Category Archives: Homeless Experiment

Notes from under a bridge

So as I posted earlier, I am sending this from Under a bridge
(ironically also one of my favorite Red Hot Chili Pepper songs).

I remember talking to my new buddy Mike earlier, and he kept talking
about all the funny things all these animals do under this bridge.
Well it's night time and the show has begun! They all stay in the
brush and rarely venture onto the concrete.

I understand why he was so interested in the animals: There's
absolutely nothing to do here and they're somewhat entertaining to
watch.

Living here is actually dare I say….relatively pleasant. The birds
finally shutup at night, there are no bugs, no chance of rain under
here and pretty much no disturbances.

On the other side of the bridge live 5 Mexican guys. They're all
talking, but the sound is faint and not disruptive.

I setup my sleeping bag on top of a large piece of cardboard and feel
very secure and quite comfortable here.

Boredom seems to be an issue. I thought it was midnight by now but my
phone says 10:48….no wonder I don't feel tired yet.

I bet by tomorrow I'll start developing a slight stench. I only have
one shirt and I got pretty sweaty on the walk here in the sun.

So far the homeless experience actually hasn't been that bad. I've got
food, water, shelter. Maslow's basic needs have been fulfilled.

Goodnight.

Sent from my iPhone

Well, I’m living under a bridge

I’m under a bridge now, made a friend named Mike. A friendly black guy
I met who is staying under this same bridge.

All the bums on Riverside are relatively stable compared to downtown,
that’s why they like camping out down here.

I used my JUST WANT FOOD sign for 45 minutes on the corner of
Riverside and Pleasant Valley and scored enough food for the night!!
I’ll post a picture right after this.

A couple gave me a box of crackers, and a college aged guy stopped me
and asked “Hey man, will you be here in 15 minutes?” then when he
drove by again a little later he handed me a bag of groceries!

I have more than I can comfortably carry now, so I stopped flying the
sign.

I’m still 100% penniless buy have ample food/water for the day and
night. Life is good :-)

It’s getting dark, so I’m back under the bridge with friendly company
(he’s out panhandling right now) and about to eat my Ritz cracker,
string cheese, bagel and chewy bar dinner!

Something I didn’t expect…there’s a lot of damn birds under bridges.
Constant cooing and caawing. There’s also a zoo of other animals that
waltz by from time to time.

Ok, ttime for iPhone to go off, goodnight!

Sent from my iPhone

Learning Predictions and Start

It’s around 3pm here and I’m about to embark upon the homeless experiment in less than an hour.

Here are some predictions of what I’ll learn from this Homeless Experiment:

  • Almost all people are pretty much physiologically the same. Donald Trump and the hunched over guy with the shopping cart standing on the corner are nearly identical. It’s the contents inside the 3 lbs. of grey mass between your ears that counts.
  • The system that helps people who are homeless inadvertently puts them in a cycle of homelessness.
  • Most of the people who end up chronically homeless have some sort of hardship past, social skills problems or mental illness.
  • Most of the people who end up temporarily homeless are probably not that different from the everyday middle class person with a house, car and family.
  • Hope for the future is probably not very evident within the chronically homeless population.
  • A lot of the people I talk to will “Just want a decent place to live and relax.” …however won’t be seriously willing to work that hard for it.

———————-

I’ve got everything packed and ready to go. Being true to the alias there’s really not much stuff that I’m taking. I’m only carrying what I can fit in a school backpack plus a sleeping bag:

Aside from that I won’t have much else. I’m bringing no money and no food with me. In case you’re wondering, here is what I look like at the moment….this is my “pity-pose” I’ll be using to look sad and deserving of leftover food:

Pretty convincing eh! While I’m posting these I can’t stop laughing at what I look like! My first agenda item is to score some food, so after a long walk in the Texas sun during the hottest part of the day, I’ll whip out this pre-made sign I have on a big intersection street corner:

I personally think this sign will work VERY well, and within an hour I’ll probably get a decent amount of food to last me through the night…..at least that’s my prediction.

Well, without further adieu, I’m off!
-Neville

Homeless Plan

For the Homeless Experiment starting tomorrow I’ll be out for 5 days and 4 nights. Thursday till Monday (June 4th till June 8th).

In this time I’ll have to scrounge for food, search for places to sleep, perform the experiments I have set and document all this at the same time. I’m reluctant to set out a solid plan, but I’ll make a very general (and changeable) plan.

Thursday:
Leave the house sometime around 3pm. Walk to the nearest big intersection and hope I can somehow get food. Find somewhere on Riverside to sleep (possibly the woods or under a bridge). I won’t be able to make it al the way to Downtown by night time, so Riverside will be home. Not really sure where yet. For those of you that don’t know, I live in a part of Austin called Riverside. There is a newly gentrified area which I live in which is decently nice, then there is “the other part” which is relatively ghetto. On a drive through Riverside in the day or night you’ll generally see a few bums.

Friday:
Start making the trek towards the downtown area. Try to score some food around Riverside and eat in the morning. Visit the homeless shelters and see if I can get a place to sleep at night. Since this is the start of the weekend I’m not fully sure how this will work.

When I think about it, I’ll probably be waking up early on Friday morning and have the whole day to spend doing……what? I really have no clue. I’ll probably try to befriend and then furtively “interview” some homeless people I find interesting. I frequently see homeless people around Downtown basically just chilling…probably because they have nothing else to do. Bordem might be a major issue since I won’t have much in the way as sources of entertainment.

Saturday:
Hopefully will have found a place to get a decent meal such as a soup kitchen or shelter. Try holding signs on the side of the road for a while to see how much money I can make with different signs. I’ll be around Downtown so the legality of this might be an issue. May spend some time at the public library documenting. At night I will most likely avoid all the partying areas of town and the homeless shelters. Downtown gets a little crazy at night, everyone is drunk, and I feel even homeless people hanging around the shelter will be doing the same with whatever they can get their hands on. Drugs, crazy people and party-goers just doesn’t sound like a combination I want to be involved in during such an exposed stage. I will most likely try to sleep on the outskirts of Downtown in a lower-key part of town to avoid all this.

I have a strong feeling by this time I’ll be pretty fed up with pretending being homeless.

Sunday:
I’ve seen Meals On Wheels trucks in several locations in downtown on Sundays, so hopefully I can catch some food at those. They also have a free concert under the bridge for homeless people on Sunday’s, and they generally serve some sort of meal. That should be a good place to go. It almost sounds crazy…a free concert for homeless people! Kevin was right, Austin is pretty homeless-friendly. I’ll also try to get a change of clothes from somewhere if possible. Will start making the trip back to Riverside. Will most likely sleep near the lake on a bench or under the freeway overpass near the threshold of Riverside and Downtown.

Monday:
Wake up in morning and head back home. Take shower. Shave. Take another shower. Get a haircut. Take another shower. Get back to work.

Here’s a rough map of the general start path (red) and return path (green) I’ll follow:

This is of course a VERY rough estimation as the nature of this experiment has a vast number of variables. This short experiment will hopefully have some sort of long term positive impact on me. I’d say the MAIN reason I’m doing this is to get out of my safe/fun/comfortable bubble of a life for a short period. I love it, but every once in a while I feel a good kick in the ass is necessary to fully appreciate what you’ve got.

I’d like to state that this is really in no way a philanthropic expedition to raise awareness to the plight of homeless people. It’s pretty much all for selfish self-improvement reasons. If in the process someone, be it me or someone else, find some small way to improve or uplift the lives of those on the streets or any other station in life because of this experience, wonderful. I’m sure this experiment will reinforce all sorts of good wisdom principles I already know, but don’t fully pay attention to all the time.

Homeless Preperation and Equipment List

For the Homeless Experiment, by tomorrow afternoon I will hit the streets of Austin, TX. pretending to be without shelter and without money for 5 days and 4 nights.

I’m trying to make this as congruent as possible to my alias story. This means I would have been evicted from my apartment with no car, no friends to stay with and not many belongings worth taking.

If this were a properly planned out hiking or camping trip I’d have a tent, proper hiking backpack, nice sleeping bag and all sorts of comforts…but that would effectively “plan the hardship out” of this experiment. It would also make it look like I’m hitchhiking rather than homeless.

Unlike Tynan and Todd on the their Life Nomadic excursion, I’m purposely TRYING to look a little homeless.

Equipment list:

  • Backpack – Will be using the backpack I’ve had since middle school. It’s about time I’ve got a new one. I will say Jansport makes a damn good and sturdy backpack. It’s been around the world and on all sorts of adventures with me and is still ticking.
  • A $5.00 sleeping bag I bought at Wal-Mart. It’s rated to only 45 degrees which means this is possibly the crappiest sleeping bag you can buy. However it weighs only 3 lbs. which is a plus. I somehow doubt it’s very waterproof, that might be an issue. I was wondering how it’s possible Wal-Mart sells a $5 sleeping bag for a profit, so last night I slept in it at my house on the floor and found out: It’s a big piece of crap. The zippers hardly function, and it took me 4 minutes of finagling to get it zipped up fully. I’m almost positive the next time I use it the thing won’t zip at all. My alias doesn’t have any money to buy a new one, so this will have to do.
  • Pocketknife.
  • My Full Wardrobe will be: 1 old jeans, 1 old shorts, 1 short sleeve shirt, 1 long sleeve shirt, extra pair of socks. Hopefully I won’t run into any extreme weather.
  • Two bottles of water. These will be old Coca-Cola bottles filled with water.
  • No food. This will force me to immediately start scavenging for food somehow.
  • No money.
  • Mini Netbook – So I can document things.
  • iPhone – Will be off except twice a day to let the family know I’m OK. Will also turn on to blog directly from the phone if internet is unavailable (as it certainly will be unavailable the first day or two).
  • Camera – I want to document this trip with some pictures and perhaps video.
  • Glasses and one spare pair of contacts.
  • Small amount of toilet paper. Will probably end up jacking some from the public library at some point. Possibly from the same library I (we) donated a computer to.
  • Toothbrush/toothpaste. That’s all I’m taking in the way of hygiene products. No deodorant + Texas heat + walking everywhere = Stinky Neville.
  • Emergency Info Sheet and ID card – Insurance information and directions of which hospital I should be taken to in an emergency. If someone thinks I’m homeless they will take me to a public hospital. It’s best in case of emergency that it’s known I am to be taken to a private hospital for more immediate care. This is just a security precaution. I’ll keep this information in all my bags and on my person. This will also contain emergency contact numbers of friends and family. Doubt this will have to be used.

I feel this list is pretty relevant to what some in the alias situation would bring.

Word on the electronics:
Yea yea yea…I know a bum or homeless person wouldn’t have all the electronics (although you’d actually be surprised…)

…however I’m trying to document this trip, and I also have family/friends who are pretty concerned about this. Plus it’s my mom’s birthday one of the days I’ll be out and I want to call her. The electronics won’t be used for fun or entertainment…in fact carrying these things makes me a target for getting jumped and robbed, so I WILL NOT visibly use these around other homeless people for safety reasons. They also take up very valuable space in my backpack and add weight. I’d prefer not to carry any of these things, but documenting the trip as I go is important to me.

Writing about an experience in a comfortable coffee shop and writing while famished and under a bridge would probably be different things. For the times when I can’t access my netbook (for safety reasons, it gets stolen or because I’m out of battery) I’ll write in a small notebook then digitally transcribe later.

Even if I don’t have access to the internet on my netbook (which on Riverside I most likely won’t), I can always post to the blog via email through my iPhone as shown in this post.

I took my last shower yesterday morning, and will be sleeping in the crappy Wal-Mart sleeping bag on my floor today. Tomorrow I hit the streets!

My First Homeless Innovation

Some of the mini experiments I want to try during the Homeless Experiment involve holding up different types of signs on the side of the road, sort of like an A/B Split Test to see which is the best play for making the most food/money in an hour:

  • Funny signs
  • Serious signs
  • Asking for money
  • Asking for food

I was a little concerned about this because from what I’ve seen, cardboard seems to the medium most bums on the side of the road use (old boxes or real estate signs generally). This means I will have to procure a new piece of cardboard for each sign (since generally only one side is blank).

Well I inadvertently came upon a solution:
I ordered something online the other day, and the packing material was a single, long strip of brown paper just crumpled up and stuffed in the box.

Great packaging for the products, but even better sign material! If you un-crumple the paper it gives you a tall writing space of 14″ and unlimited width.

So instead of having to carry around a sign I already made, I can discard and make new ones on the fly. It’ll look something like this:

So in addition to the few things I’ll be carrying, I’ll add this small roll of paper to the list. It folds up nicely, and will provide me with about 15 – 20 signs.

An Unintended Consequence

There has been one unforeseen element to this Homeless Experiment that has me wanting to get it over with soon as possible:

I find myself “thinking like I’m homeless” all the time! Every time I drive by an area of Austin where I may find myself this upcoming Thursday-Monday I have thoughts such as:

  • “Hmmm…I could probably sleep behind that store and no one would know.”
  • “If I REALLY need to take a dump I can go in that patch of woods on 9th St.”
  • “I could totally sleep under those bleachers at the baseball park behind ACC.”
  • “The South West corner of this intersection gets traffic that comes out of the Burger King parking lot, I bet I can score some food on that corner.”

There is a constant stream of these types of thoughts, and it’s MAKING ME ACTUALLY FEEL HOMELESS. In a way this is good, because my experiment is based on my alias who gets evicted from his apartment with no money and no place to go.

A person in that situation probably sees living on the street as a viable option a few days before he actually becomes homeless…so in a way these thoughts are making this experiment more realistic.

So now every time I go Downtown to a coffee shop, bar, the library etc. I look at things in a different way.

It’s weird.

For this reason I’m sticking to my June 4th starting date. That’s actually a horrible weekend to pursue this experiment because there’s a lot of fun events I’ll be missing, however this thought process has to stop soon. I’d rather forgo some fun for being able to think normally again.

Since I’ve also stopped all facial grooming these last few days my hair hair is quite a mess and I have to wear hats all the time (Haven’t had a hair cut in roughly 2-something months). I can still put gel in it, but it’s so long I have to slick it back like an Italian goodfella. When it’s not done, the homeless look really starts to show:

The beard came in REALLY quick. I stopped shaving May 15th, now 17 days later on June 1st this is how it looks:

I’m also starting to grow a uni-brow, plus my eyebrows are getting kind of bushy:

….I mean, they’re not on the Ramit Sethi level yet, but they’re catching up everyday:

So not only am I starting to “think homeless” but I’m also slowly beginning to look the part. When you think like that all the time, then are re-affirmed by scruffy looking face in the mirror, it’s an odd feeling.

My Homeless Alias

For the upcoming Homeless Experiment I can’t go living on the streets and telling everyone I meet, “I’m not actually homeless, I’m just trying it out.”

That makes me a bit of a target and probably won’t inspire trust.

So I’ve made up a story for myself. It will be easier to stick “closer” to the truth since it’s much harder to lie. I’ll be using places where I actually grew up instead of other places in the off chance someone may know the area.

So if I somehow get involved in a long conversation about this, here are the story details I will give:

My name is Nev. (I’ll go by my full name if asked, but “Nev” seems nice, short and easy to pronounce).

I grew up in Houston but in recent years my family moved to upstate New York…I might also say they’re divorced just for added drama (but they’re not in real life). I moved to Austin recently and was working at Radio Shack selling phones. I recently lost my job and couldn’t pay rent for the last few months so I was evicted from my apartment.

I don’t have many friends here, and the only ones I know are in school, but they’re gone for the summer. I have a friend who I’m going to live with, but he moves into his new apartment in about two weeks, so for now I am living on the streets till he gets back into town and gets his apartment. From there I will stay with him and find another job.

I went to HCC (Houston Community College) for a few semesters but didn’t go all the way through.

I had a car in Austin, but I got in a wreck a few months ago and it was totaled. I didn’t have insurance and can’t afford a new one. I’ve been walking and taking the bus everywhere for a while now.

SO that’s what I’ll be telling people if they ask. I made up this story because it’s how I believe MOST people end up homeless….through a simple sequence of unfortunate events. For the most part homeless people are NOT the dilapidated looking bums you see on the side of the road holding signs. Those people are in the minority, however they are the most visible, which is why people think all homeless people are like that (I learned this pretty clearly when I would do work for homeless shelters…even homeless people don’t like THOSE homeless people).

Most of this stuff relates to some experience I’ve had or someone I know. For example I had a temporary roommate who worked at Radio Shack selling phones, so if someone proceeds on that line of questioning I can deliver believable answers.

This will also be the pretense for the whole Homeless Experiment. That I’m just a 20-something guy down on his luck for a little while and has no place to go for a few weeks. I feel this story will allow me to freely ask questions about homeless life, instead of telling people I’ve been homeless a long time and asking dumb questions about it. It won’t sound congruent if I told that story.

I’ll probably also try to “dumb down” my speech a bit just for effect depending on the person or situation I am speaking with. I’ll play it by ear as I know for a fact not all homeless people are dumb bums like some may think.

So there ya go: I am Nev the Bum.

Mini Homeless Experiments

During the upcoming Homeless Experiment there’s a couple of things I want to try out. Now since I don’t have a defined plan of how I’m going to acquire food, shelter, water and other basic necessities of life…there will obviously be a massive amount of variables in how much free time I get to do some of these mini-experiences.

Here are some things I’d like to try:

  • How much money can I make in an hour holding a sign asking for money?
  • How much money can I make holding a FUNNY sign?
  • How much money can I make holding a SERIOUS sign?
  • How easy is it to get food on the street corner by asking for it…perhaps holding a sign that says, “Don’t want money, food would be great.” I personally think this would work pretty well as a way of procuring food or leftovers. Since I’m walking out of my house with no food or money, this will probably be one of the FIRST things I need to do.
  • Where exactly will I sleep? Parks, benches, under bridges, homeless shelters, under a tree, in the woods?
  • What if it rains?
  • Access to restrooms. I can always pee in the bushes, but what about….?
  • Can I just show up at a homeless shelter and get a place to sleep? I already partially know the answer to this: At most homeless shelters you have to “reserve” a bed, but they’ll often let you sleep inside on the ground if it’s not too crowded.
  • Can I take a shower somewhere and get a clean change of clothes?
  • Where can I get a decent meal? I’m purposely not researching where the soup kitchens are located in order to make this experience more authentic.
  • What are most homeless people like? I kind of already know the answer….most are just like you and I. The VAST majority of homeless are not the crazy looking bums on the side of the road. I’ve had some experience talking to a wide variety of homeless people, but not AS a homeless person. I’m wondering if their perception or attitudes towards me will change much.
  • Can I get a temporary job at one of the day labor camps in downtown? How much money can I make like this?

There’s a lot of experiments I want to try, but time is a factor. I still think doing THIS would work well:

Suggestions?