Circa 2008, I was on top of my game. Little did I know that I would lose it all in the blink of an eye.
Note, this is not a post on code or anything really IT, but I wanted to share my story so that others can learn and hopefully become inspired by what I went through as a human being. This is probably the worst 4 months of my life.
2008, I was doing IT consulting working for a couple of big clients. Money was flowing in like gangbusters. I had a house which I was renting out to people to make passive income, a posh apartment, and a sports car (vroom). Material-wise, I had everything I needed and could ever want. I was “successful” and doing great. But in the fall of 2008 things went south.
You see we were in the middle of a recession and Obama was coming into office (which didn’t help). We also just had Hurricane Ike hit Houston which pretty much kept us in water for weeks. Things were going ok until I received notice that my main client (and major source of funds) was hiring a full-time IT person and my services would no longer be needed. My other clients ended up putting me on “hold” while they were in the middle of the financial suck the recession and natural disaster caused.
So there I was, an independent consultant with no active clients and bills were piling up. I went from making > 100K/year to literally 500/mo. Needless to say I was flat broke. Now these things typically happen in “3’s” but it seemed never ending from my perception. And yes, it gets worse.
Rent was due and I had $400 to my name after paying the previous month’s bills so I had to talk to my apartment manager (who I was good friends with) about possibly leaving the community. She was very nice about it and let me out of my lease and gave me a week to clear out. Around the same time, my renters who I was renting my house to decided to just leave without notice and tore up my house. I was facing a $1,500.00 mortgage, utilities, etc. Again, no money to pay any of this so I had to let it go into foreclosure. The only thing I had left was my turbocharged 350z which I started to live in as soon as I moved out of my apartment.
I thought to myself, “this won’t be so bad, I’ll bounce back”. I had the following to my name.
- $400.00 in the bank
- Paid gym membership (shower/workout)
- Macbook Pro
- Week’s worth of clothes and accessories
- Glock 19
- Cell phone which I ported to a prepaid and used sparingly
- 2007 Nissan 350z Turbo/pro street
I had the bare necessities so now it was a matter of surviving. I drove sparingly to keep my fuel costs to a minimum (a 650hp car eats gas and gets 12mpg 🙁 ), parked on private streets and slept in the car at night (note Texas heat makes it hard to sleep in a car), and spent my days at bookstores, Starbucks, etc. In the back of my mind I knew that my car payment was due and I had no money to pay for it. This went on for a week and somehow when I was parked at Starbucks the repossession folks found me. Damn, are they good at their jobs. I remember the sheer panic that washed over me as I went to my car and it was totally gone. Luckily I had my backpack with all of my stuff (minus the extra clothes that I left in my gym locker).
Standing out in that parking lot with my keys in my hand I began to break down and cry. I had no idea what the fuck I was going to do. But I had to do something, and fast! Being very resourceful I came up with a plan of attack on how to survive.
- Sleep at Starbucks in the big comfy chairs during the day or a park under a tree
- Walk the streets all night to avoid having to sleep outside
- Shower/workout daily at the gym (it was paid for a year after all)
- Launder my clothes in the shower at the gym (yes, it is possible)
- NOT resort to panhandling to eat/earn money
- Figure out a way to find a job with no car, residence, etc
With my plan in place, it was time to execute it. Being a regular at Starbucks had its perks. The manager(s) knew me by name as I’d been a customer for years. I sat the GM aside and told her what was going on and if she would mind me sleeping in the chairs during the day. She said it was no problem as long as I kept clean and didn’t bother anyone. Not a problem. She also said if I picked up cups and cigarette butts in the parking lot she would gift me coffee, drinks, and food as needed. So there I was a grown man picking up trash at Starbucks in exchange for food and drink. This was a lesson in humility big time.
I slept 3-4 hours a day at Starbucks as it was too noisy and busy to get much more than that. I had to figure out a way to eat more substantial meals besides Starbucks. So instead of panhandling I went to Kinko’s and spent $1.00 on a sign that said “Homeless, out of work IT professional, will work for food”. I printed it out on heavy card stock and made it into a tent display sign that I could put on my table at Starbucks. Many a day I sat there with the sign and no one even looked at it. Then a funny thing happened. This nice girl came up to me and gave me $20.00 because she felt bad for me. I gave her the money back and told her I didn’t want a handout but I’d be happy to work for it. She had a website that needed a bit of work in WordPress so I helped her out and got things squared away. Made $20.00 which woud last me a few days if I spent it wisely. Like a fool, I went to Panera Bread and blew my money in one day.
While at Panera Bread (which I was also a frequent customer) the manager saw my sign and asked if he could help. I told him my situation and he said come by every night at closing and we’ll feed you. You see, there is a lot of food that restaurants throw out every night because they can’t serve it the next day. So each night I’d walk from Starbucks to Panera Bread and get loaded up with bagels, baked goods, salads, and sandwiches. Needless to say, I ate well. In trade for this I offered my services to the manager and ended up cleaning up plates and picking up trash from around their building. Having two food sources was totally invaluable and kept me healthy.
It had been two weeks and I was officially homeless/carless/broke. But I refused to give up. I sat at Starbucks every day with my sign and slowly but surely people started asking for help with their laptop, servers, etc. Some of the requests were super simple so I didn’t feel like charging, but I always ended up with at least $20-$30/day in my pocket. Wow, this was working! And I didn’t have to go to the streets to panhandle.
My typical daily routine was:
- Sleep from 08:00-12:00 at Starbucks
- Walk to the gym, shower, workout, change clothes, launder if needed
- Head back to Starbucks and pick up trash and eat/drink
- Help people with technical issues (this could take 5-8 hours a day)
- When 21:00-22:00 hit, I would walk to Panera Bread and help out in exchange for food.
- Walk the streets at night aimlessly, hoping for a break somehow
- Wash rinse repeat
Granted, my routine and life was not perfect but I was homeless and surviving. But living like this was depressing to say the least. Many a night while walking the street I would break down crying. I remember one night in particular. It was 01:00 in the morning and I was sitting in a park by a waterfall listening to the water. Tears were streaming down my face and I decided to end it all. I pulled out my Glock from my bag, loaded a round in the chamber, and put the gun to my head. Sobbing I sat there and let my life flash before my eyes and I pulled the trigger. Something or someone must have been looking out for me that night as the god damn gun jammed. I took this as a sign that I wasn’t done yet and needed to move forward. I unloaded the weapon and put it back in my bag and cried for what seemed like hours. Now I understand why there are so many mentally ill homeless folks. The state of being homeless is very depressing and can bring about mental illness in the previously undiagnosed.
I knew in my heart that I had to stay alive as my work here was not done. So I kept on trucking, as they say. Constrained to my routines and my new life as a homeless citizen. Something had to change soon.
This went on for a few months and I ended up becoming more and more resourceful. I started picking up some regular clients who I’d do IT work for on the cheap. Several of them wanted to hire me but they knew it would be tough since I had no car or a place to live. But hey, I was making $50-$75/day on my best days. I was averaging $1,600.00/month in tax free revenue. I was slowly coming back to some sense of normalcy. Again, I was surviving but I wasn’t living.
Then one night, things got a bit scary. I was at my favorite park again laying by the waterfall when I was attacked by two young men while I was half-asleep. They started kicking me and punching me and I had no time to react with a physical response. I scrambled for my backpack which they were trying to take away from me and unzipped it and pulled out my Glock. One of them went off running while the other one pulled out a firearm and pointed it at me. It was either him or me and this guy was serious as a heart attack. I walked up to him and said, “If you’re going to shoot me, you better hope I don’t get back up”. Here we were eye to eye with firearms pointed at each other. At a moment’s notice either one of us could have been killed. Then out of the blue the cops showed up, guns drawn and put us both on the ground. I was obviously the victim in this as I was bruised and bleeding all over the place from being beaten. The cops pulled me aside and asked for my story. I told them everything regarding how I was homeless and I was resting in the park when I was attacked suddenly. They questioned me as to why I had a loaded weapon and luckily in Texas the firearm laws are very liberal or else I would have been thrown in jail for carrying. It also helped that I had my CHL at the time which allowed me to carry a loaded weapon. Plus the laws in Texas allow you to use up to lethal force to protect your life, even in public if you are a CHL holder. So after an hour of questioning they asked me to pack my Glock away and move on to somewhere else. My assailant was arrested and taken away. That was probably the scariest moment during all of this.
After that incident I knew I had to be very careful and protect myself at all times. Houston is generally a decent place to live but at night time it’s dangerous as hell. My bruises healed, and I continued on.
Back to being resourceful. My routine was sustaining me but I knew there was more I could to keep myself occupied and better myself. So I spent a TON of time at Barnes & Noble reading all sorts of books. I was probably going through a programming/IT book each night and the folks there never gave me a hard time. They just let me read, which was great. I was keepig up to date on my skill set while burning the clock. But again, I needed more stimulation so I decided to start watching movies.
There was a theater about a mile from my “haunting grounds” and I had snuck in there one time when I had no money so I could watch 7 Pounds. I was caught sneaking into the theater by one of the employees and I told the manager my situation. She felt bad for me and loaded me up with snacks and tons of free movie passes and said to come by whenever I needed more. The generosity and kind nature of human beings was something I appreciated. For all of the horrible people in the world there was a large percentage of really great people who were there to help. Granted, free movies wouldn’t help me in the long run, but it kept me entertained in the interim.
I was 4 months into this new, “lifestyle” when things started to change. I was sitting in the movie theater (and I actually paid for this movie :P) watching Dark Knight minding my own business when I got a text message from an old client. He asked me if I wanted a contract gig as a System/Network admin for his company. I responded, “YES”. He told me to be up in Humble (40 mi away) that afternoon. I had no idea how I’d get up there but this was my chance. I reached out to a good friend for help who let me borrow her car so I could drive up there and meet with him.
Upon arriving I saw their new building and their empty server room, thinking how much fun it would be to build their infrastructure and become part of the team. I told him straight up that I was homeless and had no means of transportation. His boss who I knew vaguely sat down and talked to me and offered assistance. He said to come work for them on contract and they help me get on my feet. I signed the contract and became a contract employee. With their assistance, a steady paycheck, and the few grand I had saved up in the bank from all of my “Starbucks clients” I was able to move into a small apartment and buy an old car. I was back in the game.
Granted, I wasn’t driving a sports car, living in a nice place, and really wasn’t doing what I loved, but it was a start and got me out of the black hole that I was quickly sinking into. I stayed with that company for nearly 3 years and became successful and happy again.
The 4 months of “hell” were really not that bad looking back at it now. All of this taught me a great lesson in humility and resourcefulness. It also taught me to be kind and loving to your fellow man all the while making sure to “pay it forward”.
I was on top of the world, fell down on my ass, but in the end I fought hard to survive and with a little help from some amazing people I rejoined humanity and gained a lot of knowledge along the way.
In the end, money does not equal happiness. These days happiness is a good cup of coffee, a favorite song on my iPhone, or a simple tweet from someone that matters. I don’t care about materialistic things anymore instead I focus on knowledge and experience and consider myself the wealthiest man in the world because of it.
If you’ve ever been in a similar situation or are facing this, please reach out to me. There are a lot of wonderful people in this world who will help, but sometimes you have to let go of your pride and just ask for a helping hand.
I will never forget the lessons I learned during this time and I truly believe it’s made me a better and stronger person.
With love, ShakyCode | Shakycode.com