Tuesday, December 09, 2008

homeless in austin: an insider's view

Our friend and fellow blogger, Steve at Doing My Part for the Left, has been hit hard by the shoddy economy, and after losing his job has found himself homeless. We are helping him broadcast his story by re-posting it here. You may see it on other Texas sites, as well, because Steve has many friends in the blogosphere and we're all interested in helping in any way we can. Like Julie at MOMocrats puts it, "We're going to have to drastically change the way we think, work, and live---drastically change our expectations of what we will have and get, and fight as hard as he has to hold on to what we've got."

Hard times have hit us all at one time or another. We have seen the high unemployment numbers and the dismal forecast for economy in America. I never thought as a college graduate I would have an inside view of the day to day struggles of the homeless but I am there and will share my experiences so that people might gain a better insight and understanding of the plight we are facing in America.

I have been unemployed since March of 2008. Without unemployment benefits, I took to couch surfing and doing odd jobs for cash. Once the 2008 general elections were over and a new era in American History began, I started a new journey of my own. I spent a few weeks in a weekly motel that cost enough per week that I could have rented an apartment if I had not been evicted back in June. I realized that not only had I run out of money but I had also run out of options. I finally had to admit I needed more help than was available and I would have to take drastic steps. I moved my computer and many possessions that would not fit in a rolling suitcase and left them with a friend. I spent one last night on another friend's sofa and then I was truly on the streets and homeless.

I arrived at Sally (The Salvation Army) and found out they do a raffle every morning for beds that become available in the men's dorm. I was there at 8:45 am and waited as I watched more and more men file in hoping to get a bed for Wednesday night. The counselor came out and asked how many men were there for a bed. 15 men ranging in age from 18 to 70 raised their hands. The counselor said they only had two beds. As he walked around the room with a hat with 15 slips of paper, he informed us if we got a number we had a bed but if not we would have to try again the next day. I was not one of the lucky ones.

Realizing I had to do something I started asking questions and was told that I could try the lottery at ARCH (Austin Resource Center for the Homeless) at 6pm. I took my rolling suitcase and Netroots nation bag and headed over to ARCH to ask questions. I had to wait in line to get in and then have my bags go through an x-ray security machine like the ones they sue at the airport and then file through a metal detector. I went to the desk and asked what I need to do and to verify times for the lottery. I was also informed that if the temperature was below 40 degrees, they would allow more people to stay. The first night I was lucky enough to draw a number which meant I could sleep on a mat on the floor in the lobby of ARCH.

Once the lottery was over I was led into the building and told I would have to take a shower. The ARCH does not provide towels and since I had not thought to back one, I had to dry off with paper towels. I was then given a thin pallet to sleep on. Well, I would not exactly call it sleeping. I lay on the pallet with a coat and a sweatshirt rolled up as a pillow. I had another coat that I used as a blanket. I was close to the stairs that led upstairs to the bathrooms and people were walking by my head all night. There was snoring, coughing, people crying out in their sleep and even a few arguments. Lights out was at 9:30 but if you have ever been by ARCH you know they have security lights that are on 24/7. Reading was not a problem since I could not really sleep. At 4:30 am the people on the first floor were awakened so they could start setting up the lobby for the day. They served us coffee and granola bars. I had survived my first night as a homeless person.

The next two nights I was lucky enough to win cold weather lotteries and spend the night at two different churches who fed us dinner and breakfast before sending us back to ARCH. On Saturday morning, I was finally able to get assigned a bed at Sally. I no longer have to fear not having a bed as long as I follow all the rules. There are many rules and hoops you must jump through to qualify for the different programs and I will be discussing those and my life as a homeless person in future installments. Being limited to an hour on a computer at the library and having to have others post for me, restricts what I can do as a blogger. Look for future installments soon.

You can read Part Two here.

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