Lessons I Learned When I Was Homeless

Not a lot of people know that I was actually once homeless.  For the space of two or three years I lived on the street.  I slept in doorways, begged for change and took a tour of more shelters than I can remember.  I’ve eaten out of garbage cans.  I have hitchiked.  I’ve been cold and hungry enough I thought I was going to just die.  These were some of the best experiences of my life. 

I don’t say “best” in the same way I might refer to a party or a holiday.  While there were fun adventures mixed in there, a lot of it wasn’t fun at all.  I say that this time was the best in my life because it taught me important things that still help me today.  I know how important a few coins can be, I know that a bad day is relative to your point of view and I know that just about anything can be recovered from.  As I see my country in the throes of financial crisis I can’t help but think back to those times and wish I could pass my lessons on.

I once hitchiked across the literal length and breadth of America, and then on up to Montreal in the middle of winter.  It was below zero cold and I was dressed for a Florida winter.  My exposed ankle skin swelled up and cracked due to exposure.  There was no sleeping in the elements there so I holed up in a train station, moving around often to avoid getting kicked out by security. 

My first morning I stumbled out into the bitter day starving, stiff and so frozen I don’t think I could remember what ‘warm’ was like.  I hobbled down the street, my feet numb and crusted over with ice.  I stopped in front of a cafe and looked through the large plate glass window at the breakfasters inside.

I have never been more envious in my life then at that moment.  Everyone was relaxed, warm and carelessly sipping coffee heedless to the absolute luxury that they were being afforded.  I wanted a cup of hot coffee so bad right then it became ingrained in my mind as a standard of success.  Since then I have been down on my luck a few times, but as long as I have enough to sit in a cafe somewhere and have a hot drink, I know it will all be alright.

I wish I could bottle up that knowing and pass it on to all of America right now.  Times look bleak, but they’ve been bleak before and as a nation we survived.  We don’t need most of what we think we do, and we can do more than what most of us think we can.  The most important lesson I learned sleeping on sidewalks is that attitude is of paramount importance.  Attitude can be a matter of life or death.

Obviously I didn’t stay on the streets.  I decided I was done with that adventure about a year later and found a job and went on.  The lessons I learned from those times stay with me however.  I know that failure and lack are matters of perception, hunger and want are fantastic inspirations and as long as you can afford a cup of coffee, you’re not as bad off as you think you are.

About Angela Yuriko Smith

Angela Yuriko Smith is a third generation Uchinanchu and an award-winning American poet, author, and publisher with over 20 years of experience in newspaper journalism. Publisher of Space & Time magazine (est. 1966), a Bram Stoker Awards® Finalist and HWA Mentor of the Year for 2020.
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5 Responses to Lessons I Learned When I Was Homeless

  1. brendan stallard says:


    I’ve never quite been homeless, although it got pretty close a time or two, and there’s still time.

    As a retired cop, I saw, and was sympathetic to homeless folks often listening to how they got to where they are with amazement. Truly, we are all only two steps away from sharing that plight.

    Your post is timely, and right on the money. I’m going to link to it all over the web over the next week when I hear the whiners start to gripe.

    Thank you.


    • :Dandi says:

      Thanks Brendan! That was a long time ago for me, but what I learned then was key to my life now. Please, share away and I’m glad you found something you can use. We can never take anything for granted, but never admit defeat either ;D

  2. Marina says:

    Thank you for sharing this experience and reminding everyone that even the most difficult of times can provide us with strength and skills that we never lose. That you have survived what most of us fear most – loss of a place to live and having nowhere to go – is a testament to resiliency and the ability to keep hope alive. I am a recent subscriber, but look forward to reading more of your posts!

    • :Dandi says:

      Thanks for subscribing and welcome! I’m glad you enjoyed my post, and I what I hoped would come through was a message of encouragement and not one of loss. It makes my day to know that was the message you recieved. We are stronger than we think we are, and rough times serve to shape us into our best selves. Glad to have you Marina!

    • Isabella says:

      GREAT! I agree with pretty much all you said in your article, especially at the beggining of your article. Thank you, this info is very valuable as always. Keep up the good work! You’ve got +1 more reader of your super blog:) Isabella S.

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