THE UNDETECTABLE HOMELESS

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A Weekly Cyberlog

I’ve spent several days roaming around a major city which includes a large university campus.
Yes; there are at least two homeless women living in a sprawl-mall, but I did not obtain any
significant interviews.  Both that I “followed” were not about to reveal that they were living a dis-
creetly homeless existence, and I respect that.  If a woman is not readily willing to confide in
me, I do not press for information.  If truth be told, there are women as well as men who have
committed crimes and would be in jeopardy if what they have done becomes known to anyone,
so without ever knowing who might be in that category, I back off....

I did have one rather “fun” afternoon with a woman who didn’t mind telling me what a good time
she was having, living on a campus with large auditoriums and many buildings in which to sleep,
attend lectures, and find free or inexpensive food.

 
“I wouldn’t pick this for more than a few months, but I’m beginning to feel like a real student!....
I’m going to stick around for the fall semester and take a couple of anthropology courses.
I’ve sat through some freshman courses that are really interesting, but I fell in love with anthro.
I’d like to take the archeology course, too, but you have to have junior status or a major that
fits, so I don’t qualify....I can’t believe how easy this is.  I can park anywhere with my handi-
capped tag, and no one takes attendance in the auditoriums.  I can walk around and just go
into any class that appeals to me and walk out when I want to....Of course I don’t pick any
small classes since I’d be noticed, but in this sized university, there are lots of large ones
to choose from.  I’ve been going regularly to the English, history, and anthro classes, and I
can get the books to read from the library.  I don’t need a card just to sit and read, but I
can’t check out anything.  For that I’d need a student card....I’m old enough to remember
the card catalogs, and I prefer them to the computers because I just want to hunt around
for interesting subjects.  On the computer, you need to know what to look for, and I’m not
into that.  And, there’s always someone waiting to use the computers, so time is short.
No fun at all....I love the stacks where I can just go from one aisle to another and pick up
a book to look through, sit, and read for hours.  They have chairs, too, so my legs hold up
longer....I found a book-bag and a back pack and I actually feel like I’m fooling myself into
believing that I belong here....I’ve discovered the best bathrooms so I can wash up and
look good for the day.  And I found two faculty rooms where there are couches where I
can nap, and so far I’ve only been in there a couple of times when any faculty came in.  I
think these are the ones with mostly math and science classes, and the profs don’t bother
to come in to rest.  Maybe that or some other reason, but I get to nap almost every day....
I’ve even had a good 6 hours of sleep a few times so that I don’t have to sleep in my car
all of the time....Food is everywhere.  I can use the cafeteria and just sit down and move
food left for a few minutes to another table, or heat uneaten things in the microwave.
Sometimes a whole meal is picked at and left when a student is late for class.  I do spend
time sitting in a corner and watching for that before I get something of my own.  I’ll buy a
drink or donut or something cheap and get a table by myself and then wait for a person in
a hurry.  I don’t let them even try to bus their table.  I just move in and say that I’ll do it for
them.  They don’t think that I want their food....I think there is a guy who is doing what I am,
too.  I see him doing a lot of things that I do.  He can’t be taking such odd courses for credit,
moving in and out of classes when he feels like it.  Everyone has some kind of core
courses to follow and he and I don’t do that.  But this is the summer session, so I guess the
way classes are set up may be different...I sat through one econ class and I could be
teaching it.  After working for 23 years at [   ], I know all of the basics.  I should be a stock-
broker now, but I got married and ruined a good career by taking more interest in my
husband than my job.  He found a twinkie when he turned 50 and told me that he wanted a
divorce.  I knew he was fooling around, but I really didn’t expect that.  Anyway, there wasn’t
much to split since we rented an apartment and the furniture wasn’t inspiring enough to
fight over, and he did let me have a few thousand from the bank account.  If I had hired a
lawyer, I would have paid him more than I got from just walking away without fighting.  A
lousy husband isn’t worth fighting over, you know?....Here I am, and I’m going to get enough
information from some courses to get a job in a field I like, even though I’m too old for a
career again.  That’s OK; I’ll survive.  I just know it.” (Anna, age 51, 2003 in Maine)


Compare that story with Pearl’s, who lived rather openly at UCLA  in 1985.  Of course, in 1985
there was a lot of “greenery,” but as the years have gone by, most of that has disappeared and
has blossomed into more buildings and parking lots!  It just gives those who need it more room in
which to hide or attend classes.
 

“I have acres of greenery to live in.  There are so many buildings with so many private rooms
where people only go once in a while–and I found two that I can sleep in all night–and all
kinds of places to find lost money to use in the machines that work twenty-four hours a day.
The trash cans have fresh food tossed before classes, clothing is left everywhere, and there
are miookons of books to be read.  It is a dream world for the person who wants to learn, learn,
learn.  I can walk into any undergrad lecture hall with the students.  They only know a few of their
own anyway.  No one knows whether I am working on a degree or doing research or just
hanging out.  There are plenty of older women about, and I figure if I plan my movements just
right, there will be no reason for me to leave here for years.  Then I’ll just go to another beautiful
big campus.  I’m sort of looking forward to that! You know, it occurred to me that I might just
apply for graduate school and financial aid and live forever doing this legally....”
(Pearl, age 53, 1985 in CA)


A university campus is a “complex.”  But a university campus with an added medical school and
teaching hospital is a veritable buffet of intellectual challenges!  From my UCLA days, when we all
knew that there were homeless people living among us, is Carol’s story.  She was partial to the huge
medical school and hospital complex:
 

“There are so many buildings and floors that I got lost the first few months.  But I figured out
how to keep moving from one wing and floor to another, and how long I could pretend to be
visiting someone in the hospital ward sections without making anyone suspicious.  I can pick
up good snacks in any of the canteen corners; someone always leaves something good
during the day because they are upset or in a hurry.  The cafeterias are good because food
is left on the tables and I just move on in before someone takes the trays away....The bath-
rooms have soap and body cream, so I take a sponge bath every day.  I keep my hair neat
and change styles when I move back into a section that I’ve been in recently.  Maybe put on
glasses, too.  And wear a skirt instead of slacks.  I try to change my appearance....The sofas
in the waiting rooms are soft.  No one notices if I go to sleep.  Most visitors do in some
sections, anyway, because a patient may be in X-Ray, or surgery, or just taking a nap.
Everyone leaves magazines and newspapers around, and the place is open all day and
night....You know, I shouldn’t say this, but I visit with some of the older patients sometimes,
you know, in the orthopedic or recovery wards when I’m walking up and down the long hall-
ways and see the lonely ones with no visitors.  Every once in a while I’ll let on that I’m in bad
shape financially when I can tell that it’s a person with money, and I’ve been given money
and asked to come back and visit again.  I’m saving a little money now–enough to have a
small bank account–and maybe when I meet a nice woman or man who likes my company,
maybe they’ll ask me to come and share a home them.  I keep looking for what I once had,
but I know that can’t be and so I’ll have to work it out another way...and some nice lady or
gent is going to get a good companion in me....I think after so long that some nurses and
doctors probably know what I’m doing, but they haven’t snitched yet.  I don’t really bother
anyone, and I do help the lonely people.  And listen, this is a good place to be.  If I get sick,
I’m in with the right with people!”  (Carol, age 49, 1985 in CA)


Some complexes are for long-term living, and some for only short-term living.  I have met homeless
women living in major conference centers, at trade shows, in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, and at
academic conferences around the country–following certain fields where attendees think that person
is allied with a university and is interested in the newest research...or gossip and “almost plagiarism”
arguments  .

CLICK NEXT WEEK FOR MORE ON HOW TO LIVE IN A “COMPLEX”!


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© 2003 Marjorie Bard.  All Rights Reserved.
This can in no way be copied or distributed.