Category Archives: Homeless Experiment

The Homeless Experiment – One Year Reflection

Roughly one year ago I did a rather odd thing and willingly became homeless.

This was all part of a Homeless Experiment I’d been wanting to try for a while.

It was definitely the most engrossing series of posts I did since I literally LIVED it for 5 days.  It wasn’t exactly a safe thing to do, and a lot of people thought I was going to get shanked, killed or pick up a weird disease from doing it.

It also wasn’t all that fun doing it (at the time)…but I’m really glad I went through with it.

When I tell the story, I get several recurring questions, which are answered here:

Did this make you more compassionate towards homeless people?
No.  In fact I have even slightly more animosity towards homeless people because I’ve seen how true the stereotypes are.  However, I’ve never failed to mention that by “homeless” I mean those CHRONICALLY HOMELESS people that you may see on the side of the road with a sign.  I don’t like them.  They’re like human litter to me.  Most homeless people don’t fit that mold…those are just a very visible minority.

Are you going to do it again?
When I got back home…I was SO DONE with that experiment.  Being around that many homeless people is like being in a room full of failure.  When everyone around you is a failure, it’s likely you’ll pick up their habits.

The conversations I had, the stories I overheard….they’re often so negative and I’m-The-Victim’ish that it starts to poison your brain.  That’s why if I had to make ONE CHANGE to the entire homeless system, i’d play The Strangest Secret on repeat at the homeless shelter.

I also have a very low tolerance for idleness….and there was too much “doing nothing” for me.  I think doing experiments like this do LESS for the world than doing experiments on how to improve.

C’mon…do it again, c’mmmooonn!
No way man.  I explained pretty clearly in this post before the experiment took place that simply anticipating this experiment made me “think homeless” all the time.

“Hmmm…I bet I can sleep in that park.”
“You know…behind that trail would be a good place to poop.”

These aren’t the type of thoughts I exactly enjoy thinking.  So while the experiment was technically only 5 days, it seemed waaaaay longer since I was thinking like my Homeless Alias.

On the brighter side, I thought it was a great example of immersive journalism, it’s a great story, and I even won an award for it!  There were a lot of other small side benefits like people hearing about my blog and learning how to publish a book on the Amazon Kindle (it actually makes sales believe it or not…even though it’s entirely free online).

I also learned something crucial in how I can improve my beloved City of Austin:

Move the homeless shelters away from the epicenter of Downtown Austin! Most of the chronically homeless people travel no more than 8 square blocks from the hand that feeds.  I think it’s an all around bad idea to give such prime real estate to homeless shelters when they could be operated cheaper and less intrusively by being just slightly further.

Guy 1: Hey, where should be keep several hundred homeless people that sit around all day waiting for meals and free services?  Oh by the way, we’ll also throw in a bunch of crackheads, meth addicts and just plain bat-shit-insane people into the mix.

Guy 2: How about right in the heart of the entertainment district!? It’ll quickly turn the surrounding property into a shithole, scare people away, and even create a panhandling problem!

Guy 1: You….are….. a genius.

Obviously that’s not how it went….but you get the point.

I think what will eventually happen is the property will eventually get SO valuable, it will no longer make economic sense to keep the shelters in the current location.  They’ll be bulldozed, new businesses will move in, and I’ll be happy.


Soooo….what’s the name of your blog again?

Pretty much every time I tell this story to someone, they end up going online and checking it out.


Are you glad you did it?

Absolutely.

New Homeless Experiment Formats

Something people find rather interesting is when they hear about my Homeless Experiment. Usually they hear it from one of my jackass friends mentioning to someone “Ask him where he lived this year!” or some question-inducing comment like that.

People generally want to read the experiment, but since it’s in blog format, it’s in reverse order and in general kind of hard to read.

People can always go to the NevBlog Timeline, scroll to the experiment and click through each post…however this requires first KNOWING you can do that, and a full 39 clicks to read!

A better way to read was needed so now the Homeless Experiment is now viewable in several different formats.
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GETTING THESE POSTED:
Putting the actual file together took the most time. I copy/pasted all the files in chronological order into a Word file then corrected all the wonky formatting.

The Word to HTML conversion gave even more “interesting” formatting errors, but a straight copy/paste from Word into Frontpage worked great. I turned this page into the HTML version of the ebook.

For the PDF I simply converted the HTML document into a PDF.

I figured getting this uploaded on the Amazon Kindle platform would be difficult, but it was actually unbelievably simple. This is quite possibly the simplest method to “publish” anything.

Anyone with an Amazon account is ready to go, enter a few book details, upload the file in pretty much any format and within a few seconds you have a preview:

I quickly made a cheesy book cover and uploaded that:

….set the price and you’re published! Wait a few days for approval and it’ll be on sale.

Should I Give Money To Homeless People?

You’re driving in your car, come to a stoplight and see someone holding a sign on the side of the road asking for money. Should you give them money?

That decision is totally up to you, it’s your money.

Here’s what I think:
After doing my Homeless Experiment I got to know more about homeless habits, even more so than when I did the Bottled Water Experiment.

There are several ways bums commonly make money:

  • Flying a sign: Holding a sign on the side of the road.
  • Panhandling: Walking around at gas stations, streets, busy parks, supermarkets etc. and asking people for money.
  • Random Hustles: Washing windshields at stoplights, pointing out parking spots and other relatively useless services.

Different areas, climates and populations promote or discourage different types of efforts.

This time I experienced a part of Austin, TX. called Riverside as well as the Downtown area. Riverside bums camp out in the woods or live under a bridge. To get food they dumpster dive, panhandle (aka walking around at gas stations or supermarket asking people) or fly signs. People often give food.

For food the Downtown homeless population simply goes to one of many free soup kitchens or organizations that provide free meals. I was VERY well fed when pretending to be homeless in downtown Austin. For extra money they may panhandle for a short while, or they can go to a day labor center and get a manual labor job for the day (although almost none actually do this).

For the most part food seems to be easily available (at least here in Austin) no matter where you go.

So if food is taken care of, where does that money you give bums go? I’d say less than 20% goes to food, and most goes to drugs and alcohol (from what I saw, mainly beer).

After observing the lifestyle many of these people lead, I feel relatively little sympathy, and don’t particularly feel like giving them any money.



So should you give them money?
In short, my answer is: NO.

Why I won’t give:

  • It supports bums standing on street corners begging or panhandling all over the place, and I don’t like that.
  • It almost all goes towards alcohol.
  • There are usually plenty of places to go for a meal.
  • It’s usually only the chronically homeless that stand outside flying signs or panhandling for money.
  • Most “real” homeless people who have temporarily fallen on hard times rarely ask for money in any of these ways.

So those are some of my reasons. It’s very obvious that many people DO give, it’s an economic truth that if no one gave, they wouldn’t be out there trying for very long.

However if YOU decide to give away YOUR money, that’s your personal decision. A lot of people will even voluntarily buy bums cigarettes or beer. Once again, that’s a personal decision.

I especially hate giving money to bums downtown in my area, because I found out just how easy it was to get a free meal, plenty of food and even temporary jobs.

The Homeless Experiment In Pictures

Though it’d be interesting to visually see the transformation from Neville Medhora to Neville the Bum and back:


How I normally dress. Everyday.


12 days of no shaving


17 days of no shaving. Hair is starting to get a little out of control.


My new invention: Lightweight homeless signs


A few hours before starting


Putting on my best “pity pose” face


I’m sure my Mom wasn’t happy that her first born was sleeping under a bridge.


Home sweet bridge!


Does YOUR house have a river running through it, an aviary, garden, plenty of fresh air, large backyard and a million dollar roof?!


My room.


Black Mike sleeping on his mattress.


The bum just bumming around


After brushing my teeth in the public library bathroom


Kicking of the Homeless Drinking Experiment


Waking up from the aftermath trying to clean my clothes.


Hungover + Broken slab of concrete = bed


Was it comfortable? Hell no! Did I get bitten up by ants? Yes.


I’m now a trained street fighter


I often didn’t know what time it was or what I looked like.


This is what I looked like right before I stepped back into my house after 5 days.


First order of business back home, discard of EVERYTHING.


2nd order of business: SHOWER


I was VERY happy to take a proper shower


Even though I kind of liked the beard, 3rd order of business was to shave


All smooth again!


Back to normal. I look 5 years younger and 10 years less mature.

Did I develop more sympathy for the homeless = Not really.

Did I learn much = Yes.

Glad I did it = Yes.

Do I plan on doing this again = Nope.

Do I understand why people get trapped in homelessness: Yes.

Will I donate to the homeless community = Already did, probably not much more for now.

If you had to change one thing about the homeless shelter, what would it be = Have Earl Nightingale playing on repeat (link):

Homeless Donations

For the Homeless Experiment I ended up leaching off some public services for a few days to see what homeless life was like. In all honesty I don’t feel like giving much back (I was much more enthused to donate a computer to the library than I am to give to the homeless shelters), but something tells me I should at least replace what I took.

Therefore I think there’s three places I should donate back to:

The ARCH of Austin:
I stayed here for a night in “The Penthouse”, got to take a shower and was fed a meal. I don’t like how they’ve put a homeless shelter right in the heart of the Downtown Entertainment District, but I do like the services provided. If someone were to actually want to get out of homelessness, the ARCH provides everything you need to live for a while at no costs….thus giving you valuable time to get back on your feet.

The ARCH has an online donation page, so I just pledged $30 as a donation through PayPal.

Caritas of Austin:
I ate here several times through this experiment and also took extra food to survive on. They let me in, no questions asked, allowed me to take as much food as wanted and were very kind to everyone. I also crashed one of their fundraiser events a while ago, so I suppose some small donation is well deserved for this organization.

Their basic function to serve meals to the needy is fulfilled, however their success at consistently serving good meals to anyone in need almost makes some people feel entitled to this service. However I’m guessing those feeling entitled are a small majority…it was mainly some of the obvious drug addicts. Almost everyone else there very much appreciated the valuable community service they provide.

Caritas has a donation page where you can donate online and select a particular service to send the money to. I donated $30 to the Community Kitchen which I ate meals from.

Black Mike:
This is the guy I met under the bridge my first day out and my last day out. Mike is actually quite intelligent, able bodied and yet still homeless. He is the kind of guy who makes you want to say, “WHY DON’T YOU GET A JOB YOU BUM!?”

I spent the most time with Black Mike and was amazed by how much he read. He loves reading fantasy novels…big, giant 500+ page fantasy novels that have over 10 series of books in them. He enthusiastically told me elaborate stories about blue dragon eggs, faraway fantasy lands and a bunch of other crap I didn’t care about….but he really loved that stuff.

I asked him, “Well you’re smart, imaginative and have a lot of free time, why don’t you write your own fantasy novel?”

He was almost floored by the question.

I quickly realized in his world people rarely highlight his better qualities or give him motivation to move beyond his current state. The people he begs from don’t, the other bums on Riverside don’t. I started hounding him on this line of questioning because I think it could actually help him.

Imagine this: A homeless guy whose been to the penitentiary and ended up living under a bridge for years becomes a fantasy novel author….now THAT’S a success story to tell! He could milk that story for all it’s worth to gain notoriety and therefore gain exposure for any books he writes.

I actually do not support him living under a bridge and begging for money to buy beer with day after day. Therefore I will not give him money and I will not give him beer (although that’d be a great gift to almost any bum on the street).

So here’s what I’m going to donate to Black Mike:

  • Before I went home I left him my sleeping bag, jeans, extra socks, poncho and sweater hoodie.
  • A plastic storage container to store/organize his stuff. All his stuff is collectively dumped into a cardboard box with no top. Raccoons and cats routinely get into it. This should help curb that.
  • A book on how to write science fiction. The book is actually called, “How To Become A Famous Writer Before You’re Dead” and has a lot of information that he could use to at least ATTEMPT becoming some sort of writer.
  • A composition journal (the kind I almost always carry with me).
  • Two Zebra pens (my favorite pens).

So monetarily-wise I’m not giving him much back, my total bill for all this stuff (sans the old stuff I left him) was around $35 (book was most expensive), but I think if he takes some advice and tries to get a novel off the ground it could have some long-lasting impact on him….much more than a couple of bucks would. Perhaps he won’t become a best selling author (although you never know), but at least if he takes on writing as a serious hobby it could somehow lead to a better and more fulfilling life.

I can’t say I’d be willing to help walk him through all the steps, but I’ll have given him the encouragement and tools to make it happen. “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”

So tomorrow afternoon I’m going to swing by the ole bridge and give him this stuff:

This should even out what I’ve taken from the world for this experience.

Dumpster Diving

Ever see someone (most likely a homeless person) take a peek inside a garbage dumpster and pull something out? That’s called dumpster diving.

Even all the bums I met during my Homeless Experiment call it that. I personally think that’s a gross name, I’d preferably euphemize the name and call it “Alley Fishing” or “Refuse Rumbling” to give it a more appetizing sound.

Anyhow, it’s a more common practice than I expected amongst the chronically homeless. I thought this was a practice relegated to only the bummiest of bums, but it’s not, and I see why.

Let’s say there’s a Dominoe’s Pizza store somewhere. A person never picks up their pizza and now the pizza doesn’t have a customer to eat it. What do you think happens to that pizza? Well 99% of the time it gets thrown out.

Later on around 10pm the pizza shop is getting ready to shut down. What do you think happens to all the left over pizzas? Employees may take some home, but the majority gets thrown out (enforced by health code laws) into the dumpster behind the store.

Now let’s say you’re REALLY HUNGRY and had no other food, and you see an employee dump four hot pizzas (still fully boxed) into the top of the dumpster. The pizzas are resting neatly on top of a stack of discarded cardboard, and they’re right within your reach. Would you reach in and grab the pizzas?

I believe most humans would depending on their hunger level.

Now think about a busy fast food restaurant such as Wendy’s. Literally hundreds of burgers, fries, orders of mashed potatoes, chicken nuggets etc. get thrown out every day. Whenever an order is wrong, a person got ketchup and didn’t want it or if they just made too many cheeseburgers for lunch, this all must legally be thrown out. Where does it go? Usually into a big food bag then later thrown into the dumpster behind the store.

Imagine you’re hungry and find a giant bag full of food (most of which is still hot) resting in a dumpster. I hate to say it, but that’s pretty tempting.

I actually very much sympathize with George in this clip:

I learned in my short time pretending to be homeless that dumpster diving is one of the most lucrative forms of scavenging for food.

You can either panhandle or fly a sign for hours and make between $5 and $20 to buy food or simply take a quick peek into several dumpsters and hit the jackpot (then you can use the money to buy beer). In the Riverside area where I stayed under a bridge, there are about 20+ eating establishments (most of them fast food) within less than a 5 minute walk away. Most of them are literally 50 paces away.

At the right times you can find large quantities of still hot, still wrapped food floating near the top of the dumpster…”Like an angel” as George Costanza described it. There is so much food from this type of scavenging that a lot of the bums have preferences of what types of food they go for! One guy told me he loves Chinese food so he rummages through those restaurants most often. Another guy loves the pizza, so he goes behind CiCi’s Pizza Buffet and Pizza Hut (buffet places throw out HELLA food).

So did I do it during this experiment? No.
However when I was eating Ritz crackers with packaged tuna for dinner and Mike was eating a medley of Wendy’s burgers, mashed potatoes and Popeye’s Chicken, it makes me wonder.

Homeless Drinking

From ALL my dealings with homeless people (especially the ones you see flying signs on the road), there’s always some element of alcohol involved. I was further confirmed in this “fact” during this homeless experiment.

From hanging out with the Riverside bums (which is comprised entirely of people who have been homeless for long periods of time) you quickly learn that LIFE IS ABOUT BEER.

It almost sounds funny, but it’s absolutely true. Nearly every action they take is geared towards scoring money to buy beer, getting people to buy them beer, or just flat out stealing it.

Certain people definitely also use other drugs, but I’ve not seen enough of that evidence with my own two eyes to know (nor would I want to be present when it’s taking place). However by far the prevailing intoxicant of choice is beer (or malt liquor which is like strong beer).

If you ever want to COMPLETELY MAKE A BUM’S DAY….give him a 6, 12 or 24 pack of beer. I’ve already proved food in easy to come by if you ask for it or know where to go, so when you see a bum asking for money, it’s usually going to something such as beer, cigarettes or drugs. Sure some of it goes to buy food, but I’d say a larger portion goes directly to the brew master.

NOTE: This is pretty true at least in Austin from what I’ve seen.

Now most “normal” homeless people are not asking for money on the street. These people are not necessarily categorized into this hardcore drinking group. The chronically homeless are what I’m talking about.

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I already figured alcohol was a good escape and way to pass the day by if you’re homeless, and I wanted to test this by my homeless drinking experiment. The experiment consisted of me having a full day of nothing to do and a full bottle of straight bourbon. I was trying to see why alcohol is such an attractive commodity when living on the streets….and well, it just sounded like a lot of fun :-)

Here is some of what I wrote in the experiment:

SO imagine you’re one of the homeless people living Downtown or on Riverside. Your food needs are taken care of by either grifting for a few hours or going to a homeless shelter and getting food. You don’t work, you don’t do much of anything….so what can help pass all that time?

Drinking and drugs of course!

On any given day a homeless person whose food/water/shelter are taken care of probably has about 10-12 free hours of the day. That’s a lot of time when you’re doing NOTHING….and doing nothing can be excruciating if you do NOTHING all day long, everyday.

Did it help pass the day? ABSOLUTELY! Were there repercussions? Yes. I explain them in my Drinking Experiment Results.

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SO CAN YOU BLAME THEM? I mean, billions of people on this planet enjoy a good drink now and then, so what’s the harm? I think what’s socially acceptable is going out, having a good time and using alcohol to enhance your good time….it shouldn’t be needed. What’s not socially acceptable is to escape your boredom and problems in life through alcohol. That’s where it starts to get dangerous.

I’ll soon discuss if I think giving money to homeless people is acceptable.

Few Thoughts

Well the Homeless Experiment is finally done, I’m back home where I fully showered, shaved and got a haircut.

Here’s what I looked like right before I entered the house:


(Look how disgusting my shirt got)

Feels pretty good to get out of those old, stinky clothes! Some recent observations:

Viewed humans as more of a species than people:
Typically you view humans as much different than animals because of how we live, but when homeless it became more and more apparent that we are strikingly similar.

For example, when staying under the bridge all I could really do was watch several families of birds that nested under the bridge.

As I watched them I realized they’re not much different than I was at the moment. The birds would scrounge around for food for a little while, stop when they had their fill, then go back to their little nests they built out of whatever they could find.

During the time I was (pretending to be) homeless I would do…..well, basically the exact same thing as the birds and all the other animals. Instead of small branches as a nest, I used cardboard and a sleeping bag.

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Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:
This ties in with the above. I noticed when homeless my mind thought about completely different things as opposed to a normal member of society. I realized I wasn’t really thinking about anything. My mind was for the most part devoid of deep or interesting thoughts.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs popped up in my head and I realized how much further down the scale I had placed myself by living this homeless experience.

Normally I think of ways to improve myself, have fun, short/medium/long goals and ways to overall improve my life for myself and others that will depend on me in the future.

When I was homeless I thought about where my next meal was coming from, if I had enough water to last through the night and where I would sleep. The thought process rarely got beyond those simple questions.

This was a true testament to the validity Maslow’s theory. I didn’t particularly care about anything above that first rung because that first rung wasn’t completely fulfilled at all times.

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Day to Day Living and lack of long-term thinking:
This ties in with the Maslow observation….that since my priorities were set on the basic necessities of life, hardly any head was paid to long-term thoughts. I could see this in the people who are truly homeless…they had no goal or long-term plan for themselves.

I’m not saying everyone needs a step-by-step plan…but at least a vague map of where you want to end up is important (well, actually we all invariably end up at the same destination)!

This observation may play one of the many small factors that keeps some people in a perpetual state of homelessness.

Ahhh, feels great to be back home!

Got back home, immediately through everything I was wearing (shoes and
all) into the trash. Took two showers and am enjoying my newly shaven
face. I was starting to forget what I looked like!

Last Night Out

So tonight is the last night of my Homeless Exeriment. I'm sleeping
under the same bridge I did the first night.

Tomorrow morning when the sun rises (which is generally what wakes me
up) I'll pack up and head back home. All my clothes, shoes and
backpack will go straight in the trash. A shower will immediately
follow.

I will leave Black Mike my sleeping bag, hoodie jacket, jeans and my
extra pair of socks. I really didn't use those much this trip, and I
was going to throw them away soon as I got home.

Mike's out grifting right now, and is supposedly bringing back a pizza
later tonight.

This will be my last goodnight as Homeless Nev! GOODNIGHT!

Sent from my iPhone