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Monday, February 08, 2010

On Homelessness

So, having spent an incredible one night in a homeless shelter and a whole week (well, maybe half) of couch surfing, I feel that I am a credible source to speak on the topic of homelessness. Think of me as a sort of…homelessness guru. A hobo sensei… Anywho, I just thought I might impart a bit of my massive stockpile of accumulated homeless man wisdom.

Things I’ve learned from being homeless:

-You can actually end up feeling a lot more secure about walking around sketchy places at sketchy times, because now you’re that sketchy homeless guy. I walked clear across downtown Durham at 7 in the morning and the only thing I felt was cold. Granted there was really almost nobody else around, but still. It was rather liberating to know that if anyone did try to threaten me for my money I could reply, “What money do you expect to get from a guy who just came from a homeless shelter?”

-Universities are great resources for the homeless. Free internet? Check. Free bathrooms? Shyeah. Possibility of free food? More spotty, but if it happens to be the start or end of a new semester, chances are actually rather high you can find some somewhere. Free place to sleep? Slightly problematic, but I have been in the library after it closed without actually realizing it. It’s not exactly like they do a floor-by-floor sweep of the stacks or anything. There are many overlooked crannies that the clever homeless individual can spot and curl up for the night in. The real trick is waking up early enough so no one finds you there the next day. Libraries can work pretty well too, at least in terms of free internet and bathrooms.

-It is important to carefully acquire a good “potentially homeless” look. If it’s too obvious that you’re homeless, you may attract attention you don’t want to but if you show up at the homeless shelter decked out in a brand new North Face jacket, designer jeans, and sweet kicks they might not let you in. Also, you are much more likely to lose possessions at those aforementioned sketchy places and sketchy times. Acquiring this somewhat ambiguous appearance is easier, in my opinion, in the colder months where a well-worn jacket and knit cap or hoodie can work wonders. For guys, a beard can help so long as you make sure it doesn’t reach shaggy old-man-of-the-mountain proportions. A little bit of scruff is good, either via stubble or a slightly scruffy beard. Just don’t go too far.

-Couches are wonderful places to sleep.

-Air mattresses can be even better than couches (or beds).

-Free food is the best food. When you have to buy food, ramen is cheaper than dirt and if you’re smart and lucky you can get good deals on canned meats or frozen veggies to supplement. This does require someplace to cook your food, so you need a way to at least boil water. If you have to, there are dollar menus, but try not to have to.

-Your shoes are important. You’re going to get a lot of use out of them in lots of different weather, so they better not suck.

-Rain sucks.

-Jeans are not adequate for trudging about when it’s below freezing. Wear something under them, like long underwear or flannel pajama pants. It’s hard to walk when you can’t feel your legs. And painful. It’s also very painful.


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