Searching For a Place to Sleep

“I’ve been homeless and mostly living outside … Nobody should have to sleep outside. I mean that.”

Photo Credit: Rutten

January 17, 2013  |  

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Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from The Book of the Poor: Who They Are, What They Say, and How To End Their Poverty. T.M.’s story was written in the spring of 2012. (T.M. is in his fifties and has been living on the street, off and on, for a majority of those years.):

The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. –Matthew: 8:20

For four years, I’ve been homeless and mostly living outside. Finally, finally, I was able to get an SRO (single room occupancy in a multiple tenant building) in Chicago. It was great until I awoke and discovered it was infested with bedbugs and I was covered with their bites.

Nobody should have to sleep outside. I mean that. I think of all the guys who do. It is not something you want to do.

I’ve done a lot of things to survive. We all do. I’ve been through a couple of blizzards and some really cold times. And we got wet at times, really wet.

The first day I had no roof to stay under, I walked and walked until two or three o’clock in the morning. Finally, I went in a doorway and up some stairs. I slept next to somebody’s apartment and made certain I got up before they came out of it.

I’ve stayed in a homeless shelter in Chicago, but I ran into too many gangbangers and decided it was too dangerous to keep doing it.

I have ridden the “L” trains all night, but twice my pockets were slit while I was sleeping and I lost my I.D. card. There was never any money in my pockets. I didn’t have any. They just probably threw my I.D. in the trash, but I was forced to get a new one. Once someone stole my shoes. That was it.

I moved to a suburb where there was a decent shelter, but it was so crowded that I had to wait six months before I could get a bed. I stayed there for a little while, but they cut the beds back to just 20 and I was out on the street again. You wait and wait for an opening, but sometimes they just give the next bed to someone they want to.

There have been times when someone let me stay with him or her. We have all experienced that, but it doesn’t last. And let me tell you, there is nothing like having a place of your own.

We call it sleeping “under the viaduct” because it is so much like that, but it is actually under a loading dock. We are not bothered and, when the weather is right, we feel we have something like a place of our own. There used to be four or five places in this town where you could get away from the worst of the blizzards or the storms. Now, there are only two. Once you start sleeping there, others will respect that it is yours.

We had a place for several months where three of us stayed. We had sleeping bags and lots of blankets. Every morning we got up early and hid them. We never told anyone where we hid them, and we had to make certain no one found out.

On the really cold and stormy nights, we went to bed early. We got into our sleeping bags and wrapped ourselves in every blanket we could. The problem was if you had to get up to take a leak or when you got up in the morning. Some guys and some of the women get drunk because it helps them keep warm. I drink because it helps, but I never get drunk.