The ARCH Experience

So tonight was a pretty interesting and very easy day. Earlier in the day I registered for the ARCH homeless shelter sleep lottery. This means you show up in behind the facility in the alley at 6:00pm and stand in line for a lotto ticket. You pick a number out of a bucket, and they call a group of numbers at random (so people can’t sell the tickets).

I was #4 and the first group the called was 1-25! Almost everyone there was familiar with the system, I was the only new one in my group. First they sent me through the X-rays again. I checked in my pocket knife, but they found a small bottle of alcohol in my bag. It was a 375ML bottle of Kentucky Whiskey or some cheap thing like that. The girl checking the x-ray immediately told the head guy, and all the people waiting in line let out a collecive “Uhhh ooohhh” expression.

The head guy told me there is an uber-strict ABSOLUTELY NO ALCOHOL policy on premises PERIOD. Anyone of the other guys would’ve been thrown out on the spot, no exceptions. He felt leniency towards me because it was my first time, so he allowed me to (first pour out) then discard the bottle. It was completely unopened and I noticed a couple of the guys cringe as I was forced to pour out a perfectly good bottle of alcohol! A bottle like that is a hot commodity in a place like that.

Anyhow, filled out some quick paper work with the guy, lied on all the questions about how long I’ve been homeless and proceeded to check in. First order of business was to take a shower. Everyone sleeping there has to take a mandatory shower (good thing or else it’d smell like sin in here). I went through the whole shower routine like I described earlier, still had no towel and dried off under the hand blower.

They sent me to my bunk which from what I understand is in the best part. I am bunk E3, and the E section is an open hall which is the nicest. The whole third floor is dubbed “The Penthouse” because it’s so nice (well…in relation to the other floors). There is a very large outdoor patio with a TV, fans bunch of benches. You could over hear guys saying, “Man, it’s been almost a week since I’ve got The Penthouse!”

I was then given a meal ticket (one of the lucky ones who got a place to stay PLUS a meal). I was served a great meal, and once again all the volunteers were exceedingly nice to deal with. Get this: I got salmon, salad, lasagna and macaroni & cheese plus a Three Musketeers bars and ice tea to drink. I was for the third time today STUFFED! This is not really what I expected when I was planning the Homeless Experiment!

After dinner most people are just sitting around smoking cigarettes out on the third floor patio. It’s very nice out there (sans the cigarette smoke which I stayed upwind from). I watched the sunset from a third floor primo location in Downtown Austin. There was a January 2009 issue of Texas Monthly on my bunk, so I proceeded to slowly read that for 2 hours since I had nothing else to do.

Funny note: There are two guys openly playing on their laptops here and one guy with a portable DVD player watching a movie. Many people have cell phones and MP3 players. I’m sitting in my top bunk typing this while most people are still outside. I now realize it’s not dangerous to have a laptop here, but I’d still rather not raise my value as a target.

When outside you can start to catch glimpses of party goers starting to hit 6th Street. I’m usually one of those people who tries to avoid this area to stay away from people at the homeless shelter. Talk about flipping the script.

It’s funny because this place reminds me of something….a COLLEGE DORM! It’s a bunch of guys living together, sharing a bathroom, hanging out, chilling, eating together. Except everyone here is circa 45 years old. Everyone is very friendly, there are no “bullies” or anything like that here.

I’m not sure what time they’ll kick us out of here. Lights off is at 9:30pm….I have no idea how I’ll be able to sleep that early. I’m guessing they’ll wake everyone up sometime around 6 or 7am.

Well, I’m safe, clean, well fed, well stocked with food/water and have a comfortable bunk to sleep in. I see why so many chronically homeless people choose to live like this. IT AIN’T THAT BAD.

Written at 9:05pm on Friday June 5th, 2009. Bunk E3 of the ARCH Homeless Shelter while eating a Three Musketeers candy bar.