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My sister likes to tell her friends that I was homeless for two years. That’s nowhere close to the truth, but it’s how she sees things.
Several years ago, I sold my car and most of my possessions and went backpacking through a few different countries, couchsurfing and staying at hostels as I went along. Although I started out with one huge and unmanageable hiking backpack, I quickly threw out most of what I owned and traveled around with only a small backpack filled with everything I owned.
But that wasn’t the same thing as being homeless. I always had somewhere to go. I had money in the bank, a laptop that could find a couchsurfing host or hostel anywhere, and a family back home that I knew I could rely on in the case of an emergency. I also could work just about wherever and whenever I wanted; cocktail waitressing jobs were abundant and paid well enough to pay my bills. Needless to say, it was nothing like being homeless.
Until it was. It was only for two nights, but it was enough for me to realize that being homeless must be one of the worst feelings imaginable. I had left my wallet and phone somewhere, and with it I lost most of the cash I had on my person (except for about $7 I had in my pocket) and my debit card. Unfortunately for me, it was a national holiday and the banks were closed for the next few days. Even worse, I hadn’t yet booked a place to stay for the night.
I started to freak out. Finding a couchsurfing host at the very last minute was a difficult thing to do. I walked around the city, looking for the nearest place that offered free Wi-Fi so I could try to contact someone. I went to a McDonald’s and bought a small order of fries, hoping it would hold me over. Savoring every bite because I didn’t know when I would eat again, I got on my computer. I frantically sent out messages to every couchsurfing host who lived in the area, but there weren’t many.
I wasn’t going to leave things up to chance, so I set out looking for a place to work. One of the nice things about cocktail waitressing was the cash tips I took home from every shift. One night of work would give me more than enough cash to book a few nights at the hostel. A few months ago, I had been in the same city and worked at a nightclub. I went back to the club and asked for work.
They were thrilled to have me, but the soonest I could start was the next night. So I took the job and walked back to McDonald’s, hoping that someone had messaged me back.
No one had. I started to worry. Where would I go? What would I do? The city was not a safe place at night and I had no idea where I could wait it out. I decided to wander around again, not sure what I was looking for.
It was still early; only about 5 pm. I found myself in a park. With nothing else to do, I sat on a park bench and pulled out the only book I had on me. I couldn’t concentrate; I was too worried about my night. So I looked to the left, and saw a homeless woman sleeping on the bench. She was caked in dirt and had a shopping cart full of blankets. It only made me worry more.
As it got later, a group of obnoxious men started to flirt with me and wouldn’t leave me alone. That was my sign to leave the park. I went back to McDonald’s, knowing they were open all night. But it was a mad house there, so I waited on a bus bench in front of the store.
It was only 9 pm, and I had all night to go. The minutes passed slowly. The later it got, the more drunk the people were. And the more drunk they were, the more they scared me. I had several groups of men come up to me and ask me to party with them or go home with them. Some seemed nice enough, while others made my skin crawl as they made vulgar gestures. A few times, I had to get up and walk away until they were gone.
At about 3 am I decided to wait inside McDonald’s; it seemed safer. Besides, my stomach was growling. I ordered the cheapest thing they had on the menu and couldn’t help but eat it in almost one bite. As much as I hated their food, I was so hungry. I started to drift off to sleep, but managed to wake myself up just in time. I couldn’t afford to be kicked out; where would I go? I played the same game until the sun came up- start to drift off, jerk myself awake, and repeat.
The sun came up and I walked to the park. I put my backpack on the grass and rested my head on it. I fell asleep for a few hours, awakened by the the business men and women spending their lunch break in the park. Everyone was giving me dirty looks, like my nap was ruining their day. I got up and found a public bathroom, and attempted to make myself presentable. My shift started in a few hours.
I worked that night and didn’t have to worry about finding a place to stay until the next day; I worked the night shift. After my shift, I made enough money to stay in the hostel and eat a few real meals. Eventually, I was able to get a new debit card from the bank. But that feeling of having no place to go…not knowing when my next meal would be…that emptiness I felt…it’s something that I will never forget. I can’t imaging feeling that way for a week, a month, or a year.
Being homeless is something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. My very short experience was enough to help me realize that no one belongs on the streets, and we should do everything we can as a society to fight homelessness.
Author: Danielle Gallagher
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