Thought Catalog

The Thing About Being Homeless

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I’ve been homeless for about two weeks now. The thing about being homeless is that it’s dehumanizing. Okay, wait. That’s a really dumb and obvious way to start this essay. …The thing about being homeless is that it’s dehumanizing, but you still retain the core of your essential personality, which is weird.

I remember, after I had been homeless for about a week, the first time that I stared through the window of a restaurant, looking jealously at people who were eating; people on dates, single men or groups of friends eating hamburgers and appetizers – all these delicious things that I couldn’t have. I stared through the window in a pressed-nose sort of way. At that moment, I felt like a cartoon of myself. “…Wait,” I said to myself. “Am I actually staring through the window of a restaurant, looking on jealously?” I felt like a joke. Like a joke version of myself. Specifically, I felt like a 1940s Warner Brothers cartoon caricature of a hobo — which is exactly the problem. Because I started to laugh at myself then. But being able to craft an obscure-funny-hipster reference in your brain is not of particular use when you’re homeless.

In fact, I’m terrible at being homeless. I keep being like, “So am I just supposed to sleep outside now? …Wha?” My brain actually goes “Wha?” This is also the problem. I am disassociated from my homelessness. I’m not owning it. I’m not accepting it.

_____

How did I end up in this situation? Well, it’s a little hard to explain, but basically, some things went wrong. I currently live (illegally) in the basement of an international youth hostel on Amsterdam Avenue and 103rd street. I could be kicked out at any time, if someone actually notices me. This is trouble. This is not good. The week before this, I slept in the hallway of an apartment building. (My ex-girlfriend’s apartment building, unfortunately. This was not a good idea, but I didn’t want to do it. I had only just become homeless, and I was confused. I was like, “What am I supposed to do again now?” And after my ex kicked me out, the hallway was fairly conveniently located.)

I have some regrets.

For one thing, I regret majoring in English Literature. In my current travail, my ability to hold a stimulating conversation about, say, “Beowulf” is not as useful as my professors promised it would be. I should have majored in something else. For example, I could have majored in How to Sell Drugs, which I now suggest should be a course offering at all major universities. Selling Drugs, as far as I can tell, is how my fellow homeless people make slightly more money as homeless people than I manage to do. I don’t know how to Sell Drugs, and I wouldn’t even know how to Get Drugs, and Getting Drugs is really the necessary part of the equation, before you can sell them.

…I mean, if someone came up to me right now, and held a gun to my head, and said: “Get me drugs in 24 hours, Oliver, or you’re dead, do you understand me? …YOU’RE FUCKING DEAD.” — well, if that happened, I still wouldn’t know what to do. I guess I would hang out in the park, or go to a bar, and be like, “Does anyone anywhere know where any drugs are at?

I have no idea how to do any of these things.

So, that’s a regret.

I also regret getting in a fight with my ex-girlfriend, “Allison.” Yes, she was crazy. She was a crazy girl who would scream at me, say, for trying to IM my boss about my job. She was a crazy girl who went through my phone and my emails. She was a crazy girl who would scream and block the door when I tried to go to A.A. at night. …On the other hand, she was cute. Also, she had an apartment, which was really kind of crucial to me being quasi-homeless, instead of actually homeless.

So yes, I guess I shouldn’t have reacted to what she did. I really shouldn’t have said: “…You went through my phone?!! What the fuck is wrong with you?” What I should have said was: “Oh, ha ha. Going through my phone and reading all my emails again, I see. Well, we all have our little foibles, right? I mean, I never do that, but hey. You just never know in this crazy world, now do you? And you’re being so concerned and attentive! …By reading every private message that is ever sent to me like that. You deserve a reward, really. Take a load off. Can I massage your feet? How ’bout I bake us up a nice delicious apple pie?”

But I didn’t say that. Instead, I got mad at her. Whoops.

_____

Another thing that I regret is my current choice of outfit. Really, if I could have chosen any outfit, it would not be the one that I’m currently wearing. But I didn’t know that my ex-girlfriend would kick me out, and I originally had more clothes in a backpack, but right now, they’re locked up in a locker, which will cost $5 to re-open, and I currently only have $16. Whoops. I had not planned on my current attire being my outfit forever, but now, it has to be.

But if I could do it all over again, I definitely wouldn’t go with the brown shirt with the tan scarf with the black hoodie combo that I have going on. Because the overall effect is… not flattering. It’s not good.

_____

My ex-girlfriend still calls me — like nine times a day — but I’m confused as to why. She calls me up to moan about her job as a marketing executive, and she’s like: “So Sophia did this today, blah blah blah.” And then I’m all confused. I’m like, “But wait. Aren’t I homeless already? Can we focus on that? Sophia who? Do you realize that I slept on a bench last night? …WHAT IS HAPPENING HERE?”

The thing about being homeless is that it makes you very monomaniacal. You can only really focus on one thing; the inevitability of your current homelessness. Everything else is extraneous.  It’s like being in unrequited love for the first time when you’re sixteen; you can only focus on one thing. You can only drive around at night, thinking about your loved one and playing the same mix-tape over and over again. Except that, in this analogy, I don’t actually have a car, or a home, or a mix-tape.

_____

The thing is, I’m just not very good at being homeless. But I’m getting slightly better at it. Instead of sleeping in the basement of the international youth hostel, I’m planning on locking myself in one of the shower stalls tonight. That way, I’ll actually have a door that closes, and I won’t be woken up by screaming hordes of German children at 5am, like I inevitably am when I sleep in the basement. …See?  I’m getting cleverer. You’d be proud of me.

_____

This morning, I went outside and stood on the lawn of the international youth hostel on Amsterdam and 103rd Street, and I saw a bird. …And after this happened, I realized that I’m not just dumb about being homeless; I might just be dumb about everything.

There was a bird. It was on the ground. It was a brown bird; a sparrow, I guess. And it was rooting in the ground, and plucking up bunches of grass, and then it grabbed a random piece of string that was on the ground, and held all of this stuff in its beak.

I had never seen an avian creature do this before. And I was like, “What the fuck is wrong with this bird? Has it gone rabid or something? …The fuck?” And then it came to me… it was collecting pieces of grass to build a nest.

How can I pretend to be a writer; or even pretend to be anything, when I can’t even understand what is going on right in front of me?

It’s spring. The bird was building a nest.

It was a moment too obvious and dumb for metaphor; too obvious to be put down in writing, really. It was just another reminder that life is actually too dumb for irony.

The bird gathered itself on the ground for a second, and tensed its wings, then flew up, heading to wherever it lived so that it could build its new home.

And I thought: “I wish I could do that.”  TC mark

image – iStockPhoto.com

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    • LA

      you know, a mcjob would pay for rent and score you free food. and you won't feel bad dropping it in 3 months when you get yourself together again.

      • Oliver Miller

        I'm working on it.

        • Oliverexgf

          He's lying, this is his ex gf—Oliver was an abusive alcoholic boyfriend. This is what happens when you are a good for nothing human being!

        • crymeariver

          Wah wah, stfu.

        • Reallydudeeeee

          if it's true, i'm sorry it happened, if you're a random internet troll, why don't you have anything better to do than pretend to be the antagonist in this situation? dude is fucked.

        • Oliver Miller

          Obvious troll is obvious.

        • Hmmm?

          Did you ever hit a girl?

      • yaz

        I got rejected from Macca's when I was homeless. Not because I rocked up with bad hygiene- I didn't. But because at 19 every store said I was too old. Not experienced enough for management, but not cheap enough for crew member. Good luck Oliver.

    • ricky schitltiiz

      you're not fucking homeless.

      some idiot young 'stylist/model/writer' (young entitled hip smarmy shitdick) got a similar article in the Globe and Mail (major Canadian newspaper) outlining how hard he couch surfs and bragging about how he gets away with not helping out at places he stays. article got shit on, like this one deserves to

      you're not fucking homeless.

      • Oliver Miller

        Oh, the comments are working again. No, I'm pretty homeless. About as homeless as I could be, really. Why would I make it up? I'm not even clever enough to make it up. …And more mystifyingly, why would you be so mad? Just sayin'.

        • tashbell

          I am really sorry about your situation and i hope it is resolved soon! Unfortunately i don t live in the US! Good luck!

        • apb

          You don’t have friends to stay with?

    • Anon

      I did this thing recently called 5 days for the homeless… basically I lived on my university campus in a shelter my 3 teammates and I built out of garbage and donated materials (a couple tarps and some hay), and we spent our days panhandling from our schoolmates. We also had no food of our own, and no changes of clothing, and we unfortunately had to go to class like this. We were raising money for a charity that supports homeless youth in Canada called Operation Come Home (we raised over $9000!).

      So I definitely feel you on the whole not being dressed well thing, because as well as wearing sweatpants and about 6 layers of shirts, flannel and a sweater (it was below zero most of the time I did this), I also had this awful bright orange tshirt that had to go on top, with the name of the event on it.

      Obviously my experience was a lot easier than yours is right now. People were really kind and generous with things like food, so I did not go hungry for even a moment. And a few newspapers came and did interviews with us and that was pretty surreal. We also had the benefit of knowing it would be over eventually. But we had this guy come hang for a bit, who gave us some tips on panhandling. Basically he said we should make it more “sexy”. We had a couple signs that were meant to educate people, and some of them were pretty aggressive, so a lot of people would just walk by and try to ignore us. But he came by with a sign that said “You are: Amazing, Beautiful, Wonderful”, and that got a lot of people to actually stop and find out what we were doing.

      I'm not sure what city you're in, but being in a bigger city is always better in terms of homelessness. There are more shelters, usually, and more people to panhandle from, if you're going to go that route. One of the things that kept me sane that week, since I wasn't allowed to shower, was a stick of deodorant. Shit is important, real talk. Also, stay away from popular clubbing areas. I was near my school's bar, which has a crazy St. Paddy's day party (during which I was homeless), and even though I usually loathe trixies and bros, being so unfortunate looking and smelly made me desperately want to be one of them, and it definitely got my mood down. We did keep a tally that day of girls who forgot their pants, though, and that was fun. Little games you can play by yourself are great.

      One last tip: there are many people who actually sleep in some of the buildings at my university. If you're near a campus, see if they have anything like a 24 hour library, or a unicentre that never closes. There are tables and couches you can pretend to be just napping on! Most uni students are pretty disheveled anyways. And I don't know if this is just a north american thing, but there are a lot of random free events that have free food like donuts and coffee. At my school, I've probably gotten free samosas about 4 times already this year, thanks to the muslim students association.

      This is an interesting blog I read when I was getting ready for the week. It has some good tips for extended amounts of homelessness. http://guide2homelessness.blog

      I really hope your situation is resolved soon!

    • Pfft

      This reads as: You were living rent free at your ex girlfriends apartment and whilst leeching off her, also cheating on her. She caught you, threw your arse out, and now you're moping around feeling sorry for yourself when you should be looking for a job and trying to get your shit together.

      Move back in with your parents, get a job, work your shit out, and stop whining.

      • Oliver Miller

        No, I didn't cheat on my ex-girlfriend. And there are many other false premises in your comment, and — well, I'll just go ahead and say it — everything you said, and everything that you think that you know… is wrong. But your belief that you can understand a complete stranger's life and can judge him is…. aaah, forget it, never mind, it's just dumb.

        • AAalso

          i believe he said “reads as”, as a writer, you should know what that means. And IT DOES READ AS IF she didn't trust you. You threw that ball in the court. Now play it smarter and defend yourself like you and everyone else knows you can.

        • Kathy

          It's pretty clear that “Pfft” was not merely commenting on what the article “reads as.” He was taking that impression, his own personal impression, and accepting it as fact. (And for what it's worth, yes, it “reads as if” she doesn't trust him. That doesn't mean it reads as if he was cheating on her. There is a big difference.) If he were acknowledging the possibility that the reading was incorrect, he wouldn't have felt comfortable giving the author condescending and rude instructions at the end.

          There is nothing in this article to suggest that the author isn't looking for a job. There's nothing to suggest he hasn't considered his options in terms of moving in with a friend or family. No one has any right to make those assumptions. And the reason people choose to have contempt for the homeless is that they want and need to believe that you have to be stupid, lazy, and friendless to become homeless, because otherwise they'd have to acknowledge that it could happen to them.

        • Dani

          Have you ever cheated on a girlfriend?

    • Karlh

      most homeless people don't have a place to plug in their cellphones, laptops, find a place with a suitable wifi connection to concoct fancy crossposted blog entries about being indigent, complete with Death Cab For Cutie music videos and include thoughtful artsy photos and whatnot. Haven't any of your colleagues read this and offered to help? If there's any truth at all to this plight of yours, you must be a total friendless dickbag.

      • Oliver Miller

        Man, these are unexpectedly angry comments. Why are people *mad* that I'm homeless? …I'm not comparing myself to people living on the hills of, say, Nepal. I'm not saying that my life couldn't be worse. I'm trying to publish articles to make money, and trying to accurately depict my life. Like it says in the article, I'm living illegally in a hostel. The hostel has electricity and Wi-Fi. Sorry. I'm not asking you to weep for me, okay?

      • http://gearshack.blogspot.com Naked&Famous

        yeah man, kinda harsh reply. Not sweet.

      • Dee

        I guess you are in rabbit undies choking on your wine sitting comfortably on your tiger skin couch you insensitive fucktard. Wait, you have slave babies who do the suffering for you and then massage your feet. Lets see how you fair in the same situation.

    • Space mountain

      i am glad you are homeless because you wrote a good article which i enjoyed

    • http://brianmcelmurry.blogspot.com/ Brian McElmurry

      Dude, I liked this and I feel sympathy (not that you're asking for it). Seems you're like the character in the novel “Hunger” writing articles to survive. Stay positive.

    • Ganjaman1010

      you can come have dinner at my house, if you like ganjaman1010@hotmail.com

    • meg

      good luck my man

    • Tim

      Hey man I think this is actually a really cool perspective on things. It's not self-pitying or being insensitive of people who are homeless and really fucked, it just highlights that hey I'm kind of useless at being a good hunter-gatherer. Shit.

    • Mia

      What about your parents Oliver?

      • Oliver Miller

        My parents are… fairly weird.

    • http://twitter.com/yanyun92 Lim Yan Yun

      you can stay with me and we can talk all night about “Beowulf” over drinks.

      but i should mention, I live in a whole different continent.

      • Oliver Miller

        …Which continent are we talking about here? Because Antarctica is a total deal-breaker.

        • http://twitter.com/yanyun92 Lim Yan Yun

          Asia. (Y)

    • phoebe

      don't care what y'all say, best tc article in a while

    • http://pleasureiseasy.info math

      also possible: be good at being homeless. i'm homeless and it's fun.

    • Jojo

      Oliver, I was unfortunately homeless for four months last year. Luckily I managed to get a roof over my head but it screwed me up financially. If I lived anywhere remotely accessible I would offer a place to stay, in exchange for witty banter and a bit of cleaning. And I totally mean that <3

    • boner_ranch

      man, if I still lived in the city I would totally let you crash for awhile

    • LDN

      i don't see why it matters if he's really homeless – did he ask for money? NO. did he ask for a bed? NO.

      it's beautiful writing, biographical or not.

      just appreciate it or fuck off.

    • http://twitter.com/BrotherBear_Ry Ryan Culliver

      This is my 3rd time reading this. I really hope your shit works out, but this is great writing.

      • Tyfanny

        I know Oliver and he is full of it.

    • Obviously obvious

      Acording to his bio at TC, he has a MFA in fiction so, if i were to guess… He ain't.
      Nevertheless excelent writing and althogh i'm very skeptical person (also there is an article at tc that quotes 'just because is in the internet doesn't make it true', or something like that; wich i find both amusing and ironic) i still have my doubts.

      • Kathy

        Do you really think having an MFA in fiction guarantees you a job?

        • Kathy

          (No offense to MFA's in fiction. I'm not trying to mock. Pretty much no degree *guarantees* you a job anyway.)

        • Obviously obvious

          Im not saying he can get a job cause he has a MFA. I'm saying this could be a fictional story since that is his specialty.

        • Oliver Miller

          It's a true story, I promise. I have no interest in making up a story like this, and I would be totally annoyed if someone made up a story like this. Real life is just kinda weird, and it doesn't need any embellishment from me in that way. I mean, even the bird thing at the end of this essay really happened, and when it did, I was like: “That's so stupid. No one would believe that if I wrote it down.” But it actually happened.

    • alexandra

      hey i know that hostel! wish i could give you a place to stay :( best of luck!

    • dj

      why would you write the address of the place you're staying (illegally)? seems like you could cause some problems…

      • Oliver Miller

        I feel like the odds that the employees of the international hostel would read this particular article are pretty low, and then they'd have to identify me from my tiny author photo, etc… Seems unlikely. Plus, I'm kind of a 'tard like that.

    • ASA

      If you don't mind I would like to offer a few suggestions:

      I would suggest finding a job at a local fast food place (like MD or BK), this way you don't have to worry about food and the money you make you can use it on rent.

      You are obviously very intelligent and it might seem beneath you to work at a place like this and to live this lifestyle – but as the proverb goes “beggars cannot be choosers”

    • Sal Paradise

      If you're looking at a prolonged period of homelessness here, my advice is find a place to post-up by a major college in the city and make that your spot for awhile. I live on an urban campus in a big city, and there is this dude who lives on the stoop of an abandoned building on campus and he gets by pretty well just by being friendly and being there ALL THE TIME (I stress this because he has kinda become a campus personality to us, like everyone knows who he is). A lot of the students and even professors will stop and talk with him for awhile or bring him food/drinks or an extra blanket if he needs it. Also, check your local homeless shelters, food banks, and religious establishments. One of them should be able to hook you up with some more clothes and maybe a blanket or some other basic things, or if not, at the very least they should be able to point you towards an organization that can. You seem to have internet access so a quick google search should be able to show you places in your area….Other things that seem to help. When panhandling make a funny sign. I once saw a dude with a sign that said “Need money for alcohol and prostitutes…Hey, at least I'm honest.” People legit stopped to take pictures with him. He was cashing in with that sign. Also, try to look as well kept as possible, even if you still look mangy, it shows you're still a human being who is trying to get out of a tough situation, and therefore it makes it harder for people to just pass you by. For instance, the homeless guy who leaves on my campus sweeps out the sidewalk in front of his stoop every few days. It really took me aback the first time I saw it, and definitely cast him in a different light for me. And my last piece of advice, don't be one of those homeless dudes who panhandles loud and obnoxiously. They get no money and just make people angry, and it's also the quickest way to draw attention to yourself and get kicked out of wherever you are currently staying. Go with a funny sign next to a little jar or a hat or something though and you should be able to make at least enough to eat most days. I hope some of this helps man. I feel for you. Best of luck.

      • http://gearshack.blogspot.com Naked&Famous

        We have a guy very similar to the one you described on my college campus. His popularity has grown so much that a fraternity hosts a once a year fundraiser/kegger for him on his birthday. His name is Frog and he sells rubber chickens and hand written joke books (full of some pretty awful jokes) on campus for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week.
        The man is crazy as hell but there isn't a single person on campus who doesn't know his name and hasn't given him at least a dollar to recite a joke.

    • Jeff Parker

      I, on the other hand, am glad you majored in English. It obviously made you an incredible writer. Good luck with everything. It will work out. Look forward to reading more.

    • Ashi

      set up a paypal. this is what the internet is for, and when it comes down to it, no number of people shitting on you tossing up an inconspicuous link will make what money you do get any less useful. obviously people are concerned about you, and you obviously have readers (even some who aren't here exclusively to shit on you). go for it!

      • Oliver Miller

        I do have Paypal, which is tied to my actual email address: oliveramiller@gmail.com …There; boom; done.

        • Janis234

          Don't worry Oliver. I am sure some desperate lonely woman will take pity on you and let you stay in her apartment. Seems to be the best thing your good at. That and lying.

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