Brief stint on the streets an eye-opener

    About a month and a half ago, my landlord dropped a bombshell: We were expected to be out of the apartment by May 31. It turned out that the three-week extension she had promised us when we moved in had been denied. The apartment was already sold, and we needed to leave to make way for the new tenants.

    At first I was tempted to fight, but I hadn’t been part of the original negotiations, and my roommates neglected to tell me that her promise was verbal only. There was no proof that she had told us we could have an extension.

    So now I found myself facing a dangerous situation. For the last three weeks of my college career, I was going to be homeless. But, ever positive, I decided to make the most of it. Rather than bemoaning my fate, this was a chance to experience something I, and most others, wouldn’t usually have the guts to go through.

    The San Diego Regional Task Force on Homelessness estimates that there are over 9,600 homeless people in San Diego County, but despite their number, these are some of society’s most ignored members. Shunned and berated for their supposed laziness, these individuals often are in situations that make it hard to overcome their difficulties on their own.

    A 2005 study by the UCSD School of Medicine found that the chronically homeless often face medical conditions such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder but lack the health care that would allow them to seek treatment. Maybe by experiencing homelessness on my own I could understand some of what these people go through.

    I immediately went about listing my assets: one car, a general appearance that brands me as a student and student access to buses, gyms and computers. I soon realized that I was still better off than many homeless people in San Diego. Even if I didn’t have a place to sleep, I still had the car to stow my stuff in, gyms that I could shower in and buses and couches where I could nap during the day without drawing too much attention.

    I decided I didn’t really want to wait until I was actually homeless to see if my guesses were correct. Better to try being homeless while I still actually had a home – that way I had a place to return to just in case things went wrong. So two weeks ago I decided to go on a trial run.

    I quickly found that the best thing to do would be to turn nocturnal. While I had plenty of places I could sleep during the day, such as the couches in numerous lounges around campus or the desks in the library, my options were severely limited during the night. Whenever I tried to sleep during the night, whether it was in an open lounge, in my car or on a bus, I found myself interrupted. I quickly discovered that numerous Community Service Officers patrol the campus at night, closing the lounges and waking up broke college students that might have fallen asleep in their cars.

    As for bus drivers, they’ll only allow you to sleep for so long – they are, however, usually nice enough to ask for your stop so they can make sure you wake up for it. Unfortunately, I was still a student, which meant working an internship and going to classes during the day. So I started scheduling sleep – taking an hour nap here, a three-hour nap there and trying desperately not to fall asleep in my classes or at work. I managed to cobble enough hours together that – though a bit sleep deprived – I wasn’t hallucinating.

    But being awake during the night wasn’t necessarily the most comfortable thing either. I tried to stay on campus, because as long as I was here I felt some degree of safety. When I left I stuck to my car, parking in different lots around town, trying to ignore the sounds of people or creatures passing by, and trying to corral my overactive imagination. Every sound was a possible threat; every moment held the fear of a window shattering followed by a hand reaching through.

    But at the end of the seven days I had allotted for my trial, I still had a home to go back to. And no matter how suspicious I seemed, police officers and bus drivers were infinitely nicer to the girl in the college sweatshirt than they would have been to a grown man or woman trying to survive on the streets. I could pull off the I-pulled-an-all-nighter-and-didn’t-mean-to-fall-asleep-so-sorry-sir act. They couldn’t. People still met my eyes when I was passing by; I was still considered a proper member of society.

    So now, with my lease quickly running out, I’m realizing that even without a home it was silly to think I could experience homelessness. What I’m going to be doing is just the tip of the iceberg. To fully experience homelessness I would have to give up everything: my car, my friends, my family and my job to set out by myself for the streets.

    And I know I’m not ready to do that.

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