People measure success in many different ways. For some people it’s marriage and children. For others it is making money. For many it’s just paying the bills due each month. And then you have people, such as myself, who believe that success is in the friendships you make, and in fulfilling the basic necessities needed in order to survive.
This was made very clear to me recently when I was offered a van to stay in during the rainy season here in Northern California.
After sleeping outside for about five years, I found this offer to be both a luxury and a hindrance.
The thing is, there are some benefits to sleeping outside every night. Most people think if someone is living on the street they just lay in the same spot all day long begging for change to go get some drugs, alcohol, or a combination of the two.
In some cases this is very true, but for me, nothing could be further from the truth.
Before I was sleeping in the van, I had a clear and beautiful view of the stars every night. Each sunrise, whether I liked it or not, I had to get up around 6:00 or 7:00 in the morning in order to get some breakfast at one of the meals for the homeless, or else I would go hungry. Then depending on the weather, I would decide where to go. Many times it was to a coffee shop to use their free Wi-Fi, or to get out of the rain or the cold. Then the next big decision:
Do I go to the YMCA, workout and take a hot shower, or do I walk up and down the streets to see the sites, and speak to themany other people living on the street?
This is where the advantage to living on the street comes in. You really have no time to think about what you don’t have, and you never get bored doing nothing. There’s always something to do and somewhere to go. I have found that on the streets, there’s something to do each day as long as you get up and keep moving.
But living in the van, this is not necessarily the case. The first problem is that I don’t have to get up first thing in the morning. Because of this, I often find myself being lazy and sleeping till 8:00 or 9:00 a.m. That may sound pretty good, and sometimes it is, but it also means that I’m not out moving. For me this is an essential part of life.
The van also has a small refrigerator, a microwave, and a hot plate. Yes this is very convenient, but I have also gained 20 pounds… Before the comfy van, I was at the gym everyday and I ate minimal food. Now, I find myself hobby eating when I am bored.
Also, staying in one place gives me too much time to think. I catch myself starting to wonder: What happened? How did I get in this situation, and why do I continue to live this lifestyle?
Then the next thought that comes to mind when I see a brand new vehicle drive down the street with a family and or friends is how the hell did I lose all that? And then of course I find myself looking at the lifestyle I have been living and thinking to myself damn, I used to have a house on the ocean, jet skies, a boat, a Corvette, as well as my own business for over 20 years.
I mean really, how do you go from this lifestyle to living on the street, and being overwhelmed by having a van to stay in? Yeah I know sounds pretty crazy, and it is. However I was the happiest when I had nothing and was sleeping on the streets, and simply interacting with people as a observer of life.
Don’t get me wrong it’s nice to be toasty and warm and watch Netflix on the phone my friend lent me. But it is the simple things that make life worth living.
Timothy Busby is a homeless writer who lives in Berkeley. He writes from his past five years of experiences while living on the streets from New Orleans to Berkeley, and many cities in between.