This is a typical day from the life of Mr. James
7 AM – I wake up. I get up off the ground and toss aside the sheet that’s kept me warm for the past two months. That and the clothes on my back are all I could keep my hands on after the eviction. Everything else was taken away from me.
I look for the piece of cardboard I slept on last night. The HOPE Shelter taught us sleeping on it keeps us warm. Something about insulation? Anyways, I knew the earlier I got up, the better chance I had at avoiding the breakfast lines at the Southern Methodist Church. Everyone always got some kind of food, but I hadn’t eaten since last morning and was particularly hungry.
8 AM – As I made my way down Matthews Ave., I could feel the people on the street staring me down. I was insulted for the first couple of weeks, but I realized that before the eviction, I might have done that to someone in my position too. When I arrived at the church, I was disappointed at the massive line for breakfast. I’d have to wake up maybe an hour earlier to get any better than this. The other 200 people in this line might be homeless, but they most definitely aren’t stupid.
9:07 AM – I walked away with a bowl of oatmeal, a banana, and a cup of coffee. Best meal I’ve had in two days. I had to eat quickly though: I couldn’t miss the morning rush hour.
9:15 AM – After 6 years of begging on street intersections, I like to think that I broke all of this down into a science. In order to get the most donations, you needed a good location, a good phrase on your sign, and you had to perfectly hit the sweet spot in the way you looked: you had to look appealing enough that people would approach you to donate, but dirty enough that people actually believed you when you said you were homeless. I usually fell closer to the dirty side of that range, but on most days, I couldn’t change that. I shared this intersection with 4 other people: Marge, Frank, Joe and Claudia. We treated each other like good friends, but we never trusted each other enough to pool together our money or anything. After all, how could we trust anyone after seeing thousands of Benz’s and BMW’s pass us by on the daily?
9:45 AM – The first donation of the day was about 50 cents. I wish I could say, “It’s the thought that counts”, but when it comes to putting food in my stomach, it really doesn’t. Every once in a while, someone would come up to me and give me a pretty nice donation. Something like a full pizza or twenty dollars. That’s only happened 4 times over my six years, but let me tell you, it’s something that you never forget. Never.
12 PM – The day didn’t start out great, but I did manage to scrounge up $5.67, just two cents short of a Big Mac Meal at McDonalds. If John was at the register, he would usually let it slide. He was with me for the first two years of my homelessness. It really is a shame that the most unhealthy food is always the cheapest. I thought that being homeless would drastically reduce my weight. Instead, I gained about 30 pounds. But hey, beggars can’t be choosers, right?
2 PM – I met with Clarissa at the HOPE shelter. She said she would help me “make a transition back to your old life”. I’ve been hoping to get into transitional housing for more than 2 years now, and I’ve stayed clean ever since. Alcoholism got me into this position in the first place, and I sure as hell was not going to let it take me over again. She said things were looking good for my housing application, but it would take about two more months for it to be solidified. I could wait. I went back to O and 7th and continued to beg.
7 PM – Ended up with $7.56. It’s weird but people always seemed more generous at the end of the day than at the beginning of it. Maybe seeing me twice in their day gave them a change of heart. I decided to save this money for tomorrow and get something a little more substantial for lunch.
8 PM – The only benefit of being homeless is that I could sleep a lot earlier. I laid down on the concrete, pulled my covers over me and slowly drifted away.