There are things you do when you're homeless that you would never have thought about otherwise. Things you would be ashamed to do in a world of the housed. But there is no room for shame as a homeless person, only survival.
You search through trash for someones left over lunch. It doesn't matter that there may be coffee grounds on the sandwich. you haven't eaten in days so you brush it off and eat it anyway. It doesn't matter what it tastes like. you just need the nourishment.
Without the proper nourishment your hair begins to fall out a bit faster than normal. Your teeth rot. Of course they would, you can't brush them weekly, let alone daily. Your hair is slicked back with the natural oils of unwashed hair. The lice you picked up at one of the flop houses can be seen with the naked eye. There's no money for treatment, so you itch, constantly.
Privacy for the relief of bodily functions is a thing of the past. If you're a man, you don;t think twice about urinating on the nearest bush. A woman, learns to squat behind that same bush or if her knees are bad, you pee in a cup. Bowel movements are another thing. You use any public bathroom you can find. More often than not, you are stared at as you walk through a restaurant, office building, public library.
The abomination of bathing is a luxury that happens but once per week, and even then it is done in the most loathsome fashion. You search for public restrooms that have private family or handicap stalls. You lock the door. Strip off the clothes you have worn and slept in daily for the previous week. The socks are so stiff from sweat all the walking incurred and you must peel them from your feet. You cringe at the sight of your once white undergarments.
You examine yourself for ticks, fleas, any kind of hitchhiking bug. It is then you notice the blazing red yeast infection that covers the folds and creases of your body. You weep at the sight of your once flawless body that has changed not only with age and deprivation.
You turn on the water. Although there is a handle for hot water, it is not connected to anything so you bathe using only cold. It's not as good, but it's better than nothing. Out of your tattered backpack, you pull the sample bottle of shampoo the last mission gave you. There's barely enough in it to get the job done, but you use it anyway. It's all you've got.
You scrub with an old sock you use as a washcloth. The soap in the rest room stings a bit on the open sores but that's a good thing you think. It will help them heal. You're done washing as best you can. You dry yourself with paper towels. When there aren't any, you use the liners for the toilets. They soak up water pretty good. There isn't much to choose from, but you dress in the cleanest clothes you have.
You look at your hands and notice that even with all of the scrubbing, you still have dirt under your fingernails. You look up at the reflection that looks back at you and you wonder what happened? What went wrong? Where did the old you go? The person you see in the mirror is no longer someone you recognize. You pack up your belongings. Walk out of the place for just a moment you could have some privacy and begin your quest for a place to sleep.
In the city, sleeping is done in increments. Sometimes the weather is too cold to sleep at all, but mostly the police move you along. You cannot sleep on a park bench. You cannot sleep in your car if you're lucky enough to have one. You cannot sleep in a tent unless you pay for the privilege in a campground. As a matter of fact, it's illegal to be homeless.
We drove along the California coast the other day, looking for a place to park the van we sleep in, knowing that we had a chance of being asked to leave. The further along the coast we went from San Francisco to Santa Cruz, we knew that we would not be moved along. Along that 40 plus mile stretch of sand we counted 73 cars parked along the side of the road, all bedding down for the night.
We were lucky. We found a nice little nook that had a fabulous view of the ocean, on one side, the California coastal hills on the other. There were wild rabbits in our nook, gulls, lizards and ground squirrels as well, all preparing for bed.
As we watched the most spectacular sunset, I dreamt of being in my own private sanctuary, my own private bed overlooking this panoramic wonder, every night. Wouldn't that be incredible.
And then I came back down to earth and thought of how many of those people parked in their cars along the California Coast dream of preparing for any bed perhaps in a home they can call their own.
You can help. Please, donate the change in your pocket to your nearest homeless shelter.