I started drinking around 12:30pm, and soon the time after that passed quickly. I slowly started becoming less aware about my degenerating appearance and social status, I spoke with more people than I usually would (even had a long conversation with Crazy Cat Lady in the park) and the time in general was more tolerable than simply doing nothing.
I laid my head down around 4pm I believe (once again, I still don’t have much sense of time unless I turn on my phone or netbook) and took a nap. Some loud noise woke me up at 6pm and I had a pounding headache. Newton said, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Yea, the opposite reaction is called a HANGOVER.
I woke up by a tree laying in the dirt. So far I’ve managed to stay “relatively” clean, but now my one and only shirt is completely covered in a permanent layer of dirt. The whole thing is brown now instead of white.
I downed an entire 375ML bottle of cheap, strong bourbon. For those that don’t know, think of a normal sized alcohol bottle: it’s half of that. Needless to say I got buzzed (I wasn’t completely ass-drunk, but more of a very heavy buzz). If I was driving and gave a breathalyzer test I definitely would’ve been hauled off to jail.
This is also the day I am supposed to sleep Downtown at a non-shelter location (because that was obviously WAY too easy), I brushed off as much dirt as I could and started the journey.
For the first time in this experiment I TRULY FELT HOMELESS when I woke up in the dirt by a tree with a pounding head. I struggled to open my eyes, clumsily got up and started to gather my dusty backpack and garbage bag. To the outside observer I must’ve truly fit the homeless stereotype.
I walked through a charming neighborhood area for a while, noting places I could possibly sleep for the night. I’ve ended up in a park somewhere around 9th St. I found a large slap of concrete, brushed it off and laid down to work off this hangover. It’s now 9:00pm, sort of dark and I think I’ll sleep here for the night. It’s hot as hell and there’s no way I’m pulling out a sleeping bag in the heat.
I’m just goind to sleep on this slab of concrete and hope there’s not too many bugs biting.
From past dealings with homeless people I know they drink a lot. It’s not that they’re alcoholics (necessarily), but that they’re bored.
Let’s say you throw a party at your house. In the beginning things get started slowly. The drinks are poured, more and more are consumed and soon people are feeling pretty loosey goosey. Now people are dancing, talking to each other and having fun.
Alcohol is a well known social lubricant because it can help make a dull time into a fun time. Do you NEED it? Absolutely 100% not, but it can help.
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.
So my experiment for today is to get drunk and bum around. From the meager proceeds of asking people here and there for money, I mustered up $6.00. For $4.50 I bought a plastic 375ML bottle of J.T.S. Brown Kentucky Bourbon (whaa???) and started drinking. I’ve got a good buzz going and am sitting here in the “Homeless Park” (aka a park by the library that’s always populated with homeless people) and am typing this up (I can skim the library wireless from here)!
Quick Story: There is a liquor store RIGHT across the street from the homeless shelter. I’m talking maybe 25 steps away max. As I was buying the bourbon I asked the clerk if, “He gets many of us homeless people in here.” He responded, “Nope, I don’t get many of them in here.” Puzzled by why he classified them as “Them” instead of “You” I asked if he thought I was homeless. He immediately replied, “Nope, you don’t have the tell-tale signs of a homeless person.” I was a bit relieved and dissapointed by this.
Relieved because I didn’t REALLLLYY look homeless (despite entering his store with a beard, ripped/dirty shirt, carrying a garbage bag and asking for only bottles made out of plastic). Dissapointed because perhaps I didn’t do a good enough job of disguising myself….although I think I did, this is what I look like right now:
(That’s one homeless looking dude from my perspective).
Anyhow, surprisingly he does “Very very little” business with homeless people because he doesn’t carry much they can afford. The store stopped carrying things in the $2.00 price range because, “The sales were too small, took too much time, the shelters didn’t like it and the cops didn’t like it.” Basically it was bad for business AND social causes. Interesting.
So right now it’s 1:39pm and I’m buzzed (actually maybe a little drunk). How does it feel? A lot better than being sober.
This is only because I’m pretending to be homeless and have nothing else to do. Otherwise I’d MUCH RATHER be completely sober and reading and jotting down notes on some Epictetus or other interesting subject at the library.
Well, they woke us up at the ARCH homeless shelter at 5:30am. By about 5:45 you have to be out of the dorm area. As I went downstairs I saw pretty much everyone just sitting in the main holding area. Like a sheep in a herd I just sat around like everyone else. I figured they would let us all out at the same time….it was still early so I wasn’t thinking, “Wait, this isn’t jail, they’re not HOLDING us.”
I eventually got up and left, it was still dark outside. I have no idea what those people are going to do all day. Probably just chill.
Anyhow I figured I can’t kill a whole Saturday doing nothing, I’d go insane, so something must be done. I started walking towards the day labor center….apparently they’ve moved, bummer. Walked back to the ARCH, found a guy with work boots strung around his neck and asked him. It was two miles away by bus and he was going there. I hopped the bus with him, got there. Turns out it was a slow day and they had no more jobs left. The guy who went with me already had a repeat job, so he went off. I waited for an hour for the bus to come back then went back to the shelter.
Ok, NOW WHAT? I went over to the public library, it doesn’t open till 10am. Oye ve. So now I’m sitting on a bench across the street:
Me with my backpack and garbage bag with a sleeping bag and food inside of it.
Most of the other homeless people are just bumming around doing nothing. What an untapped labor force this is.
So tonight was a pretty interesting and very easy day. Earlier in the day I registered for the ARCH homeless shelter sleep lottery. This means you show up in behind the facility in the alley at 6:00pm and stand in line for a lotto ticket. You pick a number out of a bucket, and they call a group of numbers at random (so people can’t sell the tickets).
I was #4 and the first group the called was 1-25! Almost everyone there was familiar with the system, I was the only new one in my group. First they sent me through the X-rays again. I checked in my pocket knife, but they found a small bottle of alcohol in my bag. It was a 375ML bottle of Kentucky Whiskey or some cheap thing like that. The girl checking the x-ray immediately told the head guy, and all the people waiting in line let out a collecive “Uhhh ooohhh” expression.
The head guy told me there is an uber-strict ABSOLUTELY NO ALCOHOL policy on premises PERIOD. Anyone of the other guys would’ve been thrown out on the spot, no exceptions. He felt leniency towards me because it was my first time, so he allowed me to (first pour out) then discard the bottle. It was completely unopened and I noticed a couple of the guys cringe as I was forced to pour out a perfectly good bottle of alcohol! A bottle like that is a hot commodity in a place like that.
Anyhow, filled out some quick paper work with the guy, lied on all the questions about how long I’ve been homeless and proceeded to check in. First order of business was to take a shower. Everyone sleeping there has to take a mandatory shower (good thing or else it’d smell like sin in here). I went through the whole shower routine like I described earlier, still had no towel and dried off under the hand blower.
They sent me to my bunk which from what I understand is in the best part. I am bunk E3, and the E section is an open hall which is the nicest. The whole third floor is dubbed “The Penthouse” because it’s so nice (well…in relation to the other floors). There is a very large outdoor patio with a TV, fans bunch of benches. You could over hear guys saying, “Man, it’s been almost a week since I’ve got The Penthouse!”
I was then given a meal ticket (one of the lucky ones who got a place to stay PLUS a meal). I was served a great meal, and once again all the volunteers were exceedingly nice to deal with. Get this: I got salmon, salad, lasagna and macaroni & cheese plus a Three Musketeers bars and ice tea to drink. I was for the third time today STUFFED! This is not really what I expected when I was planning the Homeless Experiment!
After dinner most people are just sitting around smoking cigarettes out on the third floor patio. It’s very nice out there (sans the cigarette smoke which I stayed upwind from). I watched the sunset from a third floor primo location in Downtown Austin. There was a January 2009 issue of Texas Monthly on my bunk, so I proceeded to slowly read that for 2 hours since I had nothing else to do.
Funny note: There are two guys openly playing on their laptops here and one guy with a portable DVD player watching a movie. Many people have cell phones and MP3 players. I’m sitting in my top bunk typing this while most people are still outside. I now realize it’s not dangerous to have a laptop here, but I’d still rather not raise my value as a target.
When outside you can start to catch glimpses of party goers starting to hit 6th Street. I’m usually one of those people who tries to avoid this area to stay away from people at the homeless shelter. Talk about flipping the script.
It’s funny because this place reminds me of something….a COLLEGE DORM! It’s a bunch of guys living together, sharing a bathroom, hanging out, chilling, eating together. Except everyone here is circa 45 years old. Everyone is very friendly, there are no “bullies” or anything like that here.
I’m not sure what time they’ll kick us out of here. Lights off is at 9:30pm….I have no idea how I’ll be able to sleep that early. I’m guessing they’ll wake everyone up sometime around 6 or 7am.
Well, I’m safe, clean, well fed, well stocked with food/water and have a comfortable bunk to sleep in. I see why so many chronically homeless people choose to live like this. IT AIN’T THAT BAD.
Written at 9:05pm on Friday June 5th, 2009. Bunk E3 of the ARCH Homeless Shelter while eating a Three Musketeers candy bar.