The inside scoop
I am not ashamed to say it, there was a time in which I was homeless. I claimed the earth was my home and the road was my driveway. However, and as romantic as that time was, I no longer can consider myself as one within the ranks. That doesn't mean though, that my heart is no longer still tender to the plight of the homeless, many of who have become my friends, and many who, have helped me when I had found myself homeless, broke, hungry, and cold. Their job and their journey is not an easy one.
This simple article is dedicated to all of those who have helped me and the other tens of thousands of homeless on the streets, trying to find a place to sleep or get out of the weather. I know first hand what it takes, hard hard it is to get out of, and how much it hurts.
In one single night in January 2015, 564,708 people were experiencing homelessness — meaning they were sleeping outside or in an emergency shelter or transitional housing program. Another 7 million people had lost their homes and are now sharing hosing with family or friends.
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Almost every city and town , even small ones, have the food resources to provide for both low income and homeless groups of people. However,the trick sometimes is finding it. On the other hand, Its not really that hard once you figure it out and make the connection.
The best place to start is the public library if one is available and if not, the phone book under Human Services. At the library, the easiest way to get the information you need is to ask a librarian. They, I have found, are always more than eager to give you a list of agencies, soup kitchens, and food banks. And, they usually won't stop there. There are many resources including shelter, clothing, and even tents, blankets, and hygiene supplies available.
In traveling across the United States on foot, and interacting with the homeless in many cities, the very best place I found that helped homeless the most, was Ft Collins, Colorado. There, not only did they have a dedicated day shelter, they provided an unbelievable amount of support including bicycles. They have the attitude: "Help up, not out.".
I usually have to laugh when I see a person "flying", as it is called on the street, a sign. I laugh because I look back and remember how awkward and horrible I was at it. I only managed to fly a couple of times and made no money.
To fly properly, requires a honed skill set just like many other jobs. It requires confidence and eye contact. You have to be very good at communicating with your eyes and use good facial expressions. What your sign says is not as important as what your eyes and your body language says,
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Tools of the Trade
If you think of flying signs as a business, then this business start up requires very little capital. The biggest investment is a good set of wide black markers. You will also need a can of some sort to collect your pay, and of course, cardboard. (and not just one piece of cardboard, multiple pieces for multiple signs.)
Don't be afraid to stop and talk to a person flying a sign. You will be surprised. They are not bums, they are real people with amazing past. Each has a story that will probably change your day, if not your life.
As a side note, if you ever want to give something different to a homeless person, besides money or food, a brand new wide tip black marker would be appreciated.
X Marks the Spot
Remember the old Hobo symbols? Well, believe it or not, many are still used today and there are some new ones. (for an article on Hobo symbols, read: Hobo Signs & Symbols). This article shows some of the symbols that are still used today.
Two of the new ones are a simple circle with a big dot in the middle, and the other is simply the letter "W". The circle /dot is what people who fly signs will use to mark their spot--most other "flyers" will respect their mark. Seldom are there any turf wars, as most homeless people are peace-loving.The letter "W" stands for an open Wifi Connection...but that is becoming rarer,
A greenhorn is a homeless person who is new to the area. Among the homeless community, greenhorns stand out pretty quickly and they will hone in pretty quickly. Many times a seasoned homeless person will help or keep tabs on a greenhorn. Most other homeless persons will offer help or guidance. At the very least, they will give the new guy some good advice or act as a lookout.
The homeless network and communication can many times locate another homeless person across town or even other towns. Many times greenhorns get separated from family or friends The networking communication can help that.
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There's no doubt about it, depression and hopelessness among homeless people is rampant. And, therefore the suicide rate is very high also. Social workers and clinics offer what they can as do many religious charities, but sometimes its just hard to get to everyone and many times funding is a huge issue.
As a side note, going back to the signs, sometimes the humor you read on a sign, is more of an attempt to counter the hurt and loneliness going on inside.
Alcohol, Drugs, and Cigarettes
Alcohol, Drugs, and Cigarettes are common coping mechanisms used by the homeless. Much of the money given to those who are flying signs are used just for that purpose. They have no support system to stop. But on the other hand, in comparison, their addictions are the same as those who are not homeless. So, if you decide to give money, be clear, are you giving a gift or are you doing so for some other reason?
Click to Enlarge Signs
On a nice night, in the summer, when the weather is clear, sleeping is simply a matter of finding a private spot in which to layout your tarp and bedroll. Sleep is peaceful. But, that's not usually the case in the Spring, Fall, or especially Winter. Rain, Cold, Snow are all elements that are an unhealthy combination. Seasoned homeless persons get very creative. Some are fortunate enough to find a shelter open, but most don't or do not want to. And so, they find shelter in the form of bridges, abandoned buildings, or create makeshift shelters out of a tarp or even boxes. Some communities who actually care, provide spaces and gear to help them weather the rough times.
One of the fears of most homeless is being approached by police officers who inevitably, ask for identification. Problem is, most homeless don't have it which in turn causes trouble. Even those who do have their I.D. can be in trouble just for standing on a corner with a sign.
What Its Like by Everlast
Give or Take
Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on November 20, 2016: