The Long Years

image by Roger Peet via Just Seeds

How do you find yourself on the streets as a vagabond? Let me share this with those who think this cannot happen; when you are weak socially, economically  and ill,  you really have no way to defend yourself against less-than-honorable landlords, bosses and strangers. It was the perfect storm, that came on the back of years of surviving the social wars of poverty. Let me be clear to you GOP types: if you are middle -aged, with an illness and homeless, there is 70% chance you are going die out there, a 90% chance of going to jail and 70% chance of a spiritual death. Do you want take the Journey!?

I could share the utter pain, sorrow and terror I found, but you hear that all the time. I could share the utter wonder and beauty, but that can be perceived as me slacking off by some. So for the sake of those on the street in harm’s way, fighting against savage personalities who like to kick the dog when it is down, I’d rather share some tactics I found out there to survive and come back to to the world.

First Position: To survive you must begin by estimating your environment and odds and each environment, and then doing some resource mapping: food banks, thrift stores, community colleges, where the doctors were, the public libraries, the parks- everything you can think of.  

Second Position: Gear. In my case when I got thrown to the streets, I had one jacket, two pairs of socks, a 1977 skiing sweater, a 1995 kayaking spray jacket, one Cabala Fly fisherman’s shirt, one pair of blue jeans and a 30 liter pack. I am a man who spent years outside before this at sea, and lived in a van after the 1989 earthquake, so I had some background in surviving without a home. I had also graduated from a Community College while living in the back of my van. So I understood my situation better than most.

Third Position: The cash resources which I got from SSDI I could barely have survived without. So  I was able to slowly get survival gear. I went to as many thrift shops, REI sales and garage sales as I could. I bought  a pocket knife, some base layers, and 200 or 260 grade cotton shirts. I got pants that were light and durable.  I also got a 80 liter backpack, a stove, some secondary layers, thick inner jackets and shirts. I got a solid rain jacket, and rain pants.  My sister got me a tent, a sleeping bag, a flashlight and a ground mat.  

Fourth Position: I looked at the city and found the odds of surviving there slim to none. If I did make it, the chances of a ticket or some kind of run-in with the law was at 90%, so I headed for the woods, in Marin and the Sierras. From these two positions I could calculate food, travel and resources (food banks, doctors, showers). I had to set up a PO Box too, but I could slip out of sight into the woods, be that urban forests or into the wilderness. Out there, there is safety from the police and drug heads and angry people of all classes.

Fifth Position, staying alive is not enough. I realized I had to rebuild a resume and myself. I did this by volunteering for the parks and doing so got On the Job Training (OJT). I also got involved with Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) . In addition, I took wilderness first aid. I went to a Community College and took sign language; I read daily, and wrote daily. I was making headway.

Sixth Position: Psychologically, volunteering helps you reconnect with people, and to use social skills which atrophy if not used. I found being known in good stead is healthy, and social contribution is rewarding. I still found I needed to have a cafe or place where my name was known and they said,  “Hello Andrew, good to see you!” That is worth more than anything in world at times. While homeless your love life is done, your social life is near gone and in those hard places is where you learn to feel what it means to be lonely but not alone. But I had to find new friends, as for love at my age and in my situation, an acceptance that was gone for now helped me.  Places I recommend  for work and growth: 1) California State Parks Volunteers, 2) Volunteer USA.Gov 3) Also, concessioners in state parks offer housing and a job. It’s a good bet for people who are sober. 4) Americorps: they place lots of youth.  

Seventh  Position: Willy-nilly social stigma is common, and with GOP-minded-people or elitists, class status is supreme. That means you have to find a way to bathe, clean your cloths, shave and shit. This has to be done in Youth Hostels or in Urban Forests areas. Also you must gear up, (find good gear and clean it) or you are frowned upon.

Eighth Position: In campgrounds and wilderness areas, everyone is homeless, in that all they have is the tent and the sky. Here too, you learn to socialize and learn wilderness survival skills. No one cares for the most part about how bad you look, or if you have shaved. It is about the experience and your capacity to move under the heavens. In this you learn you have  common ground with all most all there. There in the wilderness, you meet people from all around the world and from all backgrounds. In many cases some will give you good feedback or you will see your own folly in others – social learning – if you are awake and still learning.  I mean you have rock climbers, wilderness guides, mountaineers, biker touring dudes and girls and all can teach you.

Ninth Position: Learning and meditating is essential. I kept a book called “Think on These Things” with me. I kept a journal. I studied survival books. I read poems and sang in the woods. I danced as well.

Tenth  Position: Diet is the killing factor. I started to study what people ate and that was easy to make for example: ready-made polenta, rice pasta, clarified butter/olive oil, onions, cucumbers, seasonings, cheese, small packets of fish or precooked hot-dogs, produce.  You also want to eat hot peppers for they make you shit and you want things to come out fast in case they go bad. But remember you can only carry so much.

Eleventh Position: Solitude can be healing as well as unsettling. Somehow somewhere you have to come in if you been gone too, long. For me I found a cafe or place where I could come into, then if I got lucky my father would call me and I would sit alone in the woods talking with him about philosophy and world politics. You have to realize when you been alone too long or you are fucked!

Twelfth and final Position  here: The housing shortage is so bad, places like San Francisco, Seattle, Portland or others like this is unattainable for 90% of the people. You have to start thinking outside of this area. You have to start building credit, references and yes, the Parks can hire you if the GOP motherfuckers do not cut it all down.

You can be of service to yourself and others. I just came in. It took me 6 years, so effort and fortitude is essential but you might do it in one year or two. Never give up brothers or sisters and know this, even the toughest US Marines break out here, they fucking do. You break, you cry, you scream and get back up. Goddamn it, they are the long years, the hardest and the most wondrous! And at points any wrong decision is your death, that makes a spiritual channel deep inside you. Good Luck. Peace be with You!