Experiencing true poverty and homelessness is an experience I never wanted, nor expected growing up. It happened, We suffered, but with tons of hard work and sweat and lots of sleepless nights working our butt off and help from my parents, we finally made it mostly out. Bills are still almost insurmountable at times (for example everything’s due within the next couple weeks and I have no idea how we’re going to pay it all), but we aren’t trying to live out of a car and stay alive.
Here are some things I never take for granted.
Electricity that stays on.
You never will appreciate the benefits of this until you have had yours shut off multiple times. Cold weather is that much colder, heat become unbearable, and nothing is really possible to do. If you don’t have a gas stove, you can forget about cooking, nothing stays good unless it’s the middle of winter, and it’s just all around bad. Appreciate even the little stuff. You never know just how bad it could be. My experience with this happened a few years ago.
A place that’s not a hotel to stay in with my own stuff to put in it and use.
Having lived off and on in hotels, I’ve learned that although it is great to not sleep in the car, there are so many difficulties associated with just staying in a hotel. For one, it’s INCREDIBLY expensive. It’s damn near IMPOSSIBLE to save up anything when you’re living day to day in a hotel. This is why the chronically homeless sometimes seem like they’re not even trying. Believe me, they are! It’s just ridiculously difficult to put any money back when you’re living this way. Plus, there’s almost no storage, definitely no washers or dryers that aren’t coin operated, and you run the risk of bugs and other unsavory things.
A reliable vehicle with the ability to fill it with gas most of the time.
Having a reliable car really should never be underestimated. Life is so much more difficult without a way to drive places. I have been without a car numerous times, so I feel uniquely able to state this unequivocally. You walk everywhere if you can’t secure a ride. Living in an area without public transportation makes it even worse. If there’s a meeting or you have to go grocery shopping, you walk. I have gotten really good at condensing one trip for several days into one backpack and a couple bags. Planning and making every single trip count just becomes second nature and you’re limited to employment within walking distance. However, there are benefits such as being in better shape, exercising every day, and more. I do love my car though, as it’s made income possibilities grow exponentially.
A school within walking distance.
We didn’t qualify for transportation since we were kinda close to the school. It was lovely not having to rely on some form of transportation every day to get my kids from school if something happened and they needed picking up early for whatever reason. We were about a fifteen minute walk away. Yes school buses do pick kids up, but there are a lot of other factors regarding their school. What would we do if we had to go up to the school to turn in papers and there was no ride available? I am so thankful that we are where we are.
A real kitchen.
Yeah so when you’re trying to figure how you’re gonna cook something that’s cheap and needs a stove but all you’ve got is a microwave…if you’re that lucky! I can say that I’m now able to cook most anything in the microwave now, but it still was really rough.
Food in my pantry.
Seriously! You can never understand this until you’ve had to watch your dwindling food supply shrink and shrink until you’re horribly hungry, your kids are crying, and there’s literally nothing left. One of the first things I did (and still do) is to fill up my food storage areas until there was enough food to last at least two weeks and keep it that way. That way I don’t have to deal with the soul crushing desperation of watching my minimal food stores vanish with no way to build them back up.
Not living off a single bite of gas station sausage biscuit or peanut butter sandwich.
There’s nothing like the sheer demoralizing feeling that all you can eat is a bite of your children’s food because they need it more than you and that’s all you’re going to get. Probably no more for your kids tomorrow too. I am so happy my children don’t have to worry so much about having enough to eat.
Having a room of my own and ability to write in semi peace.
Nothing compares to going into your own bedroom, with a comfortable mattress with your own sheets instead of ones that 300 other people have slept on in their lifetime, and sleeping with the door closed in your own place. Apartment or house, it doesn’t matter. If it’s rented or owned, at least for the time being it’s yours and yours alone.
Ability to put something into savings.
One of the major problems poor people face is that being poor is expensive. Everything costs more and we’re not able to put anything in savings because we literally need every penny we earn. I can now save about 50 a month without being terrified it will mean us not eating or something not getting paid in time. It’s scary! Not only are we not able to ever get out of our situation, but the situation gets worse and worse as time goes on.
Kids having a chance at being kids without worrying about where we’re going to sleep next.
This has created a lot of peace and restful attitudes. My children have relaxed a lot and no longer get worried about possibly sleeping in the car or having a place to go or keep their stuff. The peace of mind is huge let me tell you!
Not stressing over being caught sleeping in a Wal-Mart parking lot.
This is a big one. Frequently we’d have to sleep at a Walmart parking lot as most of them are 24 hours and we needed a place to use the restroom. You’d be surprised at how few facilities are available to simply go to the bathroom in peace. Usually you’re just going to have to find a dumpster and pee behind it, but with this option, we were able to get a clean bathroom without too much trouble. However, it’s frightening because of the stigma of being in this situation and being caught. Scary because you are afraid of getting tickets or being arrested simply for being there. I don’t miss this at all!
Clothing that isn’t “Homeless Shelter Chic”.
Defined as clothing you’d typically expect worn by homeless people consisting of oversized non-descript clothing in cheap fabrics or clearly well-worn from the bargain bins at a thrift store. Socks provided are generally not pretty, multiple years out of style, or well repaired. We are finally leaving this stage of life. When returning to life not consumed by where you’re going to sleep or what you’re going to eat, things like clothes and furniture take a back seat until you’re more financially stable, in which case you begin to slowly take out and add what nice things you can afford with the extra you’ve finally got now.
Mental sanity and stability.
It took months of anti-depressant and anxiety medication to fix my mind from the extreme poverty save everything you can because it might end up killing you if you don’t have it mindset. I have to remind myself to shower every day (unbelievable to those of you who have never had to get used to wearing the same clothes and showering any time you get the chance to), and be okay with an empty pantry for thirty minutes. Everything is now coming back to normal and I now barely take any type of medication anymore. My mind is restored, I have a job I love (which still scares me because I got used to losing things I loved constantly), and I am at peace.
A chance to enjoy life and not be so wiped out by constantly fighting to survive.
This is huge too. It is a constant fight within myself to remember that I’m not homeless or struggling. It’s okay to buy egg rolls from Jack In the Box (hey don’t judge), because there is money coming in and I don’t have to make the dollars stretch to not starve to death later in the week. Things like Netflix subscriptions and shopping trips become more possible and it’s okay to not freak out every time we pull out the debit card.
Yeah life was rough. I try my hardest to forget but it makes me so thankful and reminds me how much life has changed for the better whenever I work on articles or lists like this.