I know what you’re thinking, right off the bat; how can there be any ‘Best’ things about being Homeless. I also know you’re probably curious as to where a homeless guy is writing about being homeless from exactly? Do they have free iPads’ and Wi-Fi attached to park benches now?
No. No, they don’t. If they did they would be covered in vomit, dog shit, some Super Strength Lager cans, and that’s if they hadn’t already been sold to buy said lager. But I digress.
Fortunately I have climbed out of that dog shit and vomit flavoured cocktail of park benches and clambered into a shelter. I thank my stars every day as it was the single worst period of my life. I’ve been a lucky man for most of the rest of it, having had nice houses, cars, high powered jobs, and most importantly of all – a beautiful girlfriend and precious daughter.
Sadly, I succumbed to the oldest cliché of all and became a functioning alcoholic, on the way to then becoming a completely non-functioning and very ill homeless man.
5 Worst Things about being Homeless
Oh God, the fear!
It’s probably not surprising to imagine how being homeless would be a ‘bit scary’ to anyone aside from perhaps those that had done a few tours of Afghanistan or something, but being ordered to leave the comfort of your old home with nothing more than a hastily packed bag of essentials is downright terrifying. ‘Drunk’ is also not a great time to rely upon yourself to pack ‘essentials’ either btw.
Where do you even begin?
The thought of walking up to the nearest fellow vagrant and saying “Sup bro, wanna hang?” is akin to the thought of walking up to a Tiger, kicking it in the balls and calling his mother a dirty great big stripy slut.
So you decide to go it alone and ‘see how it goes’. The idea of stepping into the night with no clue as to how you ‘be successfully homeless’ makes you whimper and shake like a newborn puppy cast into a snowdrift.
However, this initial trepidation pales next to the first night, after deciding upon a bush under which to park yourself, every rustle or noise or sight of another human approaching fills your pants with the same kind of shit as you’re probably sleeping on a makeshift bed of at that very moment.
Up until this point in life I had somewhat prided myself on being ‘a bit handy’ and wouldn’t back down from a fight with all but the toughest of tough guys (OK, up until High School. I never said I was Mike Tyson, alright?!). It became apparent that within any second of that entire night, I’d have squealed away from a squirrel if I thought it had even the merest of a ‘wild glint’ in its eyes.
As a person ‘with home’, you know that if you get caught up in your average downpour, frosty night, or blowy day, you are safe in the knowledge that you can dry off, warm up, etc the second you step back inside your front door.
When you’re literally braving the elements it doesn’t matter if the weather is ‘dickish’, mild, or even pleasant; you are always one (or a combination thereof), too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry, too flustered.
Sure, some of these are easier than others to cope with, but you’re never really comfortable and are all too aware that it can (and probably will) get worse. Think of it as Mother Nature’s punishment for you soiling her trees and hedgerows day and night. I’d never known what it was like to be truly frozen to the core, appreciate what it’s like to live in the Sahara, or feel as if your skin in its entirety has actually gotten trench foot.
What’s more, when you get kicked off the porch by whomever is donning the ‘shit-kickers’, clutching just a small bag of belongings (and I was one of the lucky ones) you don’t exactly have the correct seasonal wardrobe of raincoat, a light jacket, perhaps some darling waterproof woolly gloves, the right blend of hat options for snow and sun glare, and so forth.
In all fairness, you wouldn’t want to have to lug it about anyway and would desperately try and stow it in a bush and hope you remember where you left it, and or that it didn’t get stolen by a fellow bush-pisser.
That’s why you tend to see homeless people wearing a thick coat, hat, jacket, and boots whether it be baking hot or pissing it down. And it truly feels as bad as it smells, I assure you.
Like most of us on this site, I am a regular technology user, be it Smartphone, internet, social networking, etc. I also similarly rely on the ability to contact anyone/anytime. Oh, and damn if I am feeling really adventurous I even communicate with family, friends, and colleagues – in person!
Homeless people don’t often choose to spend their money on mobile phone top-ups, but I was actually different. Sadly, one night someone managed to wrestle the phone out of my weak, sleep deprived hands, and so I was left with no means of talking to anyone, finding out about the outside World, or keeping in touch with my ‘old life’.
I’ve never been much of a crier and enjoyed my own company, but for the first week I cried a lot. I was so gut-wrenchingly lonely and just wanted to see my daughter smile for Daddy, to have my girlfriend tell me everything would be alright, to hear my Mum tell me she loved me, to make my boss proud – just one last time.
Now through a series of events stemming from my drinking, lying about drinking, or being too stubborn to seek the help to stop drinking, I had let all those closest to me down. Understandably they had walked away one by one. And now finally I was stark-bollock-nakedly alone.
If you ever wish everyone would just get lost and leave you alone; Trust me, you don’t. Not for long.
Following on from The Isolation (and remember not everyone is an alcoholic like myself) is really just the realisation and questioning of exactly what happened to your life; the people you know, the complete removal of your self-respect and self-worth, and for me obviously; the utter and complete shame of being the un-intelligent person who made yourself homeless .
As a chronic binge drinker I’d have long periods (gradually dwindling, admittedly) of sobriety, where life was pretty damn sweet and I’d be in control. In short, I’d ‘beaten it’. Why didn’t I stop before I had thrown it all away?
Now, ironically I didn’t actually have much of anything much to do all day except drink, or think about my shame, or both. Instead, I walked endlessly around and around the park, replaying every despicable, nasty, selfish, cruel, dishonest, awful thing I had ever done. I was in a continual cycle of self-torture and persecution and I couldn’t escape it.
You can run away from home, or you can run home. Where do you run to when you don’t have one?
The Lack of Emergency Exit Signs
“Excuse me World!
Having contemplated being rock bottom for a LONG time and having stopped the drinking, I’d like to climb back aboard now please.”
Nuh uh, not quite so fast buddy…
Once more, I am sure you have seen for yourself the sheer amount of homeless people out there; with or without drink, drug, or miscellaneous issues. If not, I can tell you. It’s a metric tonne.
I’m not here to tell you why everyone else got into their own messes, or whether it was deserved like my own. However, regardless of how you dug your own hole, rest assured there are a lot of people ahead and behind you in the queue for help.
There aren’t loads of places in government sponsored rehab programmes, there aren’t a bunch of halfway houses out there offering free board. Fuck, it’s hard enough to jostle for some free coffee and bread at the local soup kitchen.
There certainly aren’t any big, flashing neon signs that say – “This way to your new life homeless dude!”
You’ll largely have to find out where you can get help for yourself, knock on a whole bunch of doors (and get a lot of them slammed back in your face), and once you do see any glimmer of help available you sure as hell better fight for it, both emotionally and sometimes physically, and make sure you don’t throw it back in anyone’s face in the process as I saw a lot of people who screwed up the moment they had a foot in the door.
Don’t misunderstand me, there are people out there trying to help, charity organisations, even kind hearted people who WILL try – if you help yourself. But it’s still a bloody hard slog and although I am now thankfully homed in a shelter, I know I continue to have a long way and plenty of time to go before I once again have a place to call HOME.
There are also some not so bad times, honest…
5 Best Things about being Homeless
It’s a bit of a revelation to sit in the sunshine and watch the world go by, completely oblivious to any of its problems. To be rid of job responsibilities, housework, clearing up baby sick. Woohoo! You are free as a bird once more to make your own choices!
After the initial horror, nay, Armageddon of being kicked out of your lovely and painstakingly house by your amazingly patient and gorgeous girlfriend who gave you your beautiful young daughter; pet your dog; watch TV at leisure, oh or eat, there is (believe it or not!), a fleeting yet blissful period where you feel the weight of the World slide away and you begin to think about this ‘opportunity’ to start over in life and make better choices.
To be honest, these ‘better choices’ often became clouded somewhat by the odd can of Super Strength Lager, but a proverbial fresh start was somehow now attainable. Much more than when I was being herded along by my rat race existence, in a job I hated, unable to swim against the tide of ‘regular life’ and do some things I wanted due to simply the perceived ‘lack of time’. Writing for example, reading a book, doing NOTHING but sit by a river in silence.
All those things were brought back to me, in the most horrid way, but I now will make sure they are always a part of whatever the future holds. In short, I’d face planted hard, but I was freshly ‘grounded’ in more ways than one.
In my previously employed incarnation, I had become a mindless middle management drone – sharing the same few conversations with work colleagues about the latest episode of The Walking Dead (how apt…), Call of Duty, the pressures of ‘having to spending time with her indoors’, and of course fatherhood. It’d been a long time since I’d met anyone who felt new, or who’d led a different kind of existence, or who wanted something different out of life.
Now I was meeting and sometime hanging out with characters such a ‘Wheelie Dave’ (he had a wheelchair – us crazy homeless sure know how to give a dude a nickname, eh?) Mental Mickey (oh yeah, they just keep-a-coming!); Stevie (OK, not so hot that one); Father Ted (UK sitcom character – GIYLF), and so many random encounters with ‘normals’, i.e. dog walkers, retirees, commuters, etc.
If you took time to speak politely, they wouldn’t always offer you money but they would often share a tender moment from their own lives, or maybe enquire about your own predicament (if they were feeling especially brave). From these tales of highs, lows, joy and woes, I (as a writer) suddenly had a whole new bank of inspiration, countless fables to regurgitate and regale. Hey, I wasn’t really a homeless alcoholic – I was simply researching for my book!
Either way (and like the corniness or not), unless I was starving hungry or jonesing for a beer/cigarette, such moments often lifted my spirits immeasurably more. There are a lot of very interesting strangers out there to meet and share your life with. Never mind on Facebook and Twitter. Talk to someone! A lot of them also still care about other people. You might just have to prove you’re not a mental or likely to get a bit stabby.
It’s worth making the effort to share your stories with others though, however that may be.
Man Make Fire, Strong Like Bull
Before my excursion into whimpering myself to sleep each day (you NEVER sleep at night unless the lagers were really flowing that day…), I was a successful videogame producer with a love of techno, comics, sci-fi, i.e. a financially affluent geek. I’d had a middle class upbringing and I couldn’t honestly say I had lived in the vague vicinity of anything resembling ‘Da Ghetto’.
As such my survival skills were somewhat limited, to things such as ordering pizza, a bit of DIY, and a pretty good range of ‘Streetfighter’ noises. Putting it bluntly I was no Bear Grylls or Andy McNab.
OK, you got me, I’m still not, but I can now: –
· Find a secluded spot in any park where I won’t be seen or smelled by passers by. Similarly, I can tell someone approaching from about 500 yards away, more if they are upwind and smoking a cigarette.
· Start a fire even in damp conditions with damp paper.
· Erect a makeshift shelter from nothing more than cardboard boxes, using preferably a waterproof groundsheet (I never said I was back in the literal Dark Ages), and make sure I remained largely dry and out of the wind long enough to attempt a power nap.
· Find food via a mixture of scavenging from the bins at one of the local bakeries, donations from kind strangers (thank you again, whoever you were), and bartering for cig/booze with fellow wanderers.
· Last but not least – Find a place to crap. As long as there are no kids about or persons likely to take offense, most men will whip it out and have a pee, but you don’t think of how difficult it is for a homeless person to find place to make number 2 until you are one.
Public Toilets aren’t around like they used to be, and the newer ones even require ill afforded payment, so you are required to either beg a local pub/restaurant/cafe owner to let you walk through their establishment and using the facilities (not easy!), or you learn to hide in the bushes, arse in the wind, and make sure you collect discarded newspapers where you can. Yup – it really is that glamorous!
Humility and Appreciation
Probably the best thing for me personally was re-learning humility and appreciation. *Stop puking at the back!*
In all seriousness though, I’d taken for granted my girlfriend and daughter, had stopped giving them the life they deserved; I’d thrown my family’s love back in their faces time and time again, they all enjoyed a drink so why couldn’t I?
I’d messed up my career, relying on the many ‘last chances’ my former bosses had given me thanks to my past glory (during the ‘dry times’) and imagining it impossible they would dare let me go.
I’d been a complete shit to any friend who had tried to just be a friend for friend’s sake or to try and help me; my ego seeming to think they would always come back because deep down I’m a great guy, remember?
Underneath it all, I had been a successful big shot at major companies, and had it all, so even though I deep down knew the success was fading, and people were becoming disenchanted; there was simply no way I could really lose it all. Was there?
This whole experience has made me remember how lucky I have undoubtedly been in my life. It has rediscovered my drive to be an honest, loving, grateful man and fix those relationships I have messed up. Most of all I was appreciative I was even still alive. I had been remind of my desire to be the Father my Dad never was (he died 3 years ago incidentally, aged just 55 years old – I’ll let you guess what of).
The Only Way is Up
Another possibly contrite statement, but true nevertheless – I have never been to such depths of hell as I have during my relatively brief time on the streets. I’ve tried to summarise it above, but there are a million other ‘worst’ things, yet not so many ‘bests’ about this colossal fall from ‘grace’ of mine.
Un/Luckily, the only way for me is up now. I don’t want to go back there. I CAN’T. I’ve been forced to remember who ‘Sober Louis’ is, and you know what? I kinda like him. Other people kinda like him too.
I am starting from scratch and hopefully by regaining the trust of those around me and with their forgiveness combined with mine to myself, maybe I can even reconnect with my own little family, circle of friends, and career path. ..
Perhaps, I can even go home.
By Louis J Hayward