My Last Day of Homelessness





I apologize for the poor quality of this photo; as far as photos go, it certainly was not one of the best ever.

It was however, one of the best days of my life for sure. The photo was taken as I was leaving the Civic Center for the last time as a homeless man. It was a moment in the history of my life or perhaps even a snapshot suspended in time between a life of living with and without a permanent place to call home.

Seconds after the photo was snapped, I turned and grabbed the handle on my rolling suitcase and walked about four blocks to my new apartment.

When I arrived at the apartment complex, I stopped and tried each of several keys on the ring that I had been given, eventually finding the key to unlock the iron gate to gain access inside the three story concrete structure in Downtown Santa Ana.

As I walked down the concrete and steel second floor catwalk my eyes focused on the next door ahead looking for the number 214. When I arrived at the door I once again fumbled with the keys and as I unlocked and twisted the doorknob open, I made a quick glance in both directions as if I were suddenly feeling a flash of guilt for entering a place where I should not be.

With the door now open I quickly stepped inside and wasted no time closing the door shut behind me and locking the deadbolt solid. Out of habit I went to the vertical blinds in the front window and peaked out as if to look and see if anyone had noticed me entering the apartment.

Next I stood in the same place and did a visual sweep from left to right taking in the very first sight of my new home. I quickly made a tour of the place, first thing coming to mind was that the kitchen was so small and then my next thought was trying to remember the last time I even cooked a meal in a kitchen and I could not remember.

Next, I was disappointed to find that the door to the bathroom was inside the one small bedroom. I had an apartment just like that when I was 18. If you had guests stay overnight you had to expect that they might need to use that bathroom in the middle of the night or it could be embarrassing if someone visiting needed to use the bathroom and your bedroom was a little messy or cluttered. I quickly erased those thoughts from my mind telling myself to worry about things like that at another time.

I walked back out into the common space which I guessed would be the living room, but not enough space for a dining room table and chairs.

“What am I worried about?,” I asked myself, “I don’t even have a table and chairs yet, or a sofa, coffee table or anything.”

But it really didn’t matter all that much to me at that moment. All of those things that I did or did not have meant nothing just as long as everything that I could see before me, belonged to me.

I slid my backpack off over my shoulders and dragged my suitcase to a spot in the living room and sat on the floor resting my back against the wall and noticed that the floor was not carpet as I had expected, but that dated white tile with speckles that you see in laundromats and it stretched across the living room to the front door and on into the kitchen. My head snapped quickly back to my left at the open bedroom door and I was relieved to find that at least there was carpet in the bedroom. I smiled thinking about jumping out of bed on a cold morning and my feet finding warm carpet rather than cold tile.

In a moment, I caught myself being really silly.

“There is nothing wrong with this place at all, actually it is just perfect,” I thought. So, I just sat there in silence.

I sat totally quiet and still for about 10 minutes and then thought about going to the store. There was nothing to eat or drink there at the apartment, but I kept putting off leaving, instead choosing to enjoy the peace and quiet for as long as it would last, but completely expected that to change at any moment when perhaps someone might come crashing loudly through the front door invading the silent space that I was occupying at that moment. But nothing happened. I just sat paralyzed by the peace and quiet and never making it to the store before nodding off to sleep. It might have been the best night of sleep that I had in years.


Living in a homeless encampment is to live a life full of chaos and noise at all hours of the day or night. At any given moment you could be subjected to a sudden and very loud emotional outburst by one of your homeless neighbors. The outbursts often come with little or no warning and can sometimes be violent.

There is kind of a sixth sense that homeless people develop as a skill of surviving homelessness. It has to do with always being in a certain state of readiness in the event that violence does erupt, even if you are sleeping in the middle of the night. If there is an extended period of peace and quiet in a homeless encampment you can expect that it will be broken at any moment. If there is another homeless person acting out while screaming or yelling, you should be prepared to protect yourself or someone you care about because extreme, spontaneous and random loud behavior are often accompanied by violence in a homeless encampment.

When you live in a home, you walk through the door, close it and lock it and you can feel pretty confident that you can safely and securely rest without serious threat of becoming a victim of violence.

When you are homeless, you don’t have that luxury, that ability to pull the door shut and lock it behind you. You are always vulnerable or open to violent attack. Privacy is another issue regarding living homeless. You never have it.

When you live in a home, you can walk around in your underwear or even naked and as long as doors are locked and curtains drawn. You can have sex and feel comfortable that nobody will interrupt you in midstream. That is unless you have children.

But, I can guarantee you that when you are homeless, the minute you are butt naked trying to take care of your business, someone will be right there in an awkward invasion of your privacy. Everything that you do that you don’t always want other people to know about you or you don’t want them to hear, you have to do in public space when you are homeless.

At home, if you get in an argument with your wife, you can close the doors and windows. You have a better chance that the argument will be private and nobody else will hear it. She might even throw a plate or a cup at you and it might break something, but when you wake up in the morning you have a little make-up sex and anything that was said the night before is kept secret.

To have an argument with your wife in a homeless encampment, is for the entertainment of everyone living in the encampment. My wife could say some of the nastiest and most hurtful things during an argument, but give her an audience and next thing I’m literally the butt of every joke in the camp.

After the argument quieted down and we laid down to sleep, make-up sex would be awkward because people would be listening expecting to hear it. The next morning was always embarrassing when people would see me kissing the same lips that called me a sissy and a coward just the night before.

When you are homeless, every aspect of your life is played out in front of an audience. There is a reason why you witness so much drama in a homeless encampment and it is because homeless people get a lot of practice acting out in front of an audience.


Anyway, I just wanted to say how much I appreciate the opportunity to be able to have a place to call home once again. It has changed my life so much. I don’t think that I could have been able to be housed again without help. So, that help is truly a blessing to me. But, it’s painful for me to see others suffer, especially since I know so many people that were homeless when I was still out there. I just hope that others will be blessed in the same ways and be given the same opportunities that I was given and I hope and pray that they too will be given a chance to start a new life with a permanent place to call home.


The Birth of the Homeless Movement in Orange County

About Tim Houchen