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Adventures in Homelessness

Some of you may know that I was briefly homeless when I was in my early twenties. I mentioned this offhandedly in a comment on Gawker and some people were interested to hear about that experience. It was the worst time of my life, and I also had it a lot better than most people.


When I was 23 or so I was living in a basement apartment on Haight Street in San Francisco. It had concrete floors and pipes hanging from the ceiling that I had to duck under. It once had a stove but that was pulled out, but the light and vent that were over it remained. My room mate and I put a comfy chair under that vent so we would smoke cigarettes and read books with our smoke getting sucked out of the kitchen. We painted sea creatures on the walls. For a hipster doofus like me it was paradise. We didn't have a lease so when the home owner told us to scram so he could renovate the basement we thought we had to go (though this probably wasn't the case). In the week or so heads up that we were given I was unable to find a new place so that is how I ended up homeless while working and going to school full time.

During this time I was creating a lot of problems for myself because of my pride. I didn't want to admit that my life was so out of control that I was homeless, so even though I had friends in town I wouldn't allow myself to spend more than one night at a particular friends house in a row. I wanted it to be, "Hey, Penabler is crashing here and look, he brought beer!" not "Penabler is staying on our couch until he can figure his shit out." This split my time up when I wasn't working or going to school into 1)looking for long term housing and 2) figuring out where the fuck I was going to sleep that night.

Most nights I was able to find a friend that would take me in(or a classmate, or a friend of my sister, or anyone), but some nights I'd end up in Golden Gate Park. One night I was planning on staying at a classmate's house but she was coming on to me strong. She was making eyes at me like a cartoon wolf all night but I didn't want to weird up our relationship because we had class together (and I wasn't interested in seeing her). I lied that I had arranged to stay with another friend that night and left before I either had to turn her down or have sex that I would regret. I had no where to go so I went to the park and bought a great big jug of Carlos Rossi. I wanted to just drink deep and pass out and wake up to a different day where everything wasn't totally fucked up yet. While I was sitting there in the dark, a raccoon came out of the woods and slowly approached me. I froze, not wanting to startle it. I was in a vulnerable position, with my ass seated on the ground and my legs splayed, cross-eyed drunk, I wasn't sure what this critter was capable of. It walked right up to me and started sniffing the bottle, which I was holding as far away from me as I could. The raccoon, digging my wine choice, started to lick the liquid from the edge of the bottle. I took the bottle back and drank from the spot the raccoon was licking, and then gave it back to him. And that was the time I partied with a raccoon.


Need to charge your cell phone? The bus stops in San Francisco used to have lights that would plug into a standard AC wall socket. You could crack open the box, unplug the light, and plug in your cell phone or other electronics. I'm willing to bet a lot of cities have the same type situation. Just don't get caught busting that box apart.


The schedule for normal day during this time was: wake up wherever. Make my way to school. Work out (while keeping my backpacking pack in sight, as it held all of my possessions). Take a shower (with my pack). Go to class. Go to work. Figure out where I was going to sleep. Try to find a home. Going to school with a camping pack was embarrassing to me at the time, but looking back I'm guessing no one even paid close enough attention to me to notice. My overall shame at being homeless (plus my incredible ego) made me think everyone could instantly sense I was homeless and was judging me. I would switch between thinking I was okay ("I'm working hard and paying taxes, I'm bettering myself with school, I have a lot of friends!") to wallowing in despair ("How am I in this situation? What the fuck is wrong with me?").

City College of San Francisco does have housing for needy students, so I made an appointment to see my councilor to talk about it. When I met with him I told him the situation, which I hadn't articulated to anyone before. I forget the actual reason, maybe because I was working, but I wasn't eligible for the housing. What I do remember is that I broke down and started sobbing in front of this strange man and he put his hands on mine to comfort me. He told me to quit school, that I could always come back but I needed to spend more time focusing on finding a home. I cried more.


Finding housing in SF sucks. I was working seven days a week (and couldn't take time off for fear of getting fired) but I still couldn't afford my own place. Even if I could my credit sucks, as I stupidly never took a credit card or owed anyone money, so other people could beat me by their credit rating if it came down to it. Convincing a house of people that you are the best new room mate candidate is an ordeal. My self esteem was already in the tank for being homeless and I would come into a new place and try to sell sell sell how awesome I am. I would try to Sherlock Holmes the situation "Oh fuck, a D&D poster? I've played that game, I'll engage them on that. That dude has running shoes. Maybe he likes to jog? I'll play that up." I'd get perfectly good and chummy with some guys, feeling like I'm really clicking with them, but then the next interviewee comes in and its some 19 year old woman that says she likes to cook in her underwear. FUUUUUUUUUCK.

Because I was working I never went hungry, but I still found myself super bitter at the people who had less than me. I remember eating a burrito in a Taqueria in the Tenderloin and this other homeless person coming up to me asking me for money. He talked about how bad he had it, how hungry he was, but all the while I was thinking "You asshole, do you see this pack? That's everything I own. I'm going to sleep in the park tonight. I work everyday and its grinding me down, I'm keeping my money because I need it." I lied and told them I didn't have cash. Today I earn twice what I did then, and I have a home and plenty of food, and its a weird thought but now I can afford sympathy for him. At the time I was fighting to get by and he was a person that wasn't fighting as hard as me. I think a lot of the anger aimed at Killermartinis recently was a lot of the same mindset.


After only two months of living like this, I caught a break. I was smoking with some students at City College and I mentioned I was looking for a place. One of the students I TAed for in film production really liked a movie a friend made that I was in (where I played a robot that was in love with a human woman) so he talked me up to a house that was looking for a room mate. It was all girls and they called themselves the "Pussy Palace." Based off of that student's recommendation, whom I didn't really know, they decided to take me in. It was a beautiful home a block from the Painted Ladies and it was so good to me.

I guess as homelessness goes, I had it relatively briefly and pretty easy, but it was easily the most depressing and humiliating time of my life. I can't imagine how the chronically homeless must feel, what they think of themselves. I'm not into playing poverty Olympics but I'm curious to what other people have experienced from homelessness, or your thoughts.

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