Living on the street

Discussion in 'Parent Emeritus' started by Echolette, Feb 19, 2014.

  1. Echolette

    Echolette Well-Known Member

    So many parents on this forum feel like they have to everything to prevent their difficult child from being homeless, or living on the street..I thought I'd share how my son, age 20, describes his life on the street of over 2 years.
    First of all, he chooses the street. He doesn't like rules. He is proud of his resourcefulness, and of his bare minimum need for "stuff". He likes the other people on the street better than he likes those of us in houses, or at least he feels more comfortable with them. He apparently feels a sense of community there, as well as acceptance. He is sometimes unhappy, scared, or cold. He doesn't like to sleep in the parks because he is worried about getting robbed. He doesn't really like to be outside when it is bitter cold, preferring to find couches or floors to sleep on, which he is usually able to do for short stays. Somewhere along the line he acquired a "certified to -30 degrees" sleeping bag, which he uses when stuck outside on cold nights.
    I saw him yestarday and asked about his life. He said he is pretty happy. For most of January he begged for money. He said he would start around 10 AM, and would usually have enough for food and maybe some booze by the end of the day. More recently he has started doing odd jobs, especially snow shovelling. If that doesn't pay enough for food then he can always beg. He said the loose gropu he hangs with sort of splits up according to their "talents". Some of them are better beggers than others. Some of them are more able to get up early to get the best snow shovelling jobs. They all do what they do. They go to a ministry for lunch. He likes to shower every day and found a shelter the next town over that is open 24/7 and allows daily showers. He seemed quite pleased with that, and sort of victorious..he told me proudly that that is unusual. He said people gather loosely at the end of the day, buy sandwiches or cigarettes or whatever, and, if they have money left over, buy alcohol or drugs. He said when he can't find a couch to stay on he sleeps under a bridge down by the river...he said there are about 40 people there, they have rigged an electrical hook up so have light and music, and one of them has a space heater. Since it has been below freezing here for about 3 weeks, he assured me that he uses his subzero sleeping bag.
    He told me he is pretty happy. He still gets SSI, but says that his bank offers overdraft protection and he has no cash. He said he asked them to remove the protection so he doesn't do that again (I have no idea if any of this is true). When I saw him he had a small rucksack, a shovel, and a spade, and abicycle. He said he has a job delivering food for a deli (he has had that kind of work a half dozen times before),which just started this week..and then he told me that he had left work sick yestarday, and was thinking of not going in today because he would rather shovel (this said as snow was melting all around us). So clearly that job will not last.
    I would emphasize...he chooses this. He said he is mostly happy (which of us can say that/???) . He asked me eagerly if I thought he was doing well.
    As far as drugs..he said nothing hard, some alcohol and pot occasionally. He said he is not taking his medications. I asked about gettin go nthe list for housing and he said he doesn't want to..that he thinks soon enough he'll make enough money to rent a studio apartment (this is magical thinking) and also that it will be warm soon and he won't need to worry about housing.
    Thats it. That is his story. Seems odd to relay it. But I have read from several other parents that they had kids or relatives who chose the street, or at least survived there..and I just want to do not need to bankrupt yourself, live with a hostile or abusive kid, or hunt them down whenever they leave home. The street is doable. Don't break yourself to avoid it for your child.
    I hope this isn't a wildly inappropriate post.
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  2. DDD

    DDD Well-Known Member

    There is nothing inappropriate about your post, Echo. I think it is great that you now "know" how he is choosing to live and that he is surviving. A number of easy child/difficult children friends have no set address and surf on a very regular basis. My business is next door to a Day Labor place and over the years I have met three or four middle aged (or almost) men who have shared that they have families who love them but they live in the woods with other MH or SA guys because they do not want to give up their freedom and addictions. Even though it is sad for you and other must be a relief to know he is surviving.
    Hugs. DDD
  3. Scent of Cedar *

    Scent of Cedar * Well-Known Member

    Our daughter lived on the streets by choice for 4 months during below zero temps and through a three day blizzard. She knew homelessness was coming and seemed almost to look forward to it. There had been a plan for her to join her ex-husband and kids in another state instead of going homeless. She chose life on the streets over that. When she did call us, asking to come in off the streets, it was because the male she was living on the streets with was picked up and jailed. During the time she was home with us, she went back to the streets periodically. She knows the safe places and people. She panhandled for money. She ate at the mission, got new clothes from donation centers, received free medical care. As Echo described, our daughter told us the street people have a general idea of where everyone they know is at night, and check on one another in the morning. She said life was often hard or frightening, but that for the most part things were simple and very beautiful. For instance, she describes sleeping on a porch and having the time and solitude to watch the sunrise in the morning, or watching the moon make its way across the sky. Being present, in the moment, whatever that moment was. As Echo reported was the case with her son, our daughter too seemed proud to have survived in this way with very few possessions. She feels this is part of her life path, and an important piece of her spirituality.

    Though we are certain drug abuse was involved too, alcohol was a defining piece of the picture in our daughters case, as it was/is for those with whom she shared her life on the streets. There are drug users on the streets, too. She seemed to feel they were dangerous. Each group seemed to have their own areas where they met, sharing alcohol or drugs or whatever.

    Some have tents, some sleep under bridges.

    Our daughter has four children ranging in age from 21 to 6 years old. Two years ago at this time, she was a teacher. She was engaged, and had a beautiful home. She sees those things now as meaningless. She has talked about the grind of the working life, and how hard it was to make ends meet. "Always chasing more" is the way she described it to us, once.

    I don't know how to be the mom to someone who is doing what my daughter is doing. It is a very hard thing to understand or accept. But Echo is correct. There are people who find a meaning in life on the streets that they do not find in working and buying and having things.

    I don't know if this is true for others, but in our daughter's case it seemed, in some ways, that she was determined to do just what she did.

  4. SomewhereOutThere

    SomewhereOutThere Well-Known Member

    When people once told me that some choose homelessness, inwardly I thought they were just arrogant rich people who don't believe you can get down on your luck and actually loose everything. I have since learned that most who are homeless are there because of their chosen lifestyle, unwillingness to follow the rules of shelters or public housing, and have burned all their bridges with relatives and friends where they continued their illegal activities when offered places to stay.

    I worked for two years in a church that gave the homeless a warm place to sleep at night in an affluent area in Illinois. I had no idea there were even a lot of homeless people there, but they sure knew how to find us. Everyone got a home cooked meal by church ladies (very yummy), a mattress and blankets, caring volunteers to talk to all night, and a bagged lunch the next morning. I did feel horrible for a few people who were trying hard to get off the streets. One was an elderly couple. She had horrible epilepsy and could not work due to all her seizures. This couple worked with us, our social social workers and Housing and was on the list to get a place to stay. They were willing to follow any rules and did not use drugs. A few were so incredibly mentally ill that they couldn't follow any rules, BUT...we also were willing to drive them for treatment and some would go to appointments with us sporadically, even getting rides, then refuse to take the medications they were given (for free). They did not get better. Most of the seriously psychotic people either ended up in mental institutions on and off or disappeared quickly. Most were not suffering from that degree of mental illness.

    You couldn't really get much of the truth out of most of them. But they did tend to sometimes have moments where they were upset and would get up and talk to us and we all heard disjointed stories that sounded very similar. They used drugs. They couldn't/wouldn't stop. They'd been kicked out of various family and friends places. Shelters wouldn't let them in because they came in high or refused to stay put all night. In short, they are the rebels who think that no rules apply to them and the streets have a certain appeal to them because they are truly society's misfits. And there is nothing anyone can do to help them. The services were there. Most of them plain did not want to have any rules to follow. Quite a few admitted "I can't follow rules" or "I don't like rules" or "I keep getting busted. I know I should quit, but I (don't) (can't) (won't)."

    We always gave them a train voucher so they could get to the next church that would provide them with a home cooked meal and a place to sleep the following night. The churches took turns. Most of them knew the schedule and asked for the vouchers and bagged lunch before they left. They had to be out by 7am. I have no idea where they hung out because in our upscale town, you just didn't see them. They must have had their places. I do know a lot of them went to the library to warm up. Some used to pay to spend a day at the Y to shower. They had money. They were probably dealing drugs, selling hot/stolen items or panhandling. They had a strong bond with one another and did not seem unhappy. Often they stayed up at night playing board games, watching movies and laughing, and they had no problem picking out the warm socks, underwear, coats and other clothing we kept there for them to take as needed.

    I had to work there though to believe that anyone would choose to be homeless. Now I know better. There IS help there for anyone who wants to work his/her way out of a bad situation, BUT you have no choice but you follow the rules along the way. Our difficult children simply don't want any rules. They also, many of them, mentally ill people who won't go for help and drug addicts who won't kick the habit. But, it's all the same. They make the choice to refuse to get better or do better and live on the streets.
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2014
  5. helpangel

    helpangel Active Member

    in my opinion very accurate and not at all inappropriate. You want to see inappropriate? Lets see how long my post gets and probably won't make a point (or one a parent wants to hear LOL)

    I spent a couple years "living on the road" but never really considered myself homeless. There were times when the term "home" referred to a tent, my car (when had one) or whatever truck my stuff was being stored in, at times home was a backpack & wherever I sat down with it LOL. Other times home referred to my parents house where my stuff was stored and I would mail myself money orders to save for winter - I was working & traveling with carnivals.

    Thanksgiving - end of January you really needed to have money saved if wanted to kick back and party those months. Who would have thought a carny who got high every day would plan ahead so could have $1000 a week during the off season?

    Most of the time I had everything I needed but there were a couple times I got into real jams, beginning of season hit a blank spot for 10 days then it rains for 2 weeks or snows... But my pride wouldn't allow me to call my folks. I'm so glad for that pride because my parents (enablers) would have accepted charges on phone call and been running out to a Western Union within a minute of hanging up if called them.

    The money would have been nice but sitting off by myself in a motel room I wouldn't have had to grow up or learn things, like how to make tomato soup at a bus station condiment bar. How to feed 6 people for $1.50! I also wouldn't have gotten to know some of the best friends a person ever had. Yes they get a few rif raff criminal types passing thru but mostly the people out on a carnival lot were young people (like me) trying to find themselves and true carnys who were born out there (parents too) and lived there entire lives out there often on the same show (good people).

    I wouldn't have traded that time for anything, memories... Yes the frostbite was sad but it was worth it along side the memory of 20 people sharing a motel room. Wish I could remember name of that old man who kept getting up to rub my feet all night long (he probably saved my feet) There are times it gets bad but the ones who are meant to survive do.

    I pray my kids never hitchhike but still take pride in and feel I broke a record when I hitchhiked from Tuscaloosa Alabama to Detroit in 23 hours with a 70Lb. duffle bag and a cat! Even stopped for dinner & a shower at a truck stop in Tennessee. Poor kitty... big trucks going by she was "WOOOOW! WOOOOW!" (rofl guess you had to have been there)

    I still joke every March about how my foot is itching to go. Luckily one of my old friends usually comes up here to work, so I will go out to visit or have a house guest for a few days. There is a lot to be said for going out to see the world before you end up stuck at home, chained to the stove, looking at your kids like they are little ancors that wear diapers.

  6. recoveringenabler

    recoveringenabler Well-Known Member Staff Member

    Thanks for opening up the conversation Echo, as you can see, it is FAR from inappropriate. Interesting tales.

    As you know, my entire family is riddled with mental illness. If they weren't mentally ill, they just became free spirits, which I guess in some ways I would define myself and one of my brothers as. Nonetheless, there is no absence of creativity and the spirit of adventure.

    My schizophrenic brother lived on the streets of L.A. for many years. As Echo has stated, he was pretty okay and developed a community with the other homeless people. What I have found so interesting over the years is that "out there" what we often refer to as the fringes of society, are many little groups of like minded people who form communities. My sister who is an artist, lived on a sail boat for many years with her equally eccentric husband. When I would visit we would sail out and encounter other "boat people" who had gone off the grid as well. My sister had a printing press on the boat!! She created art, played her banjo and communed with others doing a similar lifestyle. They would trade beers for fish, or art for food, or whatever but trading and bartering were how they lived. They lived on the boat for years. Going to visit them at the time (it was probably about 25 years ago) was really a lot of fun and I met some interesting characters.

    My brother, the non mentally ill chap, the free spirit, has traveled all over the world. At times he had a motor cycle and motored all over the US, Mexico, South America, Central America............and guess what? He met the "motor cycle crowd" doing the exact same stuff my sister was doing on the water. They formed communities, bartered, created art, played music.............I don't think drugs and alcohol were in heavy use, it was a little different. He did the same thing in Italy and other parts of Europe, in the Caribbean and many other places. But my point is that people who don't want to or can't abide by cultural rules leave the ranks in great numbers, but we don't really know about them until we make that step ourselves.

    At one point in my illustrious career is a free spirit, I had left my job and home and house sat. I did that for quite awhile. I stayed in lovely homes and didn't work or have any responsibilities was one of the best times in my whole life. And, yes, I met others out there who were doing the same exact thing. I met an 80 year old woman who left her husband of 40 years when she was 60 and took off. She traveled all over the world. She was one of the most interesting people I have ever met. She and I volunteered to hang out with people who were dying and had no one to care for them. Our days were free to have adventures and volunteer to help. Once you get out there people find out about you so the house-sitting gigs are all over the place. I had so much fun. And I wasn't a kid, I was 43 years old. I was in a life transition and going through a period of loss, so I thought what the hell, go for broke. My 80 year old friend told me those of us who were out there doing this were called "floaters" or "professional enjoyers" I loved that. How I personally have negotiated having freedom and conforming is to do one or the other at different times in my life.

    I think my Dad was quite a free spirit (and mentally ill as well) he traveled a great distance to come to the US when he was 18 years old. He had an enormous spirit of didn't translate well to having kids though............I could always see the wanderlust in him and understood early on how difficult it was for him to try to balance his need for freedom with his responsibility for us. I think both suffered.

    In a lot of ways I understand the need to break the rules and live "out there." Where it became dicey for me, is when that person out there in a presumably unsafe environment is my own child. It's funny how all those lines merge and become difficult to pick apart, at least for me they do.

    I've always loved that quote by Helen Keller.........."life is either a daring adventure.........or nothing." Perhaps living on the streets is the daring adventure some of our kids are seeking..........
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2014
  7. slsh

    slsh member since 1999

    Definitely not inappropriate, Echo. thank you lived on the streets/couch surfed for 2 years. I was a chicken and very deliberately avoided learning any details - given his physical condition, I was pretty positive I didn't want to know. What I do know is that he fell in with a group of street kids who knew where all the teen shelters/soup kitchens/friendly couches were. He survived, I think he learned a *lot*, and I think it made him eventually reevaluate how he was living his life.

    I think it's good to remind parents who are going through the utter hell of having a homeless kid that our kids are extremely resourceful and that they can come thru to the other side and make changes, eventually. It's not terribly reassuring (I can still remember very well the sick feeling I carried in the pit of my stomach those 2 years thank you was on the street), but... it is maybe a *smidge* reassuring.
  8. Scent of Cedar *

    Scent of Cedar * Well-Known Member

    Nancy, you sound so much like my daughter! Not the carny part, but the hitchhiking / grateful to have had the experiences / best people in the world part.

    Thank you for posting.


  9. Scent of Cedar *

    Scent of Cedar * Well-Known Member

    Recovering, I just read your posting.

    This is an amazing thread.

    If I can understand this, I can let go of judgment altogether. For my daughter, for me, for everyone.

    So it really is a choice; and the world is a stranger, much stranger, place than I'd thought.

  10. recoveringenabler

    recoveringenabler Well-Known Member Staff Member

    Cedar, there is so much to this detachment from our kids stuff. It is heartbreaking, filled with sorrow, has a lot of fear in it and it hurts. AND, that's enough............we don't have to add the judgement to it, that is our stuff, the rest is because we are their parents and it's tough to let go when we don't understand what is going on and we are afraid for them and if they are mentally ill or involved in drugs, that adds a lot more fear............but, yeah, I think the judgement part is worth throwing overboard. Doing that helps us a lot and at least for me, offers compassion for them and gives us more freedom to really let them go into their own destiny. I work on that everyday.
  11. Childofmine

    Childofmine trying to do this thing one day at a time Staff Member

    RE, when I read your post, I thought wow all of that sounds fun! Let's run away and join the circus for a while (a little tongue in cheek) or float around on a boat in the Caribbean (more realistic) or go to Europe and backpack (now you're talking!). Even at my age today, that sounds fun. I love to travel. I've basically "followed the rules" so a freer life sounds very appealing.

    I don't think that is what my son is doing.

    Because he breaks the law, he isn't welcome anywhere anymore.
    Because he makes no contribution, he isn't welcome anywhere anymore.
    Because he lies and steals, he isn't welcome anywhere anymore.

    Even in shelters for the homeless, because he fails drug tests when he tries to get in---like the Salvation Army on Monday night (I just learned the reason officially although I figured as much).

    I don't have a clear picture of his days and nights being homeless.

    The first time he was homeless, he slept outside businesses, around back, near where they keep the garbage cans. I know his North Face (funny, right a homeless drug addict with a North Face backpack) and his Iphone were stolen that time (so he says). More likely he sold them for drugs. That was the first time and lasted about a week. I don't know what he ate.

    The second time he was homeless he was four hours away and lived "at" a McDonald's restaurant for a month. I don't know whether he stayed inside or outside. It was mid September to mid October. I do know he first slept behind a movie theatre for three days but he was rousted out and landed at the McDonald's. He doesn't seem to find a homeless community (that I know of). He tries to hang with "regular" people who have jobs.

    I think he sees himself completely differently than the world sees him. I guess that is the grandiosity that comes with the disease.

    The third time was over Christmas---Dec. 21 to Jan 2. He went back to the same McDonald's. He kept texting me saying he was cold and hungry. The day I caved in and bought him a bus ticket to get to his court date back here (my last enabling so far on January 2---I am in recovery! May I not relapse! Please.) I talked with him by phone---yes, he was inside the McDonald's, smoking somebody's cigarettes as he was blowing smoke into the phone and using somebody's cell phone. I think he had buddies there. I think somehow he talked his way into that place and was hanging with them.

    Now, for the fourth time, he is homeless again. He is back in the town where I live. I don't know where he sleeps at night. He tried to get in the SA as I said above on Monday. He tested dirty---I know that because the SA director told me that. She is a friend of mine. He told me "I have no idea why they wouldn't let me in."

    In the daytime there is a ministry here open 6 a.m. until 3 p.m. You can go there, take a shower, eat breakfast, wash your clothes, eat lunch, use the computer. I know he goes there.

    Like others have posted on this thread, people make it somehow. When I saw him Tuesday, he unzipped his backpack and I saw a box of those individual packages of peanut butter and crackers. I don't know where he got that.

    Like others have said, they somehow make it. If you had told me some years ago that my son would be homeless I would have said "over my dead body."

    I have come to accept that this is what he is choosing by his continuing drug use and by continuing to deny he has a problem and by continuing to deny he needs help. He won't be able to get clean ever by himself. And that assumes he ever does want to get clean. That, of course, would be the first step.

    So, I can awfulize and say that next he will die. Of course that is possible. He lives a dangerous life. He has no money and somehow he gets drugs. How does that happen? I don't think I want to know. He could get beat up by someone. He could beat somebody up. He could get sick or get a disease that is chronic or acute. He could get shot or knifed. It is likely he could die from an overdose or a lethal combination of drugs.

    This is the life he is choosing to live. I know many of our difficult children live for years on the streets and survive and I guess that can happen.

    I get that people don't like the rules of society. There are rules I don't like. I get that some of us are freer spirits. I am a writer and I see myself as a "conforming free spirit" (of sorts). I guess I am pretty conventional really.

    The deal is this, I think. There are degrees of choosing to live an alternative lifestyle. As long as we don't hurt somebody else, hey go for it. Do your thing. But once we cross over the line of affecting others, we are choosing a path that is hard to come back from. Not impossible. But really hard.

    Not sure this is what you were looking for on this thread. But this is what occurs to me, right now.
  12. recoveringenabler

    recoveringenabler Well-Known Member Staff Member

    I agree with you COM. When I was 'out there' and my brother, sister and father too, we didn't rely on others to support us nor did we manipulate or steal or lie or do any of that. We all earned money and/or bartered. I understand that line you are talking about.

    With my difficult child, as I stopped the enabling, she appears to have moved into a new era in her own life, which seems more in line with freedom and less about manipulation of others to get her needs met. I am not entirely sure of that yet, I am hoping that my recovery impacted her own recovery. However, whatever their reasons or needs to be out there are, our job is to let go.
  13. SomewhereOutThere

    SomewhereOutThere Well-Known Member

    I think the one part of "free spiriting" that we are avoiding is that, really, most of our kids would not be free spiriting if they weren't drug addicts. And if they weren't drug addicts...most of them...or too mentally ill to know how to stay safe, we'd be less concerned with their free spiriting.

  14. DammitJanet

    DammitJanet Well-Known Member Staff Member

    When I was young I also ran off to NYC with a male hooker. That was the most interesting 3 weeks of my life. I honestly wouldnt trade it for the world but I am darned lucky to be alive considering that was when AIDS was just hitting there. I am sure no one I met back then is still alive. Most of the people I met had horrible stories about why they were there. I got incredibly lucky in the people I met. They took care of me without expecting me to turn into their lifestyle. I ended up in a Under 21 shelter at the very end because I got very sick. That place got me a bus ticket back home.

    Big cities do have places to go and more homeless people to meet up with. I know we have some around here and one of them goes to the convenience store where all the constructions workers cash their checks on payday. Everyone gives him about 5 bucks each and that gives him enough money to get by on for several days. Normally we see him again during the week at the local grocery store and he hits us up for money again. Tony never says no. He might only give him a couple of dollars but he always tries to help.
  15. DammitJanet

    DammitJanet Well-Known Member Staff Member

    Also we have to remember that not all homeless people are out there because they choose to be or are criminals or drug addicts. Many normal families lost everything during the housing crisis. They got sucked into those interest only loans and ended up not being able to afford homes. Its very hard to get anyone to rent to you if they find out you lost your home and are now living on the streets. It can also be extremely hard to get any services if you cant give a permanent address.
  16. nlj

    nlj Well-Known Member

    My son would agree with your post Echolette. He says the same thing - that he is "pretty happy".
    Maybe it's all my problem. Just because I value sanitation, heating, earning an income and having a roof and four walls, doesn't mean it's the only way to live. I just have to get my head around it. It's the sadness of seeing your child living outside of acceptable society, seeing the views that other people have of his filthy state and his rejection of 'paying his way' and conforming to the norms. But he's happier than when he was trying to hold down a job and live in a house, so I am really trying hard to accept his choices and not let them affect my life.