galveston, I stayed in a homeless shelter for the first time. I don’t remember why, but it’s probably because it was cold out. For some reason I never stayed in homeless shelters and after staying in this one, I was glad I didn’t. They aren’t fun. The staff treated us like scum, the residents were all idiots and smelled bad and we had to wake up and be out by 6 or 7am. I think they provided breakfast, but I skipped that. I spent two nights in a row there, and then never again.
Later that week I was sleeping under an outdoor stairwell at a Holiday Inn and I noticed that a door was cracked open. Eventually I knocked on it but there was no answer. I went inside and the room was clean with no signs of anyone staying there. So I slept there for the night and had a night shower and shave in the morning. I blocked the door with a big chair, just in case somebody attempted to come in during the night. Then I toilet papered the room before I left in the morning. I bet they were surprised.
In 1993 I spent about a month being homeless in Miami. I used various showers by hotel pools and I lived underneath a part of the boardwalk that spans a large part of the beach there. Every morning around 5 or 6am, joggers pounded by overhead, waking me up for the day.
In Indianapolis, I often switched between being homeless and living in weekly hotels. Several of the nights that I slept outdoors next to buildings, I woke up covered in snow. It was damn cold that year. Another spot I slept in next to a parking garage had bats flying overhead all night. I’d sleep in the Greyhound station sometimes, but the manager would sometimes decide to throw me and the other homeless people out of there. He said to me once, “I see you in here every night!” Occasionally I would take Greyhounds to other cities in Indiana, just for fun on my days off, and I would try to make a point to let that manager see that I’d bought a ticket. I wanted him to just think that I traveled by bus a lot.
I slept on some giant heating grates a few nights, which were warm but windy. Eventually I found a perfect indoor home – the IUPUI campus. The entire campus seemed to be completely unlocked all night. Even some of the basement rooms with giant radioactive warning signs on them were unlocked. Some nights I slept in a student lounge or in a random classroom. I’d toss some of my books and notebooks around me, hoping to make anyone walking by think I’d just fallen asleep studying. And I always got to shave/shower/brush in the campus pool’s shower rooms.
My regular sleeping spot ended up being under some stairs on the bottom level of a building. Apparently I wasn’t the first one to live there, since there were stickers pasted on the slanted ceiling and burn marks all over the place from a lighter. One day I was caught sleeping there. I guess I must have been snoring and some lady said to me, “Hey, you’re not supposed to be under there!” I told her I’d leave and I never slept there again.
I worked evenings at the Lafayette Square movie theater and usually wouldn’t get off work until 11pm or so. Sometimes the buses wouldn’t be running anymore, so I’d walk to a nearby bridge and sleep under it. I’d tell my manager that there was still one more bus I could catch and he believed me. I don’t think I ever told anyone I worked with, anywhere, that I was homeless. One night he insisted on taking me home so I let him. I had him drive me to a hotel that I’d stayed in before and I walked inside until he left. Then I walked to downtown and found a place to sleep. I always thought about sleeping behind the screens at the theater. But I’d hate to end up getting caught by the janitor.
In Portland, Oregon I used stolen credit card numbers to fund a week or two of hotel stays. But after that stopped working, it was back to being homeless. I stayed in some weekly run-down hotel called the Jack London for a little while. Then I found a college campus (I think it was some Christian college) and slept in their auditorium occasionally. Since I worked nights, a lot of times Colleen would let me stay at her house and sleep since her dad worked all day. I also slept in the airport a lot and I remember sleeping in some bushes in downtown once.
Cincinnati was the usual stuff – staying at the college campus. I managed to get my own locker there to keep my stuff in. I slept in a few random places around downtown and a few times I slept in grass fields.
Anyway, I’m not going to say I actually miss being homeless. But it sure was interesting. I almost always had money since I would always have a job and not much to spend it on. Especially after getting rid of my car. Basically all I had to do was eat. When other homeless people would ask me for change, I could say, “Yeah right, I’m homeless too!”
That’s something I rarely did, was beg for change. In Hollywood, I did sit at an exit ramp with a sign that said “SPARE ANY CHANGE?” which got me a few bucks. I resorted to this because it was so hard to find work in Hollywood. And I remember in Florida, asking a guy for some change for the bus. This guy actually took me to his trailer and let me paint it for $20. I think I just ended up painting two sides of it that were left. Then he offered to let me live there, which I declined because he was creeping me out. I always preferred working to begging, though. I hated begging and I hate when homeless people ask me for money.
Today I was walking around downtown Portland and some teenagers were sitting outside the doors to a mall with a sign. This one kid, who looked about 16, says, “Can you spare any change to help get us off the streets for one night?” He was wearing trendy clothing and had styled hair. He looked like some suburban kid. Completely healthy and completely clean. I wanted to laugh at him, but I didn’t. Portland has always had a huge teenage homeless problem. I remember Colleen saying to me, back in 1994, that most of them move back into their parents house during the winter.
It’s hard to have much sympathy for any homeless people under 30. Most of them seem like they’re in perfect health and I’m sure they could find work if they put any effort into it. It’s complete laziness. I think they just enjoy the lifestyle of hanging out on the streets all day, not having to work and just being hippies or artists or whatever they think they are. I never give them money.
A street performer that I was watching today worked some homeless statistics into his act. (He wasn’t homeless) He said that there were anywhere from 500 to 1,000 homeless people currently living within two blocks of where he was performing. Then he accidentally dropped whatever he was juggling, lost his train of thought, and didn’t finish whatever point he was trying to make.
Same goes for me, I’m losing my train of thought. It’s late. I’m going to bed.
Most of this is a repeat of the Travels page, but is still awesome because your stories kick ass, especially the homeless ones.
You can live under my stairs…
I’ll have to build some stairs, but when I do, you can live there.
RBCP, publish a book dude! Not a novel, but an autobiography. You could self-publish it and sell it at hacker cons around the US (and the rest of the world?) Your life serves as an inspiration to everyone who has ever wanted to drop out and start living.