(Jose M.: Unsplash)
Editor’s note: This was written while I was living on the streets of Denver. I now have housing in a former hotel.
On good days, I find happiness in homelessness.
The other day somebody asked me if I was "The Homeless Millionaire."
This cracked me up. I was flattered.
And then, a couple of weeks ago, I met "The Homeless Millionaire."
This guy claims he won a game show. Instead of taking a million bucks, he chose to be homeless.
At least that's what he told me. It doesn't make much sense.
Meet 'The Homeless Millionaire'
This guy came up and randomly introduced himself to me in Lincoln Park.
He was kind of tall, white, bearded, well kept. Looked to be in his twenties or early thirties.
Dark hair. Good looking. Seemed nice. He didn’t look homeless at all.
I tried to Google "The Homeless Millionaire," but there's too much stuff that comes up, and nothing looks like him.
People back at home in Illinois have asked me how can I be so resilient.
I'm homeless, and broke, but I’m a publisher
Spending my inheritance on a website, social media promotions, and not working for a year so I could pound my story out has been worth homelessness.
I knowingly spent tens of thousands of dollars on a hail Mary pass to report stories I felt needed reported. I wanted people to know what happened to me in my politically corrupt hometown of Rock Island, Ill.
(Markus Winkler: Unsplash)
And I made my point. I started writing about human trafficking and my house was shot up.
I also had written about missing persons. I wrote these stories on my personal website.
A journalism colleague who I highly respect said I am "very old school."
It's true. I have been in the business 30 years. I have won lots of awards. I got into the business to "expose the truth," like so many idealstic journalism graduates do.
But I have exposed lots of truths in my career. More than just being proud of it, I thrive on it.
Even during homelessness.
But there's more to keeping your head up during homelessness than the joy of a great story.
Many homeless people will tell you that they feel empowered by their homelessness. They know it's only a chapter of their life, and that they'll rise again.
Being a homelessness survivor can be a bit of an ego boost. Isn't homelessness something we all fear? Something admittedly horrible. Surely it never will happen to us.
Surviving homelessness can be an ego rush
You would never believe who all is homeless, and who you meet.
Crazy as my story is, there are other people on the street who by no means fit the stereotype of a homeless person.
I have a college education and most of my life had good-paying jobs.
Every homeless person you meet has a story. We’re people. That's why I go to the library every day and blog about homelessness.
(Editor's note: I have since taken the homeless blog down because I want to move past the trauma of homelessness. Many of the blogs were written during times of great duress.
The homeless blog, which was separate from my personal website, tallied more than 30,000 views in the two years I had it up. You can see in the graphic below that the site received hits from all over the world.)
Homeless pal with gangster name claimed he had millions
One guy told me he was a millionaire but got sideways with his family and lost everything. He shares the same last name as a famous modern-day gangster.
He had a lot of trouble on the street, like me. He was beaten up several times. And when he got punched in the mouth, he lost teeth.
I suspect he was telling the truth about once being a millionaire. He didn't fit the mold of someone who knew struggle.
I don't either. Because until now, I never really knew struggle.
Both of us seemed in shock. The homeless people who hung out at Union Station, like we did, generally were the ones without street smarts.
Homeless common denominator: No family, friends
If you're homeless, it means your family and friends do not care about you one bit. That's hard to comprehend, isn't it?
And what you will find is this: Because nobody understands what it's like to be abandoned by your family and friends, it gives homeless people instant camaraderie.
You'll find homeless people are nice, humble, and often smart people. And not all homeless people are addicted to alcohol and/or drugs.
Not by a long shot.
We have great senses of humor. We don't cuss when we're not angry. We do take showers. We do want to work (most, if not many of us) and we do want to love and be loved.
Even me. With my chronic PTSD and severe mistrust issues.
A cup of coffee, a solid movement on a toilet: Bliss
The other thing you'll find about being homeless is the great joy you find in small things. This is hard to understand until you're homeless.
People who know me well know I was raised a spoiled brat. I have lived a largely privileged life thanks to a great journalism career.
I moved back to the Quad-Cities from Los Angeles in 2002. The Quad-Cities took a toll on me. I don’t regret moving back because my dad needed me. But it’s not a place that ever was good for me.
I forgot all about God for many years. I forgot all about small joys. A blue sky. A cup of coffee.
Even a solid bowel movement on a toilet can make a homeless person smile.
And that isn't BS. Do you have any idea how hard it is to find a place to go to the restroom when you’re homeless in Denver?
That's a blog of its own.
Sharing Sun Chips with sassy squirrels in the snow
There's something nice about eating on a park bench each day, watching the fat, sassy squirrels in Lincoln Park, with their bushy red tails. Today, I shared my Sun Chips and granola bars with the squirrels.
A cute squirrel, after getting a Sun Chip, came back and begged for some of my granola bar. He stood on his legs, puts his arms together, and smiled.
A couple came along and saw it and started taking pictures.
The squirrels are cute. I gave him a piece of the granola bar and he ran up the tree with it and started feasting on the lowest branch.
It's a picturesque, snowy day in downtown Denver.
Sharing my homeless lunch from After Hours Denver with the squirrel was idyllic.
Since we're 'crazy' we may as well play the part
It's fun to stand in front of public buildings like the Colorado statehouse, recite the Bible, and shake your fist.
We've all been deemed "crazy."
We're "irrelevant." We're "mentally ill."
We're just some homeless guy.
(Tom Parsons: Unsplash)
A homeless friend named Jesus told me once he enjoys the idea that we all are "invisible." I really like that thought, too, but I don’t feel invisible.
Living off the grid can be peaceful
I care about going to the library, blogging about homelessness and human trafficking, and getting back to Salvation Army Crossroads homeless shelter each night. That’s it.
Can you imagine what I've learned about human trafficking since becoming homeless? Many homeless people are trafficked.
I’ve also learned that God is real. I don’t know why he’s putting me through this, but I know there is a reason.
We learn there are people who love us.
The churches treat the homeless like gold. Once you learn who feeds us when and where, we not only eat every day, we eat well.
Yesterday I took the day off from the library. I went to a part of Denver I have not been to before with some friends from Crossroads. It’s called Auraria Campus and it’s a college campus.
There also is a church there that feeds the homeless every day.
I had chili, great sandwiches, and even got a surfer T-shirt from two organizations called Taste of God's Love and Holy Ghost Church.
Sunday sermons from Cindy and Salvation Army Captain
I met Cindy, a beautiful soul with a great sense of humor and a compassionate heart. She is with Taste of God's Love, and she told a parable from the book of Matthew about day laborers (something many homeless men can relate to).
She pointed out that when the Lord hired day laborers, everyone was paid one denarius. If you worked 9 to 5, you got one denarius. If you worked 4 to 5, you got one denarius.
The point: When you accept the Lord as your savior and work in the kingdom of God, and inherit the kingdom of God, the pay is the same.
If you live your entire life as a true and faithful child of God, your reward is the same as if you repent after 33 years of debauchery and accept the Lord as your savior.
It's a parable everyone understood. Even the self-proclaimed "atheists" around me admitted that Cindy gave a great sermon.
Capt. Wilkerson at Salvation Army gave a great sermon, too, reminding us, like Fleetwood Mac, to "Don't. Stop. Thinking. About. Tomorrow!"
The captain, who came to Denver from Los Angeles, told us, "I never intended to put on the polyester blue and do this."
Today was a good day.