Saturday, October 5, 2013

Homelessness as a Potential Self-improvement Adventure

I find it awkward to talk about my homelessness since after mentioning it once I tend to assume it’s universal knowledge from then on, so it’s a bit weird reopening the topic to explain it to someone unknowing, but I suppose I ought to push through that awkwardness to relay this.

Although it’s not a desirable lifestyle, I do think utilizing homelessness is a valid self-improvement technique, which is essentially why I’m using it right now. I’m not forced into this position; I’m just so desirous to meet some financial goals that I’ve resorted to this to hurry up and get it done post-haste rather than solving my financial ailments at an agonizing pace.

As such, for those who may benefit, I’d like to relay to you what I’ve learned about the practical measures of this lifestyle.

First, why be homeless, and why become homeless voluntarily?

Well, to start with my own case first, I’ve resorted to homelessness because 2013 has been a financially turbulent year for me, resulting in huge obstacles from extravagant car repairs to a drug-abusing and insecure boss firing me, which sent my debts through the roof and screwed up the timing of my payments, so after Charlie Brown failure after Charlie Brown failure, I just decided to go the ultimate low-cost-of-living route and be homeless for awhile. Without rent, electricity, and so on to pay, the majority of my income can go to my debts.

It bugs me that for about two years or more now I’ve made it a new years’ resolution to pay off all this debt which doesn’t contribute to my well-being, such as the student loan debt from the college I dropped out of (therefore getting no formal education), and I think I’d be far better of in the long-run going homeless now to wipe my financial slate rather than struggling for years to pay it off piecemeal. At this rate, I’ll be debt-free in 2014, early into the year or earlier depending on events. From there, I can start living better, saving more, and enjoying myself more.

Additionally, having my own personal space is one of my highest personal values. While I’m not pessimistic about humankind, I have had the horrible luck of living with awful people my entire life, switching home to home. In one case I lived with someone driving themselves towards insanity, making for unpleasant interactions when I was a part of their emotional turbulence, and in another case I lived with a drunken landlord who practically attempted suicide everyday (and brought in another housemate who was mentally deteriorating and put us at risk for extreme violence, perhaps even potential murder). Every roll of the dice has been snake eyes, so even though I know I have the option of a homeless shelter or section 8 housing, I prefer the peace of a back seat where I can be alone, including from neighbors. I’m totally done living with other people for the rest of my life, if or until I get married. No more crazy people!

For other people, homelessness can be a usable choice if you, too, want to clear up from financial troubles at a fast pace or else get away from bad people, such as abusive parents, roommates, and so on. All the homeless people I’ve dealt while I wasn’t homeless had terrible personalities, which is why I’m opposed to the shelter idea, which still costs money anyhow. Plus, they tend to have terrible reputations for bad employees and filthy condition. Again, the peace of a back seat is preferable.

Used correctly, homelessness can be a temporary lifestyle that has the capability to solve some problems very potently. After I get an apartment next year I intend to never be homeless again, of course, but I do appreciate its practical implications, and it can be both a bearable and enjoyable lifestyle at the same time.

(Though, keep in mind my thoughts pertain to living in a car; roughing it outside is a whole other category I’m not equipped to give advice on.)

For the most part, I’ve found that this website is probably the best in regards to just about everything you’d want to know about how to “be” homeless, from finding parking spots to where you can take showers and whatnot. It’s inactive now, but the archives are rife with just about all the practical information you’d ever need.

However, I’ll expand on it with my own learnings and contributions given  my own experience. This needn’t be a multi-part series, so I intend to make this a complete list. As such, here’s my own tips and practical measures:

1.) Be Calm

First and foremost, if you go voluntarily homeless be calm about the choice you're making. The daytime is utterly easy given all the open businesses you can utilize, from libraries to coffee shops, but nighttime can send your blood pressure through the roof when you’re not used to it. It’s scary thinking someone might find you, knocking on your window, “catching” you in your lifestyle, and that it may somehow means lots of trouble for you.

Resist the urge to panic, for your own health. Parking in proper spots, the risk of getting caught is extremely unlikely, most people won’t bother you, and anyone who does address you is likely not going to deal scary consequences or the like.

Take deep breaths and be at peace. To get panic stricken is simply bad for your health, and I’ve certainly gotten myself way too riled up my first few nights, jolting awake upwards to 8 times in fear of someone looking at or seeing me. Damaging emotional turmoil to go through.

Unless you're in a dangerous area -- which you should be able to drive out of if so -- you're safe if you park wisely. Sleep peacefully.

2.) Remember the Geometry of Shade Movement

When parking, commit to memory -- which is easy -- how the shadows casted by things from buildings to trees move over time. In rotating your parking spots it’ll give you greater parking wisdom as you’ll memorize where to park to achieve your desirable temperature and lighting. You may want to park in the sun during sunset someplace, for instance, so that you can wake up in the shade, or position yourself so that the light streams in perfectly on a book at night, and so on.

3.) Get a Flexible Screen

In order to repel insects I got from the hardware store a kind of flexibler screen that can be cut with scissors and easily stored. This will allow you to roll your windows all the way down without insects coming in.

Though, as you cut the screens to fit your window, do a little visual comparison by unrolling the screens to see how fully they fit the window so that you can cut them to the right size and make as many fittings as you can. One regret I have with my own is that I didn’t do that, so I ended up, with my specific amount of screen, cutting two sheets that are just a wee bit short to fitting the windows and had useless leftover trim. If I had done otherwise, I would have simply cut the whole roll in half so that I’d have two oversized sheets that would fit the windows completely.

To use them, what I do is roll the window down, open the door from the inside, cast the sheet over the edge so that it’s completely outside, tug and arrange it a bit to make it fit, and, with my fingertips holding the edge and slightly through the open window (so that I don’t shut the door on my fingers), I slam the door, being wary of nearby body parts. As extra insurance I spray it with bug repellent.

However, this is best done for secluded areas, for the black screen will be out there in the open and very visible. Something else may be figured out for more public parking spaces, like Wal-mart, but that shouldn’t be too much a problem in cooler weather, where then you can suffice with windows just slightly cracked open.

4.) Be Wary of What Habits You Need to Utilize for Different Parking Spaces

Different parking spaces have different requirements, and depending on rotation or desire, you may need to change up your actions.

With Wal-mart, for instance, you can pretty much do want you want (minus keeping windows totally rolled down, which is too noticeable). A 24-hr center is likely to always have cars parked hodge-podge, so you can park anywhere without sticking out, and do almost anything you’d like, from reading under a parking lot light post to sleeping in in the morning.

This doesn’t hold true for all spaces. For instance, in my own routine I occasionally utilize a dead-end, for I can utilize my black screens to roll the windows all the way down and watch videos on my Kindle Fire Tablet. A bit more freedom than, say, my workplace parking lot, where I’m obligated to go to bed after the parking lot lights shut off since I need to lay low and avoid visibility. The drawback of the dead-end is that I have to set an alarm to wake up since it’s not a good place to be found out, which means less sleep.

Unless you can find a happy routine for every occasion, be aware you’ll have to act different in different parking spots.

5.) Gym Memberships are Invaluable 

On the homeless resource blog I posted above it suggests places such as truck stops to take showers, but I’d have to emphasize gym memberships as the best of the best. Start up fees can be difficult to swallow, unless you happen to already have a membership as of this reading, but you’ll save tons of money in the long-run since you’ll be able to take limitless showers and whatnot from then on, as opposed to the costly pay-per-visit truck stop. Plus you have those other perks like pools and workout equipment.

I personally have never heard of such a place, but a friend notified me that some gyms even have facilities for your can do laundry, so that’s an extra-plus if you can find one.

6.) Be Cautious About the Police, but Also Fair

The police are certainly a concern, for if you, say, park carelessly and someone calls the police on you, you’ll be talking to an officer sooner or later. I’ve had to do so several times, but with overall pleasant experiences, but be wary and fair at the same time. Don’t fear the officer as an imposer of tyranny, for they all have their own personalities and sense of justice, and at the same time heed the warnings of a law individual who may happen to be a tad bit unfair and intimidating. It’ll vary greatly by your geographical area and the specific officers you deal with.

In my own cases, I’ve never had a problem with the police and my homelessness. I’m a horrible liar, so I never bothered even fibbing, but the majority of officers I’ve dealt with were okay with what I’m doing once I explained that I *do* have a job and am a working man, not being a panhandler or vagabond. Upon hearing that, they’d leave me be and bid me farewell, even if I kinda-sorta shouldn’t have been parking in that particular spot.

Though, in one case I’ve found I had to alter my habits due to some irrationally paranoid people. For months on end I had no trouble sleeping in the gym parking lot and taking walks at the nearby neighborhood, but the people seeing me take those walks suddenly decided I was a “suspicious person” and started calling the police on me, even though I had been taking walks in that neighborhood for over seven months at that point.

Although it may not be related, an officer eventually came up to me while I was taking a walk in a cemetary, interrogated me in a polite tone, though with uncomfortable thoroughness given that he had simply seen me walking, not engage in any suspicious behavior; and then later followed me to the gym parking lot, sought out my car, and parked by it for a prolonged period. No legal consequences, but I’m unnerved enough by his behavior that I’ve stopped sleeping at the gym and started parking in a different section when I do workout.

6.) Embrace Cold Water Therapy or Saunas if You’re Expecting Extreme Temperature Seasons

If you happen to live in an area with particularly hot summers, like Texas, or cold winters, like Colorado, then it would be wise to expose yourself to the extreme temperatures a few months beforehand in preparation so that your body gets used to it. In summer you’ll have to deal with the pent up heat of your car, even at night with the windows rolled down, and winters will get you if you’re not going to leave the car heater running.

I have a hypothesis backed by first-hand experience that if you deliberately expose yourself to intense temperatures in controlled settings then your body will adapt to it so that you can deal with it safely and in greater comfort. For example, I’ve found that utilizing the sauna at my gym has probably helped me cope with the intense heat of the summer, heightening the threshold of what it takes to make me sweat and feel uncomfortable, and protecting me from things like heatstroke. It’s gotten wild -- nearing 110 degrees before, if I remember right -- yet I’ve suffered no ailments. I’m not sure, but I think it would work in the other direction in, say, utilizing an ice bath or cold shower to prepare for winter.

If you don’t have access to a sauna and don’t want to pay for it, then as an alternative you could try slightly uncomfortable hot showers. Or, at the very least, you can condition yourself to the heat by doing things such as driving without the air conditioning on, which will lead to eventual adaptation, though adaptation is better sooner, before the season arrives, than later.

As for cold water, if you should happen to not have access to it for bathing -- which is my own case in Texas, as the summer heat heated the plumbing too much -- just let yourself accumulate as *soon* as the shower waters *can* get cold, and try enduring in cold air with a t-shirt when everyone might be wearing sweatshirts. You could also stand in a walk-in freezer if you have access, which I myself have access to as an employee of a restaurant. (Don't forget I have an article on cold water therapy.)

Finally, about sleeping: Keep your clothes on. If you are seen, then you’ll minimize your chances of consequence if your stay in your street clothes. If you’re topless or worse then . . . well, you increase your chances of having the police on you.

As for keeping warm in the winter? I recommend a very high-end sleeping bag. Many are ranked to deal with severe temperatures, meant to keep you warm if you happen to be in a tent on a frigid mountain, so I’m sure such bags will do more than well inside a car with all that wind-blocking. I emphasize saving for a higher-end bag, for cheaper one “catch” on your finger and toenails, which is a terrible sensation. You only have to buy a good one once, so save up and pay up!

7.) Act 5 Yrs Old and Go to the Bathroom before Bed

Stop drinking a few hours before, while we’re at it!

I know this is the silliest tip, but you’ll surely regret it if you should happen to be a spot where you need to lay low and suddenly you’ve got the urge! Hydrate to hydrate, and avoid excess beyond that. (Though, be sure to keep nearby a gigantic and full water bottle during summer.)

8.) Consider Utilizing Orange Safety Glasses and Blindfolds

It’s highly probable anyone utilizing the homeless lifestyle it going to have to become accustomed to sleeping in the light, such as under a light post. This can make sleep difficult, and in fact affect your health given that blue light is unhealthy to be exposed to at night since it triggers the brain into believing its daytime and that it needs to keep producing wakeful hormones.

If you’re concerned enough to counteract this, I strongly suggest orange safety glasses and blindfolds. Orange safety glasses are known to be of the right tint to help filter out blue light while still allowing plenty of visibility, allowing for you to read or enjoy your computer tablet without disrupting your sleep and health so much. For the latter, you’ll block out light for sleep, of course, but consider having two on hand in case you need to double-up for extra light blockage. I’ve cut mine from shirts I didn’t want anymore; I find them better than what you can buy in a store since they’re thinner (and thus cooler), and it’s a more comfortable fit to tie something ninja-style.

9.) Commit to Memory the “Culture” of a Bathroom

One really odd thing that I’ve noticed is that the “cultures” of bathrooms vary wildly from place to place. Some are continually pristine clean at every time of day; others are ones you’d never want to touch. The odd thing is that for whatever human traffic comes through, there tends to be a lot of consistency about their habits, which will allow you to predict which bathrooms stay reliably clean while others are reliably in ruin.

For instance, when I park by my gym I make the effort to walk to the nearby Target to refresh myself, for the gym members tend to be consistently awful with making . . . messes . . . around the toilets and whatnot. Target is practically squeaky clean all the time in contrast. Thus, I refresh myself at Target while showering and shaving at the gym.

Remember the cleanliness!

* * * * *

That’s all I can think of for now. Voluntarily selecting homelessness, or being forced into it, is never a comfortable decision, but it can be an effective means of solving your problems and a tolerable, even comfortable lifestyle if you maintain the right practices.

Just think of it as a rather extreme self-improvement measure and keep pressing on, for perseverance in this situation shall bring you to greater wealth in the future.

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