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?