The Headquarters

I began this blog with a post about my first day as a hobo. However, the story actually starts much earlier during a time when a backpack and a vague idea of where to sleep was about the extend of my so-called plan.

I was maybe 15 years old and residing in a child home with many other children and teenagers. Looking back, I can’t give you a satisfying reason as to why I decided to run away. The staff was great, I had no real trouble with the other kids, and I was well-fed and taken care of. Yet, there I was, throwing belongings I deemed important into my backpack. A blanket, three pocket knifes, a few random snacks, a flash light, some clothes, and for some reason a 500 page Novel. Paranoid as I was, I stuffed every last dollar I owned into my shoes (which added up to a whooping $80) and kept one of my knives in my pocket.

I waited until everyone had gone to bed and got dressed. My roommate knew what was going on, wished me luck, and went back to sleep. The plan was to exit the house via our balcony, make a run for the fence on the north side of the property, and climb to freedom. I took a deep breath, tightened the strings on my backpack, and climbed over the balcony. Holding on to the metal bars, I was sliding down the side of the balcony much faster than I had expected. I let go and ungracefully crashed into a small tree in a pot just below me, which hadn’t been there the day before. The sensors triggered the lights and illuminated the backyard like a football field during the Superbowl.  After a short struggle, I picked up the poor tree, stuffed it back in the pot, and ran for the fence. Somehow I managed to climb over the fence without further incidents.

I had never done anything like this before. Sure, I had moved from place to place in the past and lived through quite a few adventures, but this was different. For the first time, I acted on my own impulses in a somewhat desperate attempt to make sense of the world and my place in it.

Staying in the shadows, I began making my way to what my friends and I referred to as “the headquarters”. The headquarters were an abandoned military base consisting of 15 ish buildings and some underground tunnels. We had discovered the area several years prior and had spend many weekends exploring the property. Sometimes we destroyed windows and acted like wild gorillas on crack, other times we tip-toed through the empty halls in a state of adrenaline fueled fear and excitement. Either way, we always had a good time.

I had about 10 miles to cover by foot. The hours went by and as I passed through neighborhoods, shopping areas, and industrial parks, I meticulously planned my point of entry and picked the building I was to spend the night in. It took me about three hours to get to the headquarters, and when I finally stood before the wire fence, I felt the overwhelming urge to collapse and cry. I am not talking about tears of joy, but tears of bitter frustration and disappointment.

Before me lay the remains of torn down buildings. At an age at which I believed things last forever, I couldn’t believe my eyes. This was the one time I really needed this place and just like that it had disappeared forever. After several minutes of reciting every cuss word known to mankind, I headed for the only other abandoned building in town, I knew was suitable for my plans: An old farm house that had survived the city’s eager attempts to keep the area looking clean and attractive.

With another 6 miles to go, I had no time to waste. It was getting pretty late, and I knew that more than likely the police had been notified and was keeping an eye out for me. I decided to leave the main road, and stay low for a while. Shortly thereafter my phone began blowing up with texts and calls urging me to return home. My heart was pounding and I ended up turning off my phone; I simply couldn’t deal with the stress.

The streets and parks were empty; the only sign of life came from an unidentified animal in a bush, a night jogger, and a bunch of drunks who were partying in someone’s back yard. Slowly but surely, I realized that I had no idea where the hell I was. I ended up on a field and climbed up one of those massive power towers (great idea…), hoping I’d recognize the area from above. It dawned on me that I had to cross the interstate to get my destination. “Screw it!”, I thought to myself, climbed back down, and found myself a nice spot next to a bridge (not under!) to get some desperately needed shut eye.

I managed about an hour of sleep. Tired, dirty, and hurting I looked at my watch. It was around 3 o’clock in the morning as I began my walk of shame back to the child home. About an hour later I crawled out of a bush and caught the first bus of the day back to the city. Not much later, I was standing in front of Tom, the staff member assigned to care for me. With hanging shoulders and staring at the floor, I followed Tom to the office. After a few phone calls and an incredibly uncomfortable conversation, he sent me to my room.

The door flew open about an hour later. “Good morning, sunshine!”, Jeff exclaimed. “Time for school!”. “Seriously???”, I muttered in an almost comatose state. “I am tired!”. “Oh I bet, Tom told me all about it”, he laughed. At 8:00 am I was sitting in front of my teacher dreaming of a nice comfortable bed.

How to build backpacks for the homeless – With a lot of help from our friends

This. Is. Awesome.

A Note From Abroad

DSC02428 Our amazing group of friends with 100 completed backpacks for the homeless!

Yesterday was assembly day. Twelve of us gathered at our dear friends home in Orange County to finally put the 100 backpacks for the homeless together. From start to finish, it took us just over two hours of our time, a bit of organization, a lot of laughter, and some wonderful willing spirits to complete the task.

I’m hoping that by doing a recap here that our format can be easily duplicated by anyone else wishing to do a similar project. So please bear with me as I explain the nuts and bolts from start to finish of how to organize this, fund it and complete the packs. 

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Roughin’ it – what’s it really like

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Many of us try to stay warm, comfortable, and healthy by employing strategies similiar to the ones house dwellers use. While some methods may work very well, there are some aspects of living outside that require a somewhat different approach. In addition, the houseless lifestyle comes with some more or less inevitable changes.

Exercise included

I am a firm believer that a healthy body is essential for a healthy mind and vise versa. Thus, I used to go swimming 2 – 3 times a week to counterbalance my rather sedentary student lifestyle.  Although I still dedicate much time to my studies, I am a lot more active than I used to be. Slowly but surely, I watched the extra fat on my belly disappear, until I realized that I had to cut down on unnecessary exercise or increase my calorie intake in order to maintain a healthy weight. What changed?

  • Lazy days on the couch become rare if you don’t own a couch. That’s pretty self explanatory.
  • You can’t just fall into bed at the end of the day. In an house or apartment, most essential tasks are automated: your dishwasher washes your dishes, the air conditioner makes sure the temperature is just right, the washing machine takes care of your laundry, and who cares if your place is a mess. As a hobo, you need to take care of these things yourself. Finding a place to sleep, carrying around essential items, setting up a bed, and keeping yourself and your stuff clean, requires a lot of energy. Believe it or not, even stacking blankets and getting comfy during the winter can be exhausting.
  • Your body heater runs 24/7 during the winter. Researchers estimate that we spend about 5 times more energy when shivering than we would normally. However, it doesn’t have to be freezing cold out. Constant exposure to temperatures in the 60’s (15º C) is sufficient to burn a substantial number of calories in order to stay warm.
  • A warm, calorie-rich, yet healthy meal may not be available every day. And that’s when your body will go to its personal pantry, namely your belly and hips (and wherever else you may carry those extra pounds), and prepare its own meal.

Your body is your most important possession – treat it well! Don’t start feasting on unhealthy foods just because you don’t have a kitchen. Cut down on fast food and eat quality calories whenever possible. Make sure you get your servings of fruit and veggies and drink plenty of water. Most importantly, realize that your lifestyle may be demanding enough without any extra exercise.

Getting Tough

Being exposed to the elements results in a variety of changes, some of which are rather positive.

  • During the summer, the sun makes an effort to turn your skin into leather. During the winter, the cold dries out your skin, which results in cracks and itchy spots. Lotion, lotion, and more lotion. Use it! Also, protect your skin from direct sun light and the cold by wearing appropriate clothing.

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  • Many of us become less sensitive to outside temperatures but may find the constant air conditioned world of housed people rather annoying. Walking into 70° F (21° C) heat after spending hours in below freezing temperatures feels like walking into a sauna!
  • If you spend a lot of time walking or riding a bike as part of your lifestyle, you will notice how these tasks become easier with time. Your physical health and strength will increase and you will feel healthier and fitter (if you have the means to properly take care of your body).

Comfort

Comfort is relative. In terms of sleep, I define comfort as “not hurting the next day” and having warm feet throughout the night. In terms of nice, comfy feelings, I’d say a hot shower is pretty awesome.

Living outside makes you appreciate the small things in life: a tasty meal, the sun on your skin during the winter, a cold breeze during the summer, a comfy bed made of leaves in the woods, the beautiful Colorado sun rise, a nice smelling candle, and so much more. We don’t need more in life; we need to appreciate what we have.

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Do you have anything to add? What are you grateful for?