Saturday, November 26, 2011


These last few months I haven't written a lot here. There honestly hasn't been a lot to say. I've been living with friends and family since March and I've been back at a normal job since April. Life was about as normal as it gets, with the exception of a place all my own to live.

On Monday, November 21st, I moved into my first apartment since July 25, 2010. It was a crazy year and a bit that I will always remember and hold close to my heart. It was a learning experience, a chance to see some of America's greatest cities from a point of view we so seldom really get to see and one of the best things I've done in my life. I loved it, hated it, miss it and am so glad it's over.

I've settled down for the moment in Orem, Utah with a full-time job doing janitorial work for thirteen office buildings, writing for a recently established online magazine in the area and working at writing a few books in my free time. I feel blessed by the support I've seen while I've been writing this and for all the people who have shared my adventures with me.

And now, I'm officially closing the blog portion of this adventure. As I said in my last post I am working on writing a book about what was going on in my life to inspire each post through out the life of this blog. It's great to look back at the time I spent living life without the basic necessities we take so much for granted and to remember that so many times I saw more caring, camaraderie and sense of community in the people who are usually looked down upon by the general public.

There have been a hand full of people in the past few months who have wanted me to tell them about how all homeless people are junkies, lazy, alcoholics with no souls or families who love them. I can't and will never do that. There are people with addiction problems. There are some who will steal from you if given the chance. There are even people who would kill another person. But I feel that in the general population of the world, there are more people per capita with addiction, kleptomania and murderous impulses with more normal living situations. More than anything, I saw normal people down on their luck. Sometimes it was a consequence to their own actions. Sometimes it was through no fault of their own.

I kept in contact with two people I met along the way. They both are off the streets and working. I know that if I went back to the same places I spent so much of my time, I'd see some of the same people, but I also know that a larger percentage have left that chapter of their lives behind. That's a good thought.

Monday, October 10, 2011

I've Figured It Out

It's been almost fifteen months since I announced my plans to travel from city to city and learn to survive without the stability of a place to live. I've been asked a lot of questions since then about whether or not I would write a book and I was never able to give a very satisfying answer whether or not I would do that. On March 31st of this year I arrived back in the house I grew up in, in the small town of Waseca, Minnesota, USA. Since that time there have been only a few new posts in this blog. There are a variety of reasons for that. One of the most prevalent being that I was tired and I needed to take sometime to live a normal life as best I could, considering my living situation has not been very stable.

As the months passed, I was able to spend a lot of time in reflection of the things I have experienced as well as engage in countless conversations about my experience. The more that time wedged itself between me then and now, the greater my desire grew to retell my story.

Everything I do has something, in some way to do with writing. It gets out of control very often, to the point that I feel that I'm observing life instead of experiencing it. I often feel like a fly on the wall in social situations and it's not rare that I lose sleep trying to figure out what happens in a characters life in one of my stories.

So for these last fifteen months, I have been thinking about how I would go about writing this book, if that was my decision, which it is. I've started, deleted or otherwise scrapped, and restarted writing this book countless times never being satisfied with how it was going.

About two weeks ago, I had the inspiration I needed to finally officially begin. The book will work hand in hand with the things I wrote in this blog, serving as the story of the entire experience and explaining what was happening at that point to cause me to write what I did.

Again, I feel the need to thank everyone who has supported me during this time. There were so many times that your support was what kept me going. While I was cold, wet, dirty, lonely, tired, uncertain of my future and unsure of myself I was held up by the prayers and love of people all over the world who regularly visited this blog. It's truly amazing to me that even now that I haven't been writing in this format, that people are continually reading about my experiences and insights. Thank you so much for everything. I could never have done this without all of you.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Things I Notice

When I left the comfort of a place to live almost a year ago, there were a lot of things I was unsure of. Topping that list was where I would end up in the end, if I'd regret this choice, and my sanity. I've been back "home" for just over two months now and have taken a lot of time to reflect on seven months I spent roaming the country side, and I'm glad to say that I've got no serious questions about my sanity!

My motives were questioned a time or two. Why did I do this? It's true that I've wanted to gain exposure with the things I write, but there's many easier ways to gain readers than to leave everything behind and write about homelessness. It's a sad state our culture is in when people can't imagine that a person would want to give up everything for a time to try to get more people thinking about people who are, not less fortunate than the rest of us, but people are not fortunate at all.

It's true that many people who are living on the streets are there because of choices they've made. So, why should we help or even care about them? Because they are human beings. One of the things that separates us as humans from the rest of the animal world seems to be our selfishness and lack of caring for one another.

I've heard so much upheaval about how we treat criminals of war and terrorists we've taken prisoner in the last few years. It seems that in this world we worry more about the rights of criminals of the world more than our own citizens who are sleeping in the shadows of the very neighborhoods we live in. This sickens me. Some of the most talented, nicest, and just all-around gems of the earth are living on the streets being spit on by the most unoriginal, rudest, garbage for human beings this world has to offer.

I wish people would appreciate the things they have. I went to a Performance Art Gala about a month ago. Everyone in attendance were dressed to the nines and very few people finished their food. One woman who was sitting near me ate about a quarter of her food and the rest was thrown away. It seems as though we could feed hordes of starving children with the food that is carelessly thrown away in America, as well as some other countries I'm sure. I'm not saying ship all your left overs to the poor and needy, but please take some time to think about the things you have and appreciate it.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Coming Home

On March 31st I arrived back in Minnesota where I have lived most of my life. It was the second time I had returned from being gone for an extended leave of absence and once again I find myself, because I'm such a nerd, reciting the words of Frodo Baggins, "How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart you know there is no going back?"

I've lived most of my life struggling to have the basic needs of human life. I know that in America most of what we see as basic needs are not needs at all, but I grew up watching my peers having nicer clothes, better toys, nicer homes, less homemade from scratch food which, as a child, I saw as better food. I don't want it to sound like I'm complaining about my upbringing, class status or anything else, the truth is I loved my childhood, and there's nothing I'd change about my upbringing. I only mention that to illustrate the fact that in leaving on this adventure, I wasn't a trust fund kid slumming, I wasn't looking for handouts, and I wasn't wanting to give that impression. All I wanted to do is what I thought someone needed to do to show anyone who would pay attention, what some people go through on a daily basis. I've made friends along the way who, as I've kept in contact with them, have watched them work their way off the streets and back to much better living conditions. That is amazing, and I'm glad for their friendship and amazed by the way they opened up to me and gave me insights into their private lives.

Sadly, this is not the end of the struggles in this country. Hard working people are still losing their jobs, many employers are still not giving their remaining employees raises in pay. With the ever rising price of gas and in turn everything else, America's lower class is sinking farther while the middle class is only just keeping their heads above the surface, so to speak. I'm sorry to say that in a world of corrupted politicians things are not going to change. It's up to us to change things, we can't fight about our petty differences anymore.

Donate time, old clothes, blankets, shoes, furniture, and if you can money to your local shelters. Something as simple as serving meals makes a world of difference to the people you serve and you will gain insight to how millions of people live, insights into their reality.

There's no way for me to pick up my life where I left it. I've seen and experienced too much to be the man I was only a year ago. Looking back on all I've done, I have no real regrets, despite what many people have said to me or about me, I've seen success in what I set out to do. This blog has been read thousands of times in over30 countries around the world, and it continues to be read by an increasingly diverse group of people. I only hope that my insights have made some sort of a difference in the world.

Check back now and then; this isn't the last post, although they will be farther between than they have been in the past.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Losing Sleep

I've had trouble sleeping for nearly half my life. At first it was a major annoyance and I'd flat out lying if I said that I don't feel the same way some nights still, but I have gotten used to it. I've learned how to see the signs that I'm about to experience one of these nights, and therefore I don't waste them laying in bed hopelessly counting sheep or some other lame way to unsuccessfully bore myself to sleep. These days I spend that time doing something to help myself.

I mentioned that I'm writing a novel. Tonight, being one of those sleepless nights, I've been able to spend sometime thinking about the things I need to write this week; the hoops I need to make these characters, whose lives become more and more real to me everyday, jump through, and which of them are going to emerge on the other side with grace and who's going to fall.

It's nearly 6AM in Phoenix, I've already watched a few of my friends on the East Coast wake up and go about their morning routines via Facebook. It's an odd feeling to know that these people, some of who are the dearest of friends I have, are waking up when I'm not even thinking about falling asleep and when it comes down to it, we're not that far apart; driving I could get there today and a flight would three maybe four hours. What a small world we live in. It gets smaller everyday and everyday each person is connected more and more to every other person in the world. When ever you think that what happens somewhere else, to someone else, doesn't matter to you or make a difference in your life, remember that you're part of this world, and each time one life is lost prematurely, we all loose identity. It's only through the cooperation of every species, every race, every human being that we can make this world what it should be. Too often are we consumed by petty differences and let them stop us from seeing the good in the world and in each other.

The novel that is currently consuming my life is about love, it's about learning about ourselves, learning from our mistakes, and helping one another be the best people we can. It's not a lesson that any of us are ever done learning but it is one that we often pretend to know whether we practice it or not. Nothing about any of us, or anything in this world for that matter, is perfect, but that doesn't give anyone an adequate excuse not to try to improve where we need to.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Wednesday Update

It's been awhile since I wrote anything on here. Honestly, I don't have a lot to write about that I really haven't already, so I've decided to just let you all know what I've been doing lately.

I'm in Phoenix, Arizona. My brother Dustin and his wife Kristin live here, so I've been staying with them. It's been great to be with family again. I also have a little more family here, but I haven't had the chance to go see them as of yet, but I'll get there.

I've been filling my days with a lot of reflection. Not only reflection on the last seven months of my life and the things that have occurred in that time, but a lot about the last five years of my life, and the experiences I've had, and the people I've met. I've been taking all of those things in and have started working on a project I've thought about for sometime.

What's the project? Well, until recently I didn't really know myself, but I've come to realize that it's a book. Not a book about homelessness or the things I experienced while on the road, but a coming of age story mostly about twenty somethings and the relationships that we have in that time that teach us about ourselves and shape us to be mature enough to have the kind of relationships that last. It's not a typical love story, but romance is a pretty big theme through out, and really, if not for romantic relationships, there wouldn't be a story.

So I've kind of been shutting myself off from the outside world to work on this book. When I started, I planned on writing a novella (around 150 pages), but the story has progressed more as I've started writing and it seems like it's going to turn into a novel.

Besides sitting inside and writing all day long, I've been continually taking at least a minute of my time each day for some photography. In June 2010 I started a photography project to help strengthen my portfolio. I've been making sure to take at least one picture everyday. But no matter how many I take, one is selected as the picture of the day. Those are available for your viewing pleasure on the Sean Donner Photography Facebook page. Enjoy.

I'll keep writing here with updates on my life until I'm back in a home of my own again so keep checking back!

I love you all,


Friday, February 25, 2011

Social Networking

Most of us absolutely hate Facebook in one way or another. It's addictive. It takes over our lives. It can create unwanted drama. Sure, that all may be true, but to the homeless it's a way to connect and feel a lot less alone.

Read this article from the Los Angeles Times. You might just see how important Social Networking sites are to some people. The Wired Homeless

I can't complain about Facebook myself, The vast majority of readers find this blog from there, and for that I thank you, and everyone at Facebook... the company.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Losing The Beard

This is me. My name is Sean Donner. Seven months ago, I wouldn't stand out to anyone in a crowd. I looked like every other person, and really, there was nothing super special about me. Then I got an idea to live homeless from city to city across the western states of America. Part of whole idea was not shaving. At the time I thought that homeless people couldn't shave and therefore all of the men had beards. I quickly saw that that wasn't at all true. But I didn't have anything to shave with, and so a beard grew. And although I didn't like it, there it was. By the time I was given a razor, my beard was far too long to shave off.

Well, I decided enough was enough and acquired a beard trimmer on February 14th. I got back to my brothers house in Phoenix ready to rid myself of the thick red hairy mess that was attached to my face when I realized that my beard trimmer needed to be charged for 14 hours. So after waiting about six hours I couldn't wait any longer. Here's what happened.

This is right before the trimmer was turned on. A crazy smile goes with a crazy beard.

Obviously the trimmer didn't last through the whole beard. I got the sides mostly trimmed down and it had had enough.

An hour or so later I went back at it, and got it shaved well enough for the night. 

Yep, with that I can sleep easy. I'd finish it in the morning.

So here we are all showered up and finished trimming. Oh for the record, I didn't forget the mustache, I left it on purpose. I'm going to look like a real old west cowboy for awhile. We'll see how long it lasts. 

So there it is. I'm sorry to anyone who was really looking forward to seeing the beard in all it's glory. But this is after all my life, so you can just go think about that.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Family Matters

Last night at about 8:00 I arrived in Phoenix, AZ after a six hour drive from Los Angeles, CA. I drove straight to my brother and sister in law's house on the north side of the city. It's great to be with some family; over the last few months I've become a bit on the lonely side for some familiar faces. Not just familiar faces, but family.

Over the last couple of days I've been thinking about all the people I've met since I've been on the road. There were so many people who would talk about their families and I would just think about how someone could sleep at night knowing that their father or son is out on the streets, occasionally in some bad situations. There are people out there who really don't have any close family members, but there are plenty that do have close family members. Some of the younger people have parents or siblings that would be more than willing to take them in and help them get back on their feet. And for those who don't live near their family, there's a program (often called Homeward Bound) that will pay your way anywhere in the country if there's someone there who will take you in so you can get back on your feet.

So why don't they?

It's not that difficult to empathize with; at least that's my opinion. Most adults want nothing more that to be able to take care of themselves, and as hard as it is to live off of food given at shelters and kitchens, it's a much larger hit to your ego and self esteem to be taken care of by your parents or siblings. Many other ones are very much like the Prodigal Son, meaning that their family loves them and wishes they could see them, but honestly have no idea where they are, or what their living situation is.

It's sad that it's that way, but in many cases our damning pride is stronger than our desire to live normally.

Friday, February 11, 2011


Officially, I don’t condone panhandling. I feel like you should do something for the money you’re given. And I don't think that it's a good way to spend time if you're claiming you'd rather have a job. This is why anytime I’ve been asked by people who they should give money to or where to donate, I suggest shelters, kitchens, other local homeless programs, and as far as individuals goes, people who are doing more than standing or sitting with a sign. I like people who are out there playing an instrument. As a wannabe musician and a music lover, there are few things that make me happier than unexpected live music. So it’s my opinion that people should donate to the people who are doing something more than those who just stand there with a sign.

With that said, I’ve watched, talked to, hung out with and been one of those people. (I panhandled twice in order to get the experience to be able to intelligently write about it) So first off, for those of you who are a panhandler, here are some simple rules of ethics. Why do you need ethics in panhandling? People are more likely to give you money if you're not a total dick. I've seen people walking the streets screaming about no one caring about him, but he was really making it hard to want to help him. Yesterday, I watched a man panhandling at the way out of a parking lot. I watched for a while as he explained to a man that he couldn't get a job because he's an ex-con. I don't know what he did to go to jail or prison, but I have a hard time feeling sorry for him. He was talking back to people who didn't give him money and to another homeless man who was panhandling in the same area, which brings me to the next ethics rule.

Don't overcrowd an area. If you have a spot that you like and one day you get there and someone else is there, don't try to fight him for it, respectfully find a different place for that day and get there earlier the next day. Don't fight for "turf", you don't have any.

I've already talked about it but do something. You're less likely to be looked at or treated badly if you're doing something that people would want to tip you for. Everyone has a talent of some kind; use it. I've obviously come in contact with people playing music, I've seen people selling art. I've been told jokes and spent time with people who make tips telling jokes.

The point is if you're going to beg, realize that you're going to be looked down at, don't get mad, don't fight over a street corner, and for goodness sake, do something. 

Friday, February 4, 2011


I've been with some friends over the last week of my life and I've been asked a lot of questions. I've been thinking of some of these questions and about the fact that I'm running out of things to write about. I've thought a lot about a few things that I left out in other cities and maybe somethings that I never meant to leave out but still, somehow, forgot to mention.

I feel like this might be kind of old information, but I've been thinking a lot lately about the different reasons people find themselves living on the streets.

There are people out there who, like me have chosen to be in the situation that they are. To most people this makes absolutely no sense. Honestly, I have trouble understanding it myself. I can understand wanting a simpler life. In a lot of ways "Mo' Money, Mo' Problems" is true, but at the same time, having a bed to go home to beats not paying utility bills. And with out a doubt, taking a shower everyday beats taking a shower every week. The romance of being completely free is, in my opinion, what makes people decide to live on the streets, at least it did for me. This is a tiny percentage of the people on the streets, however.

I haven't said much about it, but the obvious reason that some people are homeless is substance abuse. I haven't talked much about this on purpose. You see, one of the main reasons I'm experiencing this way of life is to be able to break down stereotypes, and what's a bigger stereotype than, "all homeless people are on drugs and always drunk"? But I've always said that stereotypes are stereotypes because in a lot of cases it's true. With a lot of the substance abuse there's mental illness. It's my experience that in a lot of these cases the people in the situation are veterans. Most of these guys are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Dealing with my own trauma from experiences in the past, I can relate and empathize with these people. Luckily for me, where they were failed, I was not. If we want to take a huge bite out of future generations of homelessness, we have to start with our veterans. A little bit of time in therapy will do wonders for each person returning from war. It's terrible that it's not mandatory for each person returning from war to at least undergo psychological evaluation. I'm not saying that everyone who experiences war is going to have issues, but there's a large enough percentage that something more needs to be done.

I touched on the group of homeless people who are suffering from mental illness, but not all of these people are self-medicating with drugs and alcohol; likewise not all of them are veterans. There are people who are born with a mental disability that can keep them from being able to hold a steady job. In many cases these people slip through the cracks of the Social Security system because they may not look or seem disabled, in some cases they themselves don't realize that there's something not normal about them. And so they go from job to job, not knowing why they can't handle holding just one of them, and spend there lives in poverty or homelessness.

This brings me to the last group of people I've clumped together, and the major reason I decided to live this time of my life in this way. In this economy there are too many hard working people losing their jobs. In many cases these are people who have given the best years of their lives to a company and a job they probably don't even enjoy. Some of them spent year in and year out working for weekends, vacation time and retirement. Then they lost everything they worked so hard for when the company either couldn't or refused to keep up with changes in the way business is done. And so now they find themselves living on unemployment which is quickly running out. There are successful business owners in that are finding themselves going from living in multiple houses to selling everything and moving into an apartment that is too small for their families. If things don't turn around soon, even these people will find themselves staring down poverty to the point of homelessness.

Next, it could be your job.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

First Blood

I have always compared my life to cinema. I'm not exactly sure why but movies have always been a large part of my life and I've been able to find parallels between me and the fictional characters dreamed up by some of the world's best story tellers. In some cases the parallels have been nearly exactly as seen and sometimes it was only a basic theme that I have experienced.

Out of all the characters in popular American cinema, one I never dreamed I'd identify with is John Rambo. But last night it happened. The nights I sleep in my car I bring all the crap I've got in the back seat to the front of the car, and climb in back for my slumber. I usually park my car in a residential neighborhood with other cars on the street so I can just blend in and escape the likelihood of being disturbed by teenagers or other people.

I had parked in the city of Goleta, CA which is about three miles outside of Santa Barbara, and laid down for the night. I was awakened in the beginning of my slumber by a spotlight shining in my windows followed by a flashlight in my face. It was a Sheriff Deputy. He said, "What are you doing? This isn't an RV park!"

I wanted to say, "This isn't an RV" but I held it in.

He said some other stuff that I didn't pay attention to and called off the back up he'd apparently had on stand by, and told me to get out of town. I said "Okay" and "I'm sorry". Then pulled enough to the back seat so I could get behind the wheel and started my car and drove down the street. He followed me, which sucked because I was all turned around and took a few wrong turns trying to find the back road I wanted to take to Santa Barbara. And when I found the back road I turned the wrong way. That was awesome.

All in all it took about 15 to 20 minutes of pure police work to wake up a sleeping man and chase him out of town like in the old west. I was mildly upset and now I can see that if I were a Vietnam Vet suffering from some pretty serious Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder I'd have some real issues with the whole thing. Luckily for me and them, I'm not a killing machine and in my trauma the police were good guys, and I wasn't a ever prisoner. I just hope that there were no real crimes happening at the moment.

The Truth Is

It maybe that just because of how I’ve spent the last half year of my life, but I’ve noticed an increase of the topic of homelessness in the media. By media I mean sitcoms, news programs, newspapers, magazines, blogs, everything. It seems like suddenly the topic of homelessness is everywhere.

A lot of the cities I’ve been to have made “plans” to end homelessness. That’s a tall order that, frankly, I believe to be impossible or at least as improbable as ending terrorism and war in general. Let’s face it, it’s always been there and it will always be there.


Like war and terrorism, homelessness and poverty are as old as civilization. As long as people have brains of their own and use them, there will be some people who financially excel in life and, as the law of opposites tells us, there will be people who are financially impaired. Some people by pure bad luck and some people, believe it or not, by choice. Yes, there are people in the world who are happier without many of the comforts we tend to take for granted. And the crazy thing is, they get by just fine. There are people I’ve heard of and some I’ve met that live completely “off the land”. They have a camp hidden in the woods somewhere, they plant food, fish, and hunt, possibly illegally, it’s none of my business, and honestly, who are they hurting?

People like this make us, as a society, nervous because they live in a way that seems completely foreign to the vast majority of us, and because of one bad apple spoiling the bunch, we often have flashbacks of Ted Kaczynski, “The Unabomber”.

And so laws are passed making poverty illegal. Cities try to hide their “black sheep” in the back alleys or completely push them out with police “escorts” that incidentally, feel a lot more like being threatened and bullied. And why? From my experience a major reason is tourism. So many cities are trying to make themselves look totally prosperous on the outside. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with wanting to have a clean city, but kicking people out instead of helping people out is a lot like the way I “cleaned” my room when I was just a wee lad; by pushing everything into the closet and under the bed so that my room would appear clean even though it was just as messy as when I started.

City councils across the country are making there plans to end all homelessness by whatever year, and in many cases, there’s little to no evidence of change for the better, or any real effort even being put into the decided solution.

The biggest thing that is being overlooked by these homeless ending mission statements is that you’re dealing with individuals. We all should know that every person is different. Every person is homeless for a different reason. Everyone has a different story, and therefore, everyone will have a different return to self-sufficiency. The best way to help the most people is one at a time. Every person needs different things, and every person will have a different way to get back.

I don’t want anyone to think that it’s wrong to try to end homelessness. That’s not the case at all, in fact just the opposite. I just feel that a more personal approach should be taken in trying to lessen the amount of homelessness there is.

In the world we live in, there absolutely will always be homelessness and poverty, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn't help those in need. Most people who experience homelessness get back on their feet in under a year. It’s an unending battle, but a fight we must fight. Hopefully it will be fought with sympathy, love and relentlessness.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Six Months And Counting

Six months ago today, at 11:30 in the morning (U.S. Central Time) I was laying on the hood of my car in a parking lot on the intersection of Warren and Riverfront in Mankato, MN. Minutes before, I had turned in the keys to my apartment at the RentMSU office. I had nowhere to go, and finally realized just what I had decided to do. 

So, what brought me to the decision to leave the comforts of job security, a warm bed, a bathroom, a lot of movies, and a kitchen to travel the western states writing about homelessness? This is a great question and one I’ll do my best to answer. There are only a few people who were incredibly close to me from the beginning to completely understand as soon as they heard what I was doing.

Something Important 

In the summer of 2007 I came to the realization that I couldn’t afford to continue on in school in the fall semester. To be honest, it didn’t hurt my feelings as much as I had thought it would. I was attending South Central College and in the middle of a Marketing Degree. It wasn’t something I had ever seen myself doing as a career, but I knew from my past that I was good at it and I found myself 22 years old and not anywhere near further education. This college failure caused me to take a closer look at my life and think about what I wanted in life and in a career. When I was 16 I had started documenting nearly everything in my life, through writing, video, and photography. It was something that made me calm and happy in a time of my life that, for very personal reasons, was neither.

And so, that summer, I picked up a pen and a camera for the first time in a long time. I knew I was meant for more than selling things to a continually greedier Human Race, and at this time I started to realize just what that was.

I wanted to write about and I wanted to photograph everything I saw. I wanted to show the beauty of this earth that is so often overlooked. I wanted to try to give hope to a hopeless world.


Over the next few years I focused so much more time on photography. I had two art exhibits in Mankato, both of which were held at Bliss Java. I did portraits, weddings, and about anything I could do to make a little extra money here and there while developing a portfolio. But while I watched digital cameras become more user friendly and people less willing to hire someone to photograph their wedding, because of the friend they have who has a nice camera and can do a good enough job for cheap to free. I knew that I had to do something else to make a career of something I could truly enjoy.

I’ve always wanted photography to become at least part of my profession, so I thought about the different ways to use photography in a career. That’s when I came to the thought of Photojournalism. This process took an embarrassingly long time. When I excitedly told my friends and family that I finally figured out what I was going to do with myself, most of them said something along the lines of, “I thought that was your plan all along”.

Why Homelessness

During this time, I was trying to decide if I should move to Phoenix to live near my brother. I had decided to go ahead and make the move in the summer of 2009 and just a few short months before the moving day my weakness struck. I met a girl and had decided that we should totally be dating. So while we were spending more and more time together, I was fretting telling her that I was moving, and then thinking about how much I really wanted to move. So I came up with a plan. I would put off moving for two months. In that time, I would stay at friends’ houses and at my parents’ house to both save money for the move, and see if a real relationship would ever sprout between us. I had talked to a few of my friends about this, and they all said that I’ve always got a couch to crash on. And so the plan was ready. There was only one person left to explain it all to and that was the girl.

When I told her what I was going to do she said something like, “That’s the dumbest thing ever. If you’re going to move, then move, and if you’re going to stay here, stay”. And so, stay I did. Within the next three weeks it had become completely clear that nothing would happen between us, and there I was with a year lease. Through out the next year I continually thought about the homeless. I wondered what their daily life was like; what services were available to help them survive; what they did to get back into self-sufficiency. Along with these thoughts, I watched as the American economy collapsed. I watched news accounts of families losing their unemployment, and not knowing how they would survive.

These are the reasons I decided to quit my job, leave my home, put my life on hold, and do my best to tell as many people as will truly listen what the people we usually try to ignore go through from day to day. I know that because I put myself in this situation and because of the short amount of time I spend in each place my account isn’t perfect, but I also know that it’s far more than most people do. I know that the light I shed on the forgotten is helping more people think about homelessness than would have otherwise.


I moved out my apartment on July 25th, 2010 and spent the next six weeks living in Mankato, MN much like I had for the past four years. I saved as much money as I could to pay for my travel expenses along the way. During this time, I got used to a different lifestyle. I slept between my car, different friends’ houses, and my parents’ house. It was a month of preparation mostly. I prepared my old battle scarred car for a trip, that no one expected it could possibly survive. What did I think? This car had never let me down. It had brought me on trips to New Mexico, all around Iowa, back and forth to South Dakota, and all around Minnesota. This car had taken on a semi truck, and still lived to tell the tale. This car was and is the best car that has ever lived. I compare it to Frodo Baggins in my head a lot. Suffice it to say, that no one expected it to survive a task that would surely take its life, but it has proven itself time and time again.

On August 31st 2010 at 11:00 at night I walked out of the Mankato Grandstay where I had worked for years unemployed. It was nearly as nerve racking a moment as the day just over a month earlier when I moved out of my apartment. And on September 11th 2010 I drove west on Highway 60 towards the great unknown.

On The Road

I learned a lot on Rapid City. The day after arriving there I met a man named Russ who talked to me because, “[I] was kind enough to say hi and ask him how he was.” He was obviously homeless and as he said, was used to being looked down on and ignored. Russ told me the sort of things I should expect along the way. Many of those things have helped me greatly in the past months. When he found out what I was doing, he, like most people in his situation, got really excited. He and his friends said that homeless people are pushed to the shadows and more people should bring those things to light. I was only in Rapid City for a short time, but it was a most excellent educational experience.

Since then I’ve been to Salt Lake City, UT, Seattle, WA, Olympia, WA, Portland, OR, San Francisco, CA, Monterey, CA and Santa Barbara, CA. In that time I’ve met a lot of interesting people. I’ve found that the homeless for the most part are a close net community and although they are often portrayed as dirty, selfish, lazy, substance addicted, insane people in reality most of the people I’ve come in contact with are very helpful to anyone who is in need, they don’t like their situation, and until they are able to get into a place of their own, they want a little dignity.

Winding Down

I’ve loved this experience more than most things I’ve done before in my life. It has in so many ways cemented my decision to go back to school to study journalism. It has also been one of the hardest, most tiring, and honestly, least fun thing I’ve ever done. That’s right I both love what I’m doing and hate it at the same time. You see, I love it. I love focusing my entire life on experiencing something I otherwise wouldn’t and writing all about it. I don’t in anyway like not living anywhere. I don’t enjoy sleeping in a car, a shelter, under a bush, or where ever else I’ve slept. I don’t like accepting help from people. It makes me feel bad. But I set out to experience the lowest of the low so that I can shed at least some light on what many peoples reality is. Homelessness is something that’s impossible to understand or even empathize with without experience.

With the thought of what I’ve accomplished, I find myself, once again, in a preparation stage. I’m preparing to start my life again. This is in no way, the end of my traveling. I’m in Santa Barbara, CA and still have about two months ahead of me, but I’ve been doing this for a long time, and everything must end. I find myself with less and less to write about.

I still have three or four cities ahead of me. I’ll be approaching them slightly differently and spending less time in each one.

Please continue to read the things I’ll be writing, and for those of you who are just now happening upon this blog. There’s a lot already written. Go back and see what I’ve learned and shared with the world.
The Brave Chariot

Monday, January 24, 2011

Homelessness On The Web

I've mentioned homeless newspapers a few times, but for those of you who have missed that, here's an explanation. I first came across "Street News" as it's most often referred to as, in Salt Lake City. I thought it was a great idea. Basically, it's a newspaper full of stories of homelessness locally and nationally. The Street Vendor pays X amount of cents per copy and then sells them on the street, usually for a dollar. This is a way for them to create a job to do what they can to get off the streets. It's a great program that raises awareness for those of us who don't think about what some people go through and I've heard success stories, which is even better.

I just arrived in Santa Barbara yesterday, and haven't as of yet seen a newspaper like this, but in my research before leaving Monterey to come here came across the "Homeless in Santa Barbara" website. This is a great sight. You can clearly see what services there are for the homeless in this area. There are articles about the things that are happening in the city as far as homelessness is concerned.

I had an opportunity yesterday to talk to a couple that lives here. When I told them that I'm traveling and writing as a way to raise awareness of homelessness, they had a lot of questions. During our conversation I brought up the website and showed it to them. They were a young family, and like most of us, didn't think much about homelessness in their daily lives. It was awesome to be able to have that conversation and realize myself, just how much I've learned in the past few months. This conversation, combined with the blog's 7,000 hits in about 30 different countries milestone, has given hope that I am hopefully making some kind of difference.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Long Walks On The Beach

I've always seen myself as the type of person that would really like taking a long walk on the beach, but growing up in Minnesota my long walks on the beach always ended too fast. The beaches there are never long enough for a for a true long walk. You usually just end up pacing back and forth on the beach. About a month ago, I talked a little bit about sleeping on a beach in Oregon. The Oregon coast is beautiful to say the least, but in December, it's a little too cold for taking any long walks. And so today, I took some time to take a long walk on the beach.

Ocean beaches are absolutely beautiful. It's awesome to be able to see the shear power of the ocean and to watch the amount of life the ocean gives. There are seagulls by the hundreds all around.

But there wouldn't be any of that life without death. That's what I experienced on my first long walk on the beach ever. As I was watching the waves, I saw something big being tossed around. It didn't take long to realize that it was a dead sea lion. Observing the sea lion wash up on shore was sad, but it's important to remember that this sea lion was now becoming food to so many other animals. In death, it will bring so much life.

So what does this have to do with homelessness? Not a lot besides that we all have the right and opportunity to enjoy the world we live in. What it has to do with life on earth for all of the planets inhabitants is everything. The point of all of this is that we are all in this world together, and it takes all of us, no matter what our species to make this world what it is. So no matter what your living situation, class,or net worth, get out there and enjoy it.

As far as us as a human community goes, you can say the same thing, it takes each of us to make the world what it is now, and it takes all of us to make the world a better place.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

It Started With A Sandwich

I like talking to the staff at shelters and kitchens about how the shelter/mission/kitchen got started and most often, the answer begins with one person.

One person who saw a problem; who saw a person in need; who wouldn't allow themselves to pretend not to see; someone who took time and thought, "There has to be something I can do."

Often the stories begin with a person getting a group of friends together and doing something as simple as making sandwiches and serving them out of a van. And now, in some cases, just ten or fifteen years later, there's a whole lot more than a van. There's a building where people are welcome to come to get out of the cold or the rain or just to be with people who care and they can talk to. In place of the sandwiches, there's hot meals served three times a day. In many cases there's addiction recovery programs, medical help, and career services all there to help people move from the streets to full recovery and re-entry into the world of self-sustainability. In place of a park bench, there's beds. There's showers and laundry services so they don't have to go to job interviews with only a sponge bath and the cleanest clothes they have.

All these things come from the humble beginnings of a few people making a sandwich. How does a sandwich in a van turn into a building where people can feel welcome and find shelter?

Helping is contagious. So when you see someone in need, remember to ask yourself, "How can I make a difference." I'm not asking anyone to start a homeless shelter; only to do something to help another person. I promise, you'll love it.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

It's Happened Once Again I'll Turn To A Friend

I’m a very social person. I keep my family and friends close and I like to know that everyone else I meet like me. I like to entertain people. It’s important to me. However I’ve always accepted that people come and go from your life and I’ve reached an age where that happens more than possibly any other time. It seems that from the time we graduate from high school and through our early and mid twenties people are continually coming into and leaving our lives. It’s come to the point for me that I’ve learned to expect it from at least 90% of the people I meet. I’ve always felt that there were some people who I’ve let myself lose close contact with who were meant to be in my life, if not physically there, then at the very least, by taking advantage of modern technology and talking regularly.

This is a lesson, I’ll admit, I’ve had to learn and relearn, and still it doesn’t always sink in. I’ve been taken care of by a few long lost friends during my travels and there’s no way to express my gratitude.

In Rapid City, I was surprised by a friend who gave me a couch to sleep on if I felt like I needed it. In Salt Lake City, I had to sneak around in order to do my best to learn what life was like for the homeless. I simply know too many people there and I guess they all love me. In Seattle I had a couch to sleep on both from new and old friends. From the time I left Seattle until I arrived in the Monterey Peninsula, I really learned to miss familiar faces. That’s not to say that I didn’t come in contact with some great people, new friends just aren’t as calming as old friends.

When I arrived in Monterey, I knew I had a friend here and I was excited to see her. I’ve let some people drift away, that I never should have, but that time apart has made me realize just how important their friendship is to my life. Many of my friends who I’ve made since I parted ways with one such friend have heard more stories than ever wanted about “The Blonde One”. (I went through a stage in 2007 when some of my friends were described by the color of their hair.)

In my first week in San Francisco I was visited by her. Walking away from Fisherman’s Wharf that afternoon I realized that I had just made back a friend that I thought I’d lost forever. That day I told her I’d do my best to spend a couple weeks in Monterey so I could visit her again.

Two days after I arrived here, I was reminded of another long lost friend who lives here. I’m so thankful also to this friend and her husband. They’ve given me a place to stay if I need such a place. They’ve made sure I had enough to eat and told me where to go to look for work.

There were always times that I wouldn’t see a person that was always at the same dinners and shelters as me in other cities for a night or two, and then when I did finally see them again and asked where they were, the answer always came back the same, “I stayed at a friend’s house. I just really needed to get away from this for a while.” Homeless people aren’t loners. We’re not people without family or friends. We’re also not happy feeling like we’re mooching off of friends and family members, and so, people stay on the streets trying to make it out on their own. But, there are times you need to get away from sleeping on a park bench or on the floor of some church next to some smelly, snoring dude. It is times like this that you take advantage of the invitations of, “You can sleep on my couch/spare bed” or “Let me take you out to dinner”.

Moral of the story is: We all know who our true friends are. We need to cherish those friendships more than we do sometimes. Maybe I’m not telling you anything you don’t know, but it’s something I’ve only recently learned… again.

Well, I guess this is growing up.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Will Work For Food (Something That Produces Results)

Life in a small town is different from life in the big city. Police care that there's a crack in your windshield. People have yards. The library's wireless signal isn't bogged down by all the people. And if you want to survive, you have to slow down.

On Tuesday, I was walking around getting to know the area a little better when I saw four or five REALLY old men digging around a tree. They had already cut all the branches off and were in the process of digging the trunk/stump out of the ground. Upon first inspection I thought, "These guys are way too old to be doing this." But I guess you can't tell a man to stop doing yard work, can you? I walked up and asked if they needed some help. They looked surprised and basically said if you want.

While digging the root system of a 60 year old ceder tree, I think it was ceder, they told me that they were the "Green Team". Also they told me they were the "Tuesday Troopers". Apparently the name had changed a few times. Every Tuesday a group of retired men who belong to the First Presbyterian Church in Monterey, meet at the church and do landscaping, and the group has been doing it for 13 years.

So I worked, and I worked hard. It was fun! I haven't done yard work and liked it ever, but I also haven't done yard work that was my decision to do. When we were about done they asked me if I'd like to stay for lunch, and I'm not one to turn down lunch.

We got the tree out of the ground and filled in the whole it left. Then they went to an unnoticeable part of the church yard and dug up some sod to put on top of the dirt. By the time it was all said and done I was dirty, happy, and ready to eat. There's a ladies group that meets every week at the church, and they always have a potluck. I guess this time they invited the men to join in, which was lucky for me. There was more food there than I could have imagined, and although I didn't quite get one of each, what I had was excellent.

Moral of the story: Good things happen when we forget about what we need to do and help each other. I feel like we forget this. We have so many distractions in our lives; work, trying to find work, computers, the price of gas, classes, that douche bag that cut you off this morning, that we forget that cooperation, service, and love are what matters most.

So let's take a page from small town life's book and slow down. Smell the roses and pay attention to what's going on around you; someone might need your help.

I thought I should mention that I'm well again. I got over whatever was wrong with me a few days ago. Thank you to everyone who had ideas. You're kindness and of course, what you told me to do, has healed me.

I've also been noticing more and more people spreading the word. I watch where traffic to the blog is coming from, and it's always great to see message boards and blogs telling people to pay attention to what's being written here. Thank you so much to those of you who tell other people. I've said it a hundred times, but I really do mean it when I say that it makes all the difference to me.

Monday, January 10, 2011

I Left San Francisco Last Night

I left San Francisco last night. I was originally planning on leaving today (Monday) or Tuesday morning, but over the last few days I was feeling that I had learned everything I could there. I felt as though I had nothing else I could do there and that everything I had to write was written. And so, a last minute decision was made to up and go. So right around 7PM I jumped in my car, with just under half a tank of gas, and drove the 120 miles south to Monterey.

I chose Monterey for a few different reasons. I’ll admit that some reasons were personal but the over all reason is not personal. I have a close friend that lives here and have been excited to be able to see her. I’ve been here once before and think this area is absolutely beautiful, so the photography is another reason I wanted to come here. The main reason I’m here however, is to bring to light side of homelessness we don’t think of as often; the side that media rarely, if ever, depicts, and that is homelessness in smaller cities. Besides the time I spent in Rapid City, SD I haven’t been in a place with a population around or below 50,000.

These smaller places have a much smaller budget for homeless outreach than the major metropolitan areas I've been in. As far as I’ve been able to see, Monterey does not have a shelter. The closest place is a Salvation Army in the neighboring town, Seaside. I spent today, like every other “first day there” getting myself good and lost and realizing that it’s been a long time since I’ve been here. I went online to figure out what services there are here and what there is as far as temp agencies, so that I can get some work and be able to make the 320 mile trip to Los Angeles in a few weeks.

Besides trying to find work, my time here will be spent shedding light on how living homeless in a smaller town is for the people who live it. I don’t feel like I did a very good job of that while I was in Rapid City, and I hope round two is more of an eye opening experience for me and you.
Thank You

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Just like Jerry Seinfeld, I'm Telling You This For The Last Time

There’s been some discussion due to the article about me and this “journey” I’m on in the Mankato Free Press about whether I’m homeless or a drifter. First of all, who cares? Label me with whatever you want my homeless drifting has nothing to do with me. I’m not out here trying to get hand outs from anyone. I’m perfectly happy working to pay my way from city to city. The “Donate” button is there for people who feel like they want to contribute to what I’m trying to do. I’m just as happy when there aren’t donations as when there are.

My focus right now is not about me and my life. I’ve said this so many times and could probably type it in my sleep; I decided to write about homelessness and I only write what I know. The only way I know how to write about homelessness is by living it. Do not flip my words around. Do not try to read between the lines. I write straight forward for a reason and that reason is to make sure no one misunderstands what I’m saying and what I’m doing.

By choosing to do this, I have cemented my “cause” for the next several years. The work I plan to do through out my return to a “normal” life and college is centered on homelessness. Homelessness is the epicenter of my life now. I don’t like things being given to me. In fact there’s nothing that makes me feel more uncomfortable, except maybe strange people too close to me or God forbid hugging me. That was a joke. Laugh. Right now, the best I can do to “pay” for meals and lodging is to volunteer as often as possible. But when my travels are over, I will be spending countless hours and more than likely years, doing whatever I can to “pay back” and forward the places that were so generous as to serve me during this time. It’s only the right thing to do.

Now I will not be explaining myself again. I ask nothing of anyone else except for what they want to do themselves.

To those of you who love and support me in all the choices I’ve made throughout my life, thank you, I love you dearly, I think about you all often. You are what gives me the drive and motivation to keep on keeping on when life sucks majorly. To those of you who don’t; no one is forcing you to pay any attention to me or what I’m doing. You can go on with your life loving what you do, while I go on with my life loving what I do, and we can all live in hippie harmony. Through out this part of my life I’ve never asked for any press. Those people have always come to me.

Thank you for reading the things I have to write. I love you all for the strength you give me during this time in my life. It get’s lonely often and there have been days that seeing how many people are reading my words or following the Life With No Roof Facebook page are all that keep my spirits up.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Sick and Homeless

For the last few days, I've not been feeling 100%. I wasn't sure if I was sick or just needing to move to the next city until this morning. It's a sure thing, I'm a little bit sick. I've had a few colds in the time I've been living on the street, but now I've got something somewhat more than a cold.

So now the question is what do I do to get better. Under normal circumstances I'd sleep in, spend some time laying around, eat some hot soup, and get better. My problem at hand is that I don't have the opportunity to sleep in, lay around, eat hot soup (unless it's being served somewhere) and therefore, I can't get better fast.

I've spent as much time as I can indoors. I've been watching movies on Hulu at the library. I've been drinking a lot of Emergen-C. That stuff is amazing. Beyond that, I don't really know for sure what I can do. I'm definitely not going to be sleeping outside ever in the next couple weeks. If you've got any suggestions or ideas for me, please let me know.

As for feeling like I'm either sick or ready to move on to the next city goes, I've decided to take that as a sign that it's getting to be time to leave San Francisco. So on Monday or Tuesday I'm going to make my way to Monterey, CA. San Francisco has been great. It's a beautiful city and I've really enjoyed my time here, but it is time to move on. Hopefully I'll be feeling better after the weekend.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Break the Routine

For many of us, every morning is exactly the same. We wake up at the same time. Get out of the same bed. Take a shower just the same. Eat the same thing. Watch the same news. Drive the same car to the same parking space at the same job. Say hello to the same people. The only thing that changes is what you're wearing; if you're lucky.

My life has gotten that same way. I was starting to see a pattern. Wake up at the same time with the same pain in my back. Eat the same thing. Brush my teeth. Walk the same streets. Look at the same buildings. Today, I spiced things up.

Occasionally, after eating the oatmeal that the winter shelter serves in the morning I would go to a place called Glide for second breakfast. It brings me back to standing in a very long line for a little bit of food. I usually decided it's not worth the wait and so I don't go there very often. I have an acquaintance named Will who, in order to get full "General Assistance" payments volunteers at Glide two or three times a week. So, this morning, in an attempt to break the monotony, tagged along. 

To be a Glide volunteer, you have to be there at 7AM. You first set up the dining room putting the chairs up, and helping to get breakfast ready to serve. Then everyone is assigned their own task; either working on the serving assembly line or helping in the dining room. I was on the serving assembly line. I was charged with the task of putting one salt and one pepper packet on each tray. I did this for about an hour and a half.

After eating time was done, we cleaned up the dining room. And then, volunteer breakfast. You can eat as much as you want and it's not crowded and loud. It's a nice relaxing breakfast. Then when that's all done and you're ready to go back out into the world, it is light out, and those awkward mornings of nothing really to do are totally bypassed.

It felt great to do something I don't normally; both to get some change in your day, and it's also nice to be able to give back to an organization that keeps a lot of people, including myself, well fed.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

I've been Waiting a Long Time...

If there’s one thing that becomes part of your life the fastest if you’re homeless, it’s waiting in lines. There are lines for food, lines for a bed, lines to get into a building for shelter. Honestly, I’m getting sick of lines.

It’s not just standing in line that becomes an essential part of every day, however. There’s just a lot of waiting and then rushing. Hurry up and wait takes on a life of it’s own for the homeless, especially in big cities. Back when I was in Rapid City, South Dakota (which seems like a very long time ago now that I think about it) I can remember waiting in a line of about 30 to 50 people to be served dinner. At the time, it seemed like I was waiting forever. These days I get all excited if there are only 50 people in the line.

This morning I waited for 6:30 until about 11:30 to take a shower and do my laundry. Right now I’m clean and my clothes are clean. It’s been 7 weeks since I’ve been able to say that I’m clean and so is everything I’m wearing. It’s an incredible feeling; vaguely familiar, but only vaguely. I feel as though I’ve never waited so long for anything, but I’ve also never been so happy to wait for something. I’ve waited for meals that were tasty and filling and they made me happy, but the feeling of being clean outweighs any full belly. Ha! Not literally though, I guess.

This morning I saw a raccoon! 

He was decidedly unhappy about being paparazzied. “Then stop being so famous!” I say.