Turning Homelessness on its Head


I discovered a WordPress blog not too long ago by someone who calls himself chihomelessguy, and his posts embody everything I’ve been trying to say about how people need to stop stereo-typing street people and get to know each individual’s story.

This blogger is not alcoholic or a drug addict, nor is he suffering from a mental illness.  He started his life in Chicago with a job, a girlfriend, and a garden apartment. He has a Bachelors degree in Information Technology. He is a former Navy man. He has experience working with his hands since he installed commercial flooring at a journeyman level during his college years.

So what happened to make him homeless?  Life happened, baby, that’s all, just down and dirty, shit-out-of-luck life. The company he was working for lost its contract. Companies hurting in this economy aren’t hiring new workers and even low-paying grunt jobs reject him as over-qualified.

He sold belongings and clothes trying to get by, but now all he has left are his truck and his iPhone.  He clings to these as a lifeline.  The truck means a roof over his head–a cold, cramped, and in-danger-of-being-towed-every-night roof. His phone is his best chance of getting out of this rut, allowing him access to job sites, a number for potential employers to call, a “front,” if you will, to anyone talking to him on the other end that he’s just a normal, everyday guy looking for a job.

Because people are reluctant to hire the homeless, thinking that’s just asking for personnel issues down the road.

I am impressed with chihomelessguy’s sincerity, intelligent posts, and tenacity.  While I’m often a skeptical person, I’ve grown to believe he is who is says he is, is doing all he can to change things, and isn’t trying to scam anyone with the social networking platform he is building to improve his lot. I’ve been fooled in the past, don’t get me wrong, but this guy has me convinced he’s on the up and up. If anyone wants to prove me wrong, I’m open to that.  Bring it.

So I’ve been trying to decide what I can do to try to help him if I can, without making it seem like I want to steal his thunder, use him for my own selfish purposes, or shove him down anyone’s throat.  He has a Twitter feed and Facebook page in addition to his blog, and if there’s one thing Homeless in Seattle taught me, it’s that spreading news about people’s stories is the best way to change a person’s life.

So that’s what I’m going to do.  Be prepared to read a lot of re-blogged posts by this guy on my website here.  If you follow me on Facebook and Twitter, anytime he posts there, you’re likely to see me reposting and retweeting him. If you don’t like that, go ahead and unSubscribe, unFriend, and unFollow me.  I won’t mind.  It’s not like I’ve got a lot of followers anyway.

And be forewarned that if I run across any other people like him, I might do the same for them, also.  In fact, if you know someone who is trying to improve their lot by sharing their story and struggles, let me know and I’ll give them the same air time.  Like I said, it’s not that I have a ton of people paying attention to me, but I have a few, at least for now, and word of mouth starts by telling at least one person something they should know.

Want to follow chihomelessguy directly?  Here’s his links below:

“The Chronicles of a homeless man in Chicago”



Adventure Therapy

A few years before I started writing Painted Black, before I began caring about the issue of homelessness, I went on my first wilderness canoe trip in the Canadian Boundary Waters.  It was a life changing experience that was in some ways the complete opposite of the world I witnessed on the streets of Chicago.

Or was it?  Below is a paragraph I wrote about the experience:

 Canoeing in the wilderness brings life down to its smallest basic components:  weather, work, food, friendship, sleep, sun.  How can I put into words all those small things that added up to such a big meaning for me?  The crackle and brightness of the campfire at night, the singing of hymns around it; the laughing of loons and complaining of Canadian blue jays; the clarity of the constellations and the dancing of the Northern lights.

Surviving on the streets brings life down to its smallest components also.  Where will you sleep tonight?  What can you find to eat?  When will you be able to take a shower?  Even basic human needs like where can I use a bathroom?  When life boils down to the quick like this, the smallest things can make a difference:  the triangle of a sail against sun-warmed Lake Michigan, a peanut butter sandwich and a friendly conversation, the smile and simple greeting of a passing stranger.

Unlike the experience of living on the streets, though, my canoe trip left me with a renewed spirit, an increased hope that I was not alone in the world but accompanied by a higher power who cared about me.

 Once you’ve been there, you’ll understand what I mean.  You’ll understand how close you can get to heaven, and that eternity is here for the taking.  That peace and love and quietness of mind you hope for in the kingdom of God is around us every day, if only we take the time to hear with our ears and see with our eyes and believe in our hearts.

Conversely, life on the streets can leave youth and adults who experience it embittered, hard-hearted and drained of all hope.  When you experience only darkness, it is hard to believe there is any light.

That’s why organizations like Teen Feed and The Night Ministry continue their work, to fight against the darkness.  And recently I found out about another program that knows how healing experiences like my Boundary Waters trip can be to the heart, mind, body and spirit.  Chicago Adventure Therapy (CAT) offers kayaking, climbing, camping and other adventure experiences to at-risk youth. I wish I still lived in Chicago and could participate with this program in some way.

Using outdoor adventure sports such as kayaking, orienteering, cycling, and rock climbing, Chicago Adventure Therapy (CAT) helps under-served youth in Chicago have a lasting positive impact on their communities and become healthy adults by teaching effective social skills, increasing participants’ sense of possibility, and fostering a sense of empowerment and personal responsibility.

via Chicago Adventure Therapy