Saturday, February 12, 2011

Living "on the street"

Given that being in a huge financial hole is one of the obstacles I now inappropriately face (see "Just how much had I escaped?"), I’ve moved my home onto "the street” and have been living there for the past 2 months. Let me introduce you to my new home.


The most important part of my new home is my car (pictured), which includes my bed (the driver’s side seat laid flat), a pantry (on the floor of the front passenger seat), a dining room (the entire front seat), an education and entertainment center (the radio and the car windows), a medicine cabinet and a desk of sorts (the backseat), and a clothes closet (the trunk). If only I had known this nightmare would happen to me, I would have bought a van instead of a hatchback!


My primary dining room has become that which is provided by St. Vincent de Paul in San Rafael, where the food, environment, and treatment of diners are quite impressive, consistent with what one might expect in upscale Marin County. Occasionally, I’ll dine at St. Anthony’s in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district, where the food, environment, and treatment of diners are considerably less desirable, perhaps in part because they serve so many more people than in Marin.


My shower and laundry room are at the Ritter Center in San Rafael. (Again, comparable facilities in San Francisco are less desirable.) I was interviewed and photographed (see to the left) inside the Ritter Center recently by a journalist doing a story on the day an attempt was made to count Marin’s homeless.


I have multiple bathrooms in my new home, but the one appearing in the photo to the right is the most important. Not the cleanliest of bathrooms, it is located in my living room along San Francisco Bay and is open 24 hours a day (though the area is supposed to be vacated between the hours of 10pm and 6am). If only they'd move it 6 more inches away from the curb, it wouldn't flood when it rains!


I’ve come to have two offices, one in San Francisco that opens before 6am each day (a Starbucks), and one in Marin -- the Mill Valley library -- which is perhaps the quietest office one could have. The latter served as an extension of my office before this nightmare began, so it is great to be able to resume my use of it.


The view from the picture window of my new living room? See photo at left for part of that view. Not too shabby, but...


What has surprised me is how easily I’ve been able to adapt to this kind of living. Areas I tended to avoid or at least felt uncomfortable in in the past – areas in which you’ll find lots of homeless people -- have now become part of my everyday home. And I’ve encountered much more warmth and support in such areas than I could have ever imagined. Yet, experiences with a lot of the people who provide services received by the homeless leave much to be desired, arguing that more work along the lines of that being done by students of the Austin Center for Design is badly needed.


Now, I don’t recommend this way of living. In fact, spending the night in one’s car is illegal here. However, helpful words of advice can be found online (see, for example, “Where to Sleep in a Car”).


Not surprisingly, the biggest expenses of my new home are car expenses -- gasoline, car maintenance, etc. Unfortunately, two of the biggest expenses of this nature have been parking tickets and jumping (and also replacing) the car battery (which gets sapped by my extensive use of the car radio). However, the biggest challenge to this way of living lies in my incontinence, perhaps the one health problem I have that most drains my dignity; getting out of the car or driving the car fast enough to deal with this problem poses many challenges daily.

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