Quickie: L.A. Times Writer Andrew Malcolm Clearly Quite Uninformed

This article makes my blood boil. You may wonder why, since it seems pretty straightforward until you read the last 3 lines:

Michelle Obama serves food to D.C. poor and homeless, but…

What a jerk. I want to know, Mr. Malcolm – exactly what is so “bothersome” about a homeless man scraping up some resources for himself, resources which are clearly quite useful as a means to get himself back on his feet? A cell phone costs far less than an apartment. Or perhaps this is even a resource which he had prior to becoming homeless – did you ever consider the possibility that he is a casualty of the hot economic mess that Bush landed us in? What exactly is he supposed to do, sell off any and all useful possessions upon losing his home, so that he can fit into your definition of poverty?

Would you like him better if he was dirtier, hungrier, perhaps mumbling to himself or pushing a shopping cart down the street full of random odds and ends?

How dare he own a cell phone, the better with which to receive job offers, or to dial 9-1-1 should he be endangered?!

*shakes head*

Some of the reader comments on the story infuriate me just as much – one reader even stated that the phone must be stolen! Unbelievable.

Food

Before I start today’s post, I just wanted to provide a link to this guy I just discovered: http://www.ihatemylife.us/. He spent a year homeless in Los Angeles County. He has a great list of free resources such as government programs, shelters, medical care, legal aid, etc (not all are in the L.A. area, many are national)! Check out his website, I am learning a lot from it myself.

Food and water. Besides sleep, they’re the most basic needs you’ve got. Water is pretty easy to find free – drinking fountains, public sinks, etc. Food can be trickier.

You’ll find that the cheapest items, that will fill you up the most, are not necessarily the healthiest for you. Which is fine if you aren’t particularly concerned about being healthy – knock yourself out! You’ll find that you can get über-filling fast food items for $1 or less at Taco Bell or those Burger Kings that serve 99 cent whoppers. If you don’t have any money, you can always wander streets and parking lots looking for change. A few coins can buy you some rice, pasta, or ramen. These items are incredibly cheap, filling, and will last a while. Sooner or later, though, you may find yourself getting a bit chubby, and your health is a valuable asset that can help you weather your homeless experience.

There are soup kitchens out there that provide free food for the poverty-stricken. I’ve been to one once. A lot of these soup kitchens are run by churches, and require you to listen to a sermon or join in a prayer before you are provided with food. Only you can decide if you are OK with this. I was raised in an incredibly strict religion (I won’t specify which, but the initials are J.W.) that follows a very literalist interpretation of the Bible, and utilizes practices such as male dominance, absolute conformity, and shunning of those who doubt or refuse to conform. Some have called it a cult; out of respect to family and acquaintances who follow this religion and find happiness in it, I will not refer to it as such. I will only say that since learning to think for myself rather than being told what to believe, I have found myself incredibly disillusioned with organized religion in general. My personal feelings are that I would be a hypocrite to accept aid from a church organization, in exchange for sitting and pretending to listen to the religion that they are trying to force-feed me. You may have no such qualms. Or, you may actually be a Christian, so such methods would be in line with your beliefs. The point of this blog isn’t to criticize your beliefs, or to provoke religious debate. It is just to provide tips from my personal experiences that may help you in a dire circumstance.

Some soup kitchens and shelters are not religiously affiliated, so if that is of concern to you, look for one of these general community resources. Another thing that I have found helpful is looking up hotels and motels that include free breakfasts with their services. Find out what time breakfast starts and just show up. If you are dressed decently and smell clean, the chances are high that no one will notice that you are there, or that you aren’t staying at that hotel. Note: hotels and motels are actually great resources for other items, such as ice and hygiene supplies. I’m ashamed to admit this, but on family vacations, my mother used to send my sister and I from floor to floor in the mornings, when the housekeepers were restocking rooms. Housekeepers leave their carts full of shampoo/conditioner/soap/body wash/paper towels/toilet paper/etc. in the hallways while they clean each room. Despite my protestations, my sister and I would gather up bags of “free” toiletries from each cart – sometimes there would be two or more maids on each floor. To this day, my mother has bags and bags worth of hotel supplies in her closet, many years’ worth. There are also free ice machines outside of motels, if you have a tub or a bucket, you can fill up on ice for water, or just to help you keep cool on a hot day. Incredibly tacky? Yes, I suppose, but if you’re homeless and you don’t have any money, it’s an option. I’ve never been caught while doing this; it takes a maid a while to clean a hotel room. If you are caught, you may be asked to leave, but no one is going to prosecute you for taking a few complimentary toiletries. Like I’ve previously said, bend the rules a little if you must, just don’t do anything blatantly prosecutable.

If you do have a little money or a souce of income (such as a job or unemployment), then check out local farmers’ markets. They are generally held regularly, on certain days of the week. You can get fresh and affordable fruits and vegetables. Another option is checking out grocery stores and produce markets in neighborhoods that tend to have a high concentration of Latino residents. The produce in these markets tends to be very affordable and fresh – I recently found a produce market on the way to my gym where you can get 4 lbs. of tomatillos for $1.00, 3 lbs. of tomatoes for $1.00, etc. Come up with a dollar, and you could have enough fruit/veggies to last you for several days!

There’s also the 99 cent store. Some of the stuff in there is a real bargain, some of it is crap; if you explore, you can find out which. Sometimes their produce is several days old and starting to go bad; you can avoid this by asking them what day of the week and time they generally put out new stuff. Shop on this day. You can find everything in 99 cent stores – food, makeup, shampoo, conditioner, other toiletries, tools, car maintenance supplies, etc. You can get 8 packets of Ramen there for 99 cents.

I’m not big on the idea of freeganism (dumpster-diving), but there’s a whole subculture around it. I’m worried about germs, odor, plus the fact that going through a dumpster is generally a dead giveaway that you just may be homeless. People going through dumpsters attract attention, and you really do just want to blend in. However, if this is a viable option for you, by all means have at it. Good luck staying under the radar, though.

The simple truth is that there are a ton of options out there for food and sustenance for the homeless, you just have to know where to look. Resourcefulness. Cultivate it. It pays.