Interview Finally Posted!!! Also, Ingrid and General Direction of tGGtH

Well, I’m only three days late with it, but FINALLY figured out how to post the CBC interview with Jennifer Westaway:

I sound very nervous and am talking about a mile a minute, haha.  I got some super sweet comments from Canadian readers, and now I have to set about answering all of them (I like to personally respond to everybody)!  So, if you’ve left me a comment at any point this last week, I’ll have probably responded to it by tonight.  Really.  I swear.

Things have been a tiny bit crazy, there may be problems getting the house and I may need to come up with about $10K more than I currently have, within the next two months, in order to get it.  This means that I will need to look into selling the few remaining possessions that I have, including my antique 1934 baby grand piano, Ingrid… I dumped much of my furniture at a thrift store, but put her and a few other items in storage when this thing began.  I used to think that she would be the one thing I would never be willing to sell, and it breaks my heart to make the decision, but this is my dream house and I need to really take a serious look at what is most important to me and my long-term happiness.  I suppose I could always find another piano… but houses like my Victorian simply don’t exist around here, and I really am head-over-heels in love with it.  At the same time, I could get another piano but not another Ingrid; musical instruments have a sort of life and personality to them and I will miss her terribly.  I imagine she’s quite disappointed at being stored in pieces in the dark for the past few months, and will be even more disappointed that I’ll never play her again.  Or perhaps it’s just anthropomorphization.  In any event, I probably won’t make much off her (nobody is buying pianos at the moment; instruments that would have cost thousands a couple of years ago are going for mere hundreds or even being given away for free on Craigslist now).  I have a few other things that I suppose can go – a book collection of thousands of books (which also breaks my heart) and several hundred DVDs – it may be well over a thousand now, I didn’t really keep track when I was collecting them.  I used to work for Blockbuster Video, can you tell?  In any case, not very good resale value, but perhaps it’ll be something.  I also have the Dodge Ram that I inherited from Bill when he committed suicide.  It’s about 10 years old, and only worth about $2500 max, but it’s something.  It’s currently hooked up to the trailer, but perhaps if I eventually find a month-to-month rooming situation that works to my satisfaction, I can sell it.  I also have a fair amount of vintage clothing left, which I used to sell a lot of, so I’m thinking of starting to sell off the nicest pieces.  Still, not much of a resale market for vintage with this economy, but I’ll do whatever I can.  I will NOT lose this house.  I CANNOT.

I’m also gonna have to take a hard look and figure out exactly where I want to take tGGtH at this point.  I feel like I’ve veered off the original intent, which was survival tips and advice and resources.  I seem to be posting more and more personal stories about my daily life, which I’m not ENTIRELY averse to, but somehow I feel like perhaps I might eventually come off as whining about my life, when the original intent of the blog was to help others.  So I may want to start including more topical/homeless news/tips/links to resources type postings.  Thoughts or impressions?  What I want most out of this thing is to help others even in a small way, and also do my part to put the issue on the map.

Also, just curious… any of you guys think I could ever pass as an advice columnist?  The idea recently came to my attention and I find it somewhat intriguing, although unsure as to whether I may be the type.

Onwards I forage – to the comments!!!!!!  :)

Free Phone Service and Revenge

In connection with yesterday’s post, I would like to provide links to these two programs that offer free phone service for the impoverished and homeless:

SafeLink Wireless provides free cell phones and airtime to income-qualified individuals. Basically, if you make under about $14K/year, you qualify. It does say that you need a valid address to ship the phone to (no P.O. boxes accepted), but there’s an easy way around this. I offer up this tip lifted from Survival Guide to Homelessness: “Get a mailbox at a UPS store or similar establishment, and use that as your home address. Don’t get a post office box. PO Boxes are dead giveaways, but a commercial mailbox has a street address. The address will read 1234 Anystreet, PMB123. PMB stands for private mailbox. When you give your address substitute a pound sign (#), or Apt. Never write PMB. This will not affect delivery of mail”.

The other program is Community Voice Mail, which can be used by anyone and everyone who needs it (no income limits apply). It can be used from any touch-tone phone, including pay phones, for free. If you have an e-mail address, you can also be notified via e-mail when you have received a message.

Some kind of phone access is almost essential for those homeless and trying to find work. If you do not have or cannot afford a phone, make use of these tools!

* * * * *

On the topic of revenge: It’s not always a completely savory concept, but sometimes it’s necessary.

First off, I should say that in my Wal-Mart parking lot, there are several other long-term homeless individuals living out of RVs, trailers, and cars. I haven’t yet had the opportunity to interact with any of these people, as they all keep to themselves. Everything is kept very quiet and clean; I rarely, if ever, see anyone come and go. There is no littering, no noise, no nothing. It is almost eerily quiet around there, as if there is an implicit, unspoken agreement that none of us will attract attention to ourselves, and therefore, ruin the setup for everyone else. We all know that it only takes one complaint from a shopper or city resident to the police, and we may be asked to move. The majority of us have long outstayed Wal-Mart’s “one or two nights” policy, and managed to blend – when it comes down to it, one trailer/car looks pretty much like another, right? However, it is a precarious situation at best, so everyone is incredibly clean and polite, so as not to give any cause for complaint.

There are these two little punks who seem to think that it’s funny to drive their truck to the edge of the parking lot every night, around midnight or 1:00 a.m., and keep the homeless awake by blasting music as loud as it will go – we’re not talking regular loud music here, we’re talking subwoofers, the whole bit, until you can feel the vibrations in your bones.

They usually stay for about 20-30 minutes, and then drive off, laughing. Of course, no one ever does or says anything. It’s not like you can open your window and shout “get out of here, you rotten kids! People are trying to sleep!” Everyone is conditioned to be absolutely quiet and still, ride it out, and let them pass. Don’t draw more attention to ourselves. It’s pretty jarring being woken up every night, but I suppose it’s one of those things you learn to deal with when you’re widely considered the scum-suckers on the bottom of the society tank.

Well, last night, I made a late-night run to the Circle K on the other side of the shopping center parking lot. And who do you suppose were there, filling up their gas tank? I made a big show out of sauntering over and writing down their license plates. They started getting belligerent, asking me what I was doing.

I told them I was the janitor for Wal-Mart (does Wal-Mart even have a janitor?!) and I wanted to know whom to file the noise complaint against with the police. I looked them in the eye, put on my steeliest dominatrix tone, and challenged them, “Go ahead, blast your music again. I dare you”. I don’t think they knew what to say. I walked away and went about my business at Circle K.

All was quiet last night. I don’t think they’ll bug us again. If they do, I have their license plate number. Rotten little punks.

Huzzah, I have struck a blow and claimed a (minor) victory in defense of my homeless brethren! *dances*

First Things First – Shelter, Electricity, and Water.

When you first find out that you’re going to be homeless, there’s a lot of initial prep work to be done – figuring out how to meet your barest, most essential needs, and then going from there.

I am writing this post assuming that you have a vehicle of some kind. If you don’t, a vehicle is probably the single most important thing that you can get for yourself while homeless. Find a total junker if you need to, even if it has some issues, as long as it runs. Being homeless without any form of transportation is very difficult, and far more dangerous, never mind inconvenient. If your county has a bus system, I suppose you could utilize that to get around (although it’s very slow and occasionally full of some creepy people), but as far as shelter goes, you really need a vehicle.

The first thing that I set out to find was shelter. Obviously, the best plan of attack is to stay under the radar in stealth mode, out of homeless shelters, and off of curbsides/freeway underpasses, etc. As explained in my previous post, I have recently inherited a 30-foot travel trailer that will be sufficient to house my dog and myself. But where does one put a travel trailer? It’s illegal to just park them on most public streets, especially overnight. There are various trailer parks and campgrounds, but they eat up valuable money – at $40.00 and up per day, I might as well be paying to rent a really nice month-to-month apartment (which I would do, if it weren’t for the dog question – large dogs are rarely welcome in apartment complexes, and those that do permit them charge a hell of a lot more for them. Which puts me back at square one).

Through some dedicated Googling, I discovered that certain companies (namely, Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club) have a nationwide policy allowing RV-ers and/or truckers to park in their parking lots overnight (and sometimes for several nights). For Wal-Mart, policies vary a bit from location to location, store managers are allowed to interpret the rule loosely and set time limits and regulations if they wish. Certain locations also do not allow it due to space restrictions or city ordinances forbidding overnight parking (although technically, these parking lots are considered privately owned property, and the store has the right to allow overnight parking. But still). In any case, you can find out which Wal-Marts DON’T allow overnight parking here, as well as searching for other free campgrounds out there. If you do not have a trailer but do have a car, you still may be able to take advantage of the rule – many people do.

For safety reasons, I will not give out the exact locations that I frequent, but suffice it to say that I drove by both a local Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club. There was only one trailer parked in the Sam’s Club lot (although there were several big rigs) and the store was in more of an isolated area, and a worse part of town. The Wal-Mart, on the other hand, had about 12 RVs in the lot, both in the evening and during the day (I drove back to check), so it would seem that far more people know about the Wal-Mart rule.

If you are homeless and living out of a vehicle, you may think that it’s a good idea to find some isolated spot to park, since apparently it is illegal to live/sleep in your car – go figure, right? I mean, it’s legal to park your car, and it is legal to sleep, but you can’t sleep in your own vehicle? It’s a really insane rule to me. You can eat in your car, listen to music in your car, just sit there for hours and read in your car, but sleep in it? You’ll get marked a “transient” by the police pretty darn quickly, and asked to move on. So I can understand the logic involved in trying to find somewhere obscure and isolated – you just want to sleep without the police bugging you.

However, parking somewhere isolated is also incredibly dangerous, and a good way to put yourself in harm’s way – you could be mugged, raped, or killed. Crazy and bad people seek out isolated victims. Police are also likely to be checking isolated spots – a single vehicle illegally parked on a quiet dirt road stands out. Sometimes the best place to “hide” is right out in plain sight. Think about it – how often while walking through a busy grocery store parking lot do you look around and take stock of other vehicles or people? You’re in a rush, there are cars looking for spaces, you don’t have time to notice if there’s someone sleeping in their car. You’re wrapped up in your own little world, your needs and wants, whatever errand brought you there. Before learning about this Wal-Mart rule, I had never even realized that there were RVs and trailers parked in their lot. I had been to this Wal-Mart countless amounts of times, and I’m a pretty observant person, but I had never actually NOTICED the several giant campers just sitting there. How can you miss something that huge? But I did.

There is safety in numbers. At Sam’s Club, there was only one RV in their lot. I would be far too noticeable sitting there for days or weeks at a time. However, at Wal-Mart, there are many at once, and always more coming or going, at all hours. To an extent, they all pretty much look like each other. The odds are likely that I will easily blend in and remain unnoticed there.

Having decided on Wal-Mart’s parking lot as my residence of choice, I called the store manager. I didn’t give my name, the dates that I would be arriving, or any other personal information. I just asked her what their rules and regulations were on the RV parking policy. She told me which corner I could park in. I told her I would be driving cross-country and visiting family in the area for about a week. Then I asked her if there was a limit to the number of days RVs were allowed to stay, or any other requests from the store. Obviously busy and too harried to care, she said no, just please stay in that corner of the lot with the other campers so that I wouldn’t interfere with customer parking, and left it at that. I thanked her profusely for her time.

* * * * *

Rules and courtesies for camping at Wal-Mart/Sam’s Club or a similar business, whether in an RV or a car:

1) Keep clean. No littering. No pulling out a barbecue or awning or playing frisbee with your dogs/kids in the lot. It’s tacky and trashy, not to mention dangerous (you could be hit by other vehicles in the lot). This isn’t a regular campground, it’s a place of business. Occasionally community members complain about Wal-Mart’s policy, and try to pass city ordinances forbidding RV parking. The most commonly cited complaints that they back this up with are: homeless people camping for a long time, and litter/trash. One rude camper (long-term or not) can ruin it for everyone else.

2) Keep quiet and faceless. People should be able to walk past your trailer and not even be able to tell you are there. You’re trying to stay under the radar, remember? Don’t play loud music, don’t walk around and socialize with others on the lot. You don’t want to give Wal-Mart employees, patrons, or fellow campers any reason to remember your name, face, or vehicle. You want to blend. You are just another camper on a cross-country trip, and you’ll be leaving in the morning (yeah, right). Some people don’t like Wal-Mart’s overnight parking rule on principle, even sans the loophole for the homeless. If enough people notice you specifically, there will eventually be some busybody that will complain about a homeless individual living on the lot – assholes like this exist in every community. They are the next-door neighbor that sits waiting for you to park your car just an inch too far from the curb, or for your hedge to extend just an inch too far over their fence, or for your grass to
grow just an inch too long, before they file a complaint and sic the cops on you. They don’t care about your circumstances, they don’t care if you’re clean-cut and quiet and respectful, they don’t care if you mind your own business and never bother anybody. To them, the fact that you are homeless says everything about you. How dare you continue to live an independent life, relying on yourself instead of on charity, trying to get back on your feet. To them, the only place you belong is in a homeless shelter. DO NOT GIVE THEM A REASON TO REMEMBER YOU PERSONALLY. People like this are vicious and they will pursue the issue. Just. Blend. In.

3) Give the company your business. Wal-Mart is controversial, and many people don’t like them. You personally may not like them, either. If this is the case, and you will not give them your money, fine. But go find somewhere else to park, then. The way I see it, they may very well be a Giant Evil Soulless Bastard Corporation. But – they are doing campers and the homeless a huge service. If you plan to take advantage of it, it’s only fair that you reciprocate by purchasing goods from them occasionally. Besides, it doesn’t get much cheaper than Wal-Mart, except for the 99 Cent Store (but I’ll save that for another post). If you’re homeless, it’s hard to find a more affordable place to shop.

* * * * *

The downside to parking at Wal-Mart or Sam’s Club is that there are no electric/water hookups there for RVs. If you are living out of a car, this won’t matter to you anyway. If you are living out of a trailer, you can get around the electricity thing relatively easily. The lots are well-lit, park under a light. Purchase foods that don’t need to be refrigerated. If you have a phone or laptop, make sure to charge them during the day at a Starbucks or similar location. You can them use them in the evening to watch DVDs, make phone calls, etc. Your monitor can even provide an additional source of light if the lamps in the parking lot aren’t enough.

As far as water, get your hands on several large gallon jugs of water. These can be consistently refilled via hoses or restroom sinks and used to drink, or wash in an emergency (sorry, if you’re all dainty about bottled water only and drinking tap water grosses you out, you will soon realize that you’re going to have a lot worse problems being homeless). If you’re living at Wal-Mart, try to find one that’s open 24 hours (many aren’t). You can use their restrooms. If you can’t live in the lot of a facility that’s open 24 hours, locate another nearby business that is – a gas station, another grocery store, a pharmacy… whatever. You can go there in a pinch. Try not to be one of those people that goes in the bushes or against a wall. Besides being kind of gross and unsanitary, it’s also illegal. While you may occasionally have to bend/break some rules while homeless, you want them to be the dumb and never-prosecuted ones, like sleeping in your car.

For showers, get a gym membership or find a local community center. If you can’t afford a membership, some gyms offer free one-week passes to entice new members. You can print these out at a library or Kinko’s. Use it for a week, then move on to the next gym in the area. Also, you can often start a month-to-month membership and have your sign-up fees waived just by asking. It never hurts to ask. The worst that they can say is no, right? Smaller, mom-and-pop gyms and community centers are your friend. Their fees are waaaaaay lower than superchains like Bally’s, 24-Hour Fitness, Curves, etc. I found a lesser-known, smaller chain called Planet Fitness that offers a $10/month membership, month-to-month, no contract. They have a $29 sign-up fee, but I politely asked them if there was any way it could be waived, and what do you know, they did it for me! So now I have a place to shower, and even work out if I feel like it! Call around your area or visit gym/community center websites, you can often find introductory deals and discounts in addition to guest passes.

So by this point, you have at least temporary shelter, electricity and water. Huzzah!!! See? You can do this. It’s scary and hard, but perhaps not as much as it first seems.

I’m driving 3 1/2 hours to Blythe, CA tomorrow to pick up and tow the trailer. I’m pretty terrified. I’ve never towed anything before. This is one of those times I plan to rely on the kindness of others, to show me how to hitch up 30 feet of train behind me and change lanes/turn corners without running other drivers off the road. We’ll see how this goes.