I was not alone this week. There were coworkers and friends that joined me. Alana Knight, Carla Mohammed-Lawson and Justin Allen stayed with me at times. There were others as well who spent nights homeless on their own this week. Luke Eldridge who is our PATH Coordinator, a coworker and close collaborator. Frank Ogilve who is an Employment Specialist with the HVRP program as well as Case Manager for the PATH program. Both Frank and Luke slept under a bridge, on park benches and other places. A staff member from New Leaf named Ron also spent some time homeless. And lastly, a city council man, who I’m not sure wants to be named at this time so I will not name him till he is ready, spent nights in his car and at the Cookeville Rescue Mission to experience homelessness. I talked to him a few times this week and he said it was a very powerful and insightful week.
So what did I learn this week?…..Being homeless is hard, tiring and laborious. But working to get yourself out of homelessness is exponentially harder. Having to walk to work so that you are on time, having to be clean and presentable at work, being well rested when you don’t have a bed and then doing a good job at work…..These can be very difficult things with no home. I hear people say all the time that homeless people just need to get a job. It’s not that easy! Yes, it is an important part of getting out of homelessness, but people who say that don’t think past that and think of the logistics that go along with it. I’ve thought about the housing first model that homeless providers use. This is where we house homeless people and then work on getting income to maintain it. As providers it is full of challenges. We can burn out landlords and service providers, drain resources and become frustrated. But from a homeless person’s point of view I think it is a good option and definately benefits them. I’m not going to say that 100% one way or the other. But I will say that I’ve seen the other side and have a better view of it.
With my week now officially over I want to thank everyone once again for your support, your encouragement and your donations! Every little bit helps. Below is the link for the gofundme page. Please make a donation so that we can help make a difference in a homeless family’s life. Thank you once again
A little bit after dark I was joined by a friend of mine Justin who is a Veteran and an outdoorsman. We sat in the van, talked about cars, jobs and life. We visited with friends who had came by and had a good time. Since this was my last night, I felt the need to be authentic and go all out. I said to Justin “It’s going to rain tonight, do you think we can build a shelter and be dry?”. To which he replied “yep”. So we looked around for supplies and found the remnants of an old cabinet in the woods, some aluminum beams, pile of foam sheets and a tarp. We drug out the cabinet and used it and the stack of foam as walls. Then, we put four of the aluminum beams across it and took the carpet from the van and used it as a roof. Finally we covered the carpet with the tarp. Justin put down his poncho on the ground and we put our sleeping bags on top of it. We were proud of our shelter and were confident it would keep us dry. We crawled in and quickly went to sleep.
I woke to drips on my forehead. I checked the front of our shelter thinking that it was splashing in or bouncing off of something. I was wrong. The drips were coming from our roof and had created a river in between Justin and I. I checked my sleeping bag and realized that it was soaked from my knees on down. For as much as I wanted to be authentic, I was going to the van. I woke Justin up to tell him that we were taking on water and that I was going to the van. He had been fortunate in that the water had not found his sleeping bag. But unfortunately, it did find his boots. We grabbed our gear and went to the van where we took stock of the rain damage. Justin’s wet boots were pretty much the extent of rain damage. Meanwhile, my sleeping bag, jacket, sweatshirt, and cover alls were all wet. I decided to grab my emergency blanket and make the best of it. I was warm for a little bit, but once the cold set in, it was unbearable. I grabbed a solar blanket out of a MASH bag that we give to homeless people and tried it. It was akin to wrapping myself in tinfoil, but provided enough warmth to stave off shivering and I fell back asleep.
When we woke up, we checked out our shelter and saw the pools of water that had collected on our roof. Justin’s poncho that was the ground cloth was completely saturated. Thank goodness for the van. We laughed and we joked about the nights events, packed our gear into my car and I took Justin home. My week of homelessness was over.
Picking an off ramp to I-40 to pan handle wasn’t difficult. I chose the one by my office where I had stopped and talked to homeless people regularly. As I approached my spot I could see that there were three state trooper and two city police cars down on the highway with a U-haul. I didn’t want to draw too much attention from them, so I sat down my bag and sat on it instead of walking around. So I sat down my bag, unfolded my sign that read “Please help the homeless. Everything helps” and waited. In choosing my message for the sign, I did not want to make it look like I was personally asking for help as that would be disingenuous, so I kept it rather bland. Within the first thrirty seconds of sitting there with my sign an truck full of guys pulled up to me and the driver yelled to me “Do you need a job?” I was caught off guard and asked him what he said. He replied “Do you need a job?” I didn’t know what to say, so I told him the truth. “I have a job sir. I work for a homeless Veteran program and am doing this to raise awareness for homeless and hunger week” I replied. The look on his face was priceless as I am sure he had never heard that response before. I would’ve given $100 to been a fly in the truck when he pulled away. I sat there for another 45 minutes and three cars handed me money. In total I was handed $21 which I will add to the donations. I couldn’t stay there much longer. It was difficult to reconcile my personal feelings and my desire to raise awareness. It was too much for me. So I packed up my sign and walked away.
It was a beautiful afternoon, about 70 degrees or so. I was tired and needed to sleep, so I went back to the van and took a short power nap. When I woke up, I checked the forecast for the night and there was 100% chance of rain and cold. Thank goodness I would have cover……Maybe
Hello Everyone! I haven’t checked my gofundme page that much this week and just did a few minutes ago and was blown away how much it is at. I can not say thank you enough for all the donations. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!!! I have roughly 30 hours left, so let’s see how much more we can raise!
So last night two of my coworkers went homeless and stayed in the van with me. We left work, walked the three miles and set up shop. I think both were surprised by the walk and the amount of effort it takes to be homeless. I’ll let them comment below or link to their pages on how they percieved it. Because of the recent burn ban, we could have a fire, so I heated up soup over the remnants of the canned heat cans I got a few days ago. It was the first hot meal I had had in a few days and was the best can of chicken soup I have ever had. It definately helped to sooth my sore throat. Speaking of, I am definately fighting a cold. It could be from being outside, could be from catching a chill while walking, could be from a coworker, or a just a random cold. Where I caught it doesn’t matter. I’ll try to get some cold meds in me from somewhere to help with congestion. I’m not sure from where, but I’ll get some.
My plan for the rest of the day is to stand by the roadside with a cardboard sign and “pan handle” for donations. I’m sure this will be interesting. Stay tuned……….
Well kind of….So I was back in the van again last night. This time I tried to heat it with canned heat. I blocked off 2/3 of it with my tent thinking that the smaller area would be easier to heat. Not so much. Any gain in temperature was lost by not having my tarp over me so I actually felt colder. Nothing ventured, nothing gained right? Although it did make enough heat to make coffee! Sometimes it’s the small things that make the moment stand out. After I packed up my gear it was the normal walk to work. This time with added sore throat and coughing. Several times today I sounded like Barry White with a throat full of sand and lost my voice. I’m not sure if this a cold or allergies, but thankfully I’m not running a fever so I should be ok. It could be from lack of sleep and being wore out. I guess I’ll know for sure after I go home and get some rest. Comments like that make me feel guilty that I get to say that. These weeks always bring out strange thoughts. Digression over. Other than normal work at the office I really don’t have much to comment on about being homeless. I guess I’m just falling into the rhythm of things.
Since I have your attention I would like to give you some resources that you can use should you come across a homeless person in your community.
For Homeless Veterans who need housing assistance:
1. If you live in Tennessee, in particular from Wilson Co to Fentress Co and between both state borders, call our MASH program at 877.567.6051. This number is also for Homeless Veterans who need help finding a job.
2. If you do not live in the above area: Do a google search for Supportive Services for Veterans Families (SSVF) in your area. This is a nationwide grant that does the same thing as our MASH program.
For Civillian Housing-
- Homeless Advocacy for Rural Tennessee- http://www.hartn.org or call 844-556-7626
- The Cookeville Rescue Mission located at 1331 S. Jefferson Ave, Cookeville (931) 528-5819
- Bread of Life Mission- 281 4th st, Crossville 931-707-0503
- PATH Program- 931-260-7907
If you are a civillian looking for housing help, look for your local Rescue Mission or Continuum of Care. (CoC). CoC’s are HUD designated groups whose mission is to end homelessness in your area.
Sorry for the lack of posts today. It’s been a very difficult and trying day full of painful emotions, hard decisions and nuerosis. Let’s start with work…..The truth is is that I have a job. When I go homeless I try to stay as truthful to my mission as possible. I take it very serious because that is what I’m supposed to be doing to raise awareness and money. I try not to put on a front. I’m honest. And I’m getting something out if. I can help people better by knowing what it’s like to be in their shoes. But at the same time, in the real world, I have people that depend on me to do my job and if I don’t do it, then they can loose a job, not have food or get the help they need.
Tomorrow I have a training at Nashville with the Dept of Labor, who funds our program and i need to not be foggy headed and tired. I need to take a proper shower and be ready for my day. So, I decided I would couch surf tonight. It’s technically homeless so I could justify it. I texted two friends and they both said yes. I told you I had good friends. I packed my gear in my car (again I justified because I have to drive to Nashville) and headed to their place. As I was pulling out of the parking lot at work I received a horrible message from a friend that changed the rest of the nights plans.
I tell you the rest of this story not for your pity or to overly dramaticize. These are just the facts and are part of my story……One of my friends passed away unexpectedly today. I won’t get into the reasons and it really isn’t realevent anyhow. It hurt. It hurts to see my friends hurt. She was way too young and we will miss her greatly. We met after work and consoled each other and we cried. I felt uncomfortable asking them in a time like this to alter thier grieving for me. I know they would’ve in a heartbeat and more. But I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I felt like I was being greedy. So I toyed with the idea of going home and taking a shower and sleeping in my bed. Considering the days events, the importance of work tomorrow and my throbbing leg….I could justify it. But I felt like I was violating my trust to you because I would say I was homeless when I really went home. That just felt dishonest. I flip flopped for what felt like an eternity and finally decided that I needed a shower at least. So I used my shower. I didn’t do anything else I promise! I even used clothes from my bag so as to use no more resources than what I had when I was on the street. I put on my evening layers and am writing this from my car that I will sleep in that is next to the van I slept in last night.
One of the biggest reasons that I struggled with showering at my home tonight was that homeless people have to deal with this all the time. They have hard days filled with emotions, hard decisions and neurosis too. Their friends pass away, their legs hurt and they have to maintain at work as well. And they have to do it without a hot shower and bed to go home to. In short, some homeless people are tougher, stronger and more resilient than I will ever be.
5:00am. Temperature: 34 degrees
The van provided shelter from the moisture and the wind, but didn’t help much to raise the temperature. I am still thankful for it though. I decided not to try my home made stove inside with me for fear of burning it down. There were some rolls of carpet inside that provided cushioning for sleeping, but could also provide kindling and tinder. I still had my trusty tarp and blanket….that I forgot to lay out in the sun to dry. They were still damp from the previous mornings dew. I didn’t think it would effect me much. I was wrong. The dampest parts were on my feet and they seemed to never warm up all night long. I woke at 5am this morning to a very full bladder. Needless to say, I did NOT want to get out of my bedroll! But alas, I did. There was no sense in trying to go back to sleep. I was cold and needed to start moving to warm up. So I packed up my things and started the 3 mile walk to work. Three miles doesn’t seem like a lot. Most people run that as a warm up and then excercise. It’s a different feeling when you are cold, tired, and are carrying a 40 lb bag on your back. Halfway through my trek to work I pulled a muscle in my left leg. I limped the rest of the mile or so to work.
As I was walking I thought about the transition from homelessness to housed. If a homeless person gets a job, so that they can get an apartment, it seems that it is harder on you. Now you have to be somewhere at a certain time, you have to worry about hygene, you have to be properly dressed, you have to live up to expectations, all while trying to get sleep and putting in the extra effort to live without a home. To quote the Rolling Stones “It’s a bitch”
In our community there has been a discussion about housing first and whether it works or not. For those of you who are not familiar with this, it is where you help house a person first, no matter if they have income, or if they have a significant barrier to housing. From a providers side it can be frustrating to find landlords who are willing to work with you. Sometimes the people we are trying to help don’t pay, or the mess up a place or worse. But from a psuedo-homeless perspective it makes sense to me. Getting a job and going to it wouldn’t be as bad cuz I wouldn’t have to worry about sleeping….I could sleep in an apartment with heat. I would be rested for the walk to work. Sure it would be a pain in the butt to have to walk. But it beats being tired and carrying my life on my back and THEN having to go to work. Just something to think about.
I said it last year and I say it again this year. I have the best friends and family ever! Not only because of your support but because of the many, many calls and texts offering me a place to sleep, meals or a place to warm up. If I accepted half of them I would never go hungry or cold. But I am not doing this for me. I will be ok this week. I am doing this for those who don’t have friends and family like you. I am doing this for those who are hungry and cold. So if you have offered to buy me food, coffee, cigarettes or beer, please click the link below and put that money to a better use. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!
604 pm. Location: a van in cookeville. I was talking to a friend of mine earlier today about staying outside last night and how cold it was. He said I could stay in a broke down van that he owned that was parked at a garage. He said it didn’t run, but at least it would be shelter for the night. I was a bit reluctant at first, but after sleeping on the ground last night it sounded like the Hilton. I dropped my bag in it after dark and went to the store to get dinner. I started the week with $35 and spent $15 on a big can of spaghetti o’s, a can of soup, instant coffee, three spoons, a Pyrex cup and a pack of cigarettes. A homeless veteran that I met a while back gave me some pointers that I plan on trying tonight. I’m going to eat the spaghetti o’s cold and then set the can in the Pyrex cup and start a fire in it. I can use this for heat and also set my can of soup over it to warm it. Once I have two empty cans, I can use the one as a stove and the other for coffee and cooking.
As I was coming back to the van I was spotted by someone in a neighboring building. I think I’ll lay low for a while till they are gone to start cooking.
After finding a spot in a wooded area that I felt comfortable in, I laid out my tarp and emergency blanket. At 2:30am it was approx. 36 degrees. Once I stopped walking and settled down, I started getting cold. I wrapped myself up in my blanket and pulled my tarp over me so that it would keep the frost off me that I knew was coming. Sure enough at 6:15am I woke to a nice layer of frost over everything and parts of my tarp were wet. I checked my phone and it showed that it was 32 degrees. Despite my layers of clothing and attempts to keep a barrier between me and the air, I was cold. I woke up several times due to being cold or being sore from being on the ground. As I was putting everything back in my bag I realized that my blanket has a hole in it about the size of my hand. I hope it holds up for the rest of the week.
If I didn’t have to go to the office and continue on in my “normal life”, I would sleep during the day and keep moving at night. This really isn’t possible though. So, I continue on the best way I know how.
Please remember that I am doing this to raise awareness for Hunger and Homelessness Week. Please click the link below to donate.