There was a very short stretch of time when I was twenty-two and between one thing and the next where I didn’t have my own place, refused to move back home, but had plenty of places to stay around the city. Homeless, I thought myself, but not even at all. Just an offline couch surfer.
But, I’ve always been morbidly curious what it would take out of a person to be homeless. To actually sleep on park benches and spend the entire day searching for food so you don’t die in an area that is packed with people, excess, and waste.
Empathy aside, it is interesting on a surreal level that people sleep out on the streets shivering and starving while so many others in the same area code are fat, warm, garbage-generators.
Sooner or later, I’d have to see what it was like, but my life has always been an endless handout and despite my efforts I’ve never seemed to be completely broke or without assets.
My last week in Byron Bay, however, finally allowed me the opportunity to go hungry and shelterless for the first real time ever and that’s what this story is about: three whole days of living on the hard cold streets like a true survivor and adventurer.
It really only happened because I’d forgotten to extend my stay at the hostel and found every room in the bay to be either full or way over-priced. Perfect, I thought. And I had only twenty dollars in cash. The universe provides all the things we need to make endless decisions, some good.
Some less advisable.
I locked up all my belongings except for a few books, my cell phone (I’m not trying to end up dead), a change of clothes, a headlamp, my bike, and a peanut butter sandwich (I’m not trying to end up dead). The locker cost four dollars.
I checked out of the hostel at ten, freshly washed and dressed and just killing it as the new guy on hard knocks street. Seventy-two hours, gimme what you got.
At eleven I ate my sandwich and found myself bored on the beach. I took a nap. I took a swim. Dante texted me in the late afternoon. The message said: Lets go surfing I have a board for you.
You can do that if you’re homeless.
I said: Okay where do I meet you?
Dante: Arts Factory
This was always his answer, so I road my bike down the bumpy road and we went to the pass together. The waves were constant and the lines to obtain them weren't long because there was plenty to go around. I worked up a very foolish appetite from three hours struggling in the waves and getting absolutely assaulted by the cloudless, sunfilled sky.
At about five I ate two rolls of sushi for five dollars and felt guilty for how terrible I was at this game, so I scoured the village for loose change and soon it was dark. I’d found almost two dollars from parking meters and phone booths. I’d also located just about every parking meter and pay phone available. Ten cents in front of the Night Owl meant I could buy myself an energy drink to keep me up until I finished my book.
I sat in the park and read until I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore.
It was only two in the morning at that point and I still had the surf board with me so I went out to the beach to sleep on it.
It didn’t go well -- which should surprise noone.
First, I disturbed a lovely couple canoodling in the dunes. Second, the local possums found me curious and kept checking my bag for food. Third, a figure with a flashlight searched the beach for campers, which I was but without the tent, and I basically spent the whole night stumbling around for a quiet, dry, animal-free place to sleep. I don't remember if I found it or not.
The sun came up and people began appearing so I returned the surf board to the jungle, where Dante lives, and milled about town, exhausted from nothing. I went to the park and napped until ten and then hopped on a bus (for free) and fled to Brisbane for a bus nap and to spend my remaining ten dollars on a movie.
After the twelve hour break in Brizzy, I took a bus back to Byron Bay. Well-slept from the second bus ride, I did not plan to make a homeless attempt again, just to pick up my paycheck and move on.
But the cash wasn’t ready yet and I couldn’t be paid until the next day.
And I had nowhere to stay.
The chef fed me as a consolation and gave me one of my week’s pay. I put all but twenty of it away and had an ice cream – like homeless persons are apt to do – and waited for time to progress.
How can you do anything when you have zero dollars (twenty) and no space of your own? Is it no wonder the homeless are so bummed out, no pun intended.
Okay, I thought, about halfway through the second day. This is boring. I stayed out late on the beach just reading Bukowski (that I bought with the rest of the twenty, books are expensive here) and shivering a little but perfectly happy until the fuzz pulled up, "I'm really just out here to read because there is nowhere quiet in town." And it wasn't a lie.
This guy walked by twice giving me the hang loose sign and I waved him off, seriously, no. This place is amazing, but sometimes too much crazy. And drugs are ugly when people are desperate, from alcohol to meth it's all disgusting. Although, cigarettes are certainly the worst and what I wanted at that point in time the most, but instead I huddled close to the building and read Emerson.
I hadn’t slept the second night and it was my last day in Byron.
Dante: There’s a beach party tonight
This was not the first time and wouldn’t be the last time I’d hear him make such a claim.
I dunno, man. I’m already a bit drunk on tired.
He didn’t hear my thoughts, however, and took my silence for consent -- a most terrible of habits to have -- and around seven he texted me to join him.
Me: Where should I meet you?
Dante: Arts Factory
Me: Yeah, alright.
It was a twelve-hour experience that started with us drinking goon from bowls and cooking sausage in a hostel of which we were not guests, and ended with me waiting for a bus at eight in the morning, desperate for sleep and dead on my feet. Everyone else had been picked off one by one by random events (they all survived). It’s all a very long and painful story, my shoes lost somewhere along the way, a hike to the lighthouse barefoot and smelly. But, we actually found the beach party at one point and that's probably more fun than a homeless guy usually stumbles into.
But I did still technically spend the night as a homeless person, making it my third night doing so, and here's the conclusion:
Being homeless sucks, man. I had the VIP treatment, complete with friends and a bit of spending money, and it still sucked. I couldn’t make it three days for real and I’ll never try it again because it’s cold outside and I’m not as physically tough as I wish I were.
Don’t do it.
P.S. and give money to homeless people because even if they spend it on booze, so would you.