We asked our regular contributors through e-mail Former homeless people, what did you need the most? What was the best thing someone did for you? We got many interesting responses. Here are some of them. We have just copied and pasted their responses, not editing them in any way.
1. When I lost my job after the Y2K remediation, I wound up broke as a joke and no hopes of the job from anywhere in Oregon at the time.
Girlfriend got asked to come to take over her family’s failing company business in Utah and we decided to go for it. Got here with nowhere to live, no money, 1/4 tank of gas. We lived in our cars for a while then we found a row of 3 abandoned houses in Provo and squatted in the middle one.
While she tried to rescue the family business, I got a gig delivering those stupid free newspapers that people get in their driveway. Wife’s car was a longbed F350 so we could deliver a ton of papers. That’s what kept us fed. I was 32 and a paper route was my only income.
As far as the nicest thing anyone did… One day a guy came and knocked on our door, saying he was the house owner. We said sorry and we will pack up and get out right now. However, the guy was nice. He said he owned all three of these empty houses and thanked us for keeping the crackheads out of them and he let us stay there, he even turned the power on for us.
6 months after that I wound up getting a job at eBay, and it was onward and upward from there. So really all we needed was a chance, we got it.
2. Hygiene. Anyone who let me take a shower and shave was an angel.
3. Showers and a place to wash your clothes to save as much money for food to be able to get dollar menu items and feed yourself three times off 5 dollars and some change, not sure if living in the car counts as homeless though but a 93 accord ain’t exactly home.
4. My wife was homeless as a teenager.
On Friday afternoons, a “businessman” would walk up to her and ask her if she was hungry. She would say yes, and he would take her into the restaurant on the corner. She never felt any danger with him (and she has had to cut somebody badly before). He was just some dude offering her a meal.
He would let her get anything in the menu. He would sit and read the paper and drink a cup of coffee. There was never any conversation. When she was finished, he would pay the bill and leave. There was never any exchange of words other than “You hungry?” and “have what you want”, and “Have a good afternoon”.
This happened multiple times. She never felt like a project to him. She never felt less than him. She never felt in danger. He was just a guy who saw a dirty girl on the street who needed to eat.
She has since gotten her GED, graduated from a trade school with a fitness degree, and now has earned her MBA with honors. She is an amazing woman and an amazing mother. The one wish she has is that she can run into the “businessman” who bought her lunches and thank him.
5. Gifted me an old, baggy waterproof jacket with a big hood. It had many pockets too. A little large to carry around, since I was carrying a lot of other stuff, too, but proved very useful. It was very rainy at that time.
6. Employment. I wasn’t addicted and wasn’t mentally ill. But I had legal trouble and employers aren’t going to hire someone who is probably going to jail 5 months from now.
I had to work under the table for like $4 per hour. If there had been a way for me to get a decent temp job I could have probably got an apartment for the interim.
I was able to secure a spot in a church basement for a little while. The nicest thing anyone did was one of the people from church brought me a super Nintendo and a stack of games to help keep the boredom and loneliness at bay.
7. I was homeless as a teenager and used to hitchhike around the country. This is the story of the nicest thing a stranger has ever done for me, I hope they get to see this and know I still remember them and appreciate what they did:
I was hiking from Wisconsin to New Orleans. I was 15 and pregnant, although I didn’t know it at the time. I was sick and throwing up and was trying to get back to New Orleans to go to the charity hospital. I was having a terrible journey, a guy had tried to grab my leg and I resisted and he dropped me off on a toll road where no one would pick me up, so I spent several days walking until a semi-truck driver finally gave me a lift. He was a nice old man and I told him upfront that I was 15 and he promised he wouldn’t try to hurt me. He told me I reminded him of his niece and would give me a ride as far as he could go. I spent a few hours riding with him until we got near St Louis and then he pulled off the road at a rest area and asked me if I need to use the restroom. I did, and I was stupid enough to leave my backpack in his truck when I went in to use it. When I came out, he had thrown my backpack out into the parking lot and left me there, and there were bums going through my bag stealing my stuff. I was tired, hungry, and now I had just been robbed of what little possessions I had. Only a few items of clothing remained.
I walked down the highway again and a short time later a car pulled over to give me a lift. The man inside was very overweight, sweaty, smelly, and was wearing just a T-shirt and dolphin shorts. The only reason I accepted the ride was that he had a CB radio in his car, and I thought I could use it to call ahead for another ride. The joke was on me, once we got down the road he told me the CB didn’t work, and now I was stuck in the car with this creepy guy. Luckily, he said he could only give me a lift to the other side of St Louis. It only took a few minutes before his hand started sliding up my leg. I scooted as close to the door as I could and told him I was only 15 and didn’t put out for rides, and he immediately withdrew his hand and apologized. He said he would take me a bit farther to make up for it. A few minutes later, here comes the hand again. I asked him to let me out. He apologized again and said he’d take me further. He started to pull off onto an exit.
Me: “Can I get out here?” Guy: “No, there’s a place I want to show you”
I look over and there’s a sign for a lake up to the exit, and I instantly pictured myself tied to rock at the bottom of a lake. As soon as he got to the end of the exit ramp where it meets the off-road, I opened my door, grabbed my bag, and tried to jump out. He grabbed my necklace (one of those thick choke-chain kind) and shirt and pulled me back inside and started choking me with it. I was punching him as hard as I could, and I got a good one right in his nose. He loosened his grip enough for me to pull free, and I ran across the off-road and back onto the entrance to the highway. First, he yelled, “Get back here you stupid b***h!” And tried to run after me, but he was too fat and I was too far ahead, so he tried to hit me with his car. I jumped over the little rail that runs along the ditch, and I guess he didn’t want to damage his car so he kept going and got back in the highway.
Now I’m absolutely terrified that he’s going to turn around at the next exit and come back for me, so I’m frantically waving down cars on the highway. My neck is swelling and it’s hard to breathe, my shirt is torn open, I haven’t showered or eaten in 3 days, I’m crying, I’m sick, I’m a mess. And just to make things worse, it starts to rain.
But then, a car pulls over. A cop car. Thanks to the gods, I’m saved!!! I don’t even care if I go to jail, at least there will be food there. The officer opens the front door and tells me to get in. It was a lady in a brown uniform, not sure if she’s sheriff, police, park ranger, I have no clue, I’m just happy to be getting away from that f**king psycho. I tell her the whole story while she’s driving down the highway. She says she’ll make sure I’m safe. She takes me to a gas station and gives me $10 to buy some sandwiches. Then she tells me it’s going to get dark soon, and she can’t just leave an underage girl out on the highway at night, so she’s going to take me somewhere where I can get some sleep. She takes me to her house and lets me take a shower, and while I was in there she washed my clothes for me. After that, she drove me to a Sonic and bought me some dinner. We went back to her house and she let me sleep on her couch.
It was around 4 am when she woke me up again. Now there’s a man there, and my first thought is “oh sh*t, what have I gotten myself into now?” She introduces the man as her brother, and they tell me that they don’t want me hitchhiking tomorrow so they bought me a bus ticket to New Orleans while I was asleep. They drove me to the bus station and her brother gifted me a huge Bowie knife and said: “Next time someone tries to hurt you, you use this.” And they sent me on my way.
I’ve never been able to repay this woman, but I hope my story reaches her and she knows that she saved my life that day. I made it to Charity hospital and found out I was pregnant and returned to my family to raise my daughter. Thanks, lady, you were so kind that I’ve spent my whole life trying to pay it forward. You’re awesome.
8. I was homeless with a dog, so that made everything a lot more difficult. Just finding enough food and water for us both to survive. When I was first homeless it would get pretty cold at night and it was hard to keep blankets because when it rained and they got wet it took forever for them to dry again. I and my dog would huddle together under a tarp just shivering.
We lived at an abandoned tire shop, in a tire rack on a sort of bed I made us of stuff I found in various dumpsters. I would pick up bottles of water or whatever kind of drink people throw away, and fill them up at a water faucet outside this church that was nearby. They never bitched me out so that was really nice. I was so scared every time I would go to fill up water, I remember shaking so bad, eyes darting around everywhere, ready to bolt. But it was so hot, I was so thirsty and hungry, sometimes on my way to get water, I’d get too tired to even walk anymore from the heat and dehydration I’d literally fall asleep on the sidewalk on the main street for hours. No one once ever stopped to check if I was dead.
The best thing someone did was getting me off the streets. I was passed out under a bridge with my dog, and I get woken up by this guy holding a box of doughnuts. I was in awe. He gave me two, one for me and I gave the other to my dog. It tasted so good. Food! And it hadn’t even been on the ground! He was with three people, they were part of an outreach group. They got me into a shelter, with my dog, that day. I was just crying, so happy, so thankful. I was barely surviving.
9. Pay taxes.
People love telling you to pull yourself up by your own boot straps but it’s hard when your boots are falling apart and new boots are $50 but I can get drunk for $6. Without a phone and a mailing address you cant get a job, and the only ones who provided those were the government.
Sure churches and shelters will let you sleep on the floor and take a shower but the next day you are still wearing filthy, ratty clothes and no one is in a hurry to get you something to wear to an interview. People will give you a job washing dishes but when you get arrested for sleeping on a park bench and jail is heated and the park bench is not guessed what I’ll stay in jail instead of washing dishes. People will give you a pittance that makes you hope it will get better but as soon as something happens you’re on your own and back where you started.
What got me out of being homeless? A studio apartment that cost the city a total of $1,200 until I could pay rent myself. Homeless people don’t need socks or food or healthcare nearly as much as they need somewhere stable to live and eat and shower and go to the bathroom where they don’t have to worry about their meager possessions getting stolen or getting robbed or assaulted.
10. Money lol but really its stability that’s the hardest to come by. Nobody has faith that anybody homeless can make it out of their situation but as a man who has been on his own since 16 with nothing but the clothes on my back its hard to come from nothing to stable. Just need someone to believe that you have the hustle to grind and make it out.