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Could You Go Homeless For A Day?

by J. Money on Wednesday, March 31, 2010

HomelessnessLike, straight up no money in your pockets, sleeping on the street kind of homeless?

I just read this fantastically interesting post from a blogger who actually DID this (on the streets of Las Vegas no less) and I can’t seem to get it out of my mind. Here’s a clip:

“Last December, on a chilly winter day, I decided to challenge a deeply rooted fear I had by spending 24 hours on the street homeless. I carried no credit cards, cash, I.D., cell phone, house keys, extra jackets, tissue papers, chapstick, iPod (what else do you usually leave the house with?)

I set off in the direction of downtown, carried by my own two feet, dressed in a tattered sweats, to challenge a fear (read: belief) that my failure as a businessman would lead to me being homeless… I believed the equation: financial failure = homelessness.”

You have to be one crazy mother f’er to try this out, and as I read that again I sit here in awe. The courage and willpower you’d have to have to pull this off! I could do crazy mother f’er like no other, but scouring for my own food and shelter on the mean city streets? HAH! I’d give up when the clock struck midnight.

But what an experience to have for the rest of your life!
One 24-hour period that you can now use to help motivate you to become, and stay, successful. A little extreme, but it’s something to be respected. We can all guess what it would be like ’till we’re blue in the face, but until you actually put yourself into that situation and go for it you’ll never really know.

In a strange sense, this can also be applied to things like starting your own business or other side hustles you might be nervous about. You can play it safe and never give it a shot, but is that really the best use of your time? Humming through life w/out taking risks? Only you yourself can answer that, but it’s something to think about for sure (and I’m only talking about “calculated risks” here, not straight up crazy ones).

In the mean time, I’m going to do everything in my power to save save save so I never have to learn homelessness the hard way. While I admire the crap out of Alvin for giving this a shot, I think I’ll have to take his word for it that it’s not something I want to experience for real. How about you?

(Photo credit: GypsyFae)


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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Karmella March 31, 2010 at 8:46 am

It’s interesting that he only made $2 in 24 hours, and that he seemed to have been semi-accepted into the homeless underground.

An interesting experiment, but knowing you get to go home in T-24 isn’t quite the same, and I don’t buy his “it can never happen because I don’t think like that”, but whatever motivates him is good!

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2 Andrew Kinnear March 31, 2010 at 9:30 am

I’ve had a lot of people tell me that it’s not about not having money when you’re homeless, but about mental illness. I think if you don’t have a mental illness of some kind, how hard could it be?
Reading the above quote from the blogger, the first thing I started doing (as an entrepreneur and idea guy) was developing a short-term and longer-term strategy. It’s Vegas! There are people in Tattered sweatpants gambling thousands, so as long as you don’t *act* homeless, how hard could it be to social-engineer your way into food, a party, some better clothes, a little money, make more money, more food, etc, etc…

It’s got to be the mental illness– so I don’t think this guy should worry…

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3 gn March 31, 2010 at 9:40 am

What would *really* be great is that you would also end up with a compassion for the people who don’t have your middle class options.

For a similar experiment, read Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America.

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4 philip March 31, 2010 at 9:49 am

I agree with some of the others that knowing in 1 day that I will be back home with everything I could go without eating for that long then pig out when I am done. I go camping and that is living without a roof over my head most times, really you would have to do it long enough that all the normalties have gone away and then have some bad weather thrown in.

It is still an interesting experiment and whatever works to inspire you is great.

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5 Walter March 31, 2010 at 10:02 am

Some of the turning points in our lives comes when we experience the things or events we fear the most. The blogger you have stated above faced his fear by experiencing what might have happened. :-)

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6 Keith @ LifeTuner March 31, 2010 at 10:21 am

You wouldn’t even smell like a homeless person after 24 hours. A week might get you there. :)

I’d be willing to give it a shot if I didn’t have a wife and pets to take care of.

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7 femmeknitzi March 31, 2010 at 10:28 am

I’m very glad he came to the decision he did because on reading this blog post without the other, I was highly unimpressed. For a person born and raised in the middle class, financial failure does not equal homelessness. While it happens to many, the reality is that money is only one resource that we in the middle class have. Education, support systems, understanding social mores and hidden rules of the middle class to get another job or navigate assistance procedures, all of these things are barriers we have to keep us from being homeless simply because we fail at a career. He discovered that he doesn’t “talk like a homeless person.” Other classes have social mores and hidden rules, too and we’re no more likely to understand them than they are to understand ours. The only problem is, guess which language or rule structure all public assistance is built upon? As difficult and unlikely as upward social mobility is, downward social mobility is often just as unlikely. I hope he continues to be aware of his privilege and uses that awareness to teach others and to help others.

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8 Investing Newbie March 31, 2010 at 10:32 am

Nope, wouldn’t do it! People like Alvin and Tyra Banks have the ability/time to do those things so I won’t have to do it. I’d rather spend my days at work, and if I’m unemployed, looking for work.

From the exerpt you provided, it seems that his main purpose was really to challenge his deep-seeded thoughts about homelessness. He should have just spent 1 year in NYC. When it’s all around you, you learn enough to appreciate it and help when you can.

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9 Coffeecents March 31, 2010 at 10:35 am

I have a problem with the Nickel and Dimed book. In that one, Barbara set out with the idea that it wouldn’t work,and she discovered it didn’t. Adam Baker did the exact same experiment but he succeeded and at the start he believed he could. There is a great deal of mental capital (psychology) embedded here.

Back in Atlanta I often played with street musicians. It was great practice for me, and having more people normally meant larger tips, so the guys I would play with obviously didn’t mind. MANY street performers are NOT homeless, this is something I found out. It was a very interesting experience, and one I’ve always remembered

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10 Falling Into Favor March 31, 2010 at 11:01 am

I wouldn’t do it! I thank God daily that I am not homeless and I try to help the homeless often. I admire Alvin for doing that, but I don’t think I need to literally walk in their shoes for any type of motivation or compassion. I think I’ve learned enough from the homeless people whom I serve. It was an interesting post though!!!

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11 RainyDaySaver March 31, 2010 at 11:04 am

Wow — I couldn’t do it. That’s taking ‘facing your fears’ to an extreme.

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12 Abigail March 31, 2010 at 1:15 pm

Inasmuch as the exercise was to make him face his fear of becoming homeless, I think it was a good idea. Otherwise? I’m unimpressed.

I think a week might be a good enough start to get a feel for just how things go. One day isn’t enough to get into the mindset or have most of the same experiences as someone who is actually homeless.

Even then, we can’t really understand because, as one or two people have already said, we know that there are options waiting around every corner. This is an experiment for a finite period, then we get to go back to our lives.

The fact is that, while anyone can end up homeless (it is not, as one person said, mental illness based and I’m rather appalled that such beliefs are still supported), most middle-class people have support networks they can fall back on. They can move back in with parents; they can crash with a friend.

@CoffeeCents, Can you provide a link to Adam Baker’s recreation of Nickel & Dimed? Because I haven’t heard of anyone attempting anything even remotely similar, and I would be interested in seeing his version of the trial. Because, frankly, I don’t think it’s a psychological thing at all. I think she didn’t succeed because minimum wage — especially without any savings to get into a place — is simply not enough to live on in some areas. But I would like to check out any other versions of Barbara’s idea that are out there, to compare methods and results and such. It sounds fascinating!

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13 ctreit March 31, 2010 at 1:39 pm

An experiment like this is interesting but probably not that telling. When you know that you have an expiration date to the experiment, be it a day or a week or even a month, it does not really count for much as far as I am concerned. I used to volunteer in a homeless shelter where some people shared their story. There were quite a few homeless people who ended up homeless due to medical bills that were not covered by their insurance or that went unpaid for lack of insurance. These people had regular jobs and were in the middle class before a medical emergency made them homeless. I wonder what it must be like to loose your house and to have no place to go to. What impact does it have on my psyche? What do I think of myself? How do I recover?

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14 Simple in France March 31, 2010 at 3:21 pm

I agree with Andrew. I’ve known some people with nothing at all and as long as they were doing well on the psychological front, they could find a way to get indoors, get money, get food. As one person described it–”when you’re begging you need a clean t-shirt.” He had some troubles, for sure, but he was lucid enough to help himself.

Anyhow, would I do it? The thing is, if I were really homeless, I’d do my damndest not to look it, so I don’t think that ‘looking’ homeless is really necessary. If we’re talking about walking around and not eating for a day, I’ve already done that. I don’t see why empty pockets would make it harder for me. But the post is fascinating because I think this guy had a really deep-rooted fear of being homeless.

Interesting topic!

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15 Kate March 31, 2010 at 4:27 pm

I don’t think I would be able to follow through with this experiment. I would just be too nervous that someone would try to hurt me, the streets can be rough for a woman. However, I applaud the experiment and I am going to have to check out the whole post.
Thanks!

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16 MyFinancialObjectives March 31, 2010 at 5:27 pm

Wow that really is quite an experience. I would like to try something like that one day, though I have to be honest, I would be darn scared! Who knows what can happen living on the streets…I agree, something like this is a really good motivator. I also have the mentality that its better to try something and fail, than to just wonder if it would ever have worked.

Good post!

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17 Shelley March 31, 2010 at 7:53 pm

Morgan Spurlock did an experiment on his show “30 Days.” He and his girlfriend lived on minimum wage for… well… 30 days. He didn’t even use their insurance when they had to go to the hospital. They ended up in the red at the end of the experiment. Quite interesting though… You can see it here: http://www.hulu.com/watch/5287/30-days-minimum-wage#s-p4-so-i0

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18 Ciawy April 1, 2010 at 12:13 am

Nope, I wouldn’t do it. That’s a Fear Factor challenge I think I’ll fail. On another note, I always see a lot of homeless people when I go to work, and I always wonder why they are in that situation. I don’t believe it’s just poverty per se. I always think they’re something deeper why they don’t want to lift themselves up- e.g. they don’t want to pay taxes and/or they lost hope.

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19 Lillie April 1, 2010 at 10:36 am

I’m with you. I certainly don’t want to have to experience homelessness as way of life. I recall too vividly the time when my home burned and we lost everything. The difference: I had insurance to replace the house and had family that I could live with during the transitional period. The biggest difference is that I had options, homeless people do not.

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20 Grace April 1, 2010 at 12:56 pm

I went to PSU and one of my friends worked for the paper. She once did an article about being able to afford food at the Federal Poverty Income Guidelines. I like to call them the FPIGS.. :-P She did the expirament for 2 days.. and was not a happy camper. I’ve often wondered if I could manage if I hit these same rough patches… but as the old addage goes, when life gives you lemonades you make lemonade… so if life takes me down the path of being homeless… and without food, I’ll make due. :)

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21 J. Money April 1, 2010 at 10:55 pm

Karmella – Yeah, $2 is no joke man…I’d think you could find more scouring the casino floors, eh?
Andrew Kinnear – Interesting, yeah I’m not qualified to say whether that’s a fact or not, but it does sound like it would make sense. Even if for just a handful of them over the majority.
gn – I’ll put it on the list :)
philip – That’s def. true – 24 hours won’t give you the overall picture (or even close, really) but it’s still damn impressive. I think 24 hours seems a lot longer once you’re going through it late at night and you’re starving ;)
Walter – Yessir.
Keith @ LifeTuner – If you ever gave it a shot, I want to capture the whole experience here on Budgets Are Sexy! Perhaps we’ll set you up with a streaming web cam or something – haha…but then we’d all hear you complaining ;)
femmeknitzi – I’m sure he will :) He’s already affected me and some others just from writing that post!
Investing Newbie – That would also do the trick! Or even in DC…but Vegas is high up on that list too from what I’ve heard.
Coffeecents – Dude, what DON’T you do? ;) You’ve got your hands into everything brotha, I love it.
Falling Into Favor – I know, as much as I’d like to try it too I know I wouldn’t have the guts. He is one brave soul.
RainyDaySaver – Oh yeah, but damn if it’s not interesting!
Abigail – A week would have been better for sure, but I’m still impressed with 24 hours considering most of us would never try it :)
ctreit – WOW. I bet you heard all kinds of sad stories :( Very very unfortunate…
Simple in France – Thanks! Glad you liked it.
Kate – Yes, even scarier as a woman. I mean $hit, I’d be scared as a guy too!
MyFinancialObjectives – Glad you enjoyed it!
Shelley – Hah! I’m sure a lot of us would fail on that too….I’d be gone real quick ;)
Ciawy – Ya never know I guess, eh?
Lillie – Oh man, that blows. Great you had insurance though! That coulda been even uglier.
Grace – You’re funny :)

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22 Adam@Magical Penny April 2, 2010 at 8:00 pm

Thought provoking post.
You must have read Nev’s epic experiment? He actually did it for a few days:

http://www.nevblog.com/labels/Homeless%20Experiment.html

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23 Hank April 5, 2010 at 11:30 am

Wow! Now, that is an incredible story and experiment. I never thought about how we talk and how we think, etc. I can see his point of view though about having a different mindset.

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24 J. Money April 5, 2010 at 11:58 am

@Adam -Never heard of that blog yet but I’ll click over after posting this, thanks :)
@Hank – Want to try it out and let us know how it goes? ;)

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25 Yana July 27, 2010 at 4:08 pm

One can’t experiment with being homeless and learn much, as it is ordinarily not a real choice. For most people in that position, it is not a game, but a reality.

I can’t imagine experimenting with or being in a homeless position now, as I have built a life. I was homeless at 18, but everything I owned that I could take with me fit in a small tote/suitcase. I’d lived on saved money prior to that, renting a room, but the money ran out and I couldn’t keep work. Because I had a boyfriend who knew how to live with nothing, it was not so bad, also because we were in a pretty nice town – and I’m still in the same town. So is the boyfriend, but he is more of a transient. It just happens that right now his best situation is right in this town. Our homelessness lasted around 4 months. Nowadays, I see the homeless here and it is clear that things are different. It is much worse. There are two or three homeless camps on different sides of town, and on occasion they have crime within their community. Back in the day, we did not feel at all in danger. But there were many fewer homeless here at the time.

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26 Charlie February 21, 2011 at 6:03 pm

It’s hard to imagine how scary it would be to be homeless. But it’s true that if you face up to the worst that could happen in any given scenario it can help you weigh up whether you’re prepared to take a risk or not.
We have just decided to take the plunge and buy a house depite the fact that house prices here in the UK are continuing to fall. We considered what the worst thing would be that could happen and living back with my parents is really not that scary compared to those who face homelessness.

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