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Dispatch / October 15, 2008
By John Dolan

Little did I know that when I lost everything last year, I was doing research. At the time I thought it was just stupidity or bad luck or both. But now that the economy’s crashing, it turns out I’ve been out there gathering valuable tips for millions of new paupers.

And let me clarify, I’m talking real poverty.

My wife and I fell through many layers of poverty in a few months. First we revisited the genteel poverty known to grad students, the sort of poverty where you have scary dreams about the rent and eat a simple, wholesome diet towards the end of the month. But we fell right through that into the sort of Dickensian privation spoiled first-worlders like me never expected to experience.  That’s the kind of poverty a lot of people are going to be experiencing soon—because I’m here to tell you, it can happen here and it can happen to you. And it’s remarkably unpleasant. You may be saying “Duh!” here but you’re probably not imagining the proper sort of unpleasantness. So I’ll try to lay out what to watch for, how to hunker down when it’s not just a matter of cutting back or selling your second car but having no car at all, having no money for heat or food.

All the things we learned are going to seem pretty obvious, but remember that it’s very hard to think clearly when your life has collapsed. These are what they call the old verities, the truths of life before the middle class was (briefly) in session:

Warmth. Above all you need to have a dry warm place to sleep. We had only an unheated boat, and that was not enough. We woke up to the thump of sea ice banging against the hull and realized that the old world was still very much in session. When we finally fled to stay with family, we stayed in our blankets up against their gas fireplace for weeks. You won’t even want food much after a while. You’ll want heat itself, not the chemical middle man. You are going to realize that cold is the most frightening thing in the world. In older English dialects, “to starve” meant “to freeze.” You will see why.

Car. Got one? Maybe you should sell it. Cars drain the last dollars out of you. And there’s something worse: cops can smell desperation, and they hate the poor. I didn’t use to hate cops much, except drug cops, but God, I hate them now. The real purpose of cops is to keep poor people off the roads. That’s their only real goal. On my way to an interview for a job that could have gotten us out of the gutter, a cop stopped me because my insurance was two weeks overdue—for the simple reason we didn’t have money to pay it. She gave me a $600 ticket for that, plus $120 for not having an updated address on my driver’s license. Then she called for a tow truck and told me, “So, a lesson learned here today!” as I watched my car towed away and trudged off with our terrified dog down a typical Western suburban road: four lanes of fast traffic with no sidewalks. Are you poor? The cops are your enemy now. Accept it. The car is how they’ll try to get you. Sell it if you can—which is to say, if there’s any decent public transportation—hah!—where you live.

Shame. As in, forget about it. Shame is an affectation. I don’t even need to say this, really. Once you’ve experienced actual cold and hunger, your good old Ouldivai Gorge mammal body and brain will take over, and believe me, shame won’t be a problem.

You’ll also find that most of the social stuff is easier than you’d expect. These people are in show biz in a way; they have to be, just to survive. Makes them lively. And though I suppose it all depends on where you are when you lose out, in my experience they’re not especially violent. They talk about it a lot, but so do all the white jocks I ever met, and in neither case does anything actually happen. They’re flinchy people, mainly, who spend a lot of time waiting for things. When you’re waiting, you get very frustrated but you don’t want to shake things up. So they’re tense, bitter, sociable, gossipy and treacherous—a fine cross-section of the population. After waiting around with them in line at the local food bank, sharing “how I ended up here” stories and hanging out with them around a propane heater trying to stay warm, I relaxed a lot. They’re not going to mug you. They are going to try to get any cash you have, and God did they get a huge chunk of our last resources, but it was friendly, schmooze-based extortion, just like in the middle-class world. All that was missing was the deodorant.

Food Banks. These places, usually in the basement of a church (because churches are the only public institutions in the new suburbs of western North America) hand out baskets of groceries every week or, more often, two weeks. You have to wait a long time, so learn your refugee skills. Come early, get a number first, and be nice-but-pushy. It’s a delicate operation being nice-but-pushy, but you’ll learn it. The “nice” part is because you need to ask people for help and advice; you’re not rich enough to be solitary any more. The pushy part is simple: it’s to prevent you from being ignored. So always talk to people, but never show money or mention it, if you have any.

Antidepressants. Get on them right away, if you’re not already. If you are, up your dose. Because it’s going to hurt. Doesn’t matter how much Marxist theory you’ve absorbed, doesn’t matter that you can put your fall into global context; it’s happening to YOU now, and it’s going to hurt like you wouldn’t believe. You’re an American, and you share that culture’s values whether you like it or not. So you define yourself by your job, car and house. When they go, you’re going to hate yourself. Don’t even bother arguing about it. It’s going to happen. Just take the damn Prozac. Would you refuse a coat in Siberia? Refusing Prozac after falling into poverty makes about as much sense. Tom Cruise can go fuck himself. Prozac saved our lives. I won’t go into the sordid details but really, I don’t think we’d be here now if Saint Prozac hadn’t extended a sacred hand to us.

So the second you slip beneath genteel poverty toward the street, find the nearest Free Clinic, and don’t be deterred by the smell of the crowd in the waiting room. Smell is going to be a problem for you at first but after a few weeks you won’t mind, because you smell too and so does everyone around you. If you want a break from the relentless olfactory fact of being around unwashed large mammals, sidle up to somebody who smokes. That’s the one good thing about cigarettes, and it may be why losers all smoke. Don’t smoke just for that, though. Cigarettes are insanely expensive and turn lots of poor people into cringing beggars.

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Add your own

  • 1. Uncle B  |  February 6th, 2009 at 8:15 am

    I am in awe

  • 2. Mickii Dole  |  February 28th, 2009 at 9:22 am

    I am a landlord/owner/manager, and I have many tenants that are perilously close to being homeless because the economy is sucking them dry. The ones closest have kids. Do I really want to kick them out because they can’t pay? No. We work with them as far as we can, until they simply can’t come up with at least part of the rent. I think that if they knew how hard it would be to be homeless (with kids), I think that they would do everything they possibly could to keep their roof over the kids heads. I see them spending money on things that simply don’t matter, just to feed that denial fueled by their ego.
    In short, it frustrates me they don’t know what you have learned. It frustrates me that I have to facilitate their learning! Sometimes it sucks being a hands-on landlord!

  • 3. tommy  |  March 5th, 2009 at 9:15 am

    I guess my question is do the people who could benifit from reading this have access to the internet… The public library maybe…

  • 4. Trey  |  March 18th, 2009 at 6:16 pm

    I have bad advice that I want to post here, like telling depressed homeless people they should just tough it out and not take antidepressants, but thankfully the AEC improved my comment for me

  • 5. Mudhead  |  March 20th, 2009 at 9:56 pm

    This is the absolute gospel truth. Dolan, as always, knows what he’s talking about. And it CAN happen to YOU. Don’t doubt that for moment. In November I was a card-carrying member of the American professional middle-class, with all the privileges and comforts that suggests. Two months later I was, for all intents and purposes, homeless, washing pots and pans in a County-run crisis house, with absolutely zero money, and nowhere to go. Dolan doesn’t mention debt, but I was – am – also deeply in debt after losing my livelihood, home, and health in rapid succession. Dolan gives some sound advice in this piece on setting priorities and dealing with the situation. I’m close to turning this around, but I had to learn some of Dolan’s points the hard way. And I did have some outs, as Dolan did. God help anyone who doesn’t have such advantages, because no one else will. There’s nothing quite like sleeping in your car under the full moon to provide you with a new perspective on life. Dolan’s advice about warmth, shame, medication, et al. is to the point, as is his warning about hunkering down in some secluded spot until the crisis blows over. It likely won’t work. Shaving in a public rest room is as bad as he describes, even shaving in a gym locker room doesn’t really work. Do NOT be reluctant to reach out to friends and family, even if it feels so humiliating that you can’t stand it, even if you’d rather die. You really don’t have choice; recognize that you will be incurring a debt to them that you must repay somehow, but take whatever they can offer you. If you don’t, you’ll be standing on a corner with a cardboard sign in no time. Until it happens to you, you can’t believe how far and how fast you can fall. Unless you wish to really hit the bottom hard, you could do worse than follow Dolan’s advice. As for where you can access this advice: find an independent coffee house that provides free WiFi. Many offer this as an enticement in order to compete with Starbucks, which requires an AT&T account. This will be your port in the storm. Tip the staff as well as you can, don’t make a nuisance of yourself, be as clean as possible, but use that link to the greater world beyond. Without it, you’re in a bad, bad, way. Oh, and whatever else you do, keep your cell phone account going. Sell your blood if you have to, but keep the cell phone working. Email’s great, but when someone wants to talk with you NOW, there has to be a way for him or her to get in touch with you. Depending upon your location, a cell phone is much more important than a car, which, as Dolan indicates, simply sucks up your money in payments, insurance, gas, maintenance (I had to drop a new battery into mine, which cost $100, when I had $120 to my name), etc. Good luck. You’re going to need it.

  • 6. jimbo bubba  |  June 12th, 2009 at 9:30 pm

    I am not homeless and I worrying about homelessness even though at the moment I am doing fine. I am not in debt, the house is paid for and my health is good. What worries me is peak oil and the fact that many believe infinite growth on a finite planet is possible. Limits on resources, including oil production, has been reached. This, in my view and of many former oil engineers and other professionals, is causing the bad economy now. The economy will only get worse turning into a depression greater than the 30’s. At least in the 30’s a resource wall was not an issue, this time it is along with debt. I hope the worse that will happen to me is that I may have to farm my own land to feed myself. I emphasize, I do not know how well or bad for that matter I will be doing in the future. I am truly worried indeed.

  • 7. Alan  |  June 14th, 2009 at 6:37 am

    Several years ago I began to try living without hot showers,
    or any showers. I started taking rag baths: vigorous rubbing
    with a damp rag, using little water (just enough to wring out
    the rag; 3-4 quarts per “bath”). It went very well. Not only
    is it easy, it works much better than showers. I now get much
    cleaner. I’ve found that having lots of water run over me (in
    a shower) provides too much lubrication, whereas it is
    primarily the *friction* that is cleansing. Further, the
    friction is stimulating, amounting to a very wholesome
    self-massage that promotes lymph drainage (detoxification), in
    addition to being surprisingly good exercise. Between the
    exercise, the lymph detox, and the deep cleansing, it feels
    great. You tingle all over, and feel wonderful — really clean
    and refreshed. Much better than a shower.

    True, a hot shower has a certain delicious sensual quality.
    But if you want that, why not go in with your neighbors and
    put in a hot tub? Nothing like *soaking* in the warm water, if
    you want that kind of experience. Trying to get that from a
    shower is a huge waste: all the hot water (energy) just runs
    down the drain. The experience of a rag-bath is much
    different, and for most purposes better.

    I know that hot showers are the American religion, and that
    everyone (including me, formerly) thinks they are an absolute
    necessity. But they’re not. I can see now that they’re just a
    lazy rich-person luxury.

    SEMI-HYPOCRISY ALERT: I joined the YMCA a couple years ago and
    have not been able to resist the temptation to use the
    showers, immediately after my workout. However: my
    cool-to-luke showers run about ONE minute each — just enough
    to rinse the sweat off. It is a convenience. I still use the
    rag baths at home for real *cleansing*. I’ve now learned that
    it is a foolish waste to try to get clean in a shower.

    STATEMENT OF NON-SMUGNESS: The above notes are NOT uttered in
    the arrogant/smug attitude of a well-off person, talking down
    to someone of lesser means, perhaps desperately impoverished.
    You know the drill: “well, why don’t you just _____” — the
    blank being filled with whatever presumptuous bromides pop
    into the speaker’s head, like “pick yourself up by your
    bootstraps”, or “get a freaking JOB!”, or “learn to do
    without”, or whatever. My suggestion of an alternative to
    conventional showers is NOT given in that spirit. It is given
    in the spirit of: “Here’s an idea. If it works for you, and
    helps you, great. If not, then forget it.”

  • 8. NM  |  July 12th, 2009 at 10:29 pm

    As a licensed therapist, I must say it chagrined me to see you recommend anti-depressants. Not only is there no empirical evidence they work (the drug companies won’t tell you that) they are also very expensive and most “paupers” have little or no health insurance.

    Comparing it to cigarettes is funny; depending on where you live it varies, but on average a 1 pack a day smoker pays less for their habit than a person on name brand antidepressants with no insurance does in a month.

  • 9. Rollo Jenkins  |  July 18th, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    Just for fun he says, “Get a job!”

  • 10. Mark  |  July 19th, 2009 at 11:18 am

    I have thought about the affects of being homeless for sometime.
    The main things I do for…..
    1) shelter
    if the worst come to the worst would be to use airports big,dry and warm and open 24 hours a day and pretty safe to.
    2) washing
    the diffence here in the Uk the in the USA would be we have public swimming baths which are free to use for the unemployed most have hot showers
    3) food
    would be the least of my problem as I used to work in a high end food store and most of the food that’s running out of date gets given to homeless charities

    Thats what I would think I would do just to live of cause I have no idea how I would get back on the ladder of a home,job and money.

  • 11. Brad  |  August 16th, 2009 at 8:20 pm

    Wow…don’t trust the police and use drugs. What solid information.

  • 12. Frank  |  August 22nd, 2009 at 12:18 am

    You know what’s better than being cold, hungry, and taking free anti-depressants? Getting a job in retail or fast food. You stupid proud twat. You dare talk about leaving your pride behind, but you’ve worded this as if you waited around for nothing but teaching jobs.

    God forbid you sink to the depths of working class. Fuck you, and every other useless middle class leech that would rather starve than work a McJob. If people like you are the casualties of the shrinking middle class, then good riddance.

  • 13. Hal  |  September 1st, 2009 at 10:44 am

    Frank your an idiot!! Maybe you have not noticed, but there are no Mc jobs or any other jobs in the lowest of working class. This economy has even greatly reduced customers everywhere. People are not quiting there jobs, they are hanging on and taking on two or three jobs if they can find them.

    You may not know this but if you look in the most remote places, like desert, there are thousands of empty train box cars (what do you think they’re for) and each city has been issued URBAN ASSULT VEHICLES…what do you think they’re for. Open you eyes, there are 5,000 people abandoning there cars and homes in Daubi..hopping on a plane and getting the hell out. this is EVERY DAY. Its either that or sleep in a container. This is world wide. There are tent cities everywhere and the police are chasing them out if they are within sight. WAKE UP MAN!!!

  • 14. Stubby  |  September 3rd, 2009 at 12:11 am

    Wow, what a steaming pile.

    While there may be small tidbits of useful info in this article, most of it is whining bollocks.

    Having been homeless in the states on and off for the past few years, let me educate you on the real skinny:

    1: CAR – Are you crazy? If you can keep and maintain a car that you don’t have to make payments on, you’re one step out of the gutter already. Heck, if you’re lucky enough to have a van, you’re in even better shape. Try to conserve fuel, consider your car/van more your home than your mode of transport. Use it for long trips, but when you can walk, walk. Make sure you know multiple safe places to park, (WalMarts are great for 1 night at a time, any longer and they ask you to leave) and invest in visors/covering for windows for privacy at night.

    2:Hygiene: If you plan to get yourself out of this mess, you gotta keep clean and healthy. If you can afford it, a gym/ymca membership is best. Full showers and sinks, plus a workout to keep yourself in shape, and get the endorphins going.
    For when you cant get to the gym, or if you cant afford it, public restrooms abound. You’ll be using these often anyway. Wet a rag or two and hit the toilet stall. Try to be discreet and not use the same BR too often to avoid suspicion or banning.

    3: FOOD He got this one on the money. Food banks are a great resource. Remember though to take only what you can use, and trade what you cant for what you can (Cant cook that chicken, trade it for some cans of pb.)

    4: Communications – If you’re smart/lucky, you haven’t sold/lost your laptop. Even if you have, libraries are still available to you. If you do still have a lappy or a web phone, there is tons of free wifi available in cities. Seek it out, not just to find work, but to maintain normalcy in your life through social interaction with friends/loved ones.

    5: Clothing – Hey, you gotta keep up appearances if you want to get out of this hole. The laundromat will be your friend. If you don’t have a vehicle, keeping more than a few things will be tough. WHY WOULD YOU DITCH YOUR CAR??? If you are limited on clothes, goodwill, Salvation Army, and other thrift will have clothes for next to nothing.

    Ok, that covers the basic human needs. What’s that you say? You sold your car already? Well then you need some shelter. You have a few options.

    First off this guys advice about the boat was baloney. Hey if you can get better digs, go for it. If it’s all you have though, it’s better than a cardboard box.

    So here are your options if you DONT have a boat and you already sold your car:

    -Friends/family Wear out your welcome if you have to with each one, or better yet, if they’re sympathetic, work out a couch surf tour. So and so has you for a week, such and such the next. Nobody has to get sick of you, and everyone contributes to getting you on your feet. (Much harder without the car you were told to ditch.)

    -Boarding houses Yea, they suck. These could be straight up flop houses, sober living homes, ‘transitional living facilities’ (Aka ex con flops) and similar ilk. They are cramped, no privacy, shared room nightmares, but they are usually very cheap, and better than the street. Some will have strict curfews, and other prohibitive rules, but beggars cant be choosers… or can they?

    -Squatting ‘Abandoned buildings… that’s where we live!’ Squatting has gone on for CENTURIES. In the current housing market, there is no shortage of squattable property. There are serious legal implications to squatting and you should know the facts before taking this risky venture. However, if successful, you may have a home for weeks, months, YEARS. You may even in some places be able to someday legally claim title to the property. Again do your homework before going down this road.

    – Homeless shelter Man, it’s pretty bad when you’re down to this. Shelters are scary, rife with crime and cooties. In extreme weather, it’s better than the street, but not much. Avoid if possible.

    – Tenting If your city has an expansive park, you may find a relatively safe place to set up camp. Again better than the street.

    Ok, so none of that works for you? Street survival becomes the name of the game. Gotta warn you that taking the plunge into straight up on the street homelessness is a hole that is very hard to dig yourself out of and I recommend it to NOBODY. It is dangerous, maddening, depressing as hell, and unhealthy.

  • 15. Stubby  |  September 3rd, 2009 at 12:47 am

    …continued from last post.

    …and unhealthy.

    The first thing you need to worry about is the elements. AKA weather. If you’re down to this state of being, you have no vehicle, few if any possessions, and little to no cash.

    Basically you’re at 0. Nothing to lose. If you live in a cold or wet climate, it’s time to get up and get moving. Sure you’ll miss your hometown… what? Heck, it got you in the gutter, tell that town to slag off, and head for greater comfort. Hop a rail, hitch a ride, or get a greyhound ticket and get to a warm city.

    California seems obvious, and it is nice, but remember most cities there already have huge homeless populations, and cost of living for the non homeless is very high. If you plan to dig yourself out, this may not be the place to go. If you plan on changing your name to Squirrel or Scruffy or Dumpsta, there’s gold in them thar hills, but otherwise, another warm city may be better.

    Even in warm cities, it can get cold at night. Shelters and other public service orgs will have free blankets. If you can get a sleeping bag, even better.

    Cardboard truly is your friend. It is an insulator between you and the cold ground. NEVER sleep directly on concrete. Even in semi warm climates, cold concrete will rob you of body heat overnight. If you are ill or old, you may even die.

    Visibility is another issue. You will be chased off. In front of a bank, or under stairs, someone will find you and shoo you away. Some prefer to find a secluded nook like a basement stairwell, others feel safer out in the open on a busy street. You will have to make this decision for yourself. Both have their risks.

    Self defense is another very important thing when living on the street. Gangs, hooligans, and even seemingly ‘normal’ citizens will want to do you harm. A few tips:

    – Know when you’re licked: If dude has a weapon and he’s trying to steal your shopping cart or something, let him have it. You can get new stuff.

    – CRAZY!!!: Most people aren’t going to try to rob a hobo. Most people out for you are either trying to scare you out of their neighborhood, or are just having their jollies by kicking in your teeth.
    For these folks, they are a lot less likely to attack if they think you’re stark raving mad. Scream incoherent babble. Throw things. Wave your arms around. hop up and down. If they still try to attack, RUN.

    For the most part, you will be ignored by society. You have hit the skids, and nobody wants to be reminded that they could someday share your fate. For them you are a constant reminder of that, so they do their best to tune you out.

    If you’re living on the street, don’t be afraid to take advantage of free shelter. No not the homeless shelter, but places like ATM Kiosks. They are usually pretty empty at night and rarely visited. You’ll get kicked out first thing in the morning, but you’ll have had a warm nights sleep indoors.

    The two most important things to remember when living as a hobo on the street is

    1: SURVIVE! Never mind that a security guard is going to eventually notice that you’re sleeping in that chair in the office building lobby. You have to live, and survival is the game.

    2: GET OUT OF THIS SITUATION ASAP! The longer you are living on the street, the harder it will be to get out. Your health will deteriorate. Lack of steady sleep and depression over your state of being will eventually lead you to dementia. You may end up turning to drugs/booze, (By the way, John, self medicating, really? Prozac? This is your advice? Don’t do it people. Before you know it, you’ll be singing “Yellow Submarine” and throwing garbage cans at taxicabs.) you may get killed. A movie once said that eventually the survival rate for everyone becomes 0. It happens real quick on the street. Make it your daily goal to do what you can to bring you closer to stepping off the sidewalk and into a place with a roof, walls and a door that opens and closes. Your life depends on it.

    Now don’t you wish you didn’t listen to John and you still had your car? Seriously do anything you can to keep yourself with any kind of roof over your head, even if it has wheels under it. Hopefully if you’re reading this, you haven’t gotten to the state where it’s too late for you. Do what you can to keep any kind of shelter, strength, and determination. Stay away from quick escapes like drugs, booze, gambling.

    Stay strong and stay alive. This too shall pass.


    PS: If you liked this comment, next time you see a panhandler give them a buck and tell them it’s from Stubby.

  • 16. PeteY  |  October 1st, 2009 at 10:28 pm

    Obviously this story would never apply to Americans. Because America is a first world economy that has the means to look after her poor and sick, oh wait a sec!

    America is the a***hole of the world now isn’t it?

    Your government hates you,

    your police hate you,

    fellow Americans cut not of the same ilk hate you

    your media have you idolise the rich and well to do as something to aspire to.

    they have you believe that socialised medicine is some sort of communistic idealism

    Don’t get me wrong, I love American people her rich history and her culture, but everything else…
    … F*** America!

  • 17. Richo  |  December 13th, 2009 at 5:44 pm

    I’d be interested to know what this John Dolan character plans to do once he graduates from college.

  • 18. ronald  |  February 18th, 2010 at 12:23 pm

    As I have been unemployed for the past two yrs I have found much of this article to be accurate. The police are your enemy, and will go out of their way to make your life difficult. Any protesting and you’ll get beat up as well as arrested. Then when you get to jail, you’ll be charged with assaulting a law enforcement officer. If I saw a cop lying in the street, on fire, I wouldn’t even stop to pee on them. “to protect and serve” doesn’t apply to the homeless. If you find yourself in this predicament, prepare to begin a life of crime. No-one wants to hire you if you’re homeless, there won’t be any jobs. Churches and other charities are nice if they’re around, but don’t count on anyone but yourself, you can’t afford to. Keep your eyes open for someone who looks like they have money, or anyone who tells you to “get a job”, they will provide the most fun and entertainment when you rob them. Promise not to hurt anyone, but change your mind and NEVER leave any witnesses. It is a dog-eat-dog world now, and if you are not willing to be the eater, you will be lunch. Never allow yourself to feel any pity for your mealtickets, they don’t feel anything for you (except disgust and contempt that you haven’t earned,) any emotion you allow yourself to feel will only weaken you. always remember that the guy you just robbed probably is a part of the society that has cast you aside, and is unworthy of pity. After a year or two of this, you will understand all the “Crazies” a little better, don’t let this bother you. Survival and revenge are the keys to happiness, hold to them tightly, never give up.

  • 19. sputnik  |  March 15th, 2010 at 10:45 am

    believe me it’s not easy gettinga Mcjob when you are educated and have experience doing other stuff. I suffered a job loss 10 years ago and was desperate for work. I lost everything , my apartment , my car , most of my stuff in my apartment . All I had was the stuff I could carry on my back. I was crashing on friends couches here and there.

    I tried getting just any job for some money to get on my feet. But what happens when you go into a McJob and show them your Resume that has all the education and experience doing IT and Marketing jobs. The manager looks at you and realizes that you will leave at the drop of a hat , if you get another job offer. So instead of hiring you , he hires the teenager or the guy who doesnt have any experience or education. they don’t like wasting thier time with people who obviously are looking for something better. They have to train you , fill out your new hire paper work. etc. They don’t want to waste their time.

  • 20. andy  |  March 15th, 2010 at 10:50 pm


  • 21. Immortalsane  |  March 16th, 2010 at 12:21 am

    I’d like to say a few things here, but first, a disclaimer: I have never been truly homeless. I have been fortunate enough to always land on my feet. Every time I’ve been staring at the black hole of the streets, I’ve had an out that gave me enough time to pull myself back up.

    Now, that said…

    Before anything else, no matter what walk of life you’re in, DRUGS BAD!!! It’s the only thing in Dolan’s essay I absolutely disagreed with. Unless they are a medical necessity, stay the hell away from drugs.

    First, McJobs really are that impossible to get. I went almost an entire year without a job last year, and I live in Oklahoma where the recession has yet to get that bad. I applied at a minimum of 3 places a week, and a maximum of 15-20 on the times when I was able to find enough places to maintain that rate of applications. I used internet, walk-in’s, scheduled interviews, talked to managers, joined temp services, you name it, I tried it. I only managed to get a job when my last employer called me to see if I wanted some part-time holiday hours. I worked my butt off, and they’ve kept me on. Fingers crossed that I don’t lose this one.

    Second, the cops. Many of them are amazingly decent human beings. Unfortunately, the majority of them are just that, human. And we’re an incredibly nasty species as a rule.

    Most cops will not go out of their way to make your life miserable. But the people signing their checks are home-owning, job-holding taxpayers that consider homeless people an eyesore. So, while they may not be malicious, one should be extremely wary of the boys and girls in blue.

    Third, the issue of the car. I would say, keep it if you can. If you still owe money on it, or it’s a maintenance hog, ditch it for what ever you can get. But if you have decent car that doesn’t require $75 bucks to fill the tank, or has $500 a month payments, or needs ungodly levels of upkeep, keep the sucker. Having transportation and personal shelter can save your ass.

    Tips for holding onto a car safely:

    1) it may screw you for a couple of decades on decent insurance, but get kids insurance, like Safe Auto. It’s cheap, and it’ll keep the cops off your ass.

    2)Use ethanol fuel. It gets less mileage, but if you’re driving like you have a job, then you’re probably gonna lose the damn vehicle to your own stupidity anyway.

    3) Maintain, for the love of god. Checking the oil, tire pressure, and other various things is a hell of a lot cheaper than replacing parts.

    Finally, a phone. Keep it on if you can. Ditch the sucker if you can’t. Get a nice little pay as you go phone. It’s cheaper to maintain, and will save you life.

    I have many other things that I might suggest, but those are the basics. And above all, get off the streets at the first opportunity. It sound ridiculous, but street life is soul-crushing. I’ve known dozens of people on the streets, I used to take $20 in ones and go walk around downtown at night, giving people cigs and what money I could.

    The #1 reason most of them were still on the streets was that they’d given up. They’d fought to get off the streets, and when they couldn’t catch a break, they gave up. It’s nothing against these people, these are good people. But they either didn’t or couldn’t get out fast enough, and it got to them.

    To any homeless who read this: Good luck, god bless, and I hope something here helps.

  • 22. Lenny  |  March 27th, 2010 at 10:09 pm


    Getting a McJob while overqualified is ridiculously easy with a little dishonesty. If Dolan had possessed a little pragmatism, energy and ingenuity he’d have been working in a warehouse, a gas station or a cheap restaurant instead of re-enacting a Steinbeck novel.

    Here’s how to flip burgers or stack boxes as a PhD:

    1. Rewrite your resume to match that of a hard-working proletarian drone.
    2. Make sure that your tenure at your last phony job is at least 11 years.
    3. Have a friend who is willing to lie and can sound halfway professional on the phone.
    4. Tell your friend to respond to reference inquiries with an apology about the company’s policy to not give references beyond verification of employment while making it indirectly clear via tone and inflection that he views you favorably.
    5. Run around town with resumes.

    I can personally attest to the strategy’s success in three cities. I also had several other friends serve as the personal references but only one place out of dozens I applied to bothered to contact them.


    I filled the cash gap while spreading my phony resumes around by working for Labor Ready. Work today, paid today and if you’re friendly and bust ass, sometimes the clients will give further under-the-table work. Also, a full year unable to score even a mcjob is pretty harsh. were you living in a small town?

  • 23. Zee  |  June 26th, 2010 at 11:25 am

    Your woman went homeless with you and then stayed with you too? She could have easily went out and used her “personal female wealth” and found an old guy with plenty of money. If that’s true you should kiss her on the ass every day when you wake up><

    Yeah, the drug thing was silly, the side effects alone will make you homeless with that shit.

    And…. last but not least, a car can have some cost, but it is well worth it, shelter, some privacy and downright transportation when really needed….. and… find a way to make money with it.

    John, maybe you should have pimped yourself out down on the corner… LOL!

  • 24. Badtux  |  August 4th, 2010 at 7:14 pm

    For those wondering about the Prozac, remember that this was in Canuckistan, not the United States. Yes, Prozac is expensive in the United States and generally not covered by Medicaid (especially if you are a single male, you’re not eligible for Medicaid in the first place). Canada… not so much.

  • 25. sheepdog  |  December 2nd, 2010 at 7:25 am

    Perhaps if you had thought about whether you needed a car, a boat, a dog, and all the other trappings of middle class life, when you could have afforded to choose your lifestyle, it would have been easier to deal with loosing them? Who is responsible for this society and the harm it does? The citizens. If the poor are raised out of poverty, what is to keep them from then being content that the suffering is now heaped upon someone else? Until no one is suffering, everyone is at risk.

    I have a whole bag of libertard cliches like this if you want to hear more.

  • 26. Jorrik  |  December 15th, 2010 at 5:00 am

    You are all a bunch of goddamn hippies, go do something!

  • 27. banflaw  |  June 7th, 2011 at 5:48 pm

    J D, you are so fucking talented — why on earth aren’t you more successful? It’s just not right.

  • 28. Olaf  |  November 28th, 2011 at 9:26 pm

    I find most of the negative responses above to be well thought-out, but you guys are jumping on the car thing too much. He said to only get rid of the car if you live in a city with good public transportation. As an employed person, I only use bikes, buses, and light rail. I think that would still be feasible if I were homeless? It would be cheaper than having a car, but I would still need to find shelter.

    Another quick thought, about the first comment from Uncle D… Family-owned farms? In China? Ha, ha, ha! The Chinese government owns that land, and they have been kicking families out in order to build ghost towns. They’re creating jobs and GDP, while millions of farmers starve and attempt to revolt.

  • 29. KAPPY  |  February 14th, 2012 at 8:53 pm

    really excellent. have read this piece several times. should definitely become an exiled classic.

    hope (and believe you are?) doing considerably better now.

  • 30. j. sweitzer  |  June 1st, 2012 at 5:40 am

    I think its sad that I am a Koch addicted troll. Don’t you?

  • 31. karmaz fool  |  June 26th, 2012 at 8:19 pm

    Getting off the streets is really getting away from street people. Those cats live to prey. They don’t miss a trick and will eat a fool for breakfast. If you have to be out there find a road dog to watch your back. Unless you’re glued there, don’t be afraid to go where the jobs are. Not all migrant work is nasty. Try an apple harvest in Michigan or the Northwest. Avoid cotton and tobacco.

    Regardless how much of a go getter you are, you may not be one of the first re employed. Once you have a job you’re probably going to have old debt to deal with and a long way back up. It’s a good time to evaluate your lifestyle so hopefully you don’t get caught like this again.

    Every minute you’re not actively looking for a real job you need to hustle. Day labor, plasma banks, food stamps, any help you can get that takes minimal time away from job hunting. It will be a month be fore the first paycheck and maybe 3 before you can get a place of your own. Once you have got off the streets, LEAVE THEM BEHIND YOU. Too many of the cats you will meet are lifers. They want what you have ( apartment, money, stuff) but can’t ever attain it due to drugs or mental illness. You can’t help them by taking them in, you can only bring yourself back to their level. It may seem cruel, but think about what you had to do to get back up and look at what they do every day.

    After that, everyone else has great advice. You lay with pigs, you smell like pigs. Don’t become part of their world. You’re only passing through.

  • 32. Josh Anderson  |  October 24th, 2013 at 7:48 pm

    Feel for ya. You should try to make it to San Antonio. Its homeless paradise out there. Long days pleasant nights.

  • 33. drew  |  May 14th, 2014 at 8:13 pm

    this is the best article i have even read. i am homeless and i agree with all of this. i rarely comment being homeless but for this i had to comment. thank you also for improving my comment

  • 34. nubwaxer  |  August 11th, 2014 at 2:41 pm

    blame it on obama. thanks obama.

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