The Homeless Experiment – One Year Reflection

Roughly one year ago I did a rather odd thing and willingly became homeless.

This was all part of a Homeless Experiment I’d been wanting to try for a while.

It was definitely the most engrossing series of posts I did since I literally LIVED it for 5 days.  It wasn’t exactly a safe thing to do, and a lot of people thought I was going to get shanked, killed or pick up a weird disease from doing it.

It also wasn’t all that fun doing it (at the time)…but I’m really glad I went through with it.

When I tell the story, I get several recurring questions, which are answered here:

Did this make you more compassionate towards homeless people?
No.  In fact I have even slightly more animosity towards homeless people because I’ve seen how true the stereotypes are.  However, I’ve never failed to mention that by “homeless” I mean those CHRONICALLY HOMELESS people that you may see on the side of the road with a sign.  I don’t like them.  They’re like human litter to me.  Most homeless people don’t fit that mold…those are just a very visible minority.

Are you going to do it again?
When I got back home…I was SO DONE with that experiment.  Being around that many homeless people is like being in a room full of failure.  When everyone around you is a failure, it’s likely you’ll pick up their habits.

The conversations I had, the stories I overheard….they’re often so negative and I’m-The-Victim’ish that it starts to poison your brain.  That’s why if I had to make ONE CHANGE to the entire homeless system, i’d play The Strangest Secret on repeat at the homeless shelter.

I also have a very low tolerance for idleness….and there was too much “doing nothing” for me.  I think doing experiments like this do LESS for the world than doing experiments on how to improve.

C’mon…do it again, c’mmmooonn!
No way man.  I explained pretty clearly in this post before the experiment took place that simply anticipating this experiment made me “think homeless” all the time.

“Hmmm…I bet I can sleep in that park.”
“You know…behind that trail would be a good place to poop.”

These aren’t the type of thoughts I exactly enjoy thinking.  So while the experiment was technically only 5 days, it seemed waaaaay longer since I was thinking like my Homeless Alias.

On the brighter side, I thought it was a great example of immersive journalism, it’s a great story, and I even won an award for it!  There were a lot of other small side benefits like people hearing about my blog and learning how to publish a book on the Amazon Kindle (it actually makes sales believe it or not…even though it’s entirely free online).

I also learned something crucial in how I can improve my beloved City of Austin:

Move the homeless shelters away from the epicenter of Downtown Austin! Most of the chronically homeless people travel no more than 8 square blocks from the hand that feeds.  I think it’s an all around bad idea to give such prime real estate to homeless shelters when they could be operated cheaper and less intrusively by being just slightly further.

Guy 1: Hey, where should be keep several hundred homeless people that sit around all day waiting for meals and free services?  Oh by the way, we’ll also throw in a bunch of crackheads, meth addicts and just plain bat-shit-insane people into the mix.

Guy 2: How about right in the heart of the entertainment district!? It’ll quickly turn the surrounding property into a shithole, scare people away, and even create a panhandling problem!

Guy 1: You….are….. a genius.

Obviously that’s not how it went….but you get the point.

I think what will eventually happen is the property will eventually get SO valuable, it will no longer make economic sense to keep the shelters in the current location.  They’ll be bulldozed, new businesses will move in, and I’ll be happy.

Soooo….what’s the name of your blog again?

Pretty much every time I tell this story to someone, they end up going online and checking it out.

Are you glad you did it?


Blog posted on: August 16, 2010

11 comments on “The Homeless Experiment – One Year Reflection

    1. Neville Post author

      Yup….it was part of my hypothesis of this experiment that if most successful people followed similar work ethics and views on things….the opposite would be failure.

      It seemed pretty true.

  1. jude

    “I think what will eventually happen is the property will eventually get SO valuable, it will no longer make economic sense to keep the shelters in the current location. They’ll be bulldozed, new businesses will move in, and I’ll be happy.”

    Alternatively, there is an increasingly vocal base arguing for satellite locations in order to take the burden off of downtown. Sensible as that may be, it’s a near guaranteed NIMBY war from neighborhoods (and elected officials) that wouldn’t like to see the realities of vagrancy in their backyard.

    1. Neville Post author

      I remember wondering where they should put it, and there’s several places on the East Side that aren’t as dense where it could go.

  2. Path Finder

    Would the number of crimes increase if the homeless did not have easy access to free food?

    Would the number of crimes increase if the homeless did not have easy access to free shelter?

    Would you be in favor of offering to the homeless food and shelter for one day in exchange for one box of aluminum cans or paper?

    1. Neville Post author

      Path Finder,

      1.) Maybe temporarily, but it would disperse the homeless from the area pretty quickly.

      2.) There’s be more vagrancy in that area temporarily, then they’d most likely go away. Living things organize around survival (water, food, shelter).

      3.) There are work programs everyone has access to. I only met ONE guy from the shelter who utilized it. Most of the other people say, “Man, that work SUCKS.”

      No shit!

      Manual labor does suck, but if you’re not doing anything, making $80 or $100 a day is worth it.

  3. mq

    The best thing about the ‘economic downturn’ is that many will know what it is like to be homless, those that look down on the homeless, and you were homeless for 5 days..?..haha.. comical.. you cannot pretend to be homeless either.. and how did your t-shirt get so dirty?
    … pathetic experiment that teaches nobody anything other than your superficiality.. you have a rightto reply to me anywhere you may find me on cyberspace.
    … maybe someone you love will have a breakdown oneday and give up… your mother maybe.. or your child.. nuff said.

  4. Susan

    What an interesting experiment, and I really liked your post!

    I’ve been volunteering for a local soup kitchen and have a lot of friends who work closely with the poor. So while this subject is close to my heart, I don’t know everything about it. In fact, I fear I know nearly nothing and only think I know a lot.

    Anyways, some of your comments about the chronically homeless, as you put it, disturb me. I don’t mind your humour, I appreciate how frank you are about what you think. But most of the people who are chronically homeless are mentally ill. It’s not their fault that they can’t hold jobs, that they can’t keep a stable “normal” life. Whether they suffer from addiction, depression, bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, or whatever it is, they can’t help it and it’s not fair to accuse them of laziness. When you suffer from mental illness and then add on top of that the stigma of being homeless, and the humiliation of being dirty, perpetually hungry, yadda yadda, how can you not have compassion?

    Also, I’m not sure your theory of moving shelters and soup kitchens away from downtown would solve the problem. Do gooders tend to set up shelters where there are already a bunch of homeless people around. They build reputations among homeless ‘communities’ and so people know where they are, what they offer, if they’re worth the walk. So it’s not so simple for them to pick up and move.

    To ease the homeless “problem” we need more group homes, better and free mental health services, and safety nets for those who are just running low on cash and need some help for a couple weeks to keep their apartment/house.


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