Ahhhh, the smell of urine, mold, flies and rot. It's time to go grocery shopping in the world of the Extreme Camper.
Though finding a place to sleep is in many ways the scariest part of being homeless, finding something to eat can be a real trick. But that's okay campers, ol' Humble Harv has got some tips for you.
Food banks. Well, unlike your more mundane money type bank, food banks are fairly few and far between. The one nearest to me is about a 3 mile walk. Fine as far as that goes. You are allowed one visit per week. You get about two days worth of food here IF you stretch it.
So. You could have failed elementary school math and still figured out there's going to be a short fall here.
Soup Kitchens. Like food banks, fine if you can find one but locations are limited and there may not be one in your area. There aren't any local to me.
Panhandling for food. Oddly enough, I've never seen this one done, nor have I done it, but it seems reasonable.
I've seen plenty of people panhandling in front of grocery stores, but they are invariably looking for money, not food. My hunch is that this is probably a very good, very safe method and probably carries a very high success rate. Most people will wisely hesitate to hand over money, even change, but ask a person for a sandwich and my guess is that the asshole ratio drops pretty close to zero.
Holiday spreads. Many places including some restaurants give out free food on certain holidays.(I'd like to make a point of highlighting one in Huntington Beach, Tumbleweeds, that every year opens its doors at Christmas and Thanksgiving and serves free meals to those in need. Bravo Tumbleweeds. If you live in or visit the area make a point of dropping by and supporting them with your business.) Only problem here is you'll most likely be dead if you wait between holidays to eat.
The dumpster dive. Ambiance, wide menu selection, handy locations, this is frequently where the homeless 'in-crowd' prefers to dine. Why is dumpster diving the method of choice for so many? I've given this some thought and it seems to have a couple of key psychological advantages. To understand these advantages you have to realize that the homeless person's pride and dignity are basically non-existent. Still, not even the homeless want to add humiliation to their misery.
Believe it or not, going to a food bank or panhandling for food etc. is humiliating. Certainly a better choice than starving, but the emotional cost can be pretty high.
But not dumpster diving. First off dumpster diving is a mild form of work. Secondly (at least ideally) no one is going to see your humiliation. You get to retain some sliver of dignity. Though mind you, dumpster diving in-and-of itself is not exactly what anyone would deem a self-esteem builder.
There are also risks to dumpster diving. The primary risk is that it is illegal. Yup. It's called Scavenging and it's basically a city's way of showing the homeless how much they are loved. Oddly enough, if you do the same procedure with a several million dollar boat over an old shipwreck this is called Salvaging and they make movies about you. Go figure.
One note on scavenging laws. Aside from the unstated general distaste for the homeless, one of the rationale behind these scavenging laws is that the scavengers leave a freakin' mess. Sorry camper but on that score they are frequently correct. If you are going to dumpster dive, don't mess up a good thing. If you remove anything for better access, put it back in the dumpster. In fact if you come upon a mess left by some homeless person who is less enlightened and considerate than yourself… clean up the mess. Even though you didn't make it. You aren't doing them a favor, you are doing yourself a favor. By keeping the area as clean as possible, people are far more likely to turn a blind eye to your activities. Just like the bathrooms, if you leave a mess you will quickly become unwelcome. That's why you also clean up the other slob's mess. People who find the mess don't know that it's not YOUR mess. All they know is that it IS a mess and some dumpster Cousteau did it. You can suffer for another's stupidity. It also relates to TABS (don't worry we'll be going into TABS at a later date)
Another side note here, this one a positive and one that I will go into in greater depth in the section; Scum! You, the law and society at large. The police. Now I can with very little effort go into detail about what A-holes and pseudo-nazis many of the boys in blue are… just a sad fact. But only the very worst of the worst want to bother some poor homeless schlep. Generally the same guy who goes home, gets drunk and beats his wife. Consequently you have to give them a real good reason to bother you before they come to investigate the dumpster diver. Even then I suspect that it is with some reluctance on their part. So give them their due on that score and a friendly nod on the street.
So where are all the IN spots for dumpster dining? Well the first thought that comes to many people's minds is restaurants. Actually this is not a good idea. To begin with, it's horribly messy and considering the pain in the dorsal cushion it is to keep clean, you'll need to avoid those activities that get you dirty faster. (Mind you, dumpster scuba isn't exactly clean to begin with.) Also the left-overs from restaurants are generally scrapped into a trash bag before hitting the dumpster. The result is a bag full of food goo.
Secondly, you're taking a huge chance with your health because this stuff used to be on someone else's plate and perhaps in their mouths as well. Add that to the inherent dumpster filth and do the math.
Okay, so restaurant garbage isn't the preferred location for the discriminating dumpster diver. What next? Why your friendly neighborhood grocery store of course! Ever notice all those expiration dates on food? What do you think happens to those expired goodies? Bingo! And don't get too upset about those expiration dates. The suppliers typically make the expiration dates a bit sooner than they need to.
Why? First of all it's a safety margin for them… should something go bad a little sooner than expected, they're covered. Secondly, surprise surprise, they do it in hopes that you the gullible consumer will notice the expiration date and toss out the food and then go buy more. Clever little monkeys huh?
I won't go into huge detail about food spoilage and what keeps and what doesn't, but a few words are probably in order.
Dairy (except for some dry cheeses) and poultry and fish don't last too long so be extra cautious with these. Beef and pork are only a little better. However there is an exception to this rule.
Anything which is heavily salted will also have a long life. (Salting and smoking are perhaps the oldest methods of preserving food.) Same goes for pickled products.
Always keep an eye out for canned goods. Many stores will throw away cans with dents or missing labels. Of course with missing labels you don't know what's in the can either, and yes it could just as easily be pet food. But hey, Mamma always said that life was like a can from a dumpster… err.. um.. or something like that.
Eggs get thrown out in huge quantities because if one gets broken, the whole dozen is pretty much shot as far as sales goes. Another thing about eggs is that they keep very well. Even unrefrigerated eggs keep for a very long time. You'll also find lots of day old bread etc. It might be less than its peak of flavor but still safe and edible. Same goes for our friend the stale cookie. Yum.
More dining options for the dwelling challenged.
Now here's a fairly good idea if your scruples aren't exactly operating at 100%… and if you are starving, that has a way of happening so don't feel too bad. First off I have to assume that you are a practitioner of Homeless Chic. This one won't work otherwise. Many of the larger hotels have meeting and banquet rooms. More often than not, there is at least a continental breakfast of some sort laid out prior to these meetings and available at breaks. Hmmm just what the extreme camper needs to start out his or her morning right. After all, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Actually, come to think of it, any meal is the most important meal of the day if you are homeless.
To make this work you need to be able to blend in, so make sure you are HC and don't make the mistake of trying to stuff your pockets or a bag with goodies. Just do what the natives are doing and then skeedaddle. (That's French for "leave bozo".) The key as always, is to blend in. Become one with the buffet. Ommmmmmmmmmm. If everyone is wearing a monkey suit, you are probably out of luck though...
By the way, this maneuver is sometimes available for lunch and rarely, dinner. Usually there is a schedule posted in the hotel lobby to aid you in your dining plans. Thoughtful of them huh?
A variation on this theme is to crash the wedding reception… usually this works out okay, only problem is that like Holiday dining, these events tend to be very spread out in terms of times and locations…(mostly weekends) sometimes the happy couple will be considerate enough to publish their event in the local newspapers to make it easier for you to attend. As always HC and blending in are key to making this a joyous occasion for you as well as the beautiful bride and her stunned victim.
Large parties, BBQs and corporate picnics also work much the same way and it's even easier to blend in…
Another interesting strategy here; I saw one guy who sort of sat in the corner of a fast food joint and waited for a patron to finish and leave without dumping their tray. He would then slide over and finish off any remnants. Functional and reasonably safe. Unfortunately, he didn't have the benefit of Humble Harv's wisdom in being Homeless Chic. In other words he looked and smelled something awful. Consequently it wasn't long before some patron or another complained and the management gave him the heave-ho.
Humble Harv's rating: 7.8 on the plan, 3.0 on the execution.
I live (or exist rather, living mostly includes having a home) in So. Cal. One little stunt we used to pull in my university daze (just for fun mind you) was to slip onto a location shoot of some movie…. Craft Services almost always puts out a great spread and it's so easy to blend in with the crowd. Naturally, this isn't of much use to you if you live in other parts of the country.
The point is to put your pointy little noggin to some other use than a hat rack. Think of any time or place where you got to strap on the feed bag for free. I'm certain you'll be able to come up with some ideas that I haven't mentioned here.
Now, like any hardy pioneer, you will sometimes want to actually cook your food. Repeat after me: Mr. Mircowave is my friend. Nuke it till it glows baby.
There are plenty of microwave ovens available for public usage. Think libraries, snack bars, convenience stores etc. Many of these locations also have plastic spoons and forks available for you too. (More on equipping yourself for your Urban Adventure in a later section.)
Not an accomplished microwave chef? Many parks have small barbecue facilities. Yippie! You should already know that plain old hot water can often be found in restrooms as well.
Still, despite all the things that have been thoughtfully provided for your comfort and convenience, the fact is you had better get used to eating things straight out of the package. Oh well, just one of the sacrifices we have to make to experience the thrill of homelessness.
All right you homeless Epicurean, hopefully I've given you some ideas to chew on (oh, am I funny or what?) in the meantime good luck and Bon Appetite!
(That's Greek for "Just scrape off the moldy bits.")
Our next topic will be TABS and Scouting.
or "Look at me, I'm invisible!"
Till then, Take Care
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