11/24/13

Being homeless is a full time job

Yesterday, I had a privilege to listen to a story of one person who was a homeless for a year before getting back on his feet recently.

"Being homeless is a full time job", He stated: " Do not look at the homeless who is staying quietly on the street and judge them that they are lazy and wait for free food and shelter. When I opened my eye, right away I have to think about finding a safe place to sleep for the next night, where to find foods,where to shower and how to keep myself safe for the whole day on the street".

He used to make a lot of money as one of the best chefs  around Seattle. He used to cook for the big party of 400 to 500 people. He sculpted the icy decorated swan , flowers , animals ....[ you name it] for fancy events. He is a competent cook who treated his food with responsibility, care , passion and pride. He was laid off at the age of 52. He did not expect one day he was kicked out of his house when his unemploy benefit ran out. He was too old to find another job and too young to be qualified for security benefit. He said: " I was so stupid. I should have reported as mentally ill in order to get some assistance".

The first day being out of the street on summer of July, he wandered all night with the undefined fear and naive hope that " I will find the job soon. I will get out of the street soon and have my problem solved". Time passed. He was getting more depressing and hopeless. His anxiety level went up with the fact that he send 1200 applications and had five interviews and nothing happen soon as he expected.

He said: " I was lucky. I had my friend, who was homeless before me, stayed closely side by side with me for a first week to coach me how to live on the street."

His friend showed him where to find a free mail box so he could get regular mails, where to get a free phone, where to store his personal belongings, where to laundry and where to get food. Also, he pointed out what type of people that he should stay aways for his safety and avoid being stolen.

After that first week, he was by himself.

This is a story of his surviving for a whole year on the street.

He did not sleep at night or never stayed in the homeless shelter where he considered as more dangerous and nastier than the street. At night, he walked around downtown with his bags . He stopped when he was tired but tried his best to stay awake.

At dawn, when the free storage facility open for people come in for shower and breakfast, he came in and stored most of his stuff. The storage was available from 6AM to 6 PM. Then he had a nice shower. He said: " I tried my best not to appear like homeless. I keep my clothes clean and nice. My nails was manicured and shine.  I carried one small backpack with me during the morning to make me look like tourists. I had couple books with me. And do not forget a blanket . I went to a park to sleep during the days. I pretended to read books and fall to sleep with books on my face on the park like other regular people to avoid police harassment".

He spend his free time researching location of the nearest food banks , soup kitchens and their open schedule to get free food. He planned ahead how to ration his food for the weekend, when free food was not always available. For example, he could eat the hot meal but saved the sandwiches because sandwiches could be saved for a next couple days.

He carried light and be careful not to have any protecting weapon with him [such as a knife ]because he said:" carry weapon around is not safe. The attacker may use your weapon to kill you off" . He avoided all troubles to stay alive. Once having a conflict or confrontations, he tried his best to walk away.

He used his 90 minutes internet in the public library wisely and productively by searching for job and housing. He did not use up 90 minutes at once but divided into small periods like 20 minutes so he could have an internet access throughout the day.

He said that I have choice not to be homeless from beginning as going back home with my mother or my sister. They were supportive but I did not want to. I told my mother:" I have to fix this problem myself, ma". He could have to crash at his friend's couches but he did not because " this is my own problem."
The only thing he asked for help was his two dogs. He asked his mother to take care of the two dogs because: " this is not fair for my two dogs to be homeless like me. Also, if I had two dogs tagging along with me, I would appeared unprofessional when I had to go for the interview and searched for jobs".

After a year out on the street, he got a job as a cook again and an studio apartment . He suffers from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. He is constantly afraid of losing either of his job or his apartment again. He said:" when my customer complaints for my food and my service, I got an anxiety attack and several times experienced mini strokes ( TIA) which may an warning sign for a major stroke". Also, " I cannot get out of my apartment without thinking the apartment would disappear when I come back from work".

"Hey Châu", he said, I tried my best to stay inside from now on. I am working even harder compared to the time I was younger. Looking back, I did not like being homeless but I learnt quite a bit. I am a humble person. I did not look at homeless like scumbag any more. I am becoming understandable but angry at the same time at them. I do not know why".
Thank you for sharing your story! I quietly said to him.

Thanksgiving is couple days away.