Blind at Night

With the sun setting earlier this time of year, I find myself in relative darkness as I take care of evening business inside my tiny mobile home. Not wanting to alert my housed neighbors, I refrain from lighting a candle and instead rely on my other senses to guide me.

I know all my clothes by touch and purposefully arranged them. Daytime clothes on the upper shelf, nighttime clothes on the lower one. Both shelves are organized the same, starting with shirts and ending with pants. Easy. Only difficulty are same-kind-different-color-socks. Can´t discern those via touch. Needless to say, I wear mismatched socks a lot. Even funnier, I own two pairs of Converse and yes, I´ve mismatched those before. People thought I was trying to be fashionable.

I know all my hygiene products by touch and those who share the same-shape travel containers I know by smell. No problem here. Brushing my teeth is a whole other ball game. I either brush using a mountain of toothpaste or barely any at all. That is, if I manage to actually get toothpaste on the brush. Eye-hand coordination is much trickier if you can´t use your eyes. Keeping your unusually large mouthwash bottle next to your unusually small laundry detergent bottle can lead to “clean cotton” breath, which sounds a lot better than it tastes. Trust me.

All important and much used items, such as my car keys, phone, chap stick, and pepper spray, each have their own spot. That doesn´t mean that each item actually makes it there. There is nothing more fun than searching for you phone in complete darkness!

I spent a large portion of my day reading books, working on my computer, and writing papers. If I could, I may be tempted to spend my hour before bed doing even more reading! Instead, I frequently download audio books and meditation music. It is very relaxing to look up at my glow-in-the-dark universe while listening to Edgar Allan Poe.

I´ve gotten so used to the darkness, really, now it´s part of my routine. It´s a time of relaxation, reflection, and contemplating the universe´s mysterious ways. Darkness can appear threatening, cold, and overwhelming. Over the years, I´ve found that darkness doesn´t provide cover for dangerous creatures. Rather it reveals the creatures that roam your own mind.

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Living without a Fridge

img_20161030_1736031During the summer months, food can go bad in no time. Whether you store your groceries in your vehicle, your backpack, behind a bush, or inside a storage container, the heat will spoil many items rather quickly. Don´t think that changes during winter; although many food items will stay fresh longer, quite a few, including vegetables, don´t do so well in freezing cold temperatures.

No fridge – no Problem

Certain foods keep just fine without refrigeration, while others simply need to be consumed a little quicker. Make sure to check your food thoroughly before consuming it; this includes the inside of fruits and vegetables. Unopened food items last longer than opened ones.

As a rule of thumb, anything canned can safely be stored outside. However, that doesn´t mean that your food won´t change. In summer and winter alike, anything solid will slowly but surely transform into a liquid with each major temperature change. I´ve experiences this with potato soup before; by the time I was ready to eat it, there were barely any chunks of potato left. I`ve had canned emergency soups in the back of my car for months without any problems. Have you tried the canned version of your favorite fruits and veggies? My favorites are canned pineapple, baby corn, and mixed vegetables.

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Fresh fruits and vegetables can be stored without refrigeration for about a week depending on the temperature and kind of food. In my experience, kiwis, bananas, avocados, carrots, grapes, and cucumbers last the longest, while bell peppers and tomatoes go bad rather quickly. Berries of any kind, such as strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries, go bad within a couple of days. Vegetables that completely freeze tend to turn to mush upon defrosting.

Beverages, such as ice tea and orange juice, last just fine during the winter, although you may encounter solidly frozen liquids instead of your favorite drink. During the summer, you don´t want to keep opened juice bottles for longer than a week.

Anything dried, such as cereal, crackers, and oats, will last as long as it takes you to eat it. No worries here. This leads to an amazing conclusion: If you can find a dried version of you favorite food, you can store it much longer. For example, I am really excited about dried milk. It lasts forever (figuratively speaking) and, depending on the brand, tastes just like regular milk. Just add water! Similiarily, I´ve discovered dried hummus, soups, instant meals, oatmeal, instant mashed potatoes, and more; all of which you don´t have to worry about spoiling.

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Bread seems to last as long outside as it does inside. Jelly may spoil within a couple weeks, while honey may crystallize, but doesn´t go bad. Peanut butter seems to last forever, probably due to its high fat content.

DO NOT consume fresh animal-based products that have been left without refrigeration. This includes, but is not limited to, fresh meat, milk, eggs, sea food, yogurt, and cheese. Don´t risk it. Best case scenario, you´ll be worshiping the porcelain god for a couple days. Worst case scenario, you find yourself at the hospital with some unpronounceable illness.

Keeping food fresh longer

Personally, I´ve always kept my groceries in a “food box”. This can be any box really, however, a thick-walled plastic container with lid works best. Makes sure to insulate your box as much as possible; covering your box with a blanket helps a lot. If you keep your food inside your vehicle during the summer, try to park in the shade and use window shades to keep the inside cool.

The Homeless: To Hell With Them

“May your life be as pleasant as you are” is all I could say to this gentleman, who seems to have so much hatred inside of him, especially towards the homeless. Hate is very much like airborne illness; it easily spreads from one person to the next. However, unlike the flu, hate is a choice.

Doing a Bad Job at Staying Alive

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I am no doctor; so really, I can´t tell how close my friend came to death. However, from my perspective he was very very lucky.

My three friends Karim, Adam, and Lucy, and I went for a camping trip in the northern part of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Except for some wind, the weather was fantastic and the changing trees provided the perfect backdrop for some serious rock hiking.

After a fun Friday night at our camp ground, we headed for a lake about 25 minutes north the next morning. I´d been to this particular lake many times and explored quite a bit of the area in the past. The road had recently been fixed; what had once been a barely passable level 6 road, is now a relatively smooth dirt path through a remote forest. To my friends, I am known as the one who plans fun mountain adventures and thus I was excited to take them to this beautiful valley.

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My friends immediately fell in love with the lake and we quickly began exploring the area. We decided to head around the lake for a little while and then continue straight up the mountain west of us. The hike up is difficult as the mountain is rather steep and littered with boulders of various sizes, some too big to climb over without equipment. In addition, we had to deal with lose dirt and rocks, random tree trunks, and an army of cacti that seemed too eager to teach us a lesson or two.

After climbing over and crawling under massive boulders for approximately 45 minutes, we finally made it to the top. The view was spectacular. Adam found a spot that protected us from the wind and we settled down. After we caught our breaths and refueled on water and snacks, we began talking about everything and nothing. In the end, we decided that life is good and nature is beautiful. What a great day!

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We began our descent about 30 minutes later. It was getting pretty warm and I knew I´d get burned to a crisp if we stayed much longer. Adam took the lead on our way down and we followed alerting each other about lose rocks and angry cacti. We made it about 1/4 of the way, when I suddenly heard a sliding noise next to me. Karim had climbed onto the boulder next to me and had lost his footing. With nothing to grab a hold of, he quickly slid down the rock. When he fell over the edge, his backpack caught the rock pushing him forward. He hit a boulder 10 feet below; first his body, then his head.

“Karim, do not move!” was all I could get out. From my position it was difficult to get to him, but I forced myself down the rock as fast a humanly possible. I got there first and assessed the situation. Karim appeared dazed and confused. Adam and Lucy joined me seconds later. Since Karim had already managed to get up onto his knees, we decided to sit him down in the shade. There was no even ground anywhere; just boulder after boulder and we did our best making our wounded friend as comfortable as possible.

Initially, it seemed as if his wounds were our top priority. He denied feeling pain in his back and neck and he didn´t seem to have any broken limbs. I was in charge of his profoundly bleeding finger, which had gotten crushed upon impact. Lucy and Adam took care of his forehead and nose, which were both bleeding badly. I was just about done wrapping Karim´s finger, when I heard Adam say “Oh, no no no my friend, you don´t get to sleep!”. Karim was leaning back, slowly closing his eyes. We couldn’t keep him sitting up for long before we had to let him rest on his backpack. For 5 minutes we did our best at keeping him conscious; we talked to him and asked him questions about his hobbies and school. His condition was rapidly deteriorating and when he stopped responding to pain, we knew he was out cold.

It became clear that we needed emergency help. Without a signal for miles, Adam rushed down the mountain to call 911. Karim´s skin was turning cold and clammy and I was unable to find a pulse. I had been calm and collected the entire time, but was losing my cool quickly. I pressed my hand on his chest, neck, and wrist; still nothing. I could see his chest moving slowly; he was still breathing. “Found it!”, Lucy proclaimed holding Karim´s wrist. “It´s really faint though”.

While Lucy continued to care for Karim, I perched on top of a boulder holding a mylar blanket up in the air. I could no longer see our vehicle at the bottom of the hill; Adam must have not been able to get a signal in the valley. As I rhythmically moved the silver sheet through the air, I  wondered how far Adam would have to drive before he could call 911.

Karim slowly opened his eyes. He was dizzy, felt nauseous, and his vision was blurry, but he was alive. Our friend was very confused and began muttering about not needing a helicopter or an ambulance. “You got to be freaking kidding me”, I thought. His finger had bled through the wrap, there was blood on his hands, head, and on the rocks around us, and he was still bleeding out of his nose. “Your ass is going to a hospital!”

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The emergency response was amazing! I can´t tell you how long it took for the first cop to show up, but the man ran up that mountain as if he was being chased by a bear. Overall around 25 people arrived to help: an ambulance that drove over 60 miles from the nearest city, two search and rescue people, half a dozen EMT´s and cops, as well as every resident within a 10 mile radius. Adam, fueled by adrenaline, ran back down the mountain to guide the remaining rescue personnel to us. He even carried their first aid bags. Everybody was there, except for the helicopter, which had flown to the wrong lake and didn´t have enough fuel to make it to us. Fantastic! We had no other choice but to somehow transport Karim down the mountain.

With Karim conscious we made it down the mountain rather quickly. His busted foot did not allow him to walk very far and thus he spent the majority of the way sliding down rocks and dirt. Once we arrived at the bottom of the hill, the EMT´s assessed Karim´s condition once again, before we were allowed to take him to the hospital. It took just under an hour to get there; not bad at all.

We placed Karim in a wheel chair and stormed through the emergency room entrance. We were  stopped by a bored looking security lady. “Do you have any weapons on you?” We looked at each other, shrugged, and began shedding weapons left and right. 4 knifes, 2 pepper sprays, 1 hatchet, and 1 gun later the security guard looked at us as if we were crazy. Needless to say, we were not allowed in unless we removed our arsenal from the building.

Once inside the hospital, Karim was put into a fashionable hospital gown and neck brace. Doctors, nurses, and EMT´s gathered around him like an army of ants. Initially, I was the only one allowed back there, but once Karim´s most immediate needs had been taken care of, all four of us gathered in the tiny room. I could feel my body coming down from its adrenaline fueled high and was overcome with hunger and thirst. All of us looked tired, dirty, and disheveled. What a day! When a nurse walked in 20 minutes later, she stopped immediately, looked at us, and exclaimed: “My goodness, what is this smell?” We hadn´t showered in two days, had an incredibly exhausting sweaty day behind us, and reeked of campfire. Adam made an attempt to explain our situation; the rest of us just grinned.

Karim spent roughly 4 hours at the emergency room before being released. They scrubbed his wounds clean, applied gauze and bandages, and took a variety of x-rays and CT scans. The final verdict: a concussion, a sprained ankle, multiple bruises, wounds on his head, nose, knee, and arms, and one badly crushed finger.

“Man, you really gotta do a better job at staying alive”, I said before we headed back into the wilderness.

Spot 4: Compromised

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This does not happen very often at all. And by not often, I mean never. I have lost spots due to criminal activity, increased police presence, or construction. Not once, however, did I have to abandon a spot because of a suspicious neighbor. Not once!

Spot 4 has only been used 3 times before being compromised. It never was one of my top favorites, but was good enough to provide an occasional parking space. It was located at the edge of a residential area. Close enough to the neighborhood to look like I belong, yet far enough away to have some privacy. Just a bare field without sidewalk to my right, and a road to my left. Not bad.

A couple weeks ago, I pulled into my spot and began packing my bag next to me. Even before I had a chance to unhook my safety net behind me, a woman with her two dogs passed me on the other side of the street. Usually, that is nothing to be alarmed about. People typically don´t even notice me and if they do, I am just like everyone else who is about to head to their house.

This encounter was different. Very different. She didn´t just notice me, she stared at me. It was a stare as if I was dancing on top of my car, naked, while burning the American flag. She reminded me of a deer, as she managed to locate, bag, and discard her dog´s poop all without once taking her eyes off of me. It was making me downright uncomfortable and I had to resist the urge to roll down my window and yell “Stop staring for fucks sake!”. I tried to ignore her as best as I could by faking a phone call, inspecting my purse, and checking my finger nails. Eventually, she replaced her continuous stare, with an awkward let-me-turn-around-every-two-steps-stare. I knew I had to leave and could not come back.

I have not the slightest idea what made her so rudely suspicious. On one hand, maybe she went through some sort of neighborhood watch training and learned “awkwardly staring” as a defense skill. On the other hand, she´d totally get shot for that in some other parts of the country. Just saying.

The intersection that I call home

“The intersection I call home” is an amazing post about making a home when living outside. Enjoy!

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Note: this post began as a commissioned 600-word essay for the September issue of the United Church Observer magazine and is immeasurably better for the edits by both managing editor Jocelyn Bell and editorial intern Elena Gritzan; I thank them—for the opportunity to reach a larger audience, as well as their editorial judgement; flaws will indicate where I have ignored them. I would also like to thank Trinity United’s Doug Jameson, who was probably right when he suggested that I needed an attitude adjustment regarding everything north and east of the Fairview neighbourhood.

* * *

As a long-term homeless person, I now have a much greater understanding and appreciation of home than I ever did when I had a ceiling over my head and four rooms to myself. This is less ironic than it sounds. Before, I simply had no good reason to think critically about what “home” meant.

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Brand Spanking New Tiny Mobile Home

After the very painful process of purchasing a vehicle from a dealership, the fun began! For years I´ve been wanting to design and custom built my own tiny mobile home and the time had finally come. Although I really wanted the interior of a Sprinter van, I needed the exterior of an SUV in order to stay low-key and navigate through the city. This led me to pick the Ford Transit Connect as my future house.

Step 1: Taking out the seats

Despite the fact that the seats fold down perfectly flat, I wanted them gone in order to fit a custom bed inside. I did gain a few inches height wise and I have enough space to mount one seat back in if need be.

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Step 2: Evening out the floor

Since I bought the Wagon instead of the Van, I had to deal with air ducts behind the front seats. The ducts are made of thin plastic and would me smushed the instant I stepped on one. A large piece of plywood with little legs screwed onto it took care of the issue.

Step 3: Building a bed

I´d be lying if I said I could have built this without my uncle´s expertise as a handyman. We bought some plywood (top of the bed) and a few framing studs (legs and support underneath), applied nails, used saws, hammers, and various other tools, and ended up with a pretty neat bed.

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Afterwards, I spent hours sanding, treating, and painting the wood. It was at this point that my best friend began making fun of my “goth car”. I could do nothing but assure him that color was going to be added soon.

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We strapped the bed down in multiple locations and added rubber insulation to the sides in order to keep the car from getting beaten up.

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Step 4: Adding storage

My aunt was getting rid of a couple old shoe shelves and before she could say another word, I was nailing them together to create one large unit. After a little sanding and throwing around some paint, I attached them to the bed. Believe it or not, they hold all of my clothes.

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I bought some fabric to hang in front of the shelf via sewn-in magnets, which makes for a cleaner look and keeps my clothes from sliding out. I also bought some fabric storage boxes that fit perfectly underneath the bed.

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Step 5: Sewing a mattress

Finding a mattress that´ll fit my oddly sized bed is pretty much impossible and thus I had to be pretty darn creative. My uncle had an old mattress he unsuccessfully had been trying to sell, and decided to donate it to the cause. I took the cover off the little foam pad, threw the pad in the bath tub, and about washed the stuffing out of it (it still smells like pine three months later). I then cut the foam to the right size and pretty much sewed a giant pillow case for it out of an old sheet. Voila!

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The mattress is strapped to the bed with two cargo ropes. Otherwise, I´d find myself on the floor by midnight. Now that I am using a sleeping bag, I´ve strapped that to the bed as well. It actually makes for a cozy feeling to be strapped in so securely. And let me tell you, cozy feelings are hard to come by out there.

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Step 6: Sewing curtains

Let´s just say the curtains were and still are a little bit of a nightmare for me. I bought two different kinds of fabric: black cotton that hangs towards the window and pretty cotton to hang towards the inside of the car. First of all, don´t ever use cotton for curtains. Imagine trying to cover your windows with wrinkly newspaper, except that it won´t ever flatten. EVER! Also, the curtains ended up way too short for the purpose of completely covering every last crack. But they are pretty; I guess that´s a plus.

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Step 7: Adding a safety net

The purpose of the safety net is to a) keep me from getting killed by flying household items in case of a serious accident (Today’s News: Hobo killed by can of tomato soup!), b) provide a professional looking barrier between the front and the back and c) serve as a professional looking attachment area for my screen I put up at night. It holds 350lb and can be detached on one side so I can get to my bed room at night without leaving the vehicle. It wasn´t exactly inexpensive, but it is absolutely worth the price. I had it custom made by some very very very patient experts at US Netting.

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Step 8: Decorating, move-in, and little additions

I added some glow-in-the-dark stars to the ceiling, because they are awesome. Period. In addition, they give me something to look at at night when l am listening to my audio books.

I also added a cargo net next to my bed to hold items such as my phone, keys, pepper spray and other items. It also provides a barrier between me and my curtains, which is rather useful considering that I´ve been know to rip down my curtains in my sleep.

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The back behind my bed offers enough space for my all-kinds-of-little-crap drawers and my emergency generator. My new tiny mobile home offers so much more space than my old one did, I don´t even need a storage room anymore.

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That´s it fellow hobos. Let me know what you think!

Take care!

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Nature´s Pantry: Acorns

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My first reaction to “Acorns are poisonous” was “Well, that´s bullshit”. I spent my childhood stealing them from the neighborhood squirrels and enjoyed them as a healthy snack for years. After consulting with the interwebs, I found out that in large quantities acorns can cause an upset stomach. Not quite the same as poisonous, yet good to know!

Acorns are rich in protein, vitamin B6, and fat and thus make the perfect wilderness snack. Although you can pick them green, you should wait for them to turn brown before eating them. Make sure that the acorn is free of any imperfections as this may indicate the presence of insects. Also, don´t literally steal a squirrel´s acorns. Instead of plugging empty an entire tree, take a few acorns here and there.

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Depending on the type of oak tree you gather from, Acorns are more or less bitter in taste and thus you may wish to further process this nut as illustrated on this website. Personally, I enjoy them raw, but there a ways of making acorn flour, spread, and even coffee! Additionally, by boiling acorns in a particular way, one can even take bitterness out of them.

Enjoy!

Dream On

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During one of my many discussions with my family regarding my lifestyle (“Houseless? What´s that supposed to be? You are homeless, whether you´d like to admit it or not!”) I realized that really, I only have one issue: People. My tiny mobile home is comfy and very much a “home” to me. I am well-fed, warm, healthy, clean, and happy. I am employed, working on my Masters, and am self-sustaining. In short, I have everything I need and I am everything I want to be.

For many of us, the trouble starts when we are trying to find a decent place to sleep. Society decided that living on the wrong side of those four walls is utterly unacceptable. So we have to be quiet and invisible. I´d love to do a little reading before bed, but any light would give me away. How relaxing would it be to sit outside my car, or even just roll down a window, to watch as nature lays itself to rest; can´t do that either. It´d be nice to be able to open my doors in the morning to let in some much needed air, but, as you´ve probably guessed, that´s not a good idea either.

Even worse than being frowned upon, is the fact that my lifestyle can get me in trouble with the police. Society decided that living outside of a house or apartment is such a horrendous act that it should be against the law! Somehow I imagined freedom to mean something different… I´d very much appreciate being a full member of society instead of living in the shadows.

This leaves me dreaming of a society in which I can freely admit to my lifestyle without being judged and prosecuted. Oh how nice would it be wave a hello to my housed neighbors and watch the sun rise without worrying about being seen.