Switching gears into homelessness: A journal from day zero

Rethinking homelessness:  I started out by living as a homeless person in my suburban area for two weeks.  Read my blog post to get the full scope of my thoughts and why I wanted to do this.  Please note that I am not homeless, therefore I will never understand what it’s like to be homeless.  I do however, have a better understanding of the struggles homeless people face every day.  If you would like to know more about helping the homeless community, please take a look at Rethink Homelessness.

My journal from day zero

I’m out at 8:59 p.m.  It’s Thursday, and I worked all day trying to get everything done before I left.  I’m struggling to comprehend what I’m doing.  I’m stressed from work and from speaking at a conference in Houston this week.  Switching gears is difficult.

Many times today, I’ve been asked where I’ll go.  I don’t know.  I left my house and drove almost 3 miles to the Tom Thumb parking lot to write this.  I’m so tired.  If I was home, I would be in bed already.  I keep wondering why I wanted to do this in the first place.  I know why, but I’m so tired right now, I can’t really process it. 

I don’t know where I’ll sleep, but I just want to do it now.  I’m guessing it’s still too early.  I keep thinking about a comment I read on my blog post about this endeavor.  One of my friends had some pretty harsh words about what I’m doing and how completely offensive it is to real homeless people.  I hope it’s not.  I’m sure there will be some that are offended, but if I can help in some way by doing this, isn’t it worth it?

I’ve only been here 15 minutes and it’s really warm in the car.  July in Texas.  Not a time of year where anyone should be sleeping in their car.  I have the windows down, and there’s a nice breeze blowing, but it’s still really warm.  I just want to sleep right now.  I want to be alone and I want privacy.  I won’t have either one.  I’m not even into this one hour yet, and I just realized how I take those simple things for granted.  I have a private place where I can be alone if I choose to.

The fear of sleeping in my car, knowing I will most likely be woken up by the police, has me a little freaked out.  2 weeks.  That’s a long time.  I can’t imagine several months of this, and I especially can’t imagine years of it.  There are people that are homeless and living in their cars with kids.  It’s awful that we live in a society where that can happen.  I’m purposely doing this while my kids are away.  What would it be like to do this with them?  I wouldn’t, as I think that would be overkill on teaching my kids about homelessness and I don’t think I should impose my radical actions on my kids.  When I did the year of no retail shopping, they didn’t have to do it with me.  They could still spend their own money as they saw fit.

The birds here are loud, as the trees are filled with them and I’m sitting here car watching.  It’s interesting to watch how many cars follow the painted lanes and how many drive across the unoccupied spaces in the mostly empty lot.  So far, it seems like 1 out of 8 drive across, chancing a disaster.  Most people seem to respect the painted lines.

I won’t be able to stay here long.  There are not enough cars here to hide my navy blue, non-descrip vehicle.  No critical mass.  I still have no idea where I’ll go.  I have money in my coin tray, which totals to a low amount of $4.48.  For food, I have an apple, about 7 mini carrots and ¼ of a sugar cookie.  These are lunch leftovers from yesterday’s conference in Houston.  I forgot to fill my water cup before I left.  I have that cup and an old power drink bottle that my son left (empty) in the fridge.

I’m used to going to bed early and waking up early. I’m not sure if that’s the best thing in the homeless world.  I’m guessing sleep is a luxury.  Go to bed as late as possible when you find a place and wake up early, as to not get caught sleeping anywhere you shouldn’t be.  What is the safest thing to do here?  I can’t drive around a lot, scoping out places to sleep.  That uses up valuable gasoline, of which I only have a little less than half a tank.  I know it will go quickly.

Now that I have some downtime, I really miss my boys.  They’re visiting with their dad for another three weeks.

I’m considering an apartment complex parking lot to park and sleep for the night.  I’ve also considered Walmart, but I don’t think I’m ready for that.  It’s going to be hot with the windows rolled up.  My vehicle, being an SUV, is okay to sleep in, but the 15 year old window tint is so faded that I don’t think anyone in their right mind would call it tint anymore.  The bubbly, plastic coating on my windows will provide no privacy at all.  I guess I’m about to go and violate some urban camping laws.

I’m driving around a bit, wondering where my final evening destination should be. I was near some loft apartments that share some of the same parking space as the local retail establishments. I thought this might be a good place to land because my car could be there for one of two purposes. I could be living in the apartments or shopping in the stores. It was then that I spotted the security guard. Time to move.

I crossed the street to a different set of loft apartments. A parking garage. I’ll check it out. As I spiraled up, passing all of the “retail only” and “3 hour parking” signs, I finally hit the barrier. A gated community that has a parking garage. I didn’t see that coming, but I guess it makes sense. Even renters like their spaces protected from the scary outside world. Moving on again, I have the a/c off to save on gas consumption.

I saw some apartments earlier that looked like they had no gates. That seemed odd to me, as all of the complexes around here have gates and walls. I drove in, and what appeared was not visible from the street. Gates. Wait, is that one open? It looks as though the left side gate is broken and stuck in an open position. I’ll take it.

I drove in thinking I’ll drive around to the back. The back should be more private and with less cars. Wrong again. Almost every space in the complex was full. I need to find an end spot so I only have to worry about another car on one side, not both. I finally found one.

I parked my car and realized I should have had my bed prepared. If someone pulls up and sees me doing that, this place might not work anymore. It felt weird hopping in the back of my car to sleep. SUV’s aren’t too bad, there’s a little bit of room. I could easily see out of the windows and I’m guessing with my lack of window tint, it wouldn’t be difficult to see in.

I got out my black bed sheet. It can’t be that much hotter to have that over me so I can’t be seen, right? Wrong! It’s so incredibly hot. The windows must stay up for safety and for non-recognition purposes. I’m sweating so much! The lack of air movement is suffocating and the minimal clothing I have on feels like heavy winter clothing, with multiple layers.

I’m so tired. I thought sleep would come easily, but the heat alone is making it difficult. The parking space next to me was still empty. Knowing it will be occupied at some point, I kept my sheet close by for quick cover. It seems like hours of cars driving by, loud stereos, doors opening, doors slamming shut and headlights beaming inside my car. Each time one of these events occurred, I shuffled around trying to make myself invisible with the sheet, but trying not to shake the car with my rapid movements. When a car finally pulled into the space next to me, I was frozen with panic and could barely breathe. I was completely still for what seemed like an eternity.

I don’t think anyone saw me, but how do I know? What will I say if the police show up? I got it! I was at a friend’s house and had a couple of beers. I didn’t have anyone to drive me home and I didn’t want to chance driving with a buzz, so I decided to sleep it off in my car. Yes, this is a good story. If they test me for alcohol, they won’t find any, as I’ve had nothing to drink. Then I would be okay to drive “home.”

The heat is really getting to me. Is this going to be okay? I continued to sweat, moving frequently in search of a cooler spot or better position to allow more air flow. My efforts were futile.

Several times I bolted awake, startled by a noise or lights. I would cover myself, including my head, covering my wide-open eyes, which saw nothing but the darkness of my covering. Is that rain? It was an immediate rainstorm! This will surely cool things off. The rain was so powerful… and so short. 7 seconds later, it stopped. Oh, a sprinkler system. Nice. I’m sure the residents really appreciate the carwash. I’m so incredibly hot, I think I’ll open the door and let in some of that cool water. I unlocked the door, looked around for people, and when I saw no one, I opened the door and got a nice mist. I thought that would buy me several minutes of cool, but I was lucky if that was even a whole minute. The sprinklers stayed on for a very long time. Clearly this place isn’t concerned with water conservation.

I tried desperately to get some sleep.  I slept on and off in a fitful state of consciousness, somewhere between dreaming and reality.  Two weeks.

What does it feel like?

The heat?  The discomfort?  The lack of privacy?  If you would like to know what any of these feel like, do one of the following exercises.

Go sit in your car.  Go sit inside your car after it gets dark outside.  Keep the windows rolled up and do not start the car.  Stay in there for at least 15 minutes.  This is a very mild sampling of the extreme temperature discomfort if you’re doing this during the hot summer or cold winter.

Get comfortable in your car.  Go ahead, lean your seat back or climb in the back.  try to get in a comfortable sleeping position.  Stay there for 15 minutes.  Again, a small sampling of the discomfort.

Leave your driveway.  Go to a public parking lot.  I really don’t expect anyone to do this part, but imagine what it would be like.  No privacy, waiting for someone to pull up next to you, either to tell you to leave or to possibly endanger you.  How does that feel?

If you do any of these exercises, please comment and tell people about your experience.

One thought on “Switching gears into homelessness: A journal from day zero

  1. I’m not sure how to comment but wanted you to know that I read the blog. You are going to make us all re-think how we do things and how we think about things in our normal everyday lives. And how we appreciate what God has given us.

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