A Day in the Life of a Homeless Person
Uh, my back is killing me. Man it’s hard to get up. But up I did. Slowly. I stretched and then folded up the piece of cardboard I’d slept on. I shoved it into one of my three bags and made my way down the sidewalk, turned, and into the alley. I needed some privacy. There, that’s better. After relieving myself, I was back on the street. A clock showed I had about 15 minutes to get over to Joe’s. Free coffee, porridge and an orange. And a chair to sit down on without getting hassled to move along.
Move along. That’s all I do. Day in and day out. The sidewalk’s my home now. I used to have a job. Decent pay. A woman. Then I started drinking. Why? If I could only go back in time. Night after night getting drunk. She threw me out. I screwed up my job. Wiped out what was in the bank. Had nowhere to live. Had nothing. Actually, that’s not true. I have my three bags. My whole 47 years is in three dirty plastic bags.
I also have 2,186. That’s right. Number 2,186. Last summer, some social worker cheerfully told me that’s my number on the social housing wait list. 2,186. What a joke. I’ll be dead before I see the inside of one of those rooms.
The time is what gets to you. What do you do for 16, 17 hours every single day? I walk. I get hassled. I beg. Yeah, beg. My pride left years ago. Lots of places downtown offer free meals. I get the odd shower. I go to the library. A community centre. Anywhere there’s a seat. It sucks when it rains. Sucks when it’s hot and humid. I get so thirsty some days it hurts to swallow. There’s almost no drinking fountains. And, I hope you don’t mind me saying, the bathroom’s an issue. Most places with public bathrooms don’t welcome my kind. There’s bushes. Alleys. You squat. You get used to it. A roll of toilet paper is like gold in this part of town.
Winter’s coming. Snow, wind, cold. Most winter nights I can get into a shelter. I guess I’m lucky I’ve only got my three bags. The guys with a grocery cart can’t get into most shelters unless they leave their cart outside. Carts are forbidden. They won’t risk losing their stuff so they freeze instead. Lie over a heating grate with a blanket and pray you wake up in the morning.
I have no idea how to get out. Welfare pays $300 a month and I’m number 2,186 on a wait list. For most guys, you can guess where that $300 goes each month. Crack. Booze. Most of us can’t help it. At least I don’t have Hep C. Wow, look at the time. I better get a move on. Last week, that happy little group of students ran out of soup three, I couldn’t believe it, three people ahead of me.
On a single night in January 2014, 578,424 people were experiencing homelessness — meaning they were sleeping outside or in an emergency shelter or transitional housing program. From 2013 to 2014, a period of ongoing recovery from the Great Recession, overall homelessness decreased by 2.3 percent and homelessness decreased among every major subpopulation: unsheltered persons (10 percent), families (2.7 percent), chronically homeless individuals (2.5 percent), and veterans (10.5 percent).
- 34 states had decrease in overall homelessness, while 17 states saw increases. 40 states had decreases in the number of people living in unsheltered locations, including the street, cars, and abandoned buildings.
- The national rate of homelessness fell to 18.3 homeless people per 10,000 people in the general population, but the rate in individual states ranged from 120 in Washington, D.C. to 7 in Mississippi.
- The rate of veteran homelessness continued its descent of the past several years to 25.5 homeless veterans per 10,000 veterans in the general population, but the rate in individual states ranged from 146 in Washington, D.C. to 9 in Virginia.
- The majority of states had decreases in every major subpopulation: family homelessness (32 states), chronically homeless individuals (27 states), and veteran homelessness (28 states).