After yesterday's images of vagabonds using notebooks, two homeless people told us about their lifestyle, why they chose it, and why technology is so important every single day. This is the story of one of them.
I'm homeless, very homeless, dirt broke and all, but I still own an iPad and an MSI Wind u130 netbook. These, I feel, are essential tools... Being without a home is not that big a deal in today's world, but having connections to the rest of the world is pretty important.
I am homeless by choice, I gave away and sold all my belongings in Los Angeles and moved to Paris. My tourist visa has expired. I'm definitely not allowed to be here, but I still work when I want and tend to pretty much live the life of Riley. But when I need to get in contact with someone, from a friend to the Paris transportation authority to complain about a misfared ticket, it's hard to work without McDonald's Wi-Fi.
The laptop and iPad also come in handy for other things... I often will DJ at parties off the iPad and tend to use the laptop for working on my book from a park or for making Skype calls; with Skype, Google Voice and a few websites and iPad apps, I haven't paid for international calls or texts in about six months. Google Ads brings in some money, and web work, freelance writing and such all make enough that I'm never hungry. Without the laptop, this would not be possible.
I use a solar charger for my iPad, I got one through Craigslist in exchange for an old MP3 player someone needed. For my laptop, it's often using the first electrical outlet I get to. McDonald's has a lot of outlets in addition to the free Wi-Fi. Often, they don't mind you sticking around for a while, either. Plus, you can order food online, and pick it up at the counter... Talk about homeless in style! And as far as how often, since both the MSI and the iPad have great batteries, I only need to stop at a charging station every three or four days.
That takes us to ordering. There are rechargeable Visa cards available, which I use quite frequently, both because it shortcuts the exchange rate issue and because if I am paid cash for performing magic or DJing, I can deposit it onto the card at one of the places in the city which offers them, usually a Virgin Megastore.
Also, I have no mobile phone... I don't need one. But there are many homeless people in Los Angeles that would use mobile phone and wear Bluetooth headsets underneath long hair to look like they were talking to themselves... I never bothered to ask how or why or where they got a phone and headset from.
I use the iPad for Skype, and I can use Google Voice... Paris has free Wi-Fi in practically every park. As far as calls go, most incoming calls to French mobile numbers are free, and Google Voice makes it incoming for me and the person I'm contacting. To get what I need just takes a little bit of muddling with subscriptions through Skype, a sip gate and my iPad - using one of your articles I might add. Gizmodo, Lifehacker and a few other sites actually come in real handy pretty often.
If people want to contact me and I'm off Wi-Fi, tough nuggets. I chose this lifestyle because I did not want to be at the mercy of other's whims or have my time wasted. So, I get back to people when I want to.
The advantage to having the laptop and the iPad is redundancy flexibility, and frankly, despite having worked for Apple at one point, the iPad's Wi-Fi receptivity sucks. Plus, since they are so small, they both fit in a small bag that never leaves my side... In which also resides a toothbrush and my lucky Zippo. You never know.
The interesting thing is, Paris is very technofriendly. I have met a lot of people when they ask me how I like my iPad... It's funny to see them react when I say I live off of it. But when people see a gadget, they're more likely to take you as a person rather than a drug-driven grifter out for handouts. Odd piece of psychology, I guess.
The laptop also does a lot to establish credibility. I write for a living, and while it's been hard the last few months, being able to show off my work on a laptop is somehow more professional then a scribbled notebook... But I still keep that notebook.
Lastly, because much of what I do is mobile because of my internet connection, I'm not really in need of a home. People like me are actually pretty common; we're called permanent travellers.
We backpack or hitchhike around the world, working from laptops, and often will connect with other permanent travellers in squats or through places like CouchSurfing or Hospitality Club. This means that though we are under the classical definition of homeless, when winter comes, we move south. I hitchhiked to the south of France last week and spent the entire time on the beaches of Cannes and Nice. In two weeks, I might be in London. It's definitely an interesting way to live. However, it requires that you also keep on top of trends; music, movies, tech, politics. If there's going to be hard economic times, it's best to migrate.
That all being said, I think it's unusual for people to assume that "homeless" is equivalent to crazy, scruffy, broke or in fact anything. Owning a laptop is not hard. Owning a house these days? Try it. Let me know when you give up.
Note: Obviously, not every homeless man and woman out there are like this. While there may be some people who do this by choice, there are millions around the world who do it because they don't have any other option. The reasons are many and dramatic, and their situation is certainly not as rosy-looking as the one described by our friend above. For more information, please check the site of the National Coalition for the Homeless.