You don't have to be a wino, drug addict or an alcoholic to be homeless. You don't have to be mentally or physically challenged to be homeless. You just have to be a day late or a dollar short to pay the rent...and that usually happens when you lose your job --- and if you've exhausted all your unemployment insurance income.
Once, you had a good job where you worked for 14 years, and you drove a cool car --- nothing too fancy, not new --- but it ran well. You had a nice CD player installed last year and very cool rims. The paint still looked new with very few dings. You also had a pretty girlfriend that you loved and even considered marrying one day. You sometimes played your guitar for her.
Your one-bedroom apartment was located in a good neighborhood; and after a hard day at work you'd go home to have dinner and relax on the couch with the remote to your wide-screen TV. On some occasions you would meet up with your co-workers after work and have a couple of cold beers at the local bar, before you went home to make love to your sweetheart. You used to take in an occasional movie, or go shopping at the mall, or enjoy a nice steak and lobster dinner with your girl on special occasions like her birthday. Those were the good old days, when you had pride in yourself and a future to look forward to; but then one day, you were laid off from your job.
After a few months of looking for work (and being rejected) you depleted your life savings trying to maintain the status quo. Eventually your car was repossessed by the bank. Then one day it happened. The landlord started knocking on your front door, and finally left an eviction notice on the door. Then a few days later the sheriff showed up, and you could only leave with whatever you could carry to the street. You have no friends anymore or relatives to help you. Your girlfriend broke up with you a long time ago when you were first laid off. So much for love. Now you're alone, and you're also homeless.
When one becomes homeless, their physical appearance rapidly deteriorates. They don't have facilities for basic hygiene such as showering and shaving. No essentials such as razors, deodorant, cologne, toothpaste, and mouthwash. It's odd, it's as though a small room with running water called the "bath room" is what defines the difference between civilization and savagery.
Hunger is constant, and exposure to the outside elements (heat or cold) is taxing on the body. Humiliation and shame gives way to simple desperation. Their hair and beard grows, their clothes become filthy, and sores on their skin prevail. Lice and mites feed on them. They have no access to a dentist and must suffer with toothaches and other health related maladies. An old pair of shoes found in a dumpster becomes a prized possession. Almost anything becomes editable when you find yourself in back alleys near fast-food restaurants late at night, hoping no one you've ever known will ever see you.
Some days you aimlessly roam the streets, lost in your thoughts, wondering how you ever ended up this way. You might be deep in your thoughts when a car full of teenagers passes you by on the street, throwing garbage out the window at you while they're laughing. Perhaps a young woman will drive by and yell at you: "Get a job!"
Other days you hole up in a nook or cranny somewhere and just endlessly sleep, escaping your predicament. You sometimes dream of your ex-girlfriend and a few times, your departed father. You wake up ashamed at yourself, but thankful that they don't see you like this.
People you pass on the sidewalk fear looking you in the eye, as though you're some deranged mass murderer; or perhaps they fear it could happen to them. You almost chuckle to yourself at the thought of that, remembering that you too once felt that way as you crossed the street to avoid the homeless and "invisible man". You find friendship with abandoned and stray dogs, because with them, you have a commonality --- and receive unconditional love. Sometimes with wild birds, or any other living beings that don't judge you.
Some days you felt enraged at the government for allowing this all to happen --- and some days you are angry at yourself, but anger never made you feel any better.
Oh wait! Someone just tossed a lit cigarette in the gutter only half smoked --- a good find! A simple pleasure in an otherwise hellish life. You inhale with satisfaction, but try to make the moment linger as long as possible.
One night you woke up shivering on a sidewalk, dirty and smelly and hungry. It is so cold and it just started raining. You ask yourself, "Is this really worth living for?"
You look up, and almost in a haze, you see the nearby bridge. You slowly get up and begin walking, leaving all your "prized" possessions behind. You have answered your own question. It seems like years since you felt really alive instead of just breathing; but the suffering will soon be over --- you have finally found some peace of mind.
* Here is Part Two to this post. I originally wrote Part One when I first contemplated being a homeless man after being unemployed since 2008. Then I reposted it again in 2011 after I was spared by someone who took me in. Then about a year later I wrote Part Two. (But at 58, I'm not out of the woods yet.)
My related posts on homelessness