THE UNDETECTABLE HOMELESS
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 A Weekly Cyberlog

It’s now July (2004), and I’ve been “On The Road Again” [Thanks, Willie Nelson!] for a month.
I’ve been through 7 states and am now in the 8th.  I wander off the highways to country roads...
too many of them dirt and gravel...and then back again to large intra-and interstate Rest Areas
where there are means for living comfortably in and out of RVs, motor homes, campers, SUVs,
station wagons, cars, vans, and trucks.  This year more than ever in the 7 years that I have been
traveling for at least 5 months during the summer, I am encountering more people living out of
their vehicles.  In the past, I have concentrated on the women I can easily meet in ladies rooms,
grocery stores, libraries, and malls.  This year, I am seeing more men in what I call daytime
“women’s world.”  I can’t make the same immediate connection with conversation in the men’s
rooms, so I have become more assertive at beginning “chat” at the Rest Areas and look more
carefully at the separated areas in which trucks have parked.  I also drive through truck stops
just to see if there are the smaller vehicles which are obviously not long distance haulers.  I find
that men feel very comfortable in an RV pulling into a truck stop next to a moving van or large
flatbed and women feel more at ease in the designated areas for trucks at the Rest Areas.  It
makes sense since the men can chat with those drivers better than women–who usually have
nothing to talk about (e.g., sports, beers, and women’s looks).  Guy-talk makes for the same
kind of connection that women have in a mall or grocery store.

If you haven’t read last year’s Cyberlogs (which now follow the 2004 entries), I’ll repeat some of
the basics: I am searching for people who, for any reason (e.g., loss of job and lack of ability to
find another, widowhood without savings, bad divorce settlement, low Social Security benefits,
or financial failure in the stock market), find that their income does not now allow for the “old
home,” an apartment, or even a decent room with all of the needed extras (utilities, insurance,
etc.) and have found that living in a vehicle (or other alternative housing, which will also be dis-
cussed at length) is a better substitute than going on Welfare and Food Stamps.  Unfortunately,
identifying oneself to a government or private agency almost always leads to a downward spiral
of lifestyle with very little opportunity to move back into the mainstream.  Self-sufficiency is a
“dignity-keeper” and naturally offers a better mode of living; most people have some kind of part-
time money-making tactic, as in flea market dealers and temp employees. Some even use their
laptops for selling on eBay–having picked up a good buy at a flea market and know that it is
worth quite a bit more.  In fact, not having a laptop these days is unusual, for they are available,
used, “everywhere.”  Of course one must have an ISP if using the internet or email, but libraries
allow for free hotmail–and sending off a CD-RW if a person becomes a writer (travel, short
stories, etc.).  While vehicle dwellers often move around the country, many remain in the
neighborhoods in which they led previous work-world or homemaker lives.  Women are more
likely to prefer their own neighborhoods if they offer opportunities for keeping friendships,
attending local churches and groups, and finding temporary employment.
 

This year I am meeting more undetectable homeless people who are over 55 and have a definite
schedule for activities, whether it be around religious groups (usually bingo nights and Sunday
socializing) or specific hobbies, such as belonging to a musical society–and no one knows they
are homeless, living out of a vehicle.  Little lies cover a lot of secrets: “My apartment building
went condo and I’m looking for another place,” or, in the case of women living in the same
neighborhood as always, “My house has black mold and is going to be uninhabitable for some
time, so I’m just staying with friends until I figure out what to do.”  Now, all of these undetectable
homeless people who succeed in this innocent deception, make sure that they look extremely
neat, clean, and well-dressed.  Drip-dry pre-wrinkled silk has always been women’s best friend.
Men are wearing casual materials which are also drip-dry, such as cotton and seersucker, and
they can wash clothing in hotel bathrooms or at the Rest Areas--just as women have always done.
 In the winter, both women and men can just cover up with washable cardigans and slacks; it
seems that dry cleaning is really not a necessity any longer!  Men have always been suspect
when wandering a mall or grocery store during the day, and without shaving each day, they tend
to look shabby.  These days, once a beard has grown beyond a stubble, a trim with scissors is
all that is needed.  Men have learned how to cut their own hair, and women have always been
able to pull theirs back with a pretty bow or headband.  Fortunately, men do not need make-up,
but a free spritz of lotion is just as available as women’s fragrances in department stores.
Women, of course, have always  known how to use every free sample anywhere.  Undetectable
homeless men have learned from women....

Urban and rural living are obviously different.  One can blend into the environment in an urban
setting, while one stands out as “not belonging” in rural areas.  Consequently, each person has
a persona that fits.  You will read about their strategies.

Please remember that what you read here is just a “blip” from what is usually a very long conver-
sation.  Once admitted that one is playing a role–and that is exactly what being an undetectable
homeless person is doing–“flooding” occurs.  That is what psychologists call telling just about
everything that is relevant to an explanation of why one has to live an alternative lifestyle.  If they
have only a few personal items left, you can be sure that there are papers that prove that a main-
stream life was ruined by some kind of victimization or non-reversible error.  Some are court
papers and others may be proof that employment was terminated by layoffs or stock/retirement
fund losses.  So, be aware that when you see four elipses (....), I have left out material and just
continued with what I find pertinent.  Each story you read here could be a chapter in a book...or
even an entire book!  This may be cyberspace, but I doubt if anyone wants to read a novel in
this type of entry.  If you do, then that interviewee should be writing an autobiography...and I’ll
suggest it if possible!
 

I use a visible tape recorder when I can.  If I think the person is not willing to divulge information
that is obviously hurtful (to herself or others), I’ll keep the recorder in an open-but-not-visible purse
or bag.  I don’t like to use a visible recorder for obvious reasons: whether it’s tension or paying
attention to what is being told, a storyteller is conscious of that recorder–and the ease of “just
talking” is altered.  Sometimes I have to paraphrase an entire interview. I’ll tell you. And then
there are the times when I’m not able to use a recorder...as when I’m beachcombing and have
nothing with me except a plastic bag, or at a racetrack and the sounds are too loud for recording.
I have taken shorthand notes in restaurants on napkins and tablecloths when confronted with a
story I want to keep but the recorder is in my car...or I’ve run out of tape.  I find myself in all kinds
of places where I can talk to someone I just know is an undetectable homeless person.  I’ve “been
there, done that,” so while I’m not pretending to be psychic, I do recognize “the signs of living
invisibly.”

SO HERE WE GO WITH THE 2004 MONTHS OF TRAVEL AND LIFE STORIES:

I’m going to begin with three personal experience stories which I find to be “unusual” in that I don’t
hear these themes too often.  Paul says he is in his late 60s, but he appears to be in his early 50s.
He is tan, slim, and muscled from working in the sun all day on the tiny house he has built from
materials [I saw wood, glass, metals, tiles and used rubber tire strips] that he said he culled from
two town dumps.  His home now rests on a creek as a houseboat.  I spotted it between trees and
old houses as I drove down a country road.  I stopped, backed up, and simply snooped.  Paul
arose like Venus from a pile of crab shells, crabbing pots, and other salt water litter as I
approached through ragged bushes.  I asked about the houseboat–a most odd-looking collection
of materials.
 

“I don’t have no experience with buildin’ houses, but I been woodworkin’ for years creatin’ models
of just about anythin’ that interested me.  Like World War II planes and ships–you know, an’ buildin’
skiffs for my boys....I got all kindsa tools and a shed.  But I needed to build a house for myself when
my wife got our double-wide in the divorce....I had odd jobs for years after I left the service....I get
some disability pay, but I’m an alcoholic and can’t stay on any job for long.  I get bored and then I
drink....I went scroungin’ along the roads for broken down houses–and wood I could carry away...
and then through town dumps and found enough stuff to build a–ahh–you’d call it a crazy shack–but
it’s my house....When I finished buildin’ it, I realized I couldn’t afford land to put it on.  My ex had let
me use the back acre to build on, but she didn’t want me livin’ there.  She gave me a couple chairs,
a table, pots ‘n stuff, and kerosene lamps and stove...and I got my sleepin’ bag.  I felt all set, but I
wasn’t....And then a drinkin’ buddy started a’laughin’ when he said I could put it on the water by his
pier.  It weren’t funny; it was a heaven sent idea.  I got to a library and read books on how to put the
house on, well, somethin’ like pontoons and a flat bottomed wooden float.  I got my pals to get the
house up on a flatbed truck and we drug [Is this really a word?  I keep hearing it in the South!] it to
the creek and onto its floating foundation....We nailed, hot-glued, cemented, and roped it down
good, and now I got me my own home.  Hell: no taxes and I can make any repairs.  I already
survived two storms and not one leak.  I swayed a lot, but I don’t get seasick....The roof is sheet
metal and I love the sounda rain on it....I’m workin’ now on a model that I can sell.  Seems to me
that a lota folk needin’ houses could use this sorta buildin’.” (Paul, 2004, near the border of MD
and DE and I’m not sure which state I was in!)
 

I asked if I could take a photo, and he immediately moved to stand between me and the houseboat.
He refused, saying that others would copy the idea and he really believes that he can [my word]
“patent” it.  I can respect that; I wouldn’t sneak back and take a photo.  I can draw what he created,
but don’t know how to do that here!  I think the most interesting part of the construction is the way he
jammed a double line of tire strips and brown beer bottle bottoms across the top of the houseboat,
just under the roof, for sunlight.  He had two windows that I could see between the wood and metal.
One had panes and the other was just plain glass inserted and held with what looked like plaster
“grasping” clumps.  I doubt that it is a patent-able house, but certainly other people have invented
personalized houses.  I am, of course, familiar with very expensive houseboats, especially in the
Santa Monica, CA marina and in WA state, where the rents for beautiful houseboats are high and
the “property” IS taxable!

My next life-story related is one that disturbs me, for this is the third time I have heard of this problem,
and I have NO way of assisting.  It involves Indian affairs, and the first place I know I will NOT receive
any decent suggestions is the Bureau of Indian Affairs.  I need the advice of a Native American who
is widely knowledgeable regarding tribal rules...and how to “angle around” them!  In last year’s
Cyberlog, I related Nayah’s dilemma, in which she describes herself as an inter-tribal misfit.  Valerie
is experiencing a similar problem.  I saw a long line of stalled traffic ahead on I-84 in CT, so I got off
the highway and headed for Foxwoods, the very successful Indian casino complex.  I discovered an
undetectable homeless woman living in that area last year and wondered if I could spot her bright
red SUV in one of the parking lots. I didn’t and since Foxwoods is not an inexpensive place to
traverse, I drove back to the highway and pulled into a large Rest Area.  I parked next to an old
conversion van where two women were involved in an animated conversation (OK; they were
arguing!).  The passenger-side woman got out, slammed the door, and stalked off to sit at a wooden
bench-table in the forested area.  When the driver’s door opened, I saw piles of “things” stacked
right up to the back of the front seat.  My suspicion was confirmed afer a brief chat with the driver. [I
always show my book: SHADOW WOMEN: HOMELESS WOMEN’S SURVIVAL STORIES
(Sheed & Ward, 1990) immediately and identify myself as once having belonged to this unique
group. Women trust me.] The high cheek bones, tint of her skin, and the sleek black braid down her
back led me to suspect that she was a Native American.  I admired her silver rings and necklace of
turquoise, beads, and silver, and asked what tribe she belonged to.  Isabella identified herself as
Piute, but said that she hated Utah and wasn’t interested in living there.  She frowned and said she
wished that it was that easy for her friend, Valerie, nodding toward the woman who was now
holding her head in her hands at the bench-table.  I said that I couldn’t help but notice that they
seemed to be at odds about something and hoped it wasn’t serious.
 


“Oh, it’s serious alright.  Valerie has been living in a commune in NC with a now ex husband, not
Indian–him, I mean–and Valerie’s tribal roots are in the northeast.  But she is a descendant of two
tribes and doesn’t have the proper roll proof to be accepted at either reservation–or even by the
tribal leaders who don’t seem to believe the stories she tells about her great-grandfathers and her
mother’s side of two conflicting tribes.  I am full-blooded and have my clans and families all in a
row.  But she has been told that she isn’t wanted unless she can prove her bloodline....She was
orphaned when she was a baby....and adopted by a couple of white people in California.  Near
San Diego, up into the mountains....When she was older, she ran away, trying to get to people
she felt related to, and it has taken years for her to get this far....I met her when she was in a shelter
for battered women–in North Carolina–and I was volunteering....I had this van and we discovered
that we both wanted to go to the northeast coast for the summer’s cool weather....We’ve gotten
this far and now she’s having doubts about trying to belong to either of two tribes in the Wabanaki
nation.  She already has a letter saying she can’t prove her bloodline....She wants to go back to
the commune, even though she was raped there and the ex–now ex–didn’t do anything to protect
her.  She got pregnant and had to have an abortion–which she really doesn’t believe in...but she
can’t take care of herself and knew she couldn’t take care of a baby.  She wasn’t going to go for
an adoption since she knows what that can be like....She wants to go to college and have a career.
 It just doesn’t seem to be possible for her.  Unless a tribe would take her in and she could get a
scholarship.  She’s really very bright....”

I asked if Valerie would talk to me.  Isabella shrugged and said I could try.  I walked over to the
wooded area and did the “hello; may I sit down and talk to you” bit, and Valerie just looked up,
scrutinized me, and mumbled something about “Who cares?”  I told her that I had spoken to
Isabella and thought I’d like to hear about her problem with the tribal connections.

“I don’t care who knows about it.  I’ve told everyone.  No; I’ve complained to everyone.  Why should
I be punished for not being able to prove my direct heritage lines?  I want to join the people I belong
to and you’d think I’m some white woman–oh, I’m sorry; I didn’t mean... [I interrupted her with the
comment that I wasn’t insulted.]  We’re all just passing along this awful road of life, but I seem to
find every pothole....Why wouldn’t the leaders want me?  I can help with some of the problems and
I can farm and babysit and heck, work somehow to help other women.  I’ve been through it all....If I
could get to college and have a degree, then I could become an activist for Indian rights–especially
for women who sometimes don’t have any chances for getting off of the reservation.  Maybe my
own people don’t have a reservation and are just living in terrible poverty outside of the life white
people can have....I just want a place to call home among my own....”
(Valerie, age about 32, 2004 in CT)
 

She got up and walked farther into the woods, and finally I went back to Isabella and told her about
our conversation.  Again, she shrugged and told me that if I really cared about Indian affairs, I should
find someone who has “push-and-pull” (her words) and DO something.  Unfortunately, I just don’t
have those kinds of contacts....
 


Every year I stay for a couple of days in Sturbridge, MA and travel the few miles to Brimfield.  It’s
a beautiful drive despite signs of some development, still mostly wooded and with lots of fields and
some kind of lake (with a name that I never seem to remember).  But in-between the open spaces
are a few homes (some which sell “antiques”) and some places that are good for camping beside
the road: dirt with parking area and a good spot for a tent and goods to sell that are not right in
Brimfield, but on the way.  Brimfield itself has so much acreage devoted to flea marketing that the
area is widely known for its season of many popular shows.  Many years ago, one family began
the flea market business there and it has spread to several “companies” which garner huge crowds.
I have met several undetectable homeless women who are making a living “doing the fleas,” but
this summer I came across a couple who have found an innovative way of doing business while not
spending much money on “rent” for the long season.  Doug and Pam sat down with me after I
stopped to see their merchandise by the roadside.
 


DOUG: “We do Brimfield–as many of the shows that we can manage since a lot of them are at the
same times on different fields–and the money carries us through the summer months so we can
get to Florida and do the same there in the winter.  We have a regular...”

PAM: “It’s a routine now, you see, and much better than the boring jobs we had  in Boston.  I was
a dental assistant with a minimum wage salary and...”

DOUG: “She was bored, but I was ready for a sanitarium.  Insurance sales.  We aren’t married, bu
t no one cares about that these days, so we thought of a way to have some fun and still have a
business of our own.  We had both seen Brimfield and like to collect things, so...”

PAM: “So we came to check things out as a business, and that was terrific, but rents–the few there
are for the summer–were sky high.  And we knew we couldn’t afford renting.  Plus, there is a cost
for renting tables and tents for the shows, and it’s a necessary since it rains a lot...”

DOUG: “We’ve seen people just muddied-out with all of their merchandise ruined and we couldn’t
take a chance on that.  We have good collectibles and some interesting antiques.  One day we
were just driving in the wrong direction and saw something that gave us an idea...”

PAM: “Gave YOU an idea!  All you think about is sex...”

DOUG: “Maybe.  What’s wrong with that?  But this was about saving money!  We’d heard someone
talking about living in a nudist camp in Florida, and then there was this nudist place only a short
drive from Brimfield.  We figured all we’d have to do is check it out...”

PAM: “and it was really embarrassing.  I still look fairly good [she leered at Doug] but just look at
that gut on him!  He looks older because of it. I keep telling him that if he’d stop eating so many ho
t dogs, he’d lose that hanging lump...”

DOUG: “You’re ignoring the point!  Sure, it hurts my feelings when women don’t even want to look
at me, but it’s cheap living.  Just because you have stripped for men doesn’t mean that...”

PAM: “Watch it, blubber-belly.  This is about making a living for ourselves that we love.  Let’s not
tell her about what we look like naked!  We had a choice.  Keep on working for rent in Boston doing
things we hated or going out on our own and being self-sufficient.  We joined the nudist camp and
we’ve saved money for three summers now and can afford to upgrade our truck to take larger items
to Florida where there’s really big money.”

DOUG: “I kind of figure that if we’d stayed in the city, we’d go broke eventually and have to apply for
government assistance.  NO WAY! Now we live out of the truck when we’re traveling and live in
nudist camps when we can.  I don’t think we’re alone in thinking this way ‘cuz  we’ve overheard some
men talking about how they are saving money too.  We’re just another alternative lifestyle....” [And
he smiled widely.] (Doug and Pam, early 50s, 2004 in MA)


There are important stories about Brimfield and other large flea markets being a regular source of
income for the undetectable homeless, and they will show up in future Cyberlogs.  Aside from the
flea market circuit, there are also the regulars who live in their trucks and move from one exclusive
antiques show to another.  These men and women have found that using some strategy outclasses
Welfare vouchers for cheap motel living and food stamps.  Perhaps someone you know could
use a hint?

 
“DUCKS, DUCKS, AND MORE DUCKS....”
CLICK ON THE CYBERLOG AND READ HOW
TO BECOME SELF-SUFFICIENT!

 

  islandr@goeaston.net

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