Well here I sit in the public library, a very common thing, except this time the tables are turned and I am one of the homeless guys I so often resent having at the library.
*One note, I’m just checking the posts I made via email from my iPhone and much of the text is missing from them. Just figured out the problem.
I’d like to share how my 2nd day pretending to be homeless went (keep in mind I generally have no idea what time it is. I’m basing these off rough sun position or from the few times I pulled out my phone to post):
Around 6-7am: Was awoken by a beautiful sunrise under the bridge. The first time in a LONG time I have seen a sunrise. The night was a bit warm, but it cooled off nicely late at night. I could hear college kids partying in a nearby apartment. Me and Mike spoke for an hour or so before trying to sleep.
It took me several hours to sleep as I’m not used to sleeping before 2am. I woke up around 6 or 7, but was still tired so dozed off till 10-something.
Roughly 10:45am: Started making the trek over to the Downtown area. Mike was wondering why I would want to stay down there when it was so nice over here. He had a point. Still, part of this journey involves experiencing Downtown homelessness, so I took off.
I still had plenty of leftover food from the other day’s successful panhandling attempt.
Stopped several times, picked up a free newspaper at a bus stop, leisurely read it. Filled up my water reserves at a spigot on the side of a gas station. Took a poop in the woods.
12:10pm: Arrived around in the Downtown area. Ironically passing up the massive loft I used to live in (which is now appropriately remodeled into a nightclub) to get a free meal at a shelter.
12:15pm: Asked around and found out the Caritas organization provides free meals from 12:00 till 12:30pm. Went to check it out. I walked in past the security guard, and they immediately hand you a school-type lunch and glass which you can fill up with water, orange juice or milk. The place could probably hold between 50 and 80 people at a time…I’d say at any given time I was there about 50 people were eating.
It’s bizarre because all sorts of people you WOULD NOT EXPECT to be in there were. I thought maybe a lot of people were just freeloading a lunch (ahem…..like me….) and going back to work, but I later confirmed many were in fact homeless because I saw them at the homeless shelter later.
As for 80% of the people, they looked homeless, but not the stereotypical-pushing-a-shopping-cart kind of homeless. Just homeless.
I was by far the youngest person there…except for a little kid who came in with his mom. Everyone was very courteous, I didn’t feel threatened one single bit and the food was actually pretty good. Every meal came with a pasta, banana, slice of cake and bologna sandwich. You were also welcome to take as many sandwiches with you and as much bread. Many people were loading up for the rest of the day.
Almost all the people serving the food were probably between 21 and 25, all looked like college students volunteering. They had two older people working, one was a chef, the other the supervisor I suppose. Everyone was extremely nice, the food was good and the environment pleasant.
If you remember, Caritas is actually heavily funded by Michael and Susan Dell. I crashed a Caritas fundraiser a while ago….so I’ve now got to see the rich and poor side of the foundation.
1:00pm: I’d like to try sleeping in a homeless shelter at least one night, so I went across the street to the ARCH and walked in. They x-rayed my bags and confiscated my pocket knife, but gave it back when I left. I told the lady at the front I needed to stay for one night, so she gave me a number. Apparently it’s a lottery system, so at 6:00pm I’m supposed to line up behind the ARCH in the alley and they call numbers. If you’re called, you sleep inside…if not, tough luck.
So Linda, your concern might actually come true: If I get selected to sleep inside, I will displace an actual homeless person. I’m going to use the “I’m a taxpayer” excuse on this one.
Anyhow, another word on the ARCH…..the lady handed me my number and said, “The showers are upstairs and the laundry room in downstairs.” HUH!?! I didn’t expect to take a shower! I went upstairs and they have a volunteer handing you small tubs of bath gel, shaving cream, toothpaste and other things you might need. The women could also ask for complimentary feminine products if needed.
The showers were decent. There was no strong stench like I expected, and they were relatively clean. Each had it’s own chair inside the small shower room and curtain so you had privacy. Pretty swanky for a free shower! As I stepped in the shower it dawned on my that I had no towel, and they don’t provide one for you, so air drying was going to be the only option. I took my shower using the bath gel they provided and felt pretty good. I knew I was starting to smell and I could just feel it coming off.
Afterwards I basically stood naked in the shower for 10 minutes trying to dry off but it was very humid in the room with all those other showers going and I could only get to a certain level of dryness. Luckily the shorts I brought are these nylon board shorts that are essentially water resistant, so I put those on (no boxers since I only have one pair) and walked out (my slippers were on the whole time of course).
I ended up drying off under the hand dryer.
So I was nice, clean and dry…but one problem, I had to put the same stinky clothes back on! By this time I confirmed my shirt does in fact smell a little. It was only later that I realized I should’ve washed my clothes first then showered. However I’m doing an experiment here and I DON’T want to look or smell too tidy.
So after eating and showering I had nothing in particular to do, and flying a sign is quite probibited (and enforced) around Downtown, so I figured I’d kill some time at the library.
I will say something: So far from the cross-section of people I’ve seen, A VAST MAJORITY are not dangerous thieves looking to jump me like many might think. The feeling of security is still quite high over here. I’ve got my guard up of course, but it almost seems unnecessary. I have a feeling at night the freaks (aka CRACKHEADS) will start showing up.
I will say something else: If you give money to a homeless person you see on the streets all the time, I almost guarantee you a large portion of that money is going towards alcohol or other drugs. That isn’t a myth. More on that later…it’s kind of interesting.
Another thing: For all of you that said, “You can’t bring a laptop, that won’t be realistic…” There’s another homeless guy I saw at the shelter a few minutes ago right behind me. He just whipped out his laptop and plugged into the same outlet as me. BOOYAH.
Some pictures off my camera: I can post pictures from the street off my iPhone, but must upload to the computer for camera pics:
Sleeping under the “Million Dollar Roof.” Quite safe, quite comfortable. Really not what I expected.
Snapped a quick picture in the shelter bathroom. It looked like a modest bathroom you might find in a gym or airport. P.S. Checkout those abs ;-)
Homeless Mike’s setup. The guy has a queen sized mattress under the bridge that he got near a dumpster during moving time at one of the nearby college apartments.
Last night was a good experience, but very easy. It was pleasant, quiet, had good company and more than enough food.
I see why some homeless choose to live on Riverside, it's like an extended camping trip! Near a lake, bountiful panhandling locations, very little danger. Far as locations to be homeless Riverside is the promise land!
So today I'm trekking over to Downtown. From all my experience with homeless people, I'm well aware this is where the crazies, lunatics and all sorts of pyschos hang.
This is where you have to watch your bags at all times or they'll get snatched, and this is where you'll see crackheads and people that have prolonged conversations with themselves.