Once upon a time (less than 2 years ago) I slept in parks and on beaches. My entire existence was packed into one duffel bag and it was slung from my shoulder no matter where I went. Naturally, you’re curious as to how it happened. Well, let’s sum it up with; my parents and I hit a rough point in our relationship.
Sleeping rough teaches you many things, I will attempt to pass on some of the lessons here. It’s an emotional roller coaster with both ups and downs, but you can come out at the other end a much stronger person.
You really don’t need much to survive. If I came to your house, and said “you’ve got 10 minutes to put your whole life into a duffel bag and then you’re out”, what would you pack? Photos? Keepsakes? Hair dryer? Some blue-tac for ‘just in case’? LOL! the following was my entire entourage of material things; socks, underwear, tee’s, jeans, boardies, sunnies, USB, phone charger, wallet, hanky, 1 bottle which was a combo bodywash, shampoo and conditioner, nail clippers, toothbrush, paste, micro fiber towel, flip flops and steel capped boots. Minus the boots which were usually on me, the entirety of this duffel bag was no more than 5kg. Most would cringe at such a small collection but trust me, when everyday you might be trying to find a new place to sleep, you don’t want to lug around a suitcase or 3.
Dumpster diving. Yep, I did it and i have no shame. Every single evening across the first world, supermarkets will close up shop and then rid their stores of produce which cannot be legally sold anymore. This includes everything baked in the bakery that day, large quantities of fruits and vegetables, and finally any can or packet with a dent in it. That’s right, if your can of baked beans has a little indentation in the can (still sealed mind you) it goes into landfill. First though it gets put into nice clean black rubbish bags and left out the back to be picked up the next day. And that’s where any enterprising and resourceful survivor may indeed find a large and nutritious free meal.
Thankfully there are now some great organisations such as OzHarvest who organize to collect such perfectly edible food and redistribute it to those in need, but the majority still goes to landfill due to annoying OH&S laws and lawsuit fears.
Staying clean is really hard! It’s quite common to point the obvious question at the homeless and say, “why don’t you just get a job?”. Now, from experience, I can tell you the following. For some strange reason, most people don’t like to hire those who come in for an interview with their whole life with them in bags, no CV and some dirt from their previous nights lodgings still on their persona. Obviously, I get why it’s hard to be hired, but wait! There is always jobs to be had and places to scrub up! For me, I found a lagoon which had cubicle showers which I would visit once a day. I know however there were public parks which offered the same or perhaps minus the cubicle. Hostels will have washing machines and dryers to be used for a dollar or two, or, asking a local church will always point you in the right direction of a free service.
In Australia, it’s really easy to survive. We are blessed as a lucky country with so many programs and help available to those in need. It’s no wonder people flock here in boats to give their children a better life, I would do the same. I’ve been to the ghettos of Johannesburg, seen child beggars in Indonesia and even the countless homeless in San Francisco which has the best system in all of the states, but nothing I’ve seen yet comes close to what’s available to you in Australia.
Why do I want you to know this? Strangely, it’s because I want you to take more risks, I want you to know that the worse that could happen (you being on the streets with a single duffel) is really not that bad. I want more people to appreciate still what it is like to be homeless. This means you can take such bigger risks in your life and know that you’ll always be fine. Don’t let your fears hold you back from embracing the opportunities presented to you.