Below is a short story that I created for fun, but it does clearly represent in a short concept what my life is and about as a homeless man.
It’s five in the morning as he begins to wake up. It’s cold in the room that he calls home. As he swings his feet off the cot he uses as his nightly bed, the cement floor is cold to the touch. He grabs the plastic 32 oz. bottle, stands up naked as can be, opens the top of the bottle and inserts his penis into the hole to begin his morning ritual. This is a normal morning for him, though on some mornings, he gets to sleep in, but that is rare and only due to a holiday. Holidays and Sundays are when the staff of the storage facility he lives in doesn’t arrive until 10 a.m. or later. It’s those days he doesn’t feel the rush to get dressed and get out of the unit as quickly as possible.
The fear of being caught sleeping in the 10 foot by 10 foot square box makeshift home is always on his mind. If caught, they could lock up his unit and only allow him access during their working hours, or have him removed. That is not a possibility for him; there is absolutely nowhere else to go. No friends or family in the area and no other shelter that will accommodate his working hours or give him access to an office or work space he constantly needs.
He gets dressed in his gym clothes and packs his gym bag with the clothes he will wear at his day job. Within 15 minutes of getting up, he is heading out to the gym to begin a long day.
The gym serves two purposes: a place that he can use to work out when he has the mental mindset and physical energy to do so hopefully to keep old age and poor eating habits from consuming his body and to have a place to shower and clean up. For less than a $30 per month membership, he has access to the facilities at any time, day or night.
The storage facility he lives in has no running water or gas. Electricity is the only saving grace for him, as the unit he has lived in now for the past two years, has a faulty ‘sleep’ switch that allows the power to remain on 24 hours a day. He knows how to tap into the system safely, allowing him to run a mini-refrigerator, computer system, television monitor and heater or fan, when needed. He calls this space he goes to every day, home, though he really doesn’t want to.
When he first became homeless over three years ago, he started off sleeping on park benches. Thankfully, that only lasted one week. The money he had been waiting on to pay his rent had finally started to trickle in, but it was too late to get his rental space back. He had to look at alternative living arrangements. That’s when the first concept of a storage unit came to mind. He had to place what little possessions he owned into a safe place, thus a storage unit was a good opportunity. He choose a space that he could afford and had a little extra space to lay out in during the night.
That first unit measured 10 foot by 5 foot and the closest electrical outlet to his unit was across the hall, four feet away. That outlet was on an eight minute sleeper, an automatic shut off system. The running of electrical cords had to be late at night when the facility was closed to avoid people seeing the cord. It was at that time, he began the cat-and-mouse game with the property employees.
During the first year and half, living in the storage unit was also the most intense situation he had ever experienced. In that time, three separate break-ins occurred to various units surrounding his. His unit was never touched which was a blessing. But it was the last theft that got his heart racing the most. As he slept in the unit, he was awakened by the sound of clanging metal. As he lay there, listening carefully, he could hear people walking in the aisle behind his unit, and the dropping of metal onto the floor. Quietly, he called 9-1-1. As he was on the phone, he questioned what to say as to why he was there and how to avoid being considered one of the thieves. He told the 9-1-1 operator he was working late and his unit was closed to stay warm. He gave the female emergency operator his unit number and remained on the line as he quickly got dressed. When the police arrived and opened his unit, he was sitting still in a chair. As they talked, one of the officers recognized him from a previous call a few months prior, a thought of comfort in one aspect, as he would not be considered as a possible suspect, but also a thought of fear, not knowing how it would look in the police report. That simple statement could lead to the possibility of him living on the property.
The thieves broke into 10 units, but easily escaped due to the lookout man who was sitting in a getaway car with the engine running, carefully watching for the police. This was the last time a robbery occurred on the property, as shortly after, he purchased a vehicle and always parked on the lot. A small factor he believes is helping to deter thefts.
The first year of his homelessness was a year of growth and determination for him on many levels. He already had many negatives working against him that contributed to not being able to find a well-paying job. Add into the mix, a business that had consumed all of his funds and the economy still in a nose dive, he was left with no option but to shut it down. His debts were too much to recover from, so he was forced to file for bankruptcy, something he thought he would never have to do. It would be a year before he would get a job of any length. Working part-time jobs was the best he could arrange during that first year. But through the gift of a friend, he was given a contract job paying $9 per hour when he started. Now, 18 months later, he earns $10 per hour. The job is a contract job, so he can work as many or as few hours as he wants though he tends to work nearly 50 hours a week.
A couple of months after getting the job, another friend then offered to sell him a car. All he had to do was take over the payments and cover the additional cost of insurance. The car was another great gift, allowing him to continue to work and invest time in a non-profit organization he had started just weeks before his situation arose.
In his third year residing in a storage unit, where the temperature has dropped from a sweltering 90 degrees or more in summer down to 40 degrees at night during the winter, he learned to deal with the seasons. The temperature didn’t fluctuate much from night to day in the steel unit, so it actually takes a week or more for the temperature to go rise or fall in a measureable amount.
This past summer was one of the worst seasons. He not only had to fight the weather in excess of 90 degrees during the night which led to mild heat stroke that lasted for a week, but also the bed bugs that arrived in early spring and continued to linger into winter. He feels grateful there aren’t as many as there was in the beginning. Thankfully, the hot summer helped kill the bed bugs or at least brought their numbers down to a small amount…a bearable amount. He has had to replace his pillows and bedding at least once due to the bed bugs, but he is grateful to have the money to be able to purchase replacements.
Along with the cold weather, comes the holiday season. His desire to have a good ‘holiday’ meal is limited to a variety of simple sources. At first, the meals came from The Salvation Army kitchen, where the meal had the usual fixings and twice as much food as meals served elsewhere. During the second year, he ate meals at the HEB holiday dinner, which was just as good as The Salvation Army’s except with a lot more people. The meals were not served on the actually holiday, but usually a week earlier. On the actual holiday, he usually worked in his storage unit finishing up paperwork for his non-profit, or if funds were available, he would enjoy a simple pleasure and go to the movies.
While he misses the enjoyment of having a holiday meal with family and friends, he is always grateful for the things he still has. Now, with the larger unit, and a non-interrupted electricity source, he enjoys the use of a mini-frig and microwave oven, both of which allows him to eat a variety of frozen meals, including a turkey dinner. During the first two years, he was forced to eat as cheaply as possible, which meant going to the soup lines and buying very cheap frozen dinners, when possible. Both options had downsides, but he learned to accept them and make the best of what he has without complaining. Now that he earns a bit more, he is able to eat at fast food restaurants from time-to-time, and on rare occasions, he allows himself to go to a nice restaurant for a sit-down meal. He misses being able to cook a meal on a stove or in an oven, but they are simple pleasures among many he yearns for.
Going to the bathroom is one of those simple pleasures. When he comes home from his day job, he is forced to use a plastic bottle he empties daily into a larger plastic bottle, which he then empties out every three or four days into the local sewer during the very early morning hours when no one is around and darkness shields him from being seen. At times, he feels like he’s cheating on something or doing something wrong, but he is only adjusting to what is available in such a harsh environment and situation.
His worst moments regarding his bodily waste, were when he was sick or had minor food poisoning. A simple small trash bucket lined with a trash bag has taken on the job of a toilet. With each use, he ties off the bag to cut down on the pungent smell. Over time, his body acclimated to a normal cycle, waiting for the morning shower at the gym or at work.
While he has been living in the unit, his life has improved slowly over time. He started off with few possessions; no car or refrigerator, just a personal computer and monitor, which was able to receive TV signals.
After filing for bankruptcy and losing his business, he has worked hard to build his credit, which nose-dived to the mid-500s. He was not prepared at how difficult it would be to build it back up, but eventually he hit the mid-600s. The car purchase did not help, since the payments were given to a friend and not a finance company. Though, he was able to purchase a new laptop on credit from a store which has given him the ability to improve his credit score and forming his non-profit.
All of these are small wins for him, but they can’t compare to the larger wins he experiences from the non-profit work. It is this work that keeps him moving forward, keeps him grounded and sane. While the type of work is unimportant to the overall aspect of life on earth, it does have value for thousands of people in small ways. It does help improve people’s lives and inspires them to do better, to reach for their goals, to live a more fulfilled life. It is for that purpose that he doesn’t complain or walk around looking like he’s homeless. It’s the joy of helping others that makes his situation bearable for him. No one else needs to know about his homelessness, nor what brought him to that point. That information is not relevant to who he is.
It is what he knows about himself that is important to him, not what others think. But he also knows that he just can’t scream, “I’m homeless,” as people really wouldn’t understand. People, he has learned the hard way, are quick to judge. They don’t want to find out why the situation exists, they just find it difficult to understand that it does. Though, as the years have gone by, and with more and more people becoming poorer day-by-day, he knows his situation is not unique. He knows others have also lived in storage units on the same property as his, for short periods of time. A couple of whom had been discovered and kicked off the lot.
His personal love life doesn’t exist, though he would love for the right person to come along one day, but until he has a home, he doesn’t want the situation to come up, where he would be asked to come over and spend time together. He simply tells those who ask, that he has a roommate and they agree no one is to come over at any time. People usually understand and accept it. It’s a lie he doesn’t like to tell, but it has become all too easy to say with each passing day. He believes that keeping a wall up from getting too involved with people in a romantic way, is the best thing to do for now.
He has just turned 54 and this was not how he envisioned his life when he was a young lad. He dreamed of the typical home and loving spouse, maybe kids, and a dog or two; a good job, a life of happiness and joy. While happiness is something he does have even now, it was something that he has learned to accept and understand as he dealt with his situation. The home, spouse, kids and all, are great, but as with personal belongings, none of that matters if you do not love yourself first and foremost. It is that lesson of life that he began to learn many years ago and finally came to terms with when he became homeless.
He believes that no matter what your situation is in life, if you truly love yourself, you will get through it. You will not only survive, but become a better person for it. How you choose to deal with the negative thoughts and actions by others all depends on the ability to love yourself. Your faith in yourself and balancing the good and bad makes all the difference. For one to be grateful for the good things in life is all so easy to do, but to be grateful for the negative things is a challenge that most are unable to accomplish. It is the bad things in life that make or break you.
While he has never thought of himself to be better than anyone else, he knows that how he has chosen to deal with things has also kept him from becoming the tortured soul, the broken person seen sleeping on the streets, living a life of hopelessness. He has become more and more grateful for what he has and what he receives on both ends of the spectrum. He is grateful and thankful for when he finds a penny on the street or a friend reaches out with an incredible offer of help.
Each morning as he rises, he knows where he is, but he is grateful for what he has. When he heads to the gym to work out and take his shower for the day, he is grateful for what he has. When he gets to drive to work and earn a small living, he is grateful for what he has. When he is able help other through his non-profit organization, he is grateful to be of service. When he hears of accomplishments made by those he helps, he is full of joy for being able to be a part of the experience. He’s no saint, and when he forgets to be grateful, life reminds him that his life could be worse.
He only hopes that what little that he does, in turn helps to inspire others to do better and overcome their obstacles in life. He doesn’t see himself as special, just an average guy dealing with each situation life brings him the best way he can.
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Life goes on...I go on