Thursday, April 28, 2016

My homeless journey begins

People often say, “Get a job,” as they walk by a homeless person. More often, though, they go out of their way to avoid eye-contact. Some will even cross the street or change their path on a sidewalk. I know because I’m one of those invisible people.

I never planned on being homeless. It’s something that happens, to paraphrase John Lennon, while your busy doing other things. In my case, I made the mistake to moving from Ohio to Florida. My mother persuaded me to move. “The warm weather will be better for your health.” A few years ago I had a couple of strokes. At first, the move was good. I was writing and doing freelance graphic design work and I wrote and published a few books. Actually, four in all. 

At the time, I was living at my mother’s house. Then, pretty much out of the blue, she decided to sell it and move into a retirement facility. That struck me beyond odd. The house was paid for. It was in a comfortable area and the neighbors were nice. She felt it was the right choice to trade a paid for house for a $2000/month rent.

Then moving day came in a whirlwind. She was in such a rush to move she started throwing stuff away rather than pack it up. My stuff, mostly. Stuff like my clothes, books I had collected over more than 30 years, my guitar and important papers. The list goes on. In the end, I was left with what I have now – a weekender suitcase with the few items of clothing I was able to salvage, my briefcase, my Mac Powerbook and a blanket.

Life without a home isn’t easy. I know that’s stating the obvious, but let me take you through a typical
My former bench
day. I’ve taken up residence at a strip shopping center. It’s not bad. There’s an overhang that keeps the rain off me. There was a wrought iron bench, that served as my bed, until a couple of days ago. The maintenance guy took it away and locked it up in one of the vacant spaces. In a cruel play, I can see it through the glass, taunting me. Now, I sleep on the concrete. At least I have my blanket. The bugs drive me nuts, though.

Back to my day. I get up around 6 AM give or take. Usually, I wake up several times during the night but I start the day at 6:00 AM. I walk over to the mall next to the shopping center to get a cup of coffee and wait for a guy to pick me up to go to the restaurant where he works. I landed some freelance graphic design work with the restaurant. They needed a new logo, menus and posters. Work is work and the owner gives me a few bucks at the end of each day, at least so far. I take that back. She didn’t give me anything yesterday. I’m hoping to something today. We’ll see.

The worst part of the day is when I leave the restaurant. Sitting on concrete, alone and completely bored, I pull out my phone and play Solitaire. Keeping my phone and laptop charged is always at top of mind. There’s no power outlet at the shopping center and I’ve got to remember to charge them at the restaurant.

I changed my opinion of myself during my time being homeless. My self-worth has pretty much
Me - Before
tanked. That’s no big surprise. I haven’t taken a shower since … I can’t remember when … or changed my clothes, let alone washed some. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’m a bum. Because, I am a bum. Often, my look is complete with an unshaven face, holes in my pants and at signature stench. There was a time when I was a fairly good-looking guy who dressed well. Not anymore.

There’s a womens’ hair salon in the shopping center. The ladies there are, shall we say, a bit freaked out when it comes to the likes of me. I’m sure they think it’s bad for business. Judging by the people traffic, I don’t think I’ve created a problem. The ladies come and go with regularity. Sure, they try not to look at me, but they do. Looking is inevitable.
Me - Now

The other day I had the nicest thing happen. It was the weekend and I was sitting in my spot in the front of the mall. A little person, no more than about 6, came up to me and gave me $10. I was stunned. I turned to look and saw his mother waving at me. I said, “God bless you both.”

I’ll do my best to keep up with this blog by posting at lease once week. Share your comments. I enjoy hearing from you.


  1. Been a tough year or so. I've been very lucky inmany areas of my life. Obviously your fortunes haven't been quite been so good. Hopefully, that will change, but the suddenness of your fall is a lesson to us all. Good luck.

  2. My HOMELESSNESS is by my choice....for health reasons I came to Sarasota Florida to retire...was living up north in SC...too cold for this ole body...

  3. My HOMELESSNESS is by my choice....for health reasons I came to Sarasota Florida to retire...was living up north in SC...too cold for this ole body...

  4. i too am a writer, reporter, editor, last year was the worst year of my life, not having a home, breast cancer surgery, etc. sleeping in my car and now in a tiny dysfunctional camper i know i am one of the lucky ones. and NO ONE should have to sleep on the concrete. my ss check is less than
    $700 a month so I cannot afford to pay much rent, not 1K or 3K or whatever. there are many solutions but unfortunately greedy people who buy politicians are in charge and profit off of the misery of many. even when good samaritans come up with solutions and do good, some mayors, like mayor in LA steal the tiny homes built for homeless people and paid for by donations, leaving the people to die on the streets from violence and/or health issues. oops our moral decay and inhumanity is showing.

  5. Hey neil,

    I definitely ended up doing it in a fashion that was much more on my own terms, but I'm without a home right now too. A couple things that keep me sane and give me a pretty good sense of dignity:

    - pick up a cheap dry-bag from REI. They're made to keep water out, but if you carry a small bottle of soap with you, you can use them to do small loads of wash any time. You're basically making a DIY version of the "Scrubba" -- look it up! Grab a clothes line there too, and you're good to go :)

    - Save up for a Hennessey Hammock, Expedition Asym Zip. It's really comfy and compact, and you can set it up in a stand of trees after dark in a public and safe place (perhaps near a bus stop or street lamp). Since you can quickly set up and pack up in 20 minutes each night/morning, you don't need to stake out a prime spot, and so you won't have to worry about seclusion or moving in on someone else's turf. Keep in mind that hammock lose more heat than tents (since the wind blows beneath you), so you'll probably need a sleepy back some nights.

    * Try to set up a homebase around a planet fitness. You can stay healthy and showered for like $20/month. It's pretty great.

    * Try to save up for a bike. Mobility is unbelievably empowering, and allows you to spread out from your Planet Fitness / park homebase without breaking a sweat

    Anyhow, all the best!

  6. Thanks for info, Pat. I've been fortunate in that I was able to get a hotel room for a few nights. Good idea about Planet Fitness. I'll have to look into them. I think there's one around here.

    Thanks, again. Take care and stay safe.

  7. Hi,

    I'm sorry for your situation. There are lot of homeless and car living blogs with very good advices you should definietly check them. Also it would be worth to search freelance jobs on the net.

  8. Hi Neil. Your story is intriguing. I feel for your situation. I hope you keep posting throughout your journey, not just your homelessness but beyond as well.
    I know you feel invisible right now but I hope you know you aren't. There are people that care about others no matter what circumstances they're currently in. I'll keep checking back for your posts.
    Please stay strong and safe.