I'm HIRED!!!!!!!!!

Fantastically and completely unexpectedly, I have (as of today) joined the working homeless. My interview today panned out great and they hired me on the spot – I start Wednesday!!!

The company does internet marketing and search engine optimization, with a focus on clients who are mortgage lenders. I interviewed with the CEO and his Lead Developer. I got great vibes on the company, the people, work environment, and the general atmosphere of the place. After interviewing, I expected to at least have to wait a couple of days to find out (I was feeling pretty confident, but these days you never know) – but they asked me if I could start immediately! They said that they don’t usually make a job offer right off the bat like that, but I seemed like the perfect fit for the company and their culture, and they saw no reason to see anyone else before making the decision!

Wow. Just… wow. I’ve never been so flabbergasted (or flattered) in my entire life. 8 MONTHS of searching and dead ends and sending out applications into cyberspace that may as well have been dead air because no one ever even called, and then… boom!

The position is really a catch-all, which is great because I will be able to build up my strength in all aspects of a business. It’s a 31% cut in pay for me from my last position, but who cares – I’m being paid what the market will bear for my skills at this precise moment in time, and it’s a HUGE increase over making nothing! The CEO made sure to mention to me that as the company grows, I will be offered pay raises and bonuses often, as he would really like to get me back up to my usual pay scale. It seems like they really try to take care of their employees there – I met the other workers, and they seemed cheerful and content with work and life in general, so how nice is that? What a change from the last guy who interviewed me last week. My official title is Executive Assistant, but the position will cover everything from Office Management to Human Resources to Payroll to Article Editor… There are 5 employees in the business, as well as a few freelance workers they’ve outsourced (company is growing and expanding, so adding some more) and I will be overseeing them all! How insane is all of this!? I’m terrified and thrilled, what a challenge!

Of course, I have to go to extra lengths to make sure that they never find out that I’m homeless, for however long that may be, but I’m pretty positive I can pull it off. As long as I arrive on time, work hard, and always appear polished and tidy, I don’t foresee any major problems with it. I’ve tried to draw up an estimate of how long it will take me to get myself out of this and into a house. As near as I can tell, I should probably expect about 4-6 months, if all goes well and I budget very tightly, save as much as possible from each and every paycheck, and avoid emergencies and/or complications. I will, of course, still be updating tGGtH daily; new posts will probably arrive in the evenings, though, rather than mornings/afternoons as I have been doing.

Oh, my god. I’m exhausted. Happy, but exhausted. It’s still all sinking in.

Thank you guys for your support, I don’t know that I’d have felt or projected nearly as much confidence if I didn’t feel like I had an invisible band of cyber-homeless-activists cheering me on as a support network. Unbelievable.

Shameless plug: don’t forget to send in your letters to Colbert and Jon Stewart, kids! Homeless Tales links to just about every major (and about a jillion minor) homeless activist/volunteer/shelter out there, in all areas of the world. If Homeless Tales gets a boost, we all get a boost, and the issue gets some major face time on TV in front of millions of viewers – I’m willing to bet more of the younger generation get their news from “The Colbert Report” and “The Daily Show” than from actual newspapers or news networks. And, the younger generation is the one that’s going to take over and inherit the earth next, so earning their awareness is a pretty big deal.

Job Searching and the Almighty Dollar

It’s raining today. God, I love the rain. You don’t see it much in Orange County.

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Quick note: Please check out Homeless Tales, the brainchild of Matt Barnes from the UK. I spent several hours last night browsing through the stories that compile his Street Voices Project, and I was fascinated by the work of the various contributers. Matt and his writers are doing their utmost to raise awareness of this social issue, and to put faces to the various homeless out there, no matter their circumstances. I have a huge amount of respect for their work and send out my kudos to them. If you haven’t already been, please check out Homeless Tales!

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Once your most basic needs (shelter, food, and water) have been met, your mind will naturally turn to money – the most important long-term solution to get you out of this.

I mentioned before, I’m not a fan of panhandling. Many homeless people out there are mentally ill/addicts and feel this is their only recourse. I am not judging those individuals. They are humans as well and deserving of compassion and assistance – medical and rehabilitory assistance in addition to food and shelter. However, I have always worked and I am fully capable of continuing to work. I will not panhandle or beg for money. There are many less fortunate homeless people who do not have the advantages I have, who cannot/do not know how to care for themselves, and who need those contributions more than I do. If you are homeless and reading this blog, that means you have figured out how to access a computer – so chances are pretty high that you are self-reliant and have at least some rudimentary skills that qualify you to find yourself money without panhandling.

First of all, sell any assets that you will not need or that do not have irreplaceable sentimental value (i.e., your grandmother’s wedding ring). If you have a laptop and phone and vehicle, obviously those are things that will come in useful to you. Items like furniture, decor, TV, stereo, etc. are not necessary and can be easily replaced once you are back on your feet. Only you can decide what you are willing to give up, but you will find that material belongings count for very little when you need to buy food and gasoline, or come up with enough money to put down a rental deposit so you can get off of the street. I have built up a collection of fine vintage clothing for several years – guess what’s happening to that? I’m eBaying it off, piece by piece.

As an immediate/temporary solution, you may be able to apply for Unemployment Insurance (UI), State Disability Insurance (SDI), Social Security Disability, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), State Supplementary Payments (SSP) or welfare/food stamps. This guy I mentioned in a previous post has listed the various ins and outs of applying for these programs, including various rules and loopholes. There’s nothing I can say here on those topics that he hasn’t already, so visit his site and review your available options.

If you are not disabled in any way and are physically and mentally capable of working – find a job. Yes, the economy is in the toilet right now. Salaries have been slashed by about 20% on average. But there are jobs out there, even if competition is stiff for some of the higher-paying ones. If you are educated and formerly held a prestigious position – get over it. You may not be able to find something comparable to your last job right now. You may need to wait for the economy to right itself. Do not be too proud to take a lower-paying or less glamorous job in the interim. I did very well for myself in my former life and got every single job I ever interviewed for, but guess what? Right now I’m homeless, and although I have sent out hundreds of applications, the fish aren’t biting. This means that I need to be willing to take anything that comes along (unless it pays less than my UI, in which case I would be shooting myself in the foot – you can’t file for UI and work at the same time).

If you can find under-the-table work here and there, that is awesome. You are paid in cash and there is no record going to the IRS, so they can’t tax you. This means that you can collect some supplemental income and still file for UI, if that is applicable to your situation. Many small business owners will pay under-the-table.

Search on Craigslist.org, Monster.com, CareerBuilder.com, and any other job board you can find. If you have a professional-looking photo of yourself in business attire, attach it to every cover letter you e-mail out. Try to stand out from the sea of nameless, faceless applicants. Distinguish yourself. When hiring managers can put a face to the name, they are more likely to think of you as a person, and remember you when it comes down to weeding through the candidates and deciding who to bring in for interviews.

If you have never had a job, or are super-young and have no previous job experience, search for “entry-level” jobs. These are jobs that require no formal training. Apply at grocery stores, restaurants, retail chains; hell, apply to be the person in the oversized chicken suit outside of Chick-Fil-A! Apply to be the person in the Chuck-E suit at Chuck-E-Cheese. For many of these jobs, you don’t have to apply online – walk right into an establishment and ask to speak to the manager. You may have the front desk person/receptionist/hostess ask you what this is regarding. Don’t tell them up front that it’s regarding applying for a job, they’ll just try to re-route you, or hand you an application to fill out. You want the manager to actually meet you so that you get a chance to make an impression. If they tell you the manager is not available and try to hand you an application to get rid of you, ask to make an appointment to speak to the manager directly. Make sure that every time you visit the establishment, you are clean and well-dressed. Make sure your interview suit/dress is modest, in fashion, and unwrinkled. Do whatever you have to, just find a job and save as much of each paycheck as you can.

At no point during a job search should you tell anyone that you are homeless. It may be tempting to milk your circumstances for sympathy, but DON’T. It will rarely work. The vast majority of society has built-in prejudices against the homeless. If you look like a bum, people will treat you like a bum. If you don’t look like you a bum, are well-dressed/qualified/articulate, but tell people you are homeless, they are still likely to treat you like a bum. Do not appeal to your interviewer in this manner. Never appear desperate. Project confidence and prepare for every interview hours or even days in advance. Find the company’s website and read up on their mission statement, their philosophy, their history, and then drop nuggets of that into your responses to interview questions, so that hiring managers will know you have done your research on the company, will fit in well, and really want to work there.

That is the most important thing in an interview – you may be the most qualified person on the planet, but if you aren’t particularly interested in the job or the company, they will hire someone less qualified who is. This may be a job you are just taking until you can get something better when the economy improves, but they don’t need to know that. As far as an interviewer is concerned, this is your dream job and you will stay here until retirement, OK? You can always change your mind after you get the job and something better comes along. That is not illegal. But you need somet
hing right now, so stretch the truth if you must. Lie a little and say that you see yourself working your way up from a cashier at McDonalds to management at their corporate office. Stress your loyalty to your employer. This doesn’t mean you have to stay there forever. You just need a job right now, do whatever you must to get it.

While job searching, look for other means to come up with extra money. You can sell belongings, as I’ve already noted. Or take a particular talent and start an e-business with it. I run a modest resumé-writing business on the side populated with friends and clients who have no idea that I am homeless. Set yourself up a webpage at Starbucks or the public library, and put your talents to good use. Promote yourself on Craigslist, Twitter, MySpace, or any one of hundreds of online resources. Invest in some cheap flyers and post them on college boards, community boards, Starbucks boards, anywhere you can. Market yourself.

Look into mystery shopping, or marketing companies who will pay you to stand around and promote their products. I did this a couple of years ago for extra cash on the side. I was one of those people who stood behind a table at Costco and handed out free samples on the weekends. You can laugh, but do you know how much I made doing that? $25/hour.

If you are a female in your 20s and you have no moral objection, you may want to look into donating your eggs (a lot of college students do it). You don’t need to be a supermodel astrophysicist to do this (I certainly can’t claim to be one, I’m just a spunky, cute-ish kid with a good head on her shoulders and a fair amount of common sense)! Many prospective parents out there are just looking for a donor who is physically reminiscent of them, and isn’t a carrier for any major diseases or disabilities. I went to check out this opportunity today. I found an agency who is putting me in their database; if I am chosen as a donor, my first-time fee will be $5,500, plus all medical expenses. Keep in mind, if you pursue this option, it pays well for a reason. Sperm donors only get about $75 a pop because their donation process is quick, easy, painless, and pleasurable. For women, you EARN that money. It is a roughly 2-month long process involving self-injected hormones, monitoring appointments, psychological evaluations, and possible side effects. Take all of this into consideration before you make the decision. Personally, I have found that people have the remarkable ability to do things that they never thought they’d be able to do in dire circumstances. I never thought that I’d be able to ransack through a blood-and-brain-splattered suicide scene either, but I ended up having to do just that when my biological father shot himself in January, because my other family members were too queasy to do it, and someone had to. Take a hard look at yourself and decide what you are willing/able to do and where you draw your boundaries, and then stick to them.

There are opportunities to earn money honestly if you search for them. So many people out there are throwing their hands up in the air and blaming the sucky economy for not being able to find work. Don’t be proud. Do what you must. Consider every alternative. You’re homeless and jobless, do you really have anything better to do? Your job is to find a job.

Safety

The towing of the trailer was put off today by a couple of issues that cropped up (including unwanted meddling from a family member, needing to find a pin for the tow hitch, and the hours of the campground in Blythe). Blegh, but you have to learn to roll with the punches and make adjustments when you’re in this kind of situation. Flexibility is your friend. So, I will be making the drive early tomorrow morning, around 3 a.m. That should give me time to get there and back and still have time to load up my belongings and my dog, and then head over to “my” parking lot by evening.

Anyway, today’s topic is going to be safety. Resources are important when you’re homeless, you learn to make the most of what you have. I am lucky, I have more than many – a vehicle/camper, a laptop, a phone, a little bit of money. You may not have these things (yet). But you do have what we all have: yourself.

You are the most important resource that you’ve got. Your body and your mind. As long as you’re alive and healthy and physically/mentally capable of coming up with a plan and executing it, you will be OK. The situation that you’re in may indeed be one of mind-boggling suckage. But you’re alive. There is always another avenue, another option, another choice, another route, another door to pursue if one is closed off to you (and often, that door is reopened later on – check back on it after trying a few other options first). It is easy to panic when life throws up an unexpected obstacle. It may be a huge one, and it seems even huger when you panic over it. Learn to let the panic run its course, then calm down and look at the situation objectively. There is another approach, you just haven’t thought of it yet.

Since you are your most valuable asset, take care of yourself. Anything material that you have/had/lost? It can be replaced, or at least reasonably substituted. You cannot be. It goes without saying that bad things happen to everyone, but you are in a far more vulnerable position living on the streets, and that goes double (quadruple!!!) if you are female. Women and children are thought of as easy prey and are most likely to be targeted by an attacker. So follow several tips to keep yourself safe:

1) Try to find a nicer part of town, with less of a reputation for crime. Become familiar with it and keep to that area as much as possible.

2) Keep to public, well-lit places as much as you can, especially at night. You are less likely to be attacked if you are surrounded by potential witnesses. Isolating yourself is a very, very bad idea. You don’t want to put yourself in a position where no one will be around to hear you scream. Avoid alleyways, deserted parking lots, stairways/stairwells (use an elevator if there is one). In parking lots, don’t park next to vans if you can avoid it. Vans have sliding doors and no windows. They are the ideal choice for a predator to hide out and pull unsuspecting women in as they park.

3) Arm yourself. I don’t necessarily mean with a gun (they can be illegal to own without a permit anyway, and they are pretty easy to abuse or accidentally misuse). Get some mace from Wal-Mart (usually in the sporting goods section – huh?!) It will probably be locked up, but an employee can get it for you. You can get mace on unobtrusive little keychains, too. I have the largest legal pocket knife I could find (I used to need it for various utilitarian purposes back when I owned a horse, but now it doubles as a backup method of personal protection). If you can afford it, they even sell purse-sized Tasers now for women. You can even order them in girly colors like pink, if you’re into that. They run about $300, but it’s probably worth the splurge to have 50,000 volts of electricity at your disposal. In fact, I’m making a mental note on my checklist right now to pick one up for myself.

4) Be constantly aware of your surroundings. There’s a difference between paranoia and healthy suspicion. Always be healthily suspicious (that’s probably really bad grammar, but oh well). Stay away from drugs and alcohol (I have nothing against a little social drinking, but when you’re homeless you will need all of your faculties, don’t dull them with mind-altering substances). Always watch what’s going on in your general vicinity. Attackers tend to look for women with long hair worn down or in a ponytail, it gives them something to grab onto (most difficult to grab is a tight bun). If you often wear your hair this way, be wary of people who come within a couple of armlengths of you, just in case. Also, if you are walking in an isolated area (say, to your vehicle at night through a deserted parking lot, or something similar), hold your keys in your fist with the pointy ends sticking out, kind of like a set of pointy knuckles. If you are attacked, you can punch as hard as you can and gouge with the keys (aim for the eyes or other sensitive areas such as the groin, throat, nose, knees, or abdomen). Don’t be squeamish. You must hit as forcefully as you are physically capable, to achieve maximum incapacitation.

5) Always resist. If you are attacked, fight. Scream – even if your attacker says you will be hurt/killed if you scream. He is planning to hurt/kill you anyway and you have a better chance of survival if you do scream. Something about a woman’s scream really disarms men. It’s bloodcurdling and it has the power to freeze them in their tracks for a split second (which could be all you need to escape), and then it generally sends them running, out of fear that someone will hear and come to help. Do not scream “HELP”. Tests have been done and many bystanders within earshot will not respond to this word (either out of fear of being drawn into danger themselves, or because they think it’s just some kids messing around – overuse of the word has made it lose much of its power). Instead, scream “FIRE” or “NO” or “TAKE YOUR HANDS OFF ME” or “DON’T TOUCH ME”. Good Samaritans are more likely to respond to these words. If someone has a gun and threatens to shoot you, run anyway if you are not physically under his control. Even within a close range (under 10 feet), he is only 40% likely to hit you, and if he does, it is still unlikely to be a vital organ. The farther away you get, the lower the percentage gets. If you stay and submit, your odds of being shot and killed are waaaaaaaaay closer to 100%.

6) If you are mugged, give the mugger your wallet, or phone, or whatever he’s asking for. It sucks to lose a valuable resource, I know. But again, your life is irreplaceable. If he’s only looking for material items, remain calm and let him have them. He may leave after this, and not attempt to physically harm or kidnap you. Let him run away, run in the opposite direction, and find a police officer. If your attacker attempts to physically harm you after you have given him your valuables, revert to #5 (fight). Do not, under any circumstances, let him take you from Point A to Point B. Point B is where you get raped and/or shot in the head.

7) Project an aura of confidence. Predators look for victims who seem weak, shy, nervous, helpless. Stand up straight. Swing your arms as you walk. Don’t look at the ground. If another person makes eye contact with you, gaze levelly right back. Don’t break eye contact until they walk by. Bad guys latch onto potential victims who look away. They are more likely to cooperate and submit out of fear. Look fearless. So much of life in general depends upon how you carry yourself. Carry yourself like a woman who can kick ass, and will, if anyone tries to lay a finger on her against her will.

8 ) Don’t look homeless. There’s a reason you hear all of those news stories about homeless
women and prostitutes being murdered. A predator assumes – wrongly – that you wouldn’t be in that position unless no one out there cared about your welfare. A criminal would usually rather harm someone that will not have concerned family or friends looking for them. If they attack someone that no one will miss, they are less likely to be caught early, if at all. So try to remain clean and neat, and somewhat well-dressed. Attempt to look like just another Jane on the way home to her family (who are naturally waiting up for her).

9) By the same token, don’t look too rich – you don’t want to be mugged for valuables. If you own any precious jewelry or designer clothes, on the street probably isn’t the place to be wearing them. You can look presentable, and even professional, without flashing a giant neon sign saying “I’M RICH!!!!!!” Pass as middle-class. It’s safer than appearing either homeless or incredibly wealthy.

10) If you have a cell phone, carry it in your hand, or even hold it up to your ear and pretend to talk/listen into it as you walk. No one wants to attack a woman when someone might be listening on the other end, ready to alert police. If you don’t have a cell phone, try to find one – if you can’t afford it, fine. Just get a free one off Craigslist (many people give away old phones, or sell them dirt-cheap, we’re talking $5 or $10 here). If you can’t activate it and pay for a phone plan, at least have it as a prop, especially if you’re in a dark, isolated, or crummy area.

11) Turn down requests for help. It sounds horrible, I know. Yes, you may be sympathetic and want to help someone find their lost puppy, or help that broken-down motorist jump his car battery, or help that handicapped man who seems like he may be stuck and need physical assistance. DON’T. You are a good person for wanting to help. But you are also vulnerable, and this is a tactic used by many predators to lure women and children. If you want to help, remain at a safe distance and tell the individual that you will find someone who can help him. Use a cell phone to call police or locate a trustworthy nearby citizen and request that they provide assistance instead.

12) If you are ever overpowered and shoved into the trunk of a car, kick out the tail lights. You may be able to achieve this even if you are tied up. Head-butt them, if you must. Just find some way to kick them out so that you can shove your arms or legs through the hole and wave them. The driver of the vehicle likely won’t be able to see this, but random motorists on the road will, and can alert police.

These are survival skills that are good for all women to cultivate, even those who are not homeless. Study up on them and put them into practice. It could save your life, and likely will at some point, whether you realize it or not. There are a lot more crazy people out there than you may realize, and many of them come across as very innocent and even kind, helpful people. The vast majority of serial killers out there went undiscovered for so long because they had reputations as quiet, friendly, good men – or even pillars of their community. I don’t say this to make you paranoid, but to make you aware. Take care of yourself out there. You can always find food, you can always find a new home, you can always come up with a way to bathe yourself, clothe yourself, access the Internet, whatever. But you cannot bring yourself back to life. You will need everything you’ve got to get through this. Be careful.