You know, a couple times a year, I am asked to speak before groups of homeless youth. Whole rooms full of homeless youth, even.
And usually, I’ll do it.
I am asked to speak before rooms full of homeless youth because I am seen, in some quarters, as a formerly homeless youth success story.
Yeah, I know. Me. A success!
I am seen in these quarters as a formerly homeless youth success story because I used to be homeless. From the age of twelve all the way to age eighteen, I was. But I am not homeless anymore. Now I’m just formerly homeless. Now I’ve got somewhere to live and two jobs and three academic degrees and a busload of kids and a blog that gets dozens of page views a month.
A success. So today’s homeless youth obviously need to hear all about me.
Every time I am asked to speak before rooms full of homeless youth, the People in Charge hand me guidelines on what I can say and what I can’t.
I can be honest but not too honest. I can inspire but not aid and abet. I cannot, for example, give tips to the kids as to how they might evade the People in Charge. I cannot do that even though it is exactly what the kids really want and need to hear. I cannot do that even though I’d be really, really good at it.
Why, I bet I could teach a kick-ass, semester-long course on “How to Be a Feral Child in the City.”
People would come from all over to take my class. There’d be homeless kids and kids who were thinking about it. Moms trying to figure out where their kids had gone. Recent divorcees starting over. Bearded survivalists looking for ideas. Writers and social workers.
And cops. Always cops. Probably a whole lot of cops.
I’d tell them it’s not an easy thing, being a homeless thirteen year old. It’s harder than it sounds. I’d tell them you can’t be seen during school hours and you can’t be seen at night. You don’t have a home but you can’t look like you don’t have a home.
And if you require medical treatment – even once! – then buddy, the jig is up. Even if you eat rancid meat or break your leg jumping from a third story window. Even if your stomach’s been getting bigger for nine months. Even if, yeah, that green thumb really does look infected to me.
You’re just going to have to suck it up and pull that molar yourself with some pliers in an alley – if you can find yourself some pliers and an alley – because if you go to a hospital, here come the social workers and here come the cops and here come the, you know, People in Charge. Teachers and counselors and foster dads, oh my.
I’d tell them how I’ve seen it happen.
Not to me, of course, because I was really, really good at it. I’ve got a weird crooked finger and a pupil that’s partially paralyzed but still. Really, really good at it.
And if the People in Charge would only let me, I’d give these kids my lesson on how to avoid the cops, which is important because homeless youth have got to learn how to avoid the cops because homeless youth are going to be breaking the law much of the time.
Like every single day.
Trespassing. Theft. Truancy. Prostitution. Vagrancy. Panhandling. Breaking and entering. Fraud. Public intoxication and drug possession and fishing without a license. Maybe it will not be all of those every single day but it will be some of those. Every single day.
If I could do my own course, my course would be killer. Amazing. My course would be one of a kind. Way better than Algebra or Geology II.
But for now, I’ll follow their guidelines when I speak. I’ll say, “Regardless of what you do in life, you’ll do fine if you do this: First, find two people in the world whose opinions you trust. Two people from very different walks of life. Even if it’s just a librarian and that weird chick from the bus stop, find two. Then, before you make any major life decision, ask them both about it and compare their answers.”
I’ll say, “That’s what’s always worked for me.”
I’ll say, “Well, that and meeting rich girls on the internet.”
Generic advice, sure, but helpful. Honest but not too honest. I mean, I sort of want to be asked back again to speak to next year’s rooms full of homeless youth.
"You've Got Mail" just came on the CMT channel on TV as I started to read this, which I thought must be fateful, because it matched this "How To Disappear Completely" title perfectly.ReplyDelete
Well, how have you disappeared completely in all these years?!
I'm not sure what you were trying to say. I don't really give a fuck.Delete
Have a nice day.
Being invisible would be a wonderful thing. Even if homeless.ReplyDelete
I was one of the People In Charge for awhile. I did not want to be in charge and I do not miss it.
Happy Belated Birthday, Katy
Thank you, bj.Delete
I try my hardest not to be in charge of anything. Mostly, people only want to know who is "in charge" when they are trying to find the right person to yell at.
I've been doing things my way for a while now and it seems like I get yelled at a lot less.
I would love to hear your unencumbered TED Talk. I mean, I can't even wrap my brain around how you're alive. A book about those times would be awesome. Also, don't tell kids about the blogging part, it may encourage them to remain on the streets and avoid the internet.ReplyDelete
Fortunately, most of today's homeless kids were about 5 last time blogging was relevant.Delete
We're in the museum right next to the unsolicited AOL CDs you used to get in the mail and those digi-pets that you would put on key chains and had to pretend to feed.
If someone is going to be homeless I would think they should try to do so in an area that has good weather. Homeless in winter in Minneapolis sounds like a bad idea. I'd go with Miami. Or maybe in the Southwest where it doesn't get very cold or rain much. Rain and cold would both suck.ReplyDelete
It is a little too hot and humid in Houston to just be outside all of the time. There is good air conditioning in libraries and some health clinics, though.Delete
Wouldn't want to live outside in Chicago. Or Buffalo.
Been there, done that, got the dirty T-shirtReplyDelete
Best advise I can give is to hang out around the docks...
Popeye types avoid the "People in Charge"
first aid stations
pick up odd jobs
easy to pick up rides
Hand print on index cards, something like...
"To productively and efficiently utilize my life skills, experience, and training to successfully achieve excellence with integrity, responsibility, and moral uprightness employing boldness and confidence with an unwavering focus on the goal of obtaining superior profitability regardless of prevailing economic conditions."
Back in the late Nineties, I thought about going down to Galveston to live, actually.Delete
But young girl hanging out down by the docks has very different connotations than, say, YOU.
I'm very domesticated now, anyway. I almost seem like everybody else.
I'm a Woman and I Hitchhike Around the WorldDelete
According to Tom Robbins, having an extremely large thumb is a big plus if you're a female hitchhiker...Delete
Great read Katy. And some great advice too. Hard to believe but I too was homeless back in the mid 90's after a divorce. But, that said, which I just did, I managed to follow the unwritten rules of being homeless. Keeping a low profile and appearing that I was not homeless. Worked out for me. Eventually pulled myself out of that situation after 7 months of saving and working two jobs. Now look at me. Writing a blog, three books, and causing hate and discontent for Internet trolls. : )ReplyDelete
Your story is pretty cool, from what I've heard of it. You were a cab driver for a while, right?Delete
From Homeless Cabbie to Blog God in two easy steps.
Blog God......geez Katy...I wish...: )Delete
If I quit my job and locked myself in my room 24/7, I STILL couldn't come up with a blog a day on a different topic like you usually manage.Delete
I can't imagine living as a homeless person, especially as a homeless child. Your classes SHOULD be awesome and uncensored and Feral Child in the City 101 at a university somewhere... Of course, feral homeless kids aren't all that adept at getting into college classes. But then, THAT'S WHAT YOUR CLASS IS FOR!ReplyDelete
I'm pretty sure I would have learned more in one session of your classroom than I ever did in college.
You should make your speech again, only this time youtube it to the world. I imagine even homeless kids find a way to see videos from time to time.
You'd be rich and famous. Or more rich and more famous. Famous-er, even.
And we'd get to hear the speech you'd give 'em if the People in Charge weren't throttling the messenger.
My problem is that I have a tough time not getting bored with a single topic. I believe this blog proves that - I generally can't even finish my two-part stories.
Second class, I'd be likely to say, "I've decided to make this course about the history of prog rock," or "Today, we're going to talk about anarcho-syndicalism!"
DENNIS: I told you. We're an anarchosyndicalist commune. We takeDelete
it in turns to act as a sort of executive officer for the week.
DENNIS: But all the decision of that officer have to be ratified
at a special biweekly meeting.
ARTHUR: Yes, I see.
DENNIS: By a simple majority in the case of purely internal affairs,--
ARTHUR: Be quiet!
Yes! Anarcho-syndicalism's one shining moment in pop culture!Delete
Thank God for Monty Python.
Red would never have survived as a homeless teenager. Of course when Red was a teenager, the only homeless people you ever saw were the literal "hobos" who camped out just north of the MoPac tracks on the edge of the Hill Country. The one or two times Red came across one of them while wandering in the woods, it almost scared the sh*t out of me. How can we really help the homeless teens? Is there something specific that a non-PIC can do to make a difference?ReplyDelete
My circumstances were sort of unusual, and I'd probably recommend anyone else in my situation go into the system. I mean, it would be safer, I guess. My parents died and there was no family around at the time willing to step in.Delete
Most teens who are homeless are homeless because of either abuse at home or issues about coming out to parents, I think. And I don't know how you fix the foster care system.
Having more places where people can get a free hot lunch no quesitons asked would be a start, though.
Texas sucks at mental health care, and that's a big homelessness factor overall. Counties pay for mental health care, and in many areas, if they pick up someone with obvious mental issues off the street, they will DRIVE THEM TO THE COUNTY LINE and make them the next county's problem.
You could always write an allegory - for example, a homeless mouse trying to make it through a world of predators including rats and shrews who are "looking out for her best interests"; let all the things you say need to happen, happen to that mouse. Then hand it out for free among your lecture attendees.ReplyDelete
If I can manage to work nudity and maybe some vampires into it, somone might even read what I wrote! Nude Homeless Vampire Mice: The future of young adult fiction.Delete
A couple of steamy sex scenes would do it. In dripping purple prose.Delete
The Ted Talk would take off .ReplyDelete
When did you cut your hair ?
Almost a month ago now.Delete
You are my ONLY online contact to notice, incidentally. :)
I tend to enjoy reading the things that you choose to write about. I'd sign up for that class but I'm probably too old to be accepted.ReplyDelete
You're never too old to go feral.
Maybe you could write a pamphlet of all the really useful stuff that you know and pass it out when THEY are not looking. I agree that the whole truth would help them more.ReplyDelete
I'm mostly just bragging here about actually knowing something about a topic.Delete
It's this and prog rock. Any other topic and I am completely in the dark.
Katy. What Squat said, except do a Ted Talk. Your topics are perfect for that media. Which reminds me. Want me to ship you some Black Widows? I can collect a shoe box full and pack them on ice. Saw this fat sucker on a funky web in the corner of the yard when Yoda and I were marking our territory yesterday. We're on the second pass since moving in.ReplyDelete
Little puppy hiked his leg and, unknowingly, peed on the spider. Pissed her off. She started vibrating and shaking her funky web to shed the droplets, and I think it likely, to scare us shitless. Ever noticed how Black Widow webs are somewhat disorganized? Maybe it's their cannibalism. I read somewhere that cannibalism can cause cognitive dysfunctions, disassociations.
Then again, if cannibalism is wrong, God would not have created it, right? If that's true, then homeless kids must be a reflection of God's love as well. Might should stop before finding the need to say, "If that's how he rolls, fuck your God."
So instead, I'll say, "Fuck Walmart!"
Makes me wonder what all of those kids with birth defects and childhood illnesses did to make God so mad.Delete
It must have been pretty awful.
Well, I had a funny comment I was going to toss in here, but really it just makes me sad to think of thirteen-year old you, or any year age you, or anybody of any age, trying to get by on the streets. I've never been homeless but I can only imagine that even if you don't want to live in a "home" per se, you might still like a safe and quiet place to sleep every night.ReplyDelete
I suppose one could go all inspirational and say "Well, my experiences have made me who I am, and I wouldn't be the person I am today had I not gotten by as homeless person for so many years" but to me that sort of thing always sounds like trying to pry out the silver lining. Maybe you disagree.
But you should find a way to share your tips with the kids. Maybe a series of You Tube videos? Underground pamphlets?
Yeah, I don't mean to sound overly dramatic, but I think it's probably the defining experience of my life. When i think about it now, it's always like, "Oh wow. That actually happened."Delete
feral children deserve way more credits.ReplyDelete
When society crumbles, we're going to be the ones with the skills to survive!Delete
As long as it's not a zombie apocalypse.