A Virtual Life

I just recently got off the street. I was able to pay down debt, resolve various personal problems and develop a portable income while homeless. The secret sauce here is that I had a virtual life.

In spite of my station in life and inability to make myself publically presentable enough for networking in person, participating in online forums allowed me to make social connections (with people who weren't total losers -- many homeless people hang out with other homeless people, getting high and entrenching their problems). Making connections online also got around other logistical barriers to participating in polite society.

Meeting people in person requires traveling to the meeting spot, having your act together enough to be at a certain place at a certain time and there are usually costs. Even just having coffee with someone means paying for coffee. This can be a hardship when you are homeless.

I also was able to earn money online and handle quite a lot of other things that would have been a logistical nightmare while homeless if I couldn't do it online. The internet was very much a lifeline for me.

I generally had a cheap tablet and sometimes a laptop, either a cheap one or something someone gifted me. I also had a library card and access to public PCs at the library. I sometimes got online using a cell phone.

I mostly plugged in at the library to get some charge on my devices and to access the Wi-Fi, but I also sometimes plugged in at Starbuck's or other places. In the last couple of years I was on the street, I was able to get electrical charge, but not internet, at a large park I frequented. This was handy on days when the library was closed for a holiday.

At one library, there was a little garden area where we could be outside, but plug in and get online using their Wi-Fi. That worked really well for us.

Library staff and other patrons often don't want homeless people there and, frankly, I didn't really want to be there. Yes, I know, you think we are smelly and revolting. Right back atcha: I don't like how so many of you people stink to high heaven of things like perfume or cigarettes, which literally make me sick because of my medical condition.

Plus, many of you people have gross, disgusting, germy habits, like blowing your nose in a crowded public space. I guess you would like to actually see the world taken over by a zombie apocalypse. Geez.

So, I often wished there had been an alternative to the library where I could have gotten:
  1. Access to electricity for free
  2. Access to Wi-Fi for free
  3. Sat there all day, as much as I liked, without being hassled (even though I had a backpack and sometimes other bags)
Here is my proposed solution: I would like to see more tables, benches, and electrical outlets in public parks. I would also like to see free Wi-Fi in public parks.

Homeless people already frequent parks. If they could get their devices charged there and get free Wi-Fi there, a park would be a better solution than a library for many homeless people.

For starters, if homeless people could more readily access electricity and Wi-Fi, they could keep themselves occupied with games and the like. Yes, I know, judgy people with money think homeless people shouldn't be playing games on the internet.

But, playing games is a vastly better way to spend your time than getting drunk or high and much less likely to lead to trouble, for you and other people. It can help keep you from going crazy. It is good distraction from your misery. Many homeless people have health issues and need downtime. Doing nothing while resting can be just crazy making.

They could also do what I did and develop an income online, use public forums to socialize and make connections and use the internet generally to research solutions to their problems. Information is power. But, if you cannot access that information because you cannot even access power (electricity), you are dead in the water.

Historically, there was little means to overcome some of the barriers that make homelessness an entrenched, hard problem to solve. The internet is game changing, but homeless people need steady access to it in order for it to do much for them. This means they need consistent, reliable access to the above three things: free electricity, free Wi-Fi and a place to hang while hanging out online.

Make those things available in the parks, perhaps as an extension of the library system, and you have a potential path out of homelessness for many people. It would allow a lot more homeless people to bootstrap it themselves instead of going through a program.

Addendum:
In March 2018, a college student contacted me because of this post. She interviewed me via email and phone. In July 2018, she notified me that the piece for which she interviewed me had been published here:

Homeless to Housed: Doreen Traylor’s virtual life helped her out of homelessness

Updated April 3, 2019

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  2. I don't have the most recent info but a couple years ago there was a push by Philadelphia and some other cities to get wifi throughout the city with local booster spots in popular parks. I'd suggest communicating with City Council members of your local city to push for this accommodation. I think you have good reasoning and it would be a good way to help bridge this oft-difficult chasm.

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    1. Thanks!
      I do recall this was something Corpus Christi wanted to do some years back. I don't know if they ever pulled it off. But, I do plan on getting involved in local stuff now that I am off the street. It is good to hear that you think the logic is sound.

      (Reply delayed due to technical difficulties.)

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