This isn’t really a guide-book, but rather an outline of what I went through during my five years of homelessness. Yes, five years. It was a tough run, too. I will write down some tips, but this story won’t get you to stability, if that is what you are hoping to see here. I hope that it does help to understand what we go through. Be forewarned.
When homelessness looked at me and said, “I hope you’re ready for this, because there is no other resolution to what is about to happen,” I hated it, but it was a decision I had to make. I was existing in a toxic relationship, although at the time I was not aware of it. There was an issue between us over her drinking. I decided it was time to hit the road.
Why didn’t I call a relative, a friend? My family is just too unforgiving for that distress call, and being that I am more of a loner than a ‘hanger-on,’ there weren’t really any friends to call. I didn’t have a cell phone at the time. They were still just amazing novelties then. This took place at the end of the 1990s. No one in my family ever reached out to me during this time until close to the third year. I never hid my ‘dispossession’ from any of them although I did not stand at the top of the mountain and announce my state.
Well, Pauline and I were an item. The ‘drinking woman.’ We weren’t in love but had been friends for years. I think our ‘relationship’ grew out of mutual curiosity towards each other. We had been friends in Seattle’s Bell Town borough during the mid 1980s. Bell Town is just a bit north of the downtown business district. It stretches from Denny Way, south to Stewart St. and from Western Ave. on the Elliot Bay shore to the east to about 6th Ave. on the west side. Taverns sit about every three blocks in Belltown, which was how Pauline and I met, so it never was serious to begin with. When I met her, she was dating Collier Reynolds. Collie and I were good friends from the moment we met. We played pool all of the time and chugged Buds. Played Frisbee with a cloth Frisbee, known as a Flippy Flier, in the bars. Good times.
Collie and Pauline broke up, we all kind of drifted apart for a few years. I haven’t seen Collie in nearly 30 years. I just found him on Facebook, so I may connect through there with him. Great friend.
Anyway, a few years after all of this, Pauline and I ran into each other up on Eastlake at the Eastlake Tavern. We sat and talked, had a couple of pitchers. Fast forward. We ended up in a relationship for about six months.
Over the six months, she became increasingly dependent on alcohol. She would leave her kids at home, take me to the bar, we would mix with our friends, head back to her house (I was living there now) and the rest was usually a blur.
One night, she wanted to go out. I was OK with it, but knew it would be an all-nighter. She had a problem with leaving any bar before closing time. When she showed up, she was there for the night. I became a bit disappointed with this after a few months and told her she needed to be taking care of her kids. She told me that if I was so worried about it to head back to the house and check on them. I had no car at the time, so I jumped the Metro, got off the bus, put HER kids to bed and went to bed. Around 3am she woke me, steaming drunk, wanting to be intimate. Honestly, I was repulsed by her. She figured that out, got upset and attempted to argue me into domestic violence, something I have never been guilty of and never will be. I chose to leave and not come back. I grabbed a back pack, shoved some clothes and hygiene into it and attempted to leave. There was a slight scuffle as she tried to throw me out rather than let me leave. I didn’t start any of it. She told me “Why don’t you just hit me?” although in a bit more of a descriptive way, because “that’s what men do. They abuse women.” She grabbed my belongings and attempted to toss them out the open front door. I grabbed the backpack before she let go of it, her arm hit the door jamb because of my grabbing it, her not letting go of it, (to keep the aftershave in it from breaking,) she dropped the bag, called the police, I grabbed my backpack and left before they got there, if they even did. I had no desire to call her bluff, if that is what she was hoping for. I’m sure it was.
Interesting note here. A couple of years later, while I was living in Everett, WA., about 35 miles north of Seattle, I was served a summons to appear in a domestic violence case. When I read the summons, it all came back to me. I had no fear, I hadn’t done anything, but I would still have to prove my point. I got a public defender and we requested a jury trial, which I am certain Pauline hadn’t anticipated. She appeared, took the stand and couldn’t remember anything that happened that night. Nothing. I took the stand and outlined every single thing that occurred. The jury acquitted me. I stopped the jury members in the hall as they were all leaving and thanked every one of them. We all shook hands, the women wouldn’t hug, which was fine. I understood exactly that they were fine with not doing so. We ALL shook hands, which does not mean they all saw me as not being complicit (some may have) but that I knew I was not complicit and considered that they saw that I was sincere in my convictions.
Well, I was on the street. Nothing but a couple of pair of pants, socks, underwear, toiletries and an urge to be free. Don’t take me by mistake here. I did not think, “Hmmm…..homeless? That sounds interesting.” No. I was scared. Seriously scared, but I was determined to not let this become ‘me’ and I was determined to not become despondent. I was not going to let my self-respect suffer and I was not going to lose my self-esteem.
I walked to downtown Seattle from the Rainier Valley area that night. It was a long walk. I thought deep thoughts all the way to town. Deep thoughts. Where was I intending to go? There was no one I intended to find. If there were, I would have to tell them what had just happened and I wasn’t ready to face that.
I had worked at the Pacific Science Center a few years before. I knew about a ventilation vent that was huge. It lay on the west side of the complex and was accessible. It was behind an eight foot fence, secluded by trees. The shadow of a parked car was the size of it. It was noisy but dry and hidden. That was my first night.
I woke up the next morning way earlier than I ever had sleeping in a bed. I really didn’t sleep, actually. More like in a half conscious state. I had been blind sided by becoming ‘dispossessed.’ All I had was a backpack. Well, I figured that I should get busy finding out what was available to me as a homeless person. I went to the Employment Security building on 4th Ave. downtown. They have a bulletin board with job listings, roommates needed, that sort of thing. I found no aid from the board, but I did find a few leads as to what I was going to need to do to stay warm, dry and safe by talking to a few of the people waiting in line. They have a lobby sort of area where you can wait for your name to be called and they will process your request or inquiry. I saw no harm in just sitting and asking questions. After all, I had nothing to lose, but everything to gain. This was a good move.
There are a few ‘day-rooms’ downtown. I found one, it provided snacks, showers, literature listing sleeping shelters, soup lines and of course, the public library, which is where much more help can be found, as well as BOOKS. Yes, books. Lovely little worlds, folded neatly and stashed on a shelf. Books.
My homeless recreation.
No one, at least that I have ever MET, thinks being homeless is a walk in the park. I have never met anyone who told me, “I just wanted to ‘get it.'” It’s hard work. Very hard work, but only if you actually have a vision. If not, who cares. Eat, drink, smoke, be lazy, do nothing. That’s not me. My first week of homelessness was a bit of a treat, aside from keeping it a secret from those with whom I worked or from anyone whom I didn’t want to know that I was homeless. Yeah, other than that, it was pure joy. /sarcasm. Honestly, there was a small bit of relief but it did NOT shadow my having to spend my non-working hours setting up a meal, a place to sleep and a place to shower and prepare for work. Again, it was tough. Day in and day out.
Well, I figured that since I wasn’t paying rent, car insurance, gas, etc. that it was time to stop working while on the grid. I quit my job. I am not going to go deeper with that. I quit my job.
In Seattle, where I was ‘living,’ there is a casual, non-union, labor hall. It’s called “The Millionair Club.” I enrolled, showed up everyday with my magnetic card, slid it through the reader, got a call on the floor and headed to work, either by Metro or the person hiring would pick me up at the club. No pressure, no obligations, cash on hand and I was safe. I would take my $50, $60, sometimes $100 a day, find a motel, take a shower, order a pizza and relax. You don’t have to be there every day, so you have the freedom to get anything else going, if you need to, while still trying to make a buck. Granted, there was no real future, but there was also no pressure. Future can wait till I get over the decision I had made to accept this situation. It isn’t something done without understanding the risk, the implications for your social status, your employment situation, many things that we take for granted. Where will you hang your toothbrush, where will you hang your hat? Many of the ‘charity supporters’ (hirers) will ask you where you live, as well as all the other questions/subjects that come up in normal conversation. Some know what the answer will be, some do not. Those whom do not know, are often surprised if you answer truthfully. Sometimes you try to make something up that sounds real on the spur of the moment. They usually are just people in the local neighborhoods who have an odd job to do. Mow a lawn, demolish a small outer shack, stack wood, etc. At first, I made something up, but as I became a little bit more jaded, I would answer with “It depends on how far north I want to go.” The person asking would sometimes ask what I meant and I would explain it. Usually using some sort of verbiage that would negate the issue of supporting more questions from the person asking. Short and sweet. As I said, after a while, I just didn’t care. I told the truth. Aurora Avenue N. in Seattle is home to ‘Motel Row.’ I would catch Metro north to a motel and when I got tired of the bus, get off at the bus stop closest to whichever motel looked good through the bus window.
This went on for a longer time than I wanted to go through. Eventually, I decided to stay in town, to stand in line for a ticket (free) then take it to another building, sign a slip of paper on a clip board in order to be counted, then walk a block or two, or catch a bus north to a church that was being used as a shelter for the night. A three step process that usually took around an hour to an hour and a half. You had to start the process around 6 to 6:30 pm to get to the mat by 8 pm. By the way, I never stopped working, although, you know as well as I do, even back in 1995, living on $50, $60, sometimes $100 a day is not an easy task with the ultimate goal of becoming stable. An apartment, laundry, eating, transportation, etc. If you think back, those are trends and considerations, needs, that are set up and put in motion long ago in our youth to last for the rest of our lives. Staples for life. We set them up, we get them kinetic, we support them till we die.
Over the years, five in all, I spent two on the street. The other three I will cover later.
The first two years.
I slept on sofas, in churches on mats on the floor, in shelters downtown, anywhere I could find. I even slept in a hidden space at a car wash in Seattle. It wasn’t pretty, but it was off the beaten path.
Some of the things that one can do to pass the time if you are not working, or if you have a day off, because you are not going to be sitting on the sofa, watching football and eating chips, is to donate time to food banks (their concern is actually centered on homeless or needy, they don’t ask questions) and they will give you a bag of food to take ‘home’ with you when the day is done. They do not pay wages. The food also works as currency if you know where to ‘spend’ it. There was a church close to downtown that served lunches, hot home-cooked lunches, on Thursdays and would run a movie in the afternoon in the chapel. They had a theater type of setup and it was rather comfortable. It would pack out on rainy or cold days. Very pleasant. Of course, the library is very enticing.
In some cases, if you got a ticket to the right shelter, you could clean up the shelter; pick up and stack mats, pickup all trash left behind and discard it, etc. in the morning when everyone left. It took about five minutes and you got fed. The shelters were usually an empty store front, and the ‘guardians’ would give you coupons for free burgers and fries at McDonald’s or Burger King when the mat stacking was done. Usually three orders of burgers worth of tickets per person. Normally, they would pick two or three guys to stack mats. The ‘guardians’ were usually S.H.A.R.E. members. I participated in the 1999 “One Night Annual Count.” Here is a link to the Wikipedia entry regarding this situation. I was given a 1995 Diamondback Lakeside cross-trail bike for my contribution. This proved to be a very good step in getting mobile. I would hold on to most of my burger tickets, then cash them all together and go find guys where I knew they hung out and toss them a burger. You have to help when and where you can. There were also times when I had a ‘burger ticket,’ or two, that I knew I wasn’t going to use before the next morning and give those away. I never kept anything that I knew I could renew the next day, whatever it was. I am still like that today, aside from what I need to run my home based business efficiently, I never keep more than what I need. Being OVER prepared is just hoarding. I always stay stocked with frequently used items such as printer ink, paper, discs.
Let’s move on to Part 2, more recreation and some resolutions.