Rich and I met the first day of our freshman year at DePaul University, in Chicago. Since then, Rich has been one of my best friends and my roommate for the past two years. We’ve been avid Blue Demon fans, co-hosted a radio show, and shared countless late night discussions about life, our individual projects, and how we want to make a ding in the universe.
I first heard about Rich’s homeless experience when I was visiting Chicago, in February of 2012. At this point I was still under the impression that he had been traveling all across Europe after graduation, and I was about to be filled in all on the details. (Rich actually emailed me from time to time describing his European vacation, but it was all a ploy to hide is actual plan!) I had no idea about his homeless experience, and when he dropped it on me all I could do was smile. Rich has always been an inspiration to me, and I knew he was destined for great things. He practices what he preaches. So many GenY’s out there think they have to stick with the status quo of, “go to school, graduate, get a job, pay the bills”. Rich knows that this idea has it’s flaws, and actively chooses a different path. Most people are just are just talk, but Rich is a great example of how to pursuing what you love, and are passionate about.
As one of Rich’s best friends and roommate, I just had to sit down for a more “formal” interview. Here is a little taste of Rich’s homeless experience.
Why did you decide to become homeless?
One night a friend and I were having a conversation and we happened to land on the topic of homelessness. We had so many questions about it and began wondering, what if someone were to become voluntarily homeless for an extended period of time, not a night, not a week, more? I always felt like there were two views on the subject: a harsh one. You know the, “It’s your fault, get a job!” type of view. The other, a sympathetic one, where people pitied the homeless. After living in the city for three years I had been confronted by homelessness on a daily basis but I never fit into those two perspectives, I just didn’t know. I felt like if I lived homeless and gained an understanding of what it meant I would be able to answer any internal questions I ever had. And when I returned, I could help others better understand it too.
When were you homeless?
August 6-December 10, 2011, in Chicago, IL.
What did you tell your friends/family? What was that conversation like?
After I decided that I would become homeless, it became extremely important to me and because of that I didn’t want anything to jeopardize me from completing it. I told friends and family in Chicago that I was backpacking Europe and that I was writing a book based on my experience and personal journals. Four total people knew. Two friends and my parents. After graduation, I sat my parents down and I prepared a written speech where I would tell them my plan. When I began emotions overwhelmed me, leaving me shaking uncontrollably and speechless from paralysis. I never experienced anything like it before. I asked if we could continue the next night. They happily agreed, not knowing how much pain it would cause them when they learned their son would be living homeless in Chicago willingly.
What surprised you / what did you learn the most?
How deep do you want me to get? Haha As far as most surprising, I thought when I entered the shelter system people would be staring at me, trying to figure me out, my story, whatever. But it wasn’t like that at all. There was a general understanding that we’re all here for some reason or another, all we can do is get through it together. We were all homeless, we all ate the same food, went through the same shelter process, showered the same, slept two feet a way from another guy, etc. Your reason for being there wasn’t very significant. All that mattered was your character, how you treated others and if you showed respect. Above all other things, ultimately, I came to understand that society’s inaccurate preconceived ideas about homelessness dehumanizes the homeless population. As a result, the marginalized community is challenged to overcome the restrictive stigma.
Have you received any criticism or negative feedback?
Most people have been pretty supportive but I have heard from people whose initial reactions haven’t been positive. Many people have their ideas about homelessness, and they usually tend to be absolutes: a homeless person looks like this, they became homeless because of that, they struggle because of this, life must be like this, etc. So when people see that I became homeless it’s believed that I don’t fit under those absolutes. How is he supposed to know how it REALLY feels? How is he supposed to relate he has a college education? Etc. Unfortunately, an important variable often isn’t considered when thinking about homelessness: the human element. People that are homeless are just that, people, and people are complex. Because of this there are no absolutes, there is no black or white when it comes to homelessness, it’s all grey. In the shelter we spent so much time together and endured so much together that we grew very close. We focused on our shared experience of being homeless rather than caring about our differences. Being homeless can very easily change you psychologically, good or bad (Spoiler Alert: My psychological change is extremely evident in the book). Not a day passes that I don’t think about my homeless experience. And when I instantly tear up from thinking about my friends and what we went through, no one can tell me that it wasn’t real.
What are you doing now?
I’ve written a book about my homeless experience using personal reflections and journal entries and I launched a Kickstarter campaign to help raise money to publish it. Homelessness is such a persistent topic within our society that affects many people; my unique perspective and experience will allow readers to think about what we should do about the subject.
How can people help?
People can help by making a pledge on my Kickstarter page. There are various pledge levels that offer different unique rewards. Kickstarter teamed with Amazon payments to make the process very simple to use. Any amount would be greatly appreciated and if we raise our goal of $8500 everybody will receive an ebook! On top of pledging, sharing the link on social media channels is tremendously helpful as well! Together, we can be a part of helping others better understand the marginalized homeless community.