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Homeless on purpose
March 9, 2012 7:22 AM   Subscribe

Homeless on purpose, how a U1 philosophy student braves the elements, sleeps outside, and keeps an eye on his GPA Shane is a U1 Philosophy student at McGill, and has been homeless since July. He lives on campus, using its facilities like most of us use different rooms in a house. He eats his meals in student lounges and does push-ups in the library. He showers at the gym and stashes extra socks in convenient hiding spots. He won’t say where – he guards his possessions closely.
posted by Strass (103 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
OK, I'll do it. Good practice for after graduation!
posted by thelonius at 7:27 AM on March 9, 2012 [17 favorites]


why do I have strains of Pulp going through my head? "you could call your dad and he'd stop it all"
posted by spicynuts at 7:28 AM on March 9, 2012 [31 favorites]


In the absence of anyone paying his rent for him, Shane would rather live rent free than get a job to pay for an apartment.

Kids these days!
posted by chavenet at 7:31 AM on March 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've heard of other undergrads doing stuff like this, perhaps from here. There are, no doubt, worse choices to make about how to live in college.

I think there was a grad student at Duke living out of a van, and, a couple of years ago, a guy at UC Berkeley(?) trying to live purely off of foods that grew locally. I think his diet was mostly figs, because there are fig trees.
posted by thelonius at 7:32 AM on March 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


He's not homeless, he's camping.
posted by octothorpe at 7:33 AM on March 9, 2012 [72 favorites]


When this guy has kids, going camping is going to be either their most treasured memory, or something they end up suppressing so hard it only comes out during hypnotherapy.
posted by griphus at 7:34 AM on March 9, 2012 [6 favorites]


why do I have strains of Pulp going through my head? "you could call your dad and he'd stop it all"

I don't know, since this dude doesn't seem to have contact with his family.

Admittedly, a young, handsome white guy without mental health problems gets a lot of slack cut for him.

Here's a thing: I've been reading a lot of radical stuff lately that goes something like this: 'we, the precarious generation, have this splendid opportunity because we are not burdened by mortgages, possessions, etc...if you can't afford a place to live, squat! If you can't afford to buy food, steal or dumpster it! Reclaim your freedom!"

Leaving aside the fact that this philosophy is best suited to the young and healthy, I end up thinking that this is exactly the philosophy that the shock-doctrine state wants you to adopt. You don't need wages to rent an apartment when you're happy as a para-homeless person; you don't need wages to buy food when you're happy dumpstering it. They can pay you less and make you ever more precarious, because you've made a virtue of having nothing.

Meanwhile, you're at the mercy of the doctor and the magistrate, because all your health care comes from the ER and you're living a semi-legal life of squatting, stealing and dumpstering. You're 'free' as long as you can get away with it, but you have no social or institutional protections.

Even though I'm an anarchist, I feel like anarchists are subject to the zeitgeist as much as anyone else, and we should be pretty careful about what virtues we want to prop up. The forces that create the shock-doctrine state shape us too.
posted by Frowner at 7:38 AM on March 9, 2012 [108 favorites]




A friend of mine did this during second year. Lived in a club's room he had member access to, but otherwise the same.

He went a little squirrely, and flunked out. I wouldn't recommend it.
posted by Capt. Renault at 7:40 AM on March 9, 2012


The infrastructure at any reasonably-appointed university will contain redundant delivery of basic services (food, hygiene, and shelter), such that a clever person with little regard for convention (or an overweening regard against convention) can easily find ways to avoid paying for some of those services.

This is not "homelessness" as such. This is quite literally the exercise of privilege.
posted by gauche at 7:41 AM on March 9, 2012 [67 favorites]


I was just about to mention Bobst Boy!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:42 AM on March 9, 2012


I know a couple people who have camped out, or slept in cars, for significant portions of college for financial reasons. I didn't think it was that uncommon, but it probably is in QC.

In the absence of anyone paying his rent for him, Shane would rather live rent free than get a job to pay for an apartment.

This sentence leaves out the important part of the decision making tree, which is the time involved in working just to pay rent. If your other needs are covered, and you are comfortable living this way, it might make sense for you to use that time for something school related. That doesn't work for most people, but there are lots of different choices people make about where and how to live.

I don't think he is at all unaware of the circumstances that allow him to live this way, and his use of the word "homeless" is likely more literal than the loaded meaning it more often has.
posted by helicomatic at 7:48 AM on March 9, 2012 [6 favorites]


As someone who has spent time homeless on the streets and in various shelter, I absolutely hate this kind of symbolism over substance bullshit.

“I could see the skyscrapers… It was a really beautiful spot – you see the pink come up in the morning. In a hammock you get to wake up with the sun.”

Go fuck yourself.
posted by holdkris99 at 7:49 AM on March 9, 2012 [43 favorites]


He's not homeless, he's camping.

Yeah, this. Homeless on purpose isn't the same thing as homeless.

In preparation for his expedition to Mount Everest, the late adventurer Göran Kropp lived outside in Sweden for over a year, then he rode his bicycle 11000km to Nepal, submitted Mt. Everst (after three times turning back within a few hundred feet of the top because the time he set to start downclimbing had passed, and Göran did not take unnecessary risks) and then he rode the same bicycle back to Sweden. All the time "homeless" and living rough in a tent.

Sure this doesn't offer the glamour of going homeless on a major college campus in the middle of a big city as a student of philosophy, but still.
posted by three blind mice at 7:49 AM on March 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


I suspect this will a) get harder to do after graduation and b) would be pretty impossible if more than a very few students tried it at once.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:49 AM on March 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


I did this very same thing back in the 80's for four years.
posted by telstar at 7:50 AM on March 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


I knew people who did this in college. It's not homelessness in any meaningful sense of that word, any more than someone hiking the appalachian trail is homeless.
posted by Forktine at 7:50 AM on March 9, 2012


This is not "homelessness" as such. This is quite literally the exercise of privilege.

I don't think it's that simple. Homelessness is a really broad category. There are homeless people who have to live on street corners and face the elements, homeless people with access to public shelter and hygiene facilities in bus and train stations, homeless people with makeshift homes (completely with safe personal property) in abandoned non-residential spaces (e.g. tunnels), homeless people residing long-term in homeless shelters, and that's before squatters even enter the picture (and even then you have legal and illegal squatters.)

Having nearly-unfettered and sympathetic access to university facilities is definitely a country mile closer to genuine comfort, but none of the facilities were created with mind to what he is doing.
posted by griphus at 7:50 AM on March 9, 2012 [16 favorites]


I went to a small college in Northern Wisconsin. Last year of my undergrad I was technically homeless, but being the manager of the theater meant I had keys to it and I slept in the catwalks and stored a few things carefully in the dressing rooms. Only real mishap was I smacked my forehead real hard once moving about int he dark against an iron gear system, thought I cut my eyebrow right off when I went and looked at it.

I did know of people at the school who made small strawbale shelters to sleep in out in the woods beyond the sports fields, actual a fair bit of that sort of stuff went on.
posted by edgeways at 7:51 AM on March 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


People make their way in life through a combination of public assistance and personal industry. He has chosen to cut costs in order to survive on public assistance, because he'd rather sacrifice creature comforts than work -- or, he'd rather work on himself than for others and for money. He is able to do this because he's the beneficiary of generous public assistance for so long as he is a student.

Seems like a good kid. Beyond that, it's just a lifestyle choice, with little significance for anyone else, let alone for the homeless -- difficult to imagine many others being able to do this alongside him, at least not competing for safe and warm places during the winter.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 7:51 AM on March 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


But is he as pithy as Diogenes?
posted by Iridic at 7:52 AM on March 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


Put another way, you, too, could easily live like a homeless person, for the low, low price of a university tuition.*

“Housing,” he’s decided, “is more of a luxury good rather than a basic good. As an independent individual without children, at least, you can live very well sleeping outside, even somewhere cold like Montreal.”

Emphasis added, and I'm glad that he at least has some dawning understanding of this. In time, no doubt it will occur to him that things that are necessary to the continued existence of the species are not really luxury goods, even though he doesn't happen to need them this very moment.

*I know he's on financial aid. That just means someone else is paying for him to have access to university services. And that's good: well-designed financial aid is an important way to prevent the old from eating the young.
posted by gauche at 7:53 AM on March 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


I had a colleague at uni who did this not on purpose, and he didn't write a blog about it.
posted by Joe Chip at 7:54 AM on March 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


I know a former student who spent a year as a "commuter", but actually living out of his van, in conjunction with the gym for showers, etc. Things like this likely happen much more than is widely known.
posted by fings at 7:55 AM on March 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't think it's really appropriate to trash on this kid, for pete's sake. He's doing what he needs to do to achieve his ends, hurting no one, making no larger program.

If anything, to me he's a symbol of how much more students ought to get - there's no reason there couldn't be enough assistance to provide an SRO-level single room for a kid for a few years.

I'm far more worried about the ways homelessness or precariousness can get glamorized and justified by people who have a vested interest in the precarious status quo than in what one dude does to get by on his own terms.
posted by Frowner at 7:56 AM on March 9, 2012 [24 favorites]


I'm pretty sure that, at any university of any real size, there's at least one student living like this, and possibly several. Universities, by their nature, usually have quite a few unused nooks and crannies in different buildings that are lit and heated but aren't used at the moment, so someone who's reasonably neat and quiet can have a warm place to sleep and even plug in an alarm clock so that they can wake up and get out before the staff show up. (Heck, if you are a high-enough-level student, you can reserve a study carrel in a library and use that; they'll send someone around at closing time to ask people to leave, but unless they take the campus cop thing very seriously, they're usually easy enough to evade.)

I'm not speaking from direct experience here, but after taking a job at a university and living in a very dodgy apartment with a number of other people whom I didn't know because it was a little while before I could afford a decent place, I eventually realized that I could have gotten by with a post office box, a cheap storage space, use of the campus gym for showering and the office microwave for cooking, and (the only really forbidden part, although not formally so because I don't think that it would have occurred to my boss to forbid me to do so) sleeping in a corner of my workplace that was obviously neglected by the evening cleaning crew that I could get to with my work keys. It wouldn't have gone on for long, nor would it have probably been sustainable in the long run without losing my job, but it would have been a more secure situation than wondering if every last thing that I owned would be stolen that day or if the power would be shut off because of that one guy who refused to pay his bills because of some ancient slight. I'd have saved money and not suffered a bit. Oh, well.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:57 AM on March 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well, at least he doesn't come across as a sanctimonious, self-righteous asshole the way some of the "homeless on purpose, cause I am writing a blog" people in the past have.
posted by kellyblah at 7:57 AM on March 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I slept in my car and showered at the Honors hourse for a few months in college too. This isn't all that rare, or interesting.
posted by spaltavian at 7:57 AM on March 9, 2012


Also, it's very easy to turn this into 'divide and be ruled'. There's no reason we can't demand a society in which everyone has housing, regardless of whether they are students, mentally ill, a little bit lazy, chronically ill, etc. Everyone should be housed. It doesn't make sense to spend a lot of time as a society breaking people down into "the deserving poor" and the lazy wastrels, or whatever. The only people benefited by that strategy are the elites who are off profiting and justifying themselves by dispensing a few crumbs of charity to the 'deserving'. I'm not a cop or a magistrate; I don't have to fuss with that.
posted by Frowner at 8:00 AM on March 9, 2012 [19 favorites]


If he were working part time while in school to pay rent on an apartment, he could be receiving the same amount of financial aid he is now.
posted by helicomatic at 8:01 AM on March 9, 2012


I don't think it's really appropriate to trash on this kid, for pete's sake. He's doing what he needs to do to achieve his ends, hurting no one, making no larger program.

Yeah, I'm not really meaning to harsh on this guy -- frankly he's doing something I've considered doing on more than one occasion and think would be kind of fun. I'd guess I'm more sympathetic to things like dumpster diving than is the average MeFite.

It's the broader journalistic angle of "homelessness is a fun choice!" that gets to me. And it's not even as bad in this article as it has been in some others I've seen around.
posted by gauche at 8:01 AM on March 9, 2012


Any sufficiently advanced experiment in alternative lifestyle is indistinguishable from Montreal.
posted by oulipian at 8:02 AM on March 9, 2012 [30 favorites]


Actually, this is interesting to me, in that I'm appalled that any student has to do this. You shouldn't have to sleep in catwalks, or vans, to complete your education. Education and the cost of housing are just too fucking expensive. It's not ok, not really, no matter how tough an individual is who does it.
posted by emjaybee at 8:03 AM on March 9, 2012 [6 favorites]


Education and the cost of housing are just too fucking expensive.

Students in Quebec are in the streets protesting a plan to double tuition costs. Meantime, the rest of Canada (which has much higher tuition costs already) seems to be saying, "Suck it up and suffer like everyone else." This is why we can't have nice things.
posted by parudox at 8:13 AM on March 9, 2012 [6 favorites]


It's not always enrolled students who do this. When I was in college, I had several friends who'd either run out of tuition money, dropped out, flunked out or otherwise left the Mainstream College Experience but weren't ready to go home yet. Some sat in on classes because they still had things they wanted to learn, some took advantage of the fact that their uni computer network accounts hadn't been shut off yet (this was '91-93ish, before Internet access was widespread), some just, well, didn't want to go home yet.

The boiler room of the Riddick engineering building was known informally as the Riddick Hotel, because at any given time there were two or three scruffy coders camping out therein. Likewise, they found their own sources of sustenance: the local Pizza Hut started padlocking its dumpsters so the college dropouts and local street-homeless wouldn't get into fistfights, tag-alongs at 3 AM runs to IHOP chugged the syrup ("Boysenberry goes down best," one said), and one canny friend targeted the local Hostess plant's dumpsters. His report on the Brownie Bites Diet was one word: "regular."

On the flip side... there was also a local dwelling nicknamed The Commune, because who lived there and who crashed there varied wildly from week to week. It's hard to believe that this guy is resourceful enough to be self-sufficient in the wild but can't find SOMEONE on whose couch he could crash for a while.
posted by delfin at 8:17 AM on March 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


Yeah there are plenty of homeless who don't want a job. There are so many jobs that AREN'T EVEN MEANINGFUL CONTRIBUTIONS. Is the person working in advertising for cigaretter companies more ethical than an unemployed by choice person because they are bringing in the dough? Is a mcdonalds worker more ethical than and unemployed by choice person because they are "contributing" for what they consume? In what way are they contributing? Really society is benfitted by hamburgers and french fries? Honestly the mcdonalds worker could do more good by NOT giving people hamburgers, and standing on the street corner reminding people that a chicken leg and rice and a zuccini is healthier and not that hard to cook and can be affordable as well.

What do we mean when we want people to work? What do their "contributions" actually contribute? Do they make life better or worse? We don't care, it's just EARN EARN EARN and that makes people ethical. Even if they are making the world a WORSE place by doing unethical things with their business.

What if this same kid spent ten hours a week volunteering to help families get fresh produce and meats and cook good food? Is he more ethical because he is contributing, or still unethical because he is not EARNING? Do we really want people to contribute or do was just want to look at the numbers and see they are pulling in money even if hurting people or damaging society? Because if actually care about contributions-- MORE people who dropped out and lived like this guy in order to contribute in a meaningful way of their own choosing to really making society better, would probably be a better thing for society than everyone being encouraged to be a slave to unethical business practices that are not good for human beings.
posted by xarnop at 8:20 AM on March 9, 2012 [22 favorites]


(ooh really sorry about the spelling and grammar-- pretty bad even for my usual dyslexia)
posted by xarnop at 8:23 AM on March 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah, this. Homeless on purpose isn't the same thing as homeless.

If he does not have the money to afford housing, because he's trying to get his degree, I don't think that counts as "on purpose."

With most homeless people, hard life decisions got them where they are... they're not all alcoholics or mentally ill. You can chose to eat, or to pay rent. You can chose to give up your dream of a college education, or you can sleep in the library.

Some folks don't have the ability to keep a full courseload and work a job that pays well enough to cover room and board. This isn't the story of a rich boy slumming - this is a story of college tuition being completely out of control.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:23 AM on March 9, 2012 [10 favorites]


Seems like he has a pretty good social network among students/friends and security guards. That helps a lot.
posted by ZeusHumms at 8:24 AM on March 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have a cousin who has occasionally done this, but he was in the Forestry program at Lakehead, so for him it kind of came with the territory. He also made no pretense to it being some sort of "homelessness". If anything, he looked at it as a nice vacation from the bush.

Also, don't some of the filthy hippies down at UC Santa Cruz live in the forest there full time?
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:27 AM on March 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


None of this is all that newswothy, except the part about him doing this in Montreal. That's where the crazy is.
posted by ocschwar at 8:28 AM on March 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


What if this same kid spent ten hours a week volunteering to help families get fresh produce and meats and cook good food? Is he more ethical because he is contributing, or still unethical because he is not EARNING?

Indeed. Folks definitely collapse "getting paid" with "being moral". Which is radically individualistic (in, like, a bad way) because it's basically rooted in 'you need to be totally self-sufficient in order to be a good person", and frankly no one is 100% self sufficient.

There's a parallel between homelessness and modern American self-conception here: if you're homeless, you're perpetually illegal, because even if you're hurting no one you're still breaking all kinds of laws about dumpstering, loitering, sleeping in the park, etc. You're perpetually at the mercy of the law, and you can't not be. Your whole existence is subsumed under criminality. A lot of people will say that you're bad or lazy or whatever merely because you're homeless. (Witness some of what's going on in this thread for a very mild form!)

Similarly, you can't not depend on others - at some point you'll get sick or be unemployed or be broke or go on food stamps or need some other form of care or even just collect social security. But because we think of EARNING as the primary indicator of morality, you can't not be immoral if you're dependent.

Which is all stupid, stupid, stupid, and only benefits the elites who have so much money and so many connections that they can always game the system.

Putting this fake scrim of "morality means earning" over the realities of life just conceals actual dependencies and actual inequality and the actual power struggles taking place. Plus it obscures a lot of solutions, because we're too busy reducing it to the individualistic mantra 'get a job, you filthy hippie, you are so spoiled and probably have a trust fund"
posted by Frowner at 8:37 AM on March 9, 2012 [38 favorites]


It's hard to believe that this guy is resourceful enough to be self-sufficient in the wild but can't find SOMEONE on whose couch he could crash for a while.

It says in the article that he actually considered couch-surfing or buying a van. He dropped the second idea because he didn't have a driver's licence; I guess he must have his reasons for not wanting to sleep on other people's couches, despite the many doors that are open to him. My guess would be that it's a psychological thing, connected to the fact that he doesn't have any contact with his family; I'd say he's doing it to prove himself (and nobody else) that he can get by all on his own, for the feeling of self-sufficiency.
posted by daniel_charms at 8:43 AM on March 9, 2012


He's just lucky this is the year he's doing it, because we've barely had a winter. There are years he would have had a lot more trouble. (Not in December, though, when the libraries are -- or used to be -- open 24/7.)

(Also: it appears he's Quebecois, which means he has access to the same normal selection of clinics and doctors that any resident does, he's not stuck with the ER. It also means that his tuition and other costs are about 3k/year, for now.)

Some of the article is idiotic: when he's hungry, he has to go to his food, and it might not be next to him. Okay. This is different from people who are commuting to campus how?

When I was at McGill, I had a friend who occasionally ran out of money for food, and lived on rice, departmental party leftovers, and the kindness of friends.
posted by jeather at 8:43 AM on March 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Philosophy as a study: Great.
Philosophy as a major: Stupid.

He must want to stay homeless. And by "homeless", I mean that this is not homelessness. Clever and frugal, maybe. Most homeless people do not have laptops and bivy sacks.
posted by prepmonkey at 8:47 AM on March 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Philosophy as a major: Stupid.

Most of the Phil majors I knew in college are lawyers or bankers or nurse practitioners or pilots (no - wait - my pilot friend was a double major in Classics and Drama). It's not like you're required to get a job in your major.
posted by rtha at 8:50 AM on March 9, 2012 [17 favorites]


This sentence leaves out the important part of the decision making tree, which is the time involved in working just to pay rent.

What about the time spent dealing with the consequences of being homeless? (Finding place to sleep, hiding your socks, etc.)
posted by lodurr at 8:55 AM on March 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Most of the Phil majors I knew in college are lawyers or bankers or nurse practitioners or pilots (no - wait - my pilot friend was a double major in Classics and Drama). It's not like you're required to get a job in your major.

Indeed. For many, if not most, humanities degrees, jobs "in your field" don't even exist unless you're planning to become an academic. I'm an English major. I do not write books or teach English.

A good friend of mine is a Philosophy major. She is an entrepreneur. Her business is directly related to her feminist philosophy, so I guess maybe she does have a job "in her field," but it's not like she is sitting around ruminating on life and wondering why no one will pay her to do so.
posted by asnider at 8:55 AM on March 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


My stepson tells us sometimes 'if I didn't live at home I'd be homeless.' His reasoning has to do with how much it costs to have an apartment and tends to make a lot of assumptions about the kind of apartment he'd live in (solo, "where you won't get knifed", etc.).
posted by lodurr at 8:58 AM on March 9, 2012


TRUE FACT: Not a single French major I knew in college went on to become French.
posted by griphus at 8:59 AM on March 9, 2012 [46 favorites]


“Depending on how I do the math,” he says, “I could end up with zero debt at the end of university.”

My undergrad years contain some of my most wonderful memories, and really solidified my identity. I see him as missing out on a lot of things for the sake of what could be a rather small debt, or a bit of effort with a part-time job. Being homeless IS a job in itself.

Also, he's lucky that he hasn't been seriously ill or assaulted or caught out in really bad weather etc. That's a risk and it comes with a cost. Montreal's one of the cheapest univesrity cities in Canada to live in. Rent is very reasonable. I think he could easily find a spot to crash for a few hundred bucks a month if he wasn't picky (which he clearly is, but in strange ways).
posted by jimmythefish at 8:59 AM on March 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


What about the time spent dealing with the consequences of being homeless?

I think that was also part of his decision.
posted by helicomatic at 9:07 AM on March 9, 2012


I find the snottiness of the comments in this thread unfathomable. Did some of you get some radically different version of this article where either the kid or the author made some comment to the effect that "this proves homelessness isn't a real problem" or something?

It's a story about a kid who has chosen to sleep rough through a Montreal winter in order to avoid either running up student debt, having to get a job while continuing his studies or imposing on his friends. This is "newsworthy" by virtue of the fact that it is incredibly unusual. It's an interesting story about a resourceful kid who has taken an unusual approach to the financial challenges of getting an undergraduate degree.

And to the people in this thread saying variations on "I did the same thing" or "I could easily have done the same thing" get back to me when you've slept outdoors through a night of -25 degrees.
posted by yoink at 9:24 AM on March 9, 2012 [7 favorites]


> Philosophy as a major: Stupid.

Dalton went on to be the best bouncer ever. Philosophy is a great major.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:26 AM on March 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


lodurr: What about the time spent dealing with the consequences of being homeless?

helicomatic: I think that was also part of his decision.


I'm sure he thought it was. I doubt he's ever made a serious effort to compare the consequences, though, or he wouldn't be so cavalier about it. Not surprising, though, of course, since most people that age think they know everything. I certainly did.
posted by lodurr at 9:29 AM on March 9, 2012


Did some of you get some radically different version of this article where either the kid or the author made some comment to the effect that "this proves homelessness isn't a real problem" or something?

I think most of the response is not to the guy himself, but, for one thing, to what people see as the assumptions behind his choices, and for another thing, to the glamorization of this type of decision. I thought Frowner spelled out pretty well one really interesting way of looking at the second factor: Complacency about homelessness (which is shot through the narrative of this story) benefits oppressors.
posted by lodurr at 9:32 AM on March 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


Complacency about homelessness (which is shot through the narrative of this story)

I can't see any "complacency about homelessness" in the story at all. I see people arbitrarily choosing to ascribe that to either the article's author or the article's subject, but it appears to be based on absolutely nothing that either of them said in the actual article itself.

Here is what the article actually says about the plight of the involuntarily homeless:
But he has no illusions about the challenges faced by many others who find themselves without a home. For those struggling with addiction or mental health issues, young people who have been kicked out or are fleeing an abusive home life, or children and the elderly, doing what Shane does is neither desired nor possible. It is for these people, those who want desperately to come in from the cold, that our government has an infrastructure of shelters, subsidized housing, foster care, and job training programs.
Both he and the article's author are perfectly well aware that what he has chosen to do is not a viable solution to the problem of homelessness in the wider community.
posted by yoink at 9:41 AM on March 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


The consequences of sleeping outdoors and not having a permanent residence have certainly made themselves apparent, since he's been doing this since last July. If he decided it wasn't working out, he would probably do something about it.

The choices he made are not permanent ones, and it seems like he's enjoying his life. I wouldn't have made the same choices for myself, but that doesn't make him irresponsible for making those choices for himself.
posted by helicomatic at 9:44 AM on March 9, 2012


I had a colleague at uni who did this not on purpose, and he didn't write a blog about it.

Why does blogging about what you do make it objectionable? And where did it even say he was blogging anyway? There was a mention of his eventually writing what's presumably going to be a free guide to sleeping outside, which might turn out to be useful for someone.

But for reals, can we talk about how the author claims he resembles Viet Cong. Guh?)
posted by psoas at 9:47 AM on March 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


You can't be poor and have hobbies. That means you're not working hard enough to stop being poor. And if you're not working, you should certainly at least be suffering, not talking about how nice the sunrise is. Enjoying the sunrises is for people who stick to the social contract, god dammit. Instead of blogging, he should be spending that time looking for a job he doesn't want, or trying to find an apartment he doesn't need.
posted by griphus at 9:58 AM on March 9, 2012 [19 favorites]


I once slept overnight in the research lab I worked in during my undergrad. I slept in a cot under a long table. When the cleaning staff came in I woke up startled and slammed my head against the table. They apologized (it was Canada), turned out the lights and left. I returned to sleep. In the morning, feeling the bump on my head, I decided that sleepunders were a bad idea.
posted by srboisvert at 10:28 AM on March 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


My impression from having lived in many different cities is that there is a shortage of housing for people who don't care about housing. One thing that stands out to me from having lived in MANY different cities, is there is a shortage of housing for people who don't care about housing. You know, people who don't have a lot of stuff and would rather spend money on other things. Many cities have zoning laws for max apartment sizing and limits on number of people who can share an apartment. I remember trying desperately to get into a building on NYC's UWC that had tiny studios that were grandfathered in before those laws. I was on a waiting list with hundreds of other people. I wanted it so bad because I knew I could live somewhere AWESOME and spend money on NYC's great art, music, and food rather than I place I never see (I worked a lot and lived alone). I didn't get that apartment sadly and ended up having to live a lot further away in a bigger place that I didn't want/need and had to share illegally with three other people.
posted by melissam at 10:45 AM on March 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


You shouldn't have to sleep in catwalks, or vans, to complete your education.

He doesn't have to. He's chosen to. He's fully capable of getting a job, stretching out his education over more than four years if need be, or, you know, taking out a damn loan. That's what most other people do. He's chosen to live rough--and not very rough for all that--rather than do either of those things. And, I mean, good for him? I guess? But he has tons of choices available here, and this is something he's chosen to do.

this is a story of college tuition being completely out of control.

No, it isn't. Quite the opposite in fact. This guy doesn't seem as if he's paying a dime for college. He's a Quebecer attending McGill, which is therefore ridiculously cheap. Tuition is only like C$2,200 a year, and the article implies that he's paying into the mandatory food plan, which runs about C$5,000, all of which is covered by scholarships and a few loans. He just doesn't have cash on hand for room, meaning he has to choose between 1) getting a job to pay for, 2) borrowing money to pay for, or 3) doing without.

He's chosen door number three, not because college is expensive, but because he doesn't want to both work and go to school at the same time or borrow any money. While understandable, this has very little to do with the actual cost of college tuition and far more to do with the opportunity cost of studying rather than working. Make no mistake, it's a real cost, but if anything, this just underlines gauche's point about privilege. If he weren't going to college he wouldn't have tuition costs, it's true, but not only are those paid for, but he'd still have room and board to consider. College is thus adding essentially nothing to his cost structure beyond a demand on his time.

he should be spending that time looking for a job he doesn't want, or trying to find an apartment he doesn't need

The vast majority of humanity has a job they don't want. Hell, I've had jobs I didn't want. Having a job you want is not a right. Having a job, or some way of providing for yourself without being a burden on others, is a responsibility, and whether or not you want it matters not a damn.

But he does actually need an apartment. He's one accident or serious illness away from being in serious trouble. Shelter is one of the most basic needs in Maslow's hierarchy. As it accomplishes both physiological and safety needs, so it's hard to understate its importance. What he's doing here is not a permanent solution.
posted by valkyryn at 10:47 AM on March 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


Further to Yoink's responses, I think whats notable here is the lack of shame he professes in his living choice and the author lack of hostility. We are mostly led to believe that being with out a home is somehow a personal failing that should be hidden from public view. Here's someone who is doing it more or less legally and intentionally and isn't cowering from the eyes of his peers.

Yes, this choice is possible because he's a young & healthy man with access to the resources his tuition has paid for on campus, and that's acknowledged in the article. Nor does it really make it out as a rosy solution without downsides... too little laundry and privacy being specifically named and security being alluded to.

I would rather students live in physical housing because I think it's safer, and their academic pursuits are a worthwhile investment of my tax dollars, but apparently in super-cheap montreal that's no longer possible without debt or a job.

From where I'm sitting (in my 30s, in Toronto, with a BA), a philosophy major's job is to think and read and think some more. Young men of my acquaintance didn't have much stuff in Uni, so if this works for him, and he's socially connected enouhj to stay healthy, I imagine it will only inform his life down the road. Best of luck to him, let's not make anyone else do it.
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 11:06 AM on March 9, 2012


The consequences of sleeping outdoors and not having a permanent residence have certainly made themselves apparent, since he's been doing this since last July. If he decided it wasn't working out, he would probably do something about it.

Bad assumption. It's easy to rationalize your choices when you're invested in a course of action. Plus, when you're engaged in the day to day struggles (e.g., as I pointed out, finding a place to sleep each night, making sure you're secure in your person all the time, finding places to stow your things and keep them secure, etc.), it's easy to fail to understand that you would be able to write some of that off if you had a stable residence.
posted by lodurr at 11:07 AM on March 9, 2012


I would rather students live in physical housing because I think it's safer, and their academic pursuits are a worthwhile investment of my tax dollars, but apparently in super-cheap montreal that's no longer possible without debt or a job.

As far as I can tell, it shouldn't generally be possible for adults to live anywhere without a job. Housing ain't free.
posted by valkyryn at 11:18 AM on March 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Job" is a really vague term in that statement. What constitutes a "job"? What's the minimum standard of benefit, and to whom?
posted by griphus at 11:22 AM on March 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


As far as I can tell, it shouldn't generally be possible for adults to live anywhere without a job. Housing ain't free.

Isn't this is a pretty radical position, though? A lot of college students don't have jobs, and out of the ones that do, I would guess that few are able to cover all of their expenses -- generally a work-study job at the library is not going to pay the rent, even in Montreal.
posted by en forme de poire at 11:29 AM on March 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Job" is a really vague term in that statement. What constitutes a "job"? What's the minimum standard of benefit, and to whom?

I don't much care. For most of human history, most of humanity has engaged in subsistence farming, i.e. working your butts off just to keep body and soul together. Nothing wrong with that. The whole "You don't work, you don't eat" concept is pretty old. Doesn't give any value for "work" or "eat," but it shouldn't really have to.

So I guess the "minimum standard of benefit" is just enough to keep you clothed, fed, and housed.

I don't care about the "to whom" part though. If you can make enough stuff on your own, working for yourself, to make a go of it, more power to you. If not, find something else to do. Whatever.
posted by valkyryn at 11:32 AM on March 9, 2012


Isn't this is a pretty radical position, though? A lot of college students don't have jobs, and out of the ones that do, I would guess that few are able to cover all of their expenses

No, it isn't. The point isn't that every person needs to have a job all the time. Lots of families have a single income earner, but the spouse that isn't "working" is nonetheless doing plenty of important work, generally speaking. The fact that it isn't directly compensated doesn't change the fact that it's still stuff that has to be done. And, more to the point, someone is still paying for everything.

That "someone," for most college students, is their parents or themselves. Sometimes the state or a charity. Whatever. Point is, someone's paying for it, and most of the time that "someone" is an individual with a job.
posted by valkyryn at 11:34 AM on March 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


My mom went to college in the seventies and worked exactly ten hours per week. On ten hours worth of work she was able to pay for housing with three roomates (in a HOUSE) and food AND pay her own tuition. Plenty of time for studying and fun and she paid her own way. No student debt when she was done. What the heck happened?
posted by xarnop at 11:37 AM on March 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


What the heck happened?

People who like money and know how to get it realized there was gold in them thar hills.
posted by griphus at 11:40 AM on March 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


valkyryn, sorry, I guess I don't understand what you're getting at. Were you objecting to students getting housing covered by the university or the state?
posted by en forme de poire at 11:47 AM on March 9, 2012


As far as I can tell, it shouldn't generally be possible for adults to live anywhere without a job. Housing ain't free.

I'm looking forward to the house-to-house paper checks, the rousting of homeless folks, the expulsions of squatters and all the various mechanisms of state repression that will come into being to make this work. I'm also looking forward to the forced labor part, because if we can't let people break the law by being homeless, squatting and various greymarket arrangements and we're unwilling to shoot them, we're going to need to force them to work and lodge them in barracks. That will be fun! And the free labor will be good for the economy.
posted by Frowner at 11:57 AM on March 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


Were you objecting to students getting housing covered by the university or the state?

I'm saying that his "problem" isn't caused by high tuition costs. They aren't high to begin with, and they're paid for. And going to college didn't impose any extra food or housing costs, because he was going to have to live somewhere (in theory, anyway).

Like I tried to explain earlier, there are really two costs associated with going to college. One of them is tuition, which is a cost one would otherwise not have. But the other is the opportunity cost of going to school rather than working for a living. This is significant, because the fact that one is going to school does not change the fact that one presumably wishes to keep body and soul together during that time, which costs money.

The net result here is that this guy is living rough entirely because he doesn't want to get a job. On one hand, you do have to kind of respect him for being willing to live with the consequences of his choices. He doesn't want to work, and he's willing to give up the things he would need to work to get. Okay. But I can't construe this as displaying any kind of virtue beyond that, and it's certainly not the result of any kind of oppression or injustice.
posted by valkyryn at 12:08 PM on March 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Come on, Gawker wrote this exact article less than 3 months ago. Did the internet reset already?
posted by T.D. Strange at 12:20 PM on March 9, 2012


xarnop: There are so many jobs that AREN'T EVEN MEANINGFUL CONTRIBUTIONS.

This, a thousand times this. I am visiting America for the first time in many years, and it always amazes me the number of people you employ for the most menial and unimportant tasks. If the minimum wage was a bit higher maybe you wouldn't have so much of this waste of human potential.
posted by Joe Chip at 12:32 PM on March 9, 2012


He eats his meals in student lounges and does push-ups in the library. He showers at the gym and stashes extra socks in convenient hiding spots.

Why doesn't he do pushups in the gym? Also, what are "extra socks"?
posted by karathrace at 12:59 PM on March 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


> Also, what are "extra socks"?

Slang for condoms.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:00 PM on March 9, 2012


Slang for condoms.

Nice. I want you to know, Burhanistan, your errant comments are appreciated by at least me. Keep up the good work, champ.
posted by karathrace at 1:05 PM on March 9, 2012


I mainly object to this kid's definition of a house as simply a place to put your stuff. It must feel wonderfully free to be able to view it that way without a second thought.

For 50% of the population, a home is a place where you can go to sleep behind a locked door so you won't get raped. If that were not an ongoing, brutal and mostly unspoken and tacitly accepted reality, you'd see more women deciding to live in hammocks as well. Sounds like a lark. Hope he's having a fun adventure.
posted by gentian at 1:05 PM on March 9, 2012 [6 favorites]


Philosophy as a study: Great.
Philosophy as a major: Stupid.


One thing you learn in Philosophy is that sweeping generalizations tend to make one look like (pardon the philosophical jargon) an ass-hat.
posted by joe lisboa at 1:07 PM on March 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


... or earns one tenure, I suppose.
posted by joe lisboa at 1:10 PM on March 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Meantime, the rest of Canada (which has much higher tuition costs already)

It was ever thus. The year I started university, full-time undergrad tuition at McGill was $535 a year, or roughly $1000 in 2012 dollars. By contrast, undergrad full-time tuition at Harvard that same year was about $14,000 USD, which would have been about $19,000 CDN.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:12 PM on March 9, 2012


As someone who has spent time homeless on the streets and in various shelter, I absolutely hate this kind of symbolism over substance bullshit.

“I could see the skyscrapers… It was a really beautiful spot – you see the pink come up in the morning. In a hammock you get to wake up with the sun.”

Go fuck yourself.


A choice that mimics circumstances you wish you didn't have to endure doesn't necessarily make that choice a wrong one. If the kid doesn't want to spend money on rent then let him. If sunrises through buildings is the cognitive dissonance he requires to justify freezing his ass off in a snow bed then so be it. No harm, no foul.
posted by furtive at 1:35 PM on March 9, 2012


A better comparison might be that what he pays now for tuition in Quebec, I paid twenty years ago in Ontario.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:36 PM on March 9, 2012


Related -- Camping by necessity: an American homeless family.
posted by ericb at 1:49 PM on March 9, 2012


And where did it even say he was blogging anyway?

From the article:
"Right now he’s planning to write an all-season guide for sleeping outside, and publish it on his personal website, www.policycraft.com."
posted by ericb at 2:09 PM on March 9, 2012


[Back it up please and quit making it personal. MetaTalk is always your options. Thanks.]
posted by jessamyn at 3:20 PM on March 9, 2012


Meantime, the rest of Canada (which has much higher tuition costs already)

It was ever thus. The year I started university, full-time undergrad tuition at McGill was $535 a year, or roughly $1000 in 2012 dollars. By contrast, undergrad full-time tuition at Harvard that same year was about $14,000 USD, which would have been about $19,000 CDN.


I am American. I went to college in Cambridge. I didn't need a passport to go there.
posted by madcaptenor at 3:22 PM on March 9, 2012


Also on the subject of housing for people who don't care about housing/can't afford conventional housing, in the olden days cities were full of boarding and guest houses where one could merely rent a bed. Most of those are gone now. I was reading the diary of my grandmother and she lived in one when she moved to NYC after WWII. A few still exist, but they are now quite expensive.
posted by melissam at 3:27 PM on March 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


But is he as pithy as Diogenes?

I don't know, his lifestyle choices sure do seem to pith a lot of people off!
posted by infinitywaltz at 3:32 PM on March 9, 2012


He's one accident or serious illness away from being in serious trouble.

Dude's almost American!
posted by threeants at 4:32 PM on March 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Weird bit of synchronicity; here is an article in the Atlantic from a couple of days ago. This fellow is even more firmly in the "camping", er, camp, though.
posted by curious nu at 5:28 PM on March 9, 2012


He's one accident or serious illness away from being in serious trouble.

He's a McGill student. They have their own medical clinic and mental health clinic. Indeed he lives (on campus) a brisk minutes walk from an entire army of bilingual medical students, has a legal clinic at his disposal and his medical care will be paid by the state. There's also a flotila of youth hostels if he needs temporary heated crash space, as low as $11 a night for a shared dorm. His access to gym showers for $40 a year and about $100 for the summer. McGill will spot him a loan in a complete emergancy (though he'll have to pay it back) and he can still get finacial aid if all else fails.

Wait a minute, why the fuck did I graduate?!
posted by Phalene at 6:37 PM on March 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why doesn't he do pushups in the gym?

Huh, I actually know that one. At McGill, the showers at the gym are accessible with a student card, but the (newish, fancy, Weider-family-funded) gym requires a membership. Not too expensive, but not included with tuition.
posted by mendel at 7:18 PM on March 9, 2012


The only problem I see with this is that the dude probably smells quite a bit.
posted by Defenestrator at 8:17 PM on March 9, 2012


To be fair, so do many college students who live in dorms.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:18 PM on March 9, 2012


Philosophy can be a great major, or a waste of time, like most of them. Pursuing it seriously certainly promotes critical thinking and writing skills, which are useful in a wide variety of professional endeavors. I don't think philosophy majors stand at all worse in the world than do English majors, or any other liberal arts grads. Hell, even an undergrad math major gets you exactly dick-squat in the job market, I have heard.
posted by thelonius at 11:58 PM on March 9, 2012


As far as I can tell, it shouldn't generally be possible for adults to live anywhere without a job. Housing ain't free.

You want to make all the unemployed homeless?

we're going to need to force them to work and lodge them in barracks

It's called the workhouse, and to be honest it's better to have them working and contributing to society than sitting on welfare/charity doing nothing.
posted by Summer at 5:30 AM on March 10, 2012


It's called the workhouse, and to be honest it's better to have them working and contributing to society than sitting on welfare/charity doing nothing.

LOL! Have you actually read the history of workhouses? Or any statistics about how a semi-slave army of labor actually depresses wages for everyone else? Or any reporting on how people actually are able to transition off welfare, when they are?

Workhouses...jesus god, where to begin? They're expensive to administer, especially when you don't have an army of independently-wealthy white people to manage the 'charity' angle. They require basically a secondary police force. It's extraordinarily difficult to run them in any but an abusive manner (consider how hard it is to run a prison! and then consider that work houses would probably be built and administered by such national treasures as the Corrections Corporation of America). People tend to be slapped into workhouses unfairly based on race, class, etc. The 'work' either needs to be no-value work, like digging trenches or else it undercuts actual paid labor - if you have a reserve army of essentially free workers building roads or whatever, suddenly you have a large group of formerly-employed working class people - and no money getting spent, because the workhouse folks don't get paid (or get paid a pittance) and the formerly well-paid people are unemployed. Unwilling workers (and there will be many - some who are workshy, some who are actually sick and should be getting disability, some who are bored and angry, some who are being abused) need to be heavily policed, so you get an overseer class.

Talking about how in some kind of 'utopia' we would have the platonic ideal workhouse where the deserving poor would do unpaid work happily to keep a roof over their heads and no coercion was needed...well, that's moon-base talk, even leaving the morality angle out.

What to take away from this? The economy is a system. Policing people to guarantee that every last ounce of labor is wrung out of every citizen is an ideological decision, not an economic one, and it's actually counterproductive. What's more, capitalism as it's presently constituted depends on having an exploited class to keep wages down - that's why businesses keep hiring undocumented workers and abusing them even while conservatives make noise about how terrible this is. Full employment either raises wages because there is more demand for workers than there are workers OR it requires police and semi-slavery because there aren't enough real jobs for everyone.

Strangely, we actually have the CCC model from the Depression where people were treated with at least some dignity and weren't locked up and got paid to do useful work that wasn't being done already by paid workers. Start a CCC with some version of adequate wages and some dignity of labor and you'd have all these "lazy" people fucking lining up to work on it. But shaming, blaming and coercing is much more emotionally satisfying.

Sometimes I figure we're headed for an America where half the citizens are getting paid to be prison guards, TSA workers, security guards and workhouse administrators to keep the other half in line, and all job creation comes only if you're willing to lock enough people up, the gulag theory of economic development.
posted by Frowner at 8:31 AM on March 10, 2012 [8 favorites]


Here's the kind of workhouse system I could support: heavily subsidized supportive housing, where the residents have low barriers to access to things like child care, medical and mental health services, and decent, non-shitty food, with classes on how to prepare it. Classes on budgeting and saving and other basic financial stuff. Actual job training for jobs that don't just keep you in cycles of poverty. GED classes for them what needs it. Like that.

This system would work best in a context where being poor is not assumed to be a moral failing, so I expect it to come about when unicorns shitting rainbows are so common as to be unremarkable.
posted by rtha at 9:35 AM on March 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


LOL! Have you actually read the history of workhouses?

Sorry, should have put the sarcasm tag on.
posted by Summer at 4:16 AM on March 11, 2012


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