Homeless Millennials Are Transforming Hobo Culture
April 22, 2015 9:30 PM   Subscribe

 
Just happened to read this QC today:
posted by macrael at 9:40 PM on April 22, 2015


I live just a couple of blocks away from a mall in north Seattle. We have a good number of homeless people that panhandle daily at several specific spots -- on the street dividers of a major intersection, and on the dividers that separate the "in" and "out" lanes approaching the mall.

Most of them are young. I think there are more men than women, but it seems like a fairly even split. Some have dogs. I see them talking now and again. (Almost all of them are white, but Seattle's a pretty white town anyway, especially the north end.) They all seem to know one another and offer each other support. And I've been seeing a few of them around here for years.

I've only talked to them in passing, when I have something to offer, so I don't really know their stories. I try to keep it brief because the honest truth is that I'm a caregiver by nature and I can't get drawn into someone else's trouble without trying too hard to fix it. Hell, I feel genuine guilt when I don't offer cash to whichever of them I pass by. Especially when I have a couple of bills. Even more when I'm coming home with take-out. Surely they could just use some more human contact, but I'm afraid if I get talking to them, I'll see that one extra thing I could do that would make someone's life better, and that's all well and good...but there will always be another thing that I could do.

I had a couple of $5 bills in my pocket the other day, so I gave one to the blonde with her dog while I was waiting at the stoplight. Just as she was walking back to her dog, a muscly guy came along in the crosswalk and set a big bag of dog food down at her feet, smiled and exchanged just a couple words and then walked away again. She obviously thanked him, but hell, I wanted to thank him for being a decent human being.

Some of them are older, but most of them are relatively young. They're lucid. They don't have any of the obvious mental illnesses that, while tragic and surely deserving of attention, at least explain why the afflicted are out on the streets. I don't know how they got there, but that almost doesn't matter to me. I just keep thinking...how the hell are they supposed to ever get back onto their feet?
posted by scaryblackdeath at 10:02 PM on April 22, 2015 [7 favorites]


Some of them are older, but most of them are relatively young. They're lucid. They don't have any of the obvious mental illnesses that, while tragic and surely deserving of attention, at least explain why the afflicted are out on the streets. I don't know how they got there, but that almost doesn't matter to me. I just keep thinking...how the hell are they supposed to ever get back onto their feet?

We had someone from a local organization that works with the homeless come talk at my workplace. She said sometimes the precipitating event for teen homelessness could be as innocuous as a clash between tight finances (worsened by the economic downturn!) and normal teenage behavior. The example she gave was that the teenage son comes home, finds a pound of sandwich meat in the fridge, and eats 3/4 of it. Mom comes home and discovers that he's eaten what was supposed to be everyone's sandwiches for the week. There's literally zero spare money to do anything about it, a massive blowout fight ensues, he stomps out, and that's that. Totally normal behavior for a teenager becomes disaster when there's no financial cushion.

Obviously a lot of times those kids are coming out of much worse situations, but that particular example was pretty shocking to me.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 10:18 PM on April 22, 2015 [28 favorites]


Over about the last three or four years, I have been seeing more and more people who I've been thinking of as "hobos," for lack of a better term. On every long interstate drive I will pass a few guys, always way out in the middle of nowhere, pushing or riding a bicycle loaded down with bags. I see them passing through town and hitchhiking at the onramp. I see them panhandling in cities.

I was a kid when Reagan was president and the homeless population exploded in size, and I can remember how it seemed like overnight there were countless people pushing shopping carts full of their possessions and sleeping on sidewalks. But the people I've been seeing lately are different, at least visually, and I am reminded of the stories my grandparents told about all the people on the move during the Great Depression.

how the hell are they supposed to ever get back onto their feet?

I wonder the same thing. It's a visible marker for me of how tough things are right now for a lot of people, and at the same time how that is kept thoroughly in the margins. Other than luck, or a massive change in how we organize our society, it feels like more and more people are becoming semi-permanently locked out.
posted by Dip Flash at 10:26 PM on April 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


this one cool economic environment has millennials ditching the concept of ever being comfortable or secure again.
posted by The Whelk at 10:36 PM on April 22, 2015 [40 favorites]


The anger in Newsweek comments is strong.
posted by auggy at 10:53 PM on April 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


Interesting to hear about all of them having phones but no way to charge them - I wonder if that means that a donation of a pile of mini hand crank generators would be appreciated by a homeless shelter, or how else you could get them to this demographic.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 11:21 PM on April 22, 2015 [6 favorites]


Squattheplanet.com is a fascinating place to lurk.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 11:43 PM on April 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


Okay this is time for me to ask. Is the safety net in the US really not there. You can go to a hospital when you're sick or injured right?

People get money when they have lucked out and need some help.

There is houses provided by national/federal or local government for families in need right?

I'm ignorant, you guys pay A LOT of tax; I've always wondered why.

Also homeless people get to have pets and mobiles if they choose.

Freedom right?
posted by Samuel Farrow at 11:46 PM on April 22, 2015


Who invented the word 'millenials' and can we shoot them please.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 11:55 PM on April 22, 2015 [14 favorites]


A public hospital is required to help you if you are dying, otherwise they are allowed to refuse treatment if you can't pay.

People can get food stamps (actual debit cards that only work to buy groceries, and only specific groceries) if they are low income and can get the paperwork. You can get actual money from the government if you are disabled (usually takes a year or more to start, from what I hear), or if you are recently unemployed (you only get unemployment benefits if you already had a job, and only for a specific amount of time after losing your job), or if you are retired and you or your spouse worked for at least 10 years - possibly some other ways? But if you are, say, a 20 year old who is healthy and has never had a job, I don't think you'd qualify for much.

There is public housing but for instance where I live (Seattle), waiting lists are months long at minimum, and some of the 'waiting lists' are only open to get your name on the list for a couple weeks each year before they 'fill' and you can't even be on the list. You can get into a homeless shelter faster, and some people stay in those for years.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 12:02 AM on April 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


I don't want to derail by answering, so I'll make this brief:

Okay this is time for me to ask. Is the safety net in the US really not there. You can go to a hospital when you're sick or injured right?

Sort of. They will often try to get you out of their care quickly if they know you can't pay, because it affects the hospital's or doctor's finances directly.

People get money when they have lucked out and need some help.

There's unemployment insurance for up to a year but you need to have lost a job first. People with disabilities sometimes have government stipends. If you're poor you can qualify for food stamps or subsidized housing or health coverage, although they may not cover all your needs.

There is houses provided by national/federal or local government for families in need right?

Yes, ever heard of "the projects"? That's housing that was built for this purpose.

I'm ignorant, you guys pay A LOT of tax; I've always wondered why.

We have fairly comparable income taxes to NZ, you have higher corporate and sales (goods) taxes, so I'm not sure what you're comparing, but:

The biggest military in the world, Social Security for old people, the programs mentioned above. We have hugely inflated military programs and hugely inflated medical costs, so a lot of that money doesn't go towards results so much as towards the stable profits of military contractors, health insurance companies, and pharmaceutical companies.

Also homeless people get to have pets and mobiles if they choose.

Get to?

Freedom right?

Yep
posted by JauntyFedora at 12:12 AM on April 23, 2015 [8 favorites]


Ok, so, I'm a grad student so it's not too surprising I've been on the financial bubble for while. But last fall some bad luck and bad planning on my part all hit at the same time and I ended up spending two weeks homeless and some months longer than that on various assistance. It sucked, royally, for many reasons. Here's some:

The safety net in the US exists. But it's definitely a “net” as in full of gaps and barely tied together. It consists of dozens of government programs, most of which do nothing directly but provide grants to local nonprofit assistance groups that do whatever's in their wheelhouse, and nothing more, and by their rules. Not to be too down on them because they're pretty much all super-dedicated but trying to navigate the resulting system is like dealing with 10 DMVs at the same time. I don't know how people who aren't 100% there mentally can handle it. (By which I mean of course they often can't.)

The whole system is heavily biased in favor of what you might call “sob-story groups” where compassion is easier to find: children, veterans, and the disabled. Since I'm none of these and not caring for any of them, I didn't qualify for the one homeless shelter in town. There was a warming center opening up for the winter a few weeks in the future, they had tried to become a full homeless shelter but were blocked by NIMBYism.

I didn't qualify for TANF, the main you're-poor-so-here's-emergency-cash system they have, because no kids. I could have gone to an emergency room if there was an emergency, but they wouldn't do the labs to monitor my chronic kidney condition, nor fill my prescription. I got an appointment at a charity clinic—one month away. Good thing I had some emergency meds saved. I wonder how schizophrenics are expected to avoid withdrawal? (Another “they don't” rhetorical question.)

I qualified for SNAP, the food debit card mentioned above. It was very helpful, although sometimes a store “wouldn't have that number in the system yet” so food that legally qualified they wouldn't sell me. It's a little embarrassing having to have the cashier set something aside because you can't afford it. Oh, also, I only got a few months of SNAP benefits before that ended, due to (I think) Clinton-era welfare reform. It would have lasted longer if—say it with me—I had had children.

My mobile phone really was a godsend, also public internet access, although things would have gotten more dicey if I had stayed homeless for longer than a month since I couldn't access my mailbox anymore. The free local bus service was also incredibly helpful, although not as much as it could be, because get this: none of its routes go as far as the very north end of town, where most of the social-services facilities are located because the rents are cheapest! If I had any pets I don't know how I would have fed them as that's not covered by SNAP. I imagine the more experienced homeless know how to juggle that.

As far as I can tell our taxes mostly go to stuff like this.
posted by traveler_ at 12:27 AM on April 23, 2015 [36 favorites]


This.

I did not choose to become homeless. If you want to say I chose to become homeless and sleep on the streets, really all I have to say is fuck you.


Does not go with this.

“I’ve found a way to be homeless without starving or begging or sleeping in ditches,” he says. “I’ve become a professional vagabond, and this is the lifestyle that I love.”
posted by psycho-alchemy at 1:02 AM on April 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


It kind of does. I can imagine not choosing to become homeless, then learning how to do it 'well', and then choosing to stay homeless.
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:14 AM on April 23, 2015 [22 favorites]


GREATEST COUNTRY ON EARTH
posted by DoctorFedora at 1:27 AM on April 23, 2015


BIGGEST MILITARY BUDGET! MORE THAN ANYONE ELSE COMBINED!

USA! USA! USA!
posted by The Whelk at 1:43 AM on April 23, 2015 [7 favorites]


I'm ignorant, you guys pay A LOT of tax; I've always wondered why.

Whatever the nominal tax rates may be, the US somehow manages to consistently fall at the bottom of the list of OECD nations as far as the ratio between total taxes collected—federal plus state plus local/municipal— and GDP. For example in 2010 only Chile and Mexico ranked lower.

So whoever it is that is receiving the majority of the output of the economy is ensuring that they're paying low tax rates compared to other industrialized countries, perhaps very low comparatively if they're paying Mitt Romneyesque tax rates while arranging for higher tax rates on everyone else.
posted by XMLicious at 4:07 AM on April 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


You can see a breakdown of exactly where your taxes are going here.

https://www.whitehouse.gov/2014-taxreceipt

The top five line items for me were (percentage of total income tax, not including SS and Medicare):

Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program: 12.31%
Medicare doctor and prescription drug payments: 11.27%
Ongoing military operations, equipment, and supplies: 9.69%
Net interest on the federal debt: 9.07%
Military research, development, weapons, and construction: 7.22%

When SS and Medicare taxes are included, SS becomes the top category (percentage of total tax):

SS: 18.34%
Medicare: 5.26%
posted by longdaysjourney at 4:54 AM on April 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


I just keep thinking...how the hell are they supposed to ever get back onto their feet?

Ignoring the punk/squatter ethos or mental health issues, there is the whole trapped in the mass of laws and debt issue.

If you were on medicaid as an adult - a clawback provision exists to get medicaid refunded. If you make less than poverty-level wages it sure does appear that instead of "9.5% (9.65%?) of your income as healthcare is affordable" you have to sell off all you have and $6000 a year is suddenly called affordable.

If you have a judgement and an aggressive creditor anytime you "get a job" a hunk of that money can be garnished. If that is a $7.25 an hour job, what's the incentive after the deductions?

Then you have un-dischargable debts like taxes, student loans et al.
posted by rough ashlar at 5:25 AM on April 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


This.

I did not choose to become homeless. If you want to say I chose to become homeless and sleep on the streets, really all I have to say is fuck you.


Does not go with this.

“I’ve found a way to be homeless without starving or begging or sleeping in ditches,” he says. “I’ve become a professional vagabond, and this is the lifestyle that I love.”


If you can't see how it actually does go with it, then that's your problem, not that dude's.
posted by blucevalo at 5:27 AM on April 23, 2015


I am reminded of the stories my grandparents told about all the people on the move during the Great Depression.

Regular pictures of the great depression along with economic reporting and interpretation can be found at The Automatic Earth.
posted by rough ashlar at 5:56 AM on April 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


"I'm ignorant, you guys pay A LOT of tax; I've always wondered why."
Jacob Funk Kirkegaard wrote a report noting that the U.S. actually has a higher level of overall public and private social expenditures (money spent "supporting the standard of living of disadvantaged or vulnerable groups") than any other OECD country except France. For those who read this blog, have ever read Lane Kenworthy, or who can click around the OECD social expenditure database, this is old news.

The main reason the overall social expenditures show up so high is because of our wildly dysfunctional health care system, which is (without exaggeration) the most expensive social welfare system of any sort anywhere in the entire world. Another big reason they show up so high (or higher than you'd think) is because the US actually does dedicate a lot of the national income towards securing the well-being of the rich, especially in retirement through the very inefficient IRA/401k system.
posted by ennui.bz at 6:05 AM on April 23, 2015 [11 favorites]


higher level of overall public and private social expenditures

And higher military spending. But hey, that's all being put on the 'national credit card' because "deficits don't matter".

Look closely at these 'Millennials' and ask yourself "what happens to me at the point where the US Dollar is no longer the international basis for trade". Look to what happened when the shelling and maravedi gave way to "the pound is a pound world round" and the pound gave way to the Dollar after WWII.

You might want to try and firm up the homeless "safety" net because how close are you to falling into that same position?
posted by rough ashlar at 6:14 AM on April 23, 2015




How to work SNAP to get what you need (not necessarily what they'll pay for): find a person paying for food with cash at a grocery or liquor store.

Pay for their food on your SNAP card. Have them give you the cash they were spending on the food.

Get what you need.
posted by disclaimer at 7:29 AM on April 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


About foodstamps and homelessness, in California at least, they subtract whatever you pay in rent from your income to calculate your eligibility. I didn't think to file for benefits until I was already homeless. I was told that if I was still paying rent, I would have qualified for generous benefits (~$120/month, which was easily double what I was spending on food at the time). But now all of my income was 'disposable', I barely qualified for any (~$10/month).

And of course you need a phone if you want to stop being homeless at some point. How can you keep any income, or hope to find a job, or a permanent place to live without a phone number and email address? What do you write on an application? "Contact Information: I'll swing back around Friday at 3:30 to see if I got the job."?
posted by Garm at 7:41 AM on April 23, 2015 [2 favorites]




Who invented the word 'millenials' and can we shoot them please.

I'm coming around to the idea of calling them 'Generation Iphigenia'

I just keep thinking...how the hell are they supposed to ever get back onto their feet?

The same way exiling the Decemberists to Siberia was supposed to remove that pesky liberal element and quell the discontent with l'ancien regime, to wit: it will just magically happen, with no long-term consequences whatsoever.
posted by eclectist at 9:01 AM on April 23, 2015


When I lived in San Francisco during the late 80's through most of the 90's, the homeless Xers (gutterpunks, etc.) all came from families ranging from dysfunctional to horrifically abusive. Many were gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender (homeless rates for LGBTQ youth are much higher than for cis, straight youth). Some came from foster care or "kinship care" situations. I surmise that at least some had undiagnosed learning disabilities as well. IME, the transient population of homeless young people started out with many strikes against them as it is - the well-adjusted middle-class kid who "goes slumming" is mostly a myth. (I say "mostly" because I'm sure they exist, but all the transient gutterpunk/squatter kids I knew came from Bad Situations.)
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 9:05 AM on April 23, 2015 [6 favorites]


Okay this is time for me to ask. Is the safety net in the US really not there. You can go to a hospital when you're sick or injured right?

If a hospital wants to accept Medicare (~universal government health insurance for old people), their emergency room has to (partially) treat all emergency patients whether they can pay or not. But AFAIK they can decline to treat non-emergent patients, and they don't have to actually fix you, just stabilize you. So the exact way this works out will vary, but if you show up because you have a small tumor pinching something in your digestive tract, they might maybe put in a stent to re-open your whatever duct and send you home. With the tumor still there and no treatment for the cancer.

People get money when they have lucked out and need some help.

There exist minor programs to provide cash assistance but they're very limited and the requirements are very strict. They only apply to children living with a parent(-oid), there are strict limits on how long you can be on them (around 4 years in your lifetime but it varies by state), the amounts you can get are a pittance, and there are restrictions and requirements about parental deprivation and such.

There is also unemployment insurance, which pays you a fraction of your pay for a short period, but this is primarily funded as actual no-shit insurance.

But to a first approximation there is no "dole" in the US.

There is houses provided by national/federal or local government for families in need right?

Some.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:11 AM on April 23, 2015


how the hell are they supposed to ever get back onto their feet?

The most interesting thing about this question is perhaps not the potential answers but its frame of reference.

They are on their feet, literally, and maybe some of them are surviving with something approaching the level of daily life safety risk accepted by plenty of more affluent people (e.g. commuters).

This phrase "on their feet" is code for living up to American ideas of what is enough affluence. And yet, in our official mythology, there is no such thing as enough affluence.

A blog I follow has for some time now been advocating intentional downshifting as a response to the current and ongoing crises of peak energy, climate change, and the decline of industrial civilization. Leaving aside for the moment the substantial evidence of that decline, and also leaving aside the significant factors that keep a lot of people from contemplating it, it's pretty clear that more and more people are taking this blog's advice to "collapse now and avoid the rush". It's not all pre-meditated and voluntary, but if moving from landed to itinerant lifestyles permits people to live with much less resources, it stands to reason we would be seeing more of it.

I read with interest the bit about sqatters modifying buildings. As a firefighter, amateur building modification gets my attention, and as a fire officer, I think about the increasing load and funding dynamics implied by accidental consequences. An article in a fire industry trade journal I read a while back was addressing how economic trends have led to higher occupancies in residential homes, with "atypical" room partitioning becoming a more common factor in search/rescue. So it's not just about hobos.

I think part of the difficulty many people have in making sense of things we are all seeing is that we as a culture really believe that our last booming couple of centuries mean that our civilization does not play by the same rules as other civs. It ain't true, but it's a deeply entrenched belief. Prying the lid off that leads to a flood of cognitive dissonance, and it's tempting to deal with that by getting judgmental about homeless people and their ilk.
posted by maniabug at 9:17 AM on April 23, 2015 [12 favorites]


An article in a fire industry trade journal I read a while back was addressing how economic trends have led to higher occupancies in residential homes, with "atypical" room partitioning becoming a more common factor in search/rescue. So it's not just about hobos.

I was listening to Things you missed in history class the other day. It was an episode about the Tenemant Museum in NYC. The museum director was discussing the different periods they represent in the museum and how lives were.

She mentioned that women would often not only have to be doing piecework in their extremely small one or two room apartment, as well as cooking and cleaning for their family (a husband, possibly several children, maybe another relative), but they also would be renting a portion of their room to yet another tenant. They were literally renting out a corner.

I'm so glad to see we're going back in time.
posted by sio42 at 9:28 AM on April 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


they also would be renting a portion of their room to yet another tenant. They were literally renting out a corner.

If only they had websites back then!
posted by entropicamericana at 9:34 AM on April 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


I never managed to visit the tenement museum when I lived in NYC but always meant to.

Maybe there's a flip side too. I'd caution against thinking too much in terms of going backwards along some linear scale of progress. Modernity has brought with it factors that undermine communities in some ways; and it seems some of these hobo groups maybe enjoy healthier communities on certain levels.

I'm a solidly middle class person who has never been on public assistance, so it's probably too easy for me to look at poverty through rose colored glasses. But my family has downshifted significantly, partly voluntarily, and we have realized some benefit even though many things are less easy or comfortable.

If renting a portion of a small room seems extreme, so also does the opposite development in the excessive size of newer residential buildings with high ceilings and open plans, designed on the assumption that the occupants will always have sufficient ability to pay for climate control in the whole space. Maybe that would seem equally unreasonable to the average homemaker of a century ago.
posted by maniabug at 9:37 AM on April 23, 2015


Some have dogs. I see them talking now and again.

What do they say? Are they telling you to hurt anyone?
posted by The Bellman at 9:49 AM on April 23, 2015 [10 favorites]


I know and take care of a woman in her eighties. To be clear, there are no fiscal benefits to this friendship, it is more of a "not on my watch," thing. The friendship has given me a history to contemplate, and stories from her family's work migrations in the Great Depression. These stories match up with my Dad's tales. The value is hard work, ownership of self, and a right to live and survive in the US on terms they can tolerate. Walking, sleeping on this land is a right. We have become enslaved to a system, which largely without regulation, sells ideas in exchange for servitude. People all over the place are struggling to keep their families safely fed, housed and educated. These hobo people have decided to not work three jobs, keep a car, insure it, sleep in it when everything goes as planned, the plan being to derive the most from the least human expenditure, in order to profit.

I don't have the answer, but I picked free fruit last summer and fall, I canned it, distrubuted some of it. I got a fishing license yesterday, gonna use it. There is not a lot I am willing to trade in exchange for my time.

The question is how to stop the juggernaut that "civilization" has become? These new indigenous peoples are always the victims in other theaters. Bump them up a notch, make them subsistence farmers anywhere, they are in the sights. Believe me when enough new hobos exist to squirrel the system, they will be enslaved if they are white, incarcerated if they are of color.
posted by Oyéah at 11:54 AM on April 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


You can get actual money from the government if you are disabled (usually takes a year or more to start, from what I hear)

For people experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness, there is a fast-track application process for SSI/SSDI in all 50 states from the SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access and Recovery (SOAR) program. According to a recent SOAR training webinar, they aim to get benefits started within 90 days or earlier, and they are trying to expand outreach to 'transition age' youth who are under age 25 and experiencing homelessness.

Some came from foster care or "kinship care" situations. I surmise that at least some had undiagnosed learning disabilities as well. IME, the transient population of homeless young people started out with many strikes against them as it is - the well-adjusted middle-class kid who "goes slumming" is mostly a myth.

Based on the recent SOAR training webinar, it sounds like the records from systems that can otherwise be oppressive to youth (schools, foster care, detention) can actually serve as compelling evidence in favor of SSI/SSDI benefits. The independent income can also provide people with freedom from community programs that seem to demand a sacrifice of autonomy in exchange for basic financial assistance, which might be extraordinarily helpful for outreach to youth. In the webinar, a legal aid attorney speaks to what appears to be a cultural resistance to the idea of obtaining disability benefits, when she talks about encouraging clients to see the benefits as a temporary stepping stone to greater stability.
posted by Little Dawn at 12:29 PM on April 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


I wonder if that means that a donation of a pile of mini hand crank generators would be appreciated by a homeless shelter, or how else you could get them to this demographic.

From the research I've done, you have to exert a fair amount of effort to get a respectable amount of charge, which might not be the best option if you have a limited caloric intake.

If weather permitted, it would maybe make more sense to do something in the way of a 5W solar panel, combined with a rechargeable power pack - that way, you can have that charge during the day whenever there's sun, then recharge your phone at night.

Total cost? $20-$30 for off-the-shelf gear, and you can recharge the power pack off a wall outlet just like your phone for additional peace of mind.
posted by mikurski at 12:30 PM on April 23, 2015


I've lost the link, but a couple of months back there was an imgur gallery posted by a longtime vagabond showing his typical pack. The tech in there were fairly fascinating, a solar charger, robust multiplugs/socket to USB and a presumably home soldered converter that screwed into light fittings to provide socket power.

I lived in squats and non residential buildings for a while, I still have my tap key but I never invested in the hydrant to hose connecting piece that provides water for so many squats. The amateur conversion of industrially supplied utilities to domestically usable is fascinating but ridiculously scary.
posted by fido~depravo at 2:47 PM on April 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Found it The light socket to power converter is number 34 in the gallery
posted by fido~depravo at 2:57 PM on April 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


Those are probably available at any hardware store, fido. I have several I bought over-the-counter (but that was in the 1980s, dunno about now).
posted by Rash at 3:17 PM on April 23, 2015


People are so amazingly adaptable. I've been homeless for 1.5 years. I hate it but I've adapted. I live in a homeless-friendly city. That was good luck.

Here are some stories/thoughts.

There's a woman I know who was kicked out of her home by her husband because she threatened him in a moment of anger. To "teach" her a lesson he brought a restraining order against her. Now she can't see her kids, has no money, and is living in her car. The punchline? The husband wants her back because he didn't really mean it but now that the law is involved it's out of his hands. She can't go back even though that's what they both want.

The only difference between a homeless person and a non-homeless person is the lack of a support network. That's it. The only difference. There are three general reasons why someone doesn't have a support network: burned through it (addiction, crime, mental health, abuse, etc), never had one to begin with (low-income background, foster child/orphan, etc), or doesn't want to use it (embarrassed to ask for help, doesn't want to burden anyone, etc). Being lazy, an addict, mental health problems, immoral, and godless are not the differences between the two groups. You find those in both groups and in spades. Support network, that's it.

Yes, I have a laptop and a Nintendo 3DS and a Nook (no phone though). They are my sanity. Also, I am a composer and do all my work on my laptop. My current project is really cool, by the way.

There are resources available to people. Qualifying for them and even finding out about them is very difficult. I was on the streets for two months eating one package of ramen noodles a day before I found out that I could go to the various soup kitchens. I thought that I had to go through some kind of government system and given my age and lack of disabilities would not qualify for these kitchens. I was very hungry. Apparently I qualify for food stamps. Who knew? Is there housing for someone like me? I don't think so but maybe?

Food is a weird thing. I'm pretty much always in binge mode as in I don't feel horrible if I haven't eaten in a day or so but when it's available I eat all of it which often makes me feel like crap but since I don't know when I'll eat again it's just how my body works. The weirder thing is that since discovering the soup kitchens (and there are a lot where I live), my food intake is far more secure than it used to be but I haven't been able to get over the bingeing thing. I'm finally applying for food stamps so maybe having some control over my food will finally kick that problem.

Finding a place to use the bathroom is a major problem. Even urinating can be an issue if you're in a downtown area. You basically find yourself always on the lookout for places you can go and the times they are available (night only, early morning, anytime etc). You do this so often that it becomes habit (ooh, there's a spot -- file it away). Being super regular is super helpful. I am. It's a skill I developed. From where I sleep to where I can take a BM in a civilized manner (local mall that opens at 7 AM) is 2.5 miles. I've done that walk every morning for a year now.

You become super paranoid that everyone knows your homeless and that therefore you must be crazy, an addict, lazy, smelly, morally repugnant, aka less than human. Many people do feel this way about us. It takes a lot out of you. They feel you deserve to be treated like shit. Even the really nice people who are trying to help the homeless often harbor these attitudes. Being able to stay clean-shaven and have short to short-ish hair is a huge bonus.

Storage is another major issue. You just cannot go around all the time with a huge backpack on. Finding places to stash it is really important but very difficult. Basically if you find a spot you can be pretty sure other homeless people know about it. That exact same thing applies to looking for a place to sleep.

I'm sorry. I could go on and on. And on. But none it is really relevant to this post. So yes, it does become a lifestyle but not a pleasant one. You develop various tricks to get by and having access to technology is a big one. Thank god for public libraries and their free wifi (that they leave on all the time).

(You know, the food stamp application went pretty well. Man, that'll be a huge change in my life!)
posted by bfootdav at 5:20 PM on April 23, 2015 [12 favorites]


my workplace. She said sometimes the precipitating event for teen homelessness could be as innocuous as a clash between tight finances (worsened by the economic downturn!) and normal teenage behavior. The example she gave was that the teenage son comes home, finds a pound of sandwich meat in the fridge, and eats 3/4 of it. Mom comes home and discovers that he's eaten what was supposed to be everyone's sandwiches for the week. There's literally zero spare money to do anything about it, a massive blowout fight ensues, he stomps out, and that's that. Totally normal behavior for a teenager becomes disaster when there's no financial cushion.

Towards the end of living with my parents it was like this. Then one day i just came home and there was an eviction notice on the door.

Bam, homeless.

A "friend" offered to store my stuff, and a random super religious family that happened to be moving loaded all my stuff in to their moving truck and took it over there. That friend ended up stealing a bunch of my stuff, and when i tried to get any of it back threatened, with the backing of her mom and several of her moms friends, to call the police on me and say i assaulted her. Bye bye most of the nice things i owned.(cool stereo, etc. just house shit).

I slept on the floor of a friends living room in his parents house for over a year, and one day when walking there saw a help wanted sign in the window of a neighborhood restaurant. Walked in, and got a semi-shady job instantly pretty much just for being present. Asshole boss shorted our paychecks sometimes, but it was the easiest job i've ever had. Show up when you feel like it, always end up working later than you were scheduled, smoke weed all day, eat free food, spend your tips on malt liquor. It was the life, and i was surprisingly fine with the situation.


I'd have been totally fucked without my friends family. Later on his grandma passed away, and we moved in to an awesome apartment on his inheritance and didn't have to pay him anything for almost a year again. I finally got a decent job through a combination of nepotism and chance, paid him back quickly, and we lived together for years.

So many points throughout that process i would have been fucked and on the street, or sleeping in my car(which i ended up having to donate because no one on craigslist would buy it and i didn't have my license because my parents actively sabotaged me getting it, but that's another story) if i didn't have friends who weren't only willing to help, but didn't even really care about helping. I had no money and no income for large portions of it, because all this happened right in the middle of the fucking worst part of the recession and not even grocery stores would hire me.

I know more than a couple people who went through similar scenarios. Stupid normal teenage fight with parents, or their parents financial situation falling apart leads to them being kicked out. A couple embraced bumming around and only have a house off and on now, most of them worked it out and settled down.

But shit was it pretty damn close at more than a few points throughout the whole thing. There were definitely some shitty ass low points.


And sleeping in the back of a toyota tercel is the most uncomfortable shit in the world.
posted by emptythought at 8:31 PM on April 23, 2015


disclaimer: How to work SNAP to get what you need (not necessarily what they'll pay for): find a person paying for food with cash at a grocery or liquor store.

Pay for their food on your SNAP card. Have them give you the cash they were spending on the food.

Get what you need.


This is known as food stamp fraud and is illegal. If they catch you so much as buying food for somebody else, you will lose your benefits, be banned from the SNAP program, and owe the government for an 'overpayment'. Not worth it IMO.

traveler_: It would have lasted longer if—say it with me—I had had children.

I understand why women with children get prioritized in social services, but as a woman with no interest in bringing extra mouths I can't feed into the world, it sure seems like a big "fuck you" to notice that I don't qualify for the vast majority of assistance because of that choice. I wasn't even able to get health care until last year (thanks Obama!).


I really wish the empathy of this country was more well-developed and we spent more of our budget finding ways to help EVERYBODY WHO NEEDS IT instead of trying to make sure that anyone who doesn't have a sad enough sob story and doesn't "deserve it" is denied the basic necessities of survival. Nobody benefits by having poors die in the street.

We live in a country where anti-homeless spikes are a thing, because we believe that the devil finds work for idle hands and that wealth and hard work correlate with good morality. If most people in this country truly believed that the homeless were just like them - that they might themselves fall into those cracks one day and get swept away if circumstances were different - this nonsense would evaporate overnight.

It will be interesting to see how this country adapts to the new reality of joblessness over the next few decades in the face of ever-increasing automation. Who is going to buy the cheap shit from china when we are all too busy learning how to break into abandoned buildings to survive?
posted by Feyala at 12:00 AM on April 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Didn't see this link posted, so I'll add it - The Hobos of Instagram.
posted by Happy Dave at 2:43 AM on April 24, 2015


> what appears to be a cultural resistance to the idea of obtaining disability benefits

I had wanted to clarify this anyway, because I hadn't added the "Thanks, Reagan!" implied in the phrase, but now I also have some anecdata to share. This morning, a young guy approached me on the street and asked if I could help him get some food, because he had just arrived in town and had nothing. As we talked about local human services organizations, I mentioned the fast-track SSI/SSDI process, and if he had any kind of condition - and he told me that he has a learning disability and had failed the GED test twice. When I told him that kind of evidence might actually be helpful for an SSI application, he seemed to be all about it, and I referred him to the local organization handling the fast-track applications that also offers assistance with other applications for public benefits. Anecdotal as that is, I like to think it may be a sign that the cultural hangover from the Reagan era might not be as destructive to the Millenial generation.

I do encourage anyone who is experiencing homelessness or is at risk of homelessness to contact a local organization with SOAR advocates, especially because the legal definition of disability for benefits purposes can be very different than the stigmatized stereotype more commonly associated with the term.
posted by Little Dawn at 1:38 PM on April 24, 2015


On every long interstate drive I will pass a few guys, always way out in the middle of nowhere, pushing or riding a bicycle loaded down with bags.

A couple of days ago out on a really empty stretch of I-84, between Baker City and the Idaho border where there are no services and the highway goes though those barren and rugged mountains, I passed one guy pulling some kind of hand-built rickshaw cart and another pushing a bicycle that was totally loaded with baggage. It made me realize that almost everyone I see is headed west, I assume to Portland but maybe that is just a temporary stop on a longer journey.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:36 AM on May 10, 2015


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