The Homeless Experiment - NevBlog.com
The Homeless Experiment
The Time: May 2009
On Thursday June 4th of 2009 I left the comforts
of my home in Austin, TX. with no food, no money and no place to stay for 5 days
and 4 nights. I did this voluntarily as a small experiment to see what it was
like to live on the streets of Austin, TX.
I always wondered what would happen if someone around my
age (26 at the time) with a weak support network in their city were to simply
lose their income and subsequently their dwelling. Where would they go? What
would happen? Would it be easy to get food? How could they make money? Where
does one sleep in the city?
I wanted to answer those questions and just in general find
out more about the life of a person on the street. I also wanted to document it
in real time on the web.
Thus I began
The Homeless Experiment.
I would like to clearly state that I could never truly
experience the worst homelessness has to offer in 5 days. Not only did I have
the advantage of a privileged and great upbringing, but also the advantage of
performing this experiment in Austin, TX. which is notoriously
homeless-friendly. This experiment was done to catch at least a glimpse of the
homeless world in my area.
This story is meant to be followed as if you were a reader of my blog
www.NevBlog.com starting in May 2009. At this time I was planning on
doing this experiment, and you will read my preparation, follow me through
the days leading up to the experiment, the uncertain start where I walk out
of my home, the final comeback and the things I learned.
THE HOMELESS EXPERIMENT / EXPERIENCE:
MAY 28th, 2009
Leave my house in Austin, TX. and live on the
streets for 5 days and 4 nights.
Purpose of Experiment:
There's simply not one solid reason for
performing this experiment, but several:
what it's like at the bottom rung of the socio economic system.
I've studied how many
successful people get successful...it would be interesting to see how some
people have "failed." Getting to live directly with these people would be a
great way to learn.
I've always considered
myself pretty spoiled. Not in the spoiled brat kind of way, but in the fact
that I've never once in my life really have been worried where my next meal
was going to come from or where I was going to lay my head down at night. It
seems important that every once in a while I give
myself a good whack over the head to
realize just how good I've got it, and that all those opportunities I have
should be utilized to their full potential.
Ostracism. I'm Indian,
but have never experienced any real discrimination that I know of. If I walk
into a fine hotel to use the bathroom, I'm always allowed based on my
overall appearance. However what if I was disheveled, carrying bags, looked
like I was dirty and smelled? It might be a different story. I personally
discriminate against these kinds of people who come up to me on the street.
It'd be interesting to see what it's like on the other side.
I've always wondered:
If someone got kicked out of their apartment, had no money and no
friends/family to stay with...what would they do?
So on Thursday,
June 4th, 2009 I will
officially begin my Homeless Experiment and start living on the streets for 5
days and 4 nights.
MINI HOMELESS EXPERIMENTS:
May 29th, 2009
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
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:
money can I make in an hour holding a sign asking for money?
money can I make holding a FUNNY sign?
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.
exactly will I sleep? Parks, benches, under bridges, homeless shelters, under a
tree, in the woods?
What if it
restrooms. I can always pee in the bushes, but what about going #2?
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. I might actually have
to go without food for a few days if things don’t go so well.
most homeless people like? I kind of know the answer....most homeless people are
just like you and I. The VAST majority of homeless people 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 are a
lot of experiments I want to try, but time is a factor. I still think doing THIS
would work well:
May 30th, 2009
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. It might also piss a few people off.
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
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.
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 most homeless people don't like THOSE homeless people!
Most of this story 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
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
will be Nev the Bum.
been one unforeseen element to this Homeless
has me wanting to get it done 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:
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."
totally sleep under those bleachers at the baseball park behind ACC."
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
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
So now every
time I go Downtown to a coffee shop, bar, the library etc. I look at things in a
more survivalist way.
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 weeks, my 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:
came in REALLY quick. I stopped shaving May 15th, now 17 days later on June 1st
this is how it looks:
starting to grow a uni-brow, plus my eyebrows are getting kind of bushy:
they're not on the Ramit
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 FIRST HOMELESS INNOVATION
June 3rd, 2009
Some of the mini
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:
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).
I inadvertently came upon a solution:
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.
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.
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:
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.
June 3rd, 2009
afternoon I will hit the streets of Austin, TX. pretending to be homeless. I
won’t have shelter or money for 5 days and 4 nights.
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
to make this 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.
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
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 its 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.
Wardrobe will be: 1 old jeans, 1 old shorts, 1 short sleeve shirt, 1 long sleeve
shirt, 1 hoodie, extra pair of socks. Hopefully I won't run into any extreme
of water. These will be old Coca-Cola bottles filled with water.
This will force me to immediately start scavenging for food somehow.
Mini Netbook -
So I can document things.
Will be off except twice a day to let the family know I'm OK. I’ll also turn it
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.
one spare pair of contacts.
of toilet paper. Will probably end up jacking some from the public library at
some point. Possibly from the same library
I 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.
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 actually 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
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 Wal-Mart sleeping bag
on my floor today. Tomorrow I hit the streets!
HOMELESS PLAN AND ROUTE
June 3rd, 2009
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.
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 all the way Downtown by
night time, so Riverside will be home. Not sure where. 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’s "the other
part" which is relatively ghetto. On a drive through Riverside in the day or
night you'll generally see a few bums.
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. Boredom might be a
major issue since I won't have much in the way as sources of entertainment.
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 around
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 to being
I've seen Meals On Wheels trucks in several downtown locations 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.
Wake up in the morning and head back home. Take shower. Shave. Take another
shower. Get a haircut. Take another shower. Get back to work.
rough map of the general start path (red) and
return path (green) I'll
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.
LEARNING PREDICTIONS AND START!
June 4th, 2009
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:
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.
that helps people who are homeless inadvertently puts them in a cycle of
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.
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:
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:
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:
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
without further adieu, I'm off!
WELL, I’M LIVING UNDER A BRIDGE
June 4th, 2009
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!!
Here’s a picture:
The result of my JUST WANT FOOD sign
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 :-)
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!
didn't expect...there's a lot of damn birds under bridges.
Constant cooing and cawing. There's also a zoo of other animals that
waltz by from time to time.
Ok, time for iPhone to go off, goodnight!
NOTES FROM UNDER A BRIDGE:
Thursday, July 4th, 2009
So as I
posted earlier, I am sending this from Under a bridge
(ironically also one of my favorite Red Hot Chili
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.
why he was so interested in the animals: There's
absolutely nothing to do here and they're somewhat entertaining to
is actually dare I say....relatively pleasant. The birds
finally shut up 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.
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. It’s too dark to read,
I’m not tired and it’s quite warm so it’s difficult to sleep. Not much to do.
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.
Sent from my
UNDER A BRIDGE:
Friday, June 5th, 2009
waking up this morning. Sleeping under a bridge is
surprisingly pleasant through the night.
Who would've thought?
HEADING TO DOWNTOWN
Friday, June 5th, 2009
was a good experience, but very easy. It was pleasant,
quiet, had good company and more than enough
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
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 psychos hang.
where you have to watch your bags at all times or they'll get
snatched, and this is where you'll see crack heads and people that have
prolonged conversations with themselves.
June 5th, 2009
As I walk to the center of Downtown I saw this building:
I used to
live on the entire top floor of that building. 4,000 sq ft.
of prime downtown real estate, now I'm scrounging
for a meal two
blocks away at a homeless shelter :-)
FOOD & SHOWER FOR FREE
June, 5th 2009
around and found out right across the ARCH homeless shelter an organization
called Caritas gives away free lunches (which I just ate at) and the ARCH across
the street gives you a
place to stay and free showers/bathrooms.
I'm about to
take a shower:
FIRST DAY AT THE HOMELESS SHELTER
June 5th, 2009
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
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
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 Black Mike spoke for an hour or so before trying
It took me several hours to sleep as I'm not used
to sleeping before 2am. I woke up around 6 or 7am, but was still tired so dozed
off till 10-something.
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. I took a poop in the woods nearby one of the bike trails
I frequently ride on.
Arrived in the Downtown area. Ironically passing
massive loft I
used to live in (which is now appropriately remodeled into a nightclub) to get a
free meal at a shelter.
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
As for 80% of the people, they looked homeless,
but not the stereotypical-pushing-a-shopping-cart kind of homeless. Just
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 as you want and as much bread….they even give
you old bread bags to fill 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 a 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!
I'd want 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’ll call numbers. If you're called, you
sleep inside...if not, tough luck.
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 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 its own chair
inside the small shower room and a curtain for privacy. Pretty swanky for a free
shower! As I stepped in the shower it dawned on me 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 the grime 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 nylon board shorts that are essentially water
resistant, so I put those on (no boxers since I only have one clean pair) and
walked out (my slippers were on the whole time).
I ended up drying off under the hand dryer.
So I was 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 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 prohibited (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
doesn’t seem to be a myth. More on that later...it's kind of interesting.
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 bad as I expected. Almost (dare I say)…pleasant?
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
MY SWANKY DIGS AT THE HOMELESS SHELTER:
June, 5th 2009
out my shelter lotto ticket paid off. I got the swankiest digs
available at the arch PLUS a dinner! Check it:
EXPERIENCE AT THE ARCH HOMELESS SHELTER
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 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, then they call a group of numbers at random (so people
can't sell the first tickets).
I was #4 and the first group they called was
1-25! Score! I got in! 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 which I
planned to get drunk on as an experiment. The girl checking the x-ray
immediately told the head guy, and all the people waiting in line let out a
The head guy told me there’s 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. I could tell some of the guys
would’ve rather taken the bottle and got kicked out for the night!
Anyhow, I 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 of the shelter. I am bunk E3, and the E section
is an open hall which is the nicest. The whole third floor is dubbed "The
it's so nice (well...in relation to the other floor of the shelter). There is a
very large outdoor patio with a TV, fans, and a 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
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!
It’s after dinner now and 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 an old
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. Difference is everyone 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, but you’re welcome to hang around outside as long
as you want. 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
REALLY AIN'T THAT BAD.
9:05pm on Friday June 5th, 2009. Bunk E3 of the ARCH Homeless Shelter while
eating a Three Musketeers candy bar.
WILL YOU ALL SHUT UP!?!?!?!
June 5th, 2009
It’s late at
night and I’m sleeping here at the ARCH, it's great, comfortable, air
EVERYONE around me is snoring...LOUDLY.
At any given
nanosecond I can hear at least 4 different snores, each
inhaling and exhaling at different times, and one guy who just sounds
like he's choking.
adjacent to me snores louder, LOuder, LOUDer, LOUDER until he
lets out a snore SO loud he actually wakes himself up! It's kind of
funny actually :-) …however not very conducive to sleep.
I suppose I
could get used to the rhythmic snoring of one person, but
this is just snoring insanity.
random bouts of coughing and the occasional loud flatulence
erupting from various bunks.
freaking human orchestra over here!
GOODMORNING FROM THE ARCH
Saturday, June 6th, 2009
woke us up at the ARCH homeless shelter at 5:30am. By about 5:45 you have to be
out of the dorm area. I packed up then went downstairs and I saw pretty much
everyone just sitting in the main holding area. Like a sheep in a herd I 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 realized I could leave at will, so I
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 if he knew the new location. It was two miles away by bus and he was going
there. I hopped the bus with him and 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 BORED. So now I'm sitting on a bench across
Me with my backpack and garbage bag with a sleeping bag and food inside.
Most of the
other homeless people are just bumming around doing nothing. What an untapped
labor force this is.
DRINKING EXPERIMENT, TIME TO GET DRUNK!
June 6th, 2009
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
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)!
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 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 disappointed by this.
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). Disappointed 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).
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.
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 from Epictetus or other interesting personality
at the library.
Saturday 06-06-2009 at 9pm from a park.
So the results of the Drinking
While Homeless Experiment went good and bad:
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 (or passed out…one of those). 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 lying 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’m 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 looked like as I clumsily got up and tried dusting my shirt off:
through a charming neighborhood area for a while, noting places I could possibly
sleep for the night. I've now 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
going to sleep on this slab of concrete and hope there's not too many bugs
biting. Definitely not that comfortable right now and I still have a hangover,
but I’m safe, have food and a place to lay my head.
WAKING UP IN
Laid out in
the park last night. very nice waking up this morning to
Wish I had a hammock!
HOME SWEET BRIDGE:
June 7th, 2009
I made the 5
mile trek from Downtown to Riverside this morning.
back under the bridge. Black Mike is here, he's working
off a hangover from last night, he was drinking all night with some of the other
homeless guys in the area.
excellent right now, nice cool breeze under the bridge and
I'm cooling off on my cardboard floor:
BUM BOXING LESSONS:
here under this bridge is quite boring, and me and Black Mike have been talking
for a while. He was talking about his career as a semi-pro boxer, and how he
used his fighting skills to defend himself in the penitentiary.
showing me some moves, and I must say he is GOOD! I was swinging full force and
couldn’t hit him because of his speed. Even when he wouldn’t move, his blocks
were simply too fast for my fists!
So I’m a
trained fighter. Would YOU mess with THIS guy now??
LAST NIGHT OUT
June 7th, 2009
is the last night of my Homeless Experiment. I'm sleeping
under the same bridge I did the first night.
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
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, so I guess he could get more
use out of them.
grifting right now, and is supposedly bringing back a pizza
This will be
my last goodnight as Homeless Nev! GOODNIGHT!
Sent from my
AHHH, FEELS GREAT TO BE BACK HOME!
June 8th, 2009
I made the
walk back home, immediately threw 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
SOME AFTER THOUGHTS:
Monday, June 8th, 2009
Well the Homeless
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
(Look how disgusting my shirt got)
good to get out of those old, stinky clothes! Some recent observations:
Viewed humans as more of a species
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
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
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. I would go out on the
streets scrounging for food, and when I had more than enough, I’d go back to my
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
When I was homeless I thought about where my next
meal was coming from, or if I had enough water to last through the night, or
where I would sleep, or where I might use the bathroom if I need. 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.
Day to Day Living and lack of
This ties in with the Maslow observation...since
my priorities were set on the basic necessities of life, hardly any heed 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. This is one of
those things I would never understand unless I did this experiment.
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)! When living on the
bottom rung of the Maslow hierarchy, I can definitely see how some people never
create a long-term plan for themselves.
This observation may play one of the many small
factors that keeps some people in a perpetual state of homelessness.
Monday, June 8th, 2009
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
from what I experienced. Nearly every action they take is geared towards scoring
money to buy beer, getting people to buy them beer, or just flat out stealing
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
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
is 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 towards something such as beer, cigarettes or drugs. Sure some of
it goes to buy food, but I'd say a much larger portion goes directly to the brew
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.
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
experiment. The experiment consisted of me having a full day of
nothing to do and a 375 ML 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:
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?
and drugs of course!
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,
help pass the day? ABSOLUTELY! Were there repercussions? Yes. I explain them in
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.
someone (most likely a homeless person) take a peek inside a garbage dumpster
and pull something out? That's called dumpster
Even all the bums I met during my Homeless
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
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 Domino'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
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 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 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) 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
dumpster dive 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
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 if I should have.
Would I do
it if I was actually homeless?
For the Homeless
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 basically fill the bottom rung of
Maslow’s hierarchy for you.
The ARCH has an online
donation page, so I 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
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 I saw who were a
little rude to the people serving food. Almost everyone else there very much
appreciated the valuable community service they provide.
Caritas has a donation
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.
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 reads. 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
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.
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
went home I left him my sleeping bag, jeans, extra socks, poncho and sweater
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
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.
composition journal (the
kind I almost always carry with me).
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."
afternoon I'm going to swing by the ole bridge and give him this stuff:
should even out what I've taken from the world for this experience.
MIKE DONATION UPDATE:
I drove down
to the bridge to give Black Mike the book, storage container, journal and pens I
bought him around 1pm in the afternoon. He was still sleeping, and from the
looks of it was very hungover.
I told him
it was me in case he didn’t recognize me without the beard, and he warily said
hello. I explained to him that I was living with my brother now and didn’t have
much money to buy him stuff, but I wanted to give him something (I told him I
was homeless earlier and would be living with my brother soon as my homeless
alias). I began to explain I got him the storage container to keep raccoons
and cats away, and the book/journal to maybe start trying to write a fantasy
He said, “Oh
cool, thanks. You got $1.40?”
immediately put off by this, because he frequently talks about the amount $1.40
because it’s the exact amount you need to buy a 16 oz. Steel Reserve malt liquor
from the gas station.
I told him,
“Nah man I don’t, but enjoy what I got you. I hope it helps.” …and with that
I walked off. I could tell from where I parked he could probably see that I
drove away in a Lexus. I’m curious what he thought of that.
I wasn’t mad
that he wasn’t more enthused about the gift because he had JUST woke up. I know
when I first wake up and someone tries to have a conversation it generally
doesn’t go so well.
hopefully this gave him at least a small boost in his ability to succeed and
some tools to do it. Whether or not he uses them is up to him.
with Black Mike so much and judging by how long he’s been living on the streets
(over 15 years) it seems like he’s pretty OK with his situation. From what he
told me about his family history, many of his relatives were homeless too, so it
seems he’s simply grown up around that type of environment and thinks its
normal, or at least acceptable.
EXPERIMENT IN PICTURES:
June 16th, 2009
be interesting to visually see the transformation from Neville Medhora to
Neville the Bum and back:
How I normally dress. Everyday.
12 days of
17 days of
no shaving. Hair is starting to get a little out of control.
My new invention: Lightweight
hours before starting
Putting on my best "pity
I'm sure my Mom wasn't happy that her first born wassleeping
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?!
Black Mike sleeping
on his mattress.
The bum just bumming
After brushing my teeth in the public library bathroom
Kicking of the Homeless
Waking up from the aftermath trying
to clean my clothes.
Hungover + Broken slab of concrete =
Was it comfortable? Hell no! Did I get bitten up by ants? Yes.
I'm now a trained
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
Did I learn much = Yes.
Glad I did it = Yes.
Do I plan on doing this again = Nope.
Do I understand more about why people get trapped
in homelessness: Yes.
Will I donate to the homeless community = Already
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):
GIVE MONEY TO HOMELESS PEOPLE?
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
After doing my Homeless
got to know more about homeless habits, even more so than when I did the
Bottled Water Experiment.
There are several ways bums commonly
a sign on the side of the road.
around at gas stations, streets, busy parks, supermarkets etc. and asking people
windshields at stoplights, pointing out parking spots and other relatively
areas, climates and populations promote or discourage different types of
This time I experienced a part of Austin, TX.
called Riverside as well as the Downtown area. Riverside
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
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 it seems 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
After first-hand 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 money to bums on
In short, my answer is: NO.
Why I won't give:
bums standing on street corners begging or panhandling all over the place, and I
don't like that.
It almost all
goes towards alcohol.
usually plenty of places to go for a meal.
these bums get welfare checks and blow most of it on alcohol or drugs.
only chronically homeless people that stand outside flying signs or panhandling
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.
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
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