January 25, 2016 by poverty2professional
Last week’s post focused on more social and psychological skills related to slogging out of homelessness. Here are the concrete, hold-it-in-your-hands things you’re going to need not just to scrape by but to actually get out. Again, I’ve tailored this list based on my experience as a homeless high school student with a single parent. So, if I missed anything, please feel free to comment below.
Another note: I’ve marked the last two resources, a car and public storage, as “optional” only because there are those who have overcome homelessness without them. That doesn’t mean these things are inconsequential or can’t slash the time or difficulties one will face while experiencing homelessness.
Without further ado…
8. A mailing address
Our society demands that you don’t look homeless. More recently, I’ve heard that PO Boxes are a “dead giveaway” to someone’s housing condition. I was never aware of this and still maintain the PO Box my family has had for over eight years. It’s a secure mailing address. The box will set you back about $60 every six months, but squirreling away $10 a month (or $2.50 a week) can ease up some of that shock come pay date. There are cheaper alternatives, but not exactly as reliable. The shelter is an option for receiving your mail. Be sure to check with the shelter’s director first. Nobody wants to find a random stack of mail that isn’t theirs. Friends and family members are also options, however, you have to make sure you can guarantee good terms and frequent access for however long your circumstances require. This is a slightly better option than the shelter since, if you happen to get a potential employer, job offers have been known to be rescinded if it’s been discovered that you’re at a shelter.
7. A cell phone
Getting in touch with a family member, a caseworker, a hiring manager – these are all high-demand, immediate-attention-required needs. There’s a cruel technology divide that haunts the poor and homeless communities as if technology isn’t part of daily survival. I always wonder what century those people think we live in. A standard flip phone is fairly inexpensive. It keeps you connected. Now, do you need a smart phone? Depends. It could be part of the work you’re looking for (maybe you’re a social media analyst) or you’re part of a family data plan or, hey, it’s just your only source of secure, consistent internet where you can check your email. I’m not the person to tell you if you do and neither is the self-righteous guy down the street.
6. A laptop
Can you get by with just the computers at the library? Maybe. But those usually have daily time limits and the libraries only have so many operating hours in a day. If you’re a student like I was, you don’t want to be rushing to finish a project or an essay on a public computer. Do you always need internet access? No, but just because I got by without consistent access to it doesn’t mean I’m not aware of the increasing encroaching impact it has on students. Because I didn’t haul my laptop all over town with me, my best friend was a flashdrive. These little guys are excellent. You can load them up with articles and research, then not have to worry about the zero available WiFi at your shelter. I also used mine to save my essays, back up my computer, and print my assignments when I got back to school early the next morning.
5. Hot, running water
Regular access to hot and running water is a must because this resource best encapsulates anything related to hygiene. When you’re homeless your health and wellness is secondary. Try not to get injured, infected, or incapacitated. One of the best defenses against general sickness is just to keep clean. Washing your hands, bathing regularly, gets rid of the grime and chances of getting ill. Keeping healthy translates into keeping appointments, keeping your spirits up, and keeping your dignity.
Other bloggers describing their homeless experience have recommended signing up for a basic gym membership to keep clean. This, of course, has obvious side benefits (such as awesome classes to work out, meditate, and have a place to be), but if you’re looking for a cheaper (read: FREE) option, look into local community organizations. Ocean Park Community Center (OPCC) pioneered SHWASHLOCK (Showers, WASHers, LOCKers) to ensure that locals enduring homelessness are able to find these basic necessities. Additionally, OPCC acknowledges that the security of a locker “leaves [SHWASHLOCK participants] free to attend job training and interviews, classes and workshops and housing appointments.”
Jackpot of kudos for recognizing wrap-around services, OPCC!
4. Good clothes
This goes back to the hygiene point. Does it need to be your “Sunday best” or a runway gown? No. But does a good blazer, nice dress, or dress slacks and clean shoes make a difference? It sure does. Interviewing for a job or a possible apartment, usually call for decent, clean attire. If you’re a student, interviews for scholarships often require “business casual” attire (so at least clean, dark jeans and nice shirt/blouse and jacket combo, or a good skirt/dress and flats). Disclosing your housing circumstance in any of the aforementioned situations is entirely your choice (unless we go back to the interview for an apartment, in which case you kinda do need to mention it).
People judge you by your appearance. Human brains are fairly lazy and resort to easy profiling strategies. But you shouldn’t be doing this just for THEM. You need these clothes for YOU. There’s something rejuvenating about dressing nicely. According to an NY Times article, clothes can alter your self-perception and even the way you behave. When life has you down, getting the boost from a good fitting jacket or even just a clean pair of shoes can be an empowering experience.
3. Consistent access to food
I say “consistent access” to food because catching the odd meal here and there can really mess up your focus. Common side effects of hunger include lack of focus, poor memory recall, and being short-tempered. There’s a reason “hangry” (hungry + angry) has wormed its way into our modern parlance. Imagine trying to hold it together during an interview – with a shelter or a potential employer. If you’re frustrated, tired, and hungry, that’s a cocktail for unnecessary conflict. Unfortunately, food justice is a serious issue in determining what is available to individuals living at or below the poverty line. The cheese and crackers and general junk food that SNAP (aka Food Stamps) lets you buy isn’t the most nutritional meal you’re going to get, but it will guarantee you some degree of consistency. Being part of a long-term shelter will provide at least two decent meals out of the day and that definitely adds up. In our entries to come, P2P will do a full feature article on eating while homeless.
2. Stable shelter
This might be the toughest one to fulfill. Emergency shelters are NOT stable shelters. Your car, a family center, and a friend you really trust who will give you a couch for at least month are much more stable by comparison. The point of a shelter is to feel safe and secure. Emergency shelters keep a roof over your head, but aren’t necessarily safe. Your personal belongings could be ripped off, you’re constantly among strangers, and there’s not enough regulation to ensure that all activity in the emergency shelter is appropriate (or legal). Getting admitted to a full shelter is ideal because at least then you’ll have a bed you can call yours and space to claim for a while. Most shelters also provide lockers to keep some of your smaller possessions safe.
1. Modest income
Homelessness is expensive. If you’re homeless and reading this, you know what I mean. If you’re housed and don’t get it, let me explain. Everything mentioned in this list costs money. If we add up a PO Box ($10/month), a cheap cell phone ($40/month), anti-virus for the laptop ($5/month), cleaning clothes ($10/month; dry cleaning $15/month), public transportation ($40/month with subsidies), and food (highly variable; not counting food stamps, my father and I figured we spent about $120 for the two of us. That’s about $70 for one person), we total about $190 a month. For just you, that’s about $95. This is me assuming you got free hot water and soap, never got sick, and didn’t ever use the next two “luxuries.” Additionally, these are also the prices of 2008-2009. Inflation has certainly altered the cost of living and thereby changed just how much that income would need to be to meet these demands.
1. A storage unit
This is a welcome resource especially if you are freshly homeless. It allows you to store a few of your worldly possessions that you can’t bear to part with as much as stuff into your car or carry on your own person. Even if you’re in a temporary shelter, the storage unit provides a little bit more security. Nobody from the shelter is going to break into it or even arbitrarily bag up your possessions when you’re out going to school, at work, or looking for work. And it’s a little more space for things like your extra clothes (see point four) or fragile possessions that just won’t survive itinerant life. Looking down the road, a storage unit also means having at least the bare essentials (kitchen ware, clothes, small furnishings) for when housing finally is an option.
2. A car
As one formerly homeless man said, “There are two types of homeless people: Those with cars and those without.” Having a (functioning) car is a solid leg up when you’re homeless. It means catching that interview. It means being able to get from the shelter to work faster and – especially because of the tight curfews at shelters – vice versa. And, when nothing else is available, a car means shelter when everyone else in your situation has the cold pavement. A car, however, is also expensive. There’s insurance to cover and a gas tank to feed. Fingers crossed that you don’t get into an accident.
So, to wrap up, can you get by without every single one of these resources? Yes. You can think your way out of anything. But will having the majority of these resources make your circumstances more bearable? Definitely. If you’re housed and thinking of ways you can assist someone going through homelessness, see how much of this list is covered for them. Getting on stable ground needs to start somewhere and I hope these are some realistic footholds.