Another day at Starbucks and another chapter on living homeless from my “houseless” friend Erwin. This one’s a trip, so hold on to your stomach.
Based on responses from friends and site perusers to my other postings about Erwin (The Intentionally Homeless Guy and The Fine Art of Intentional Homelessness), it seems some of you are persuaded by Erwin’s living-on-the-cheap strategy. As was I. But before you decide to go whole hog with it, you need to hear about his dietary strategy…
Fine dining, or fine to be dining
The diet conversation started like this: “So, what about eating? When you’re living out of a car—without a fridge or microwave—is it possible to eat healthy? Do you just buy pre-cooked stuff like snack foods?”
Erwin’s answer: “Absolutely not. I never buy junk food.”
He interrupted me: “Because I never buy food.” He leaned in close and spoke secretively: “You wouldn’t believe it, but I haven’t bought food in a year.”
Sure, he is kind of thin, but … that would be one helluva fast.
Who says there’s no free lunch … or dinner?
As Erwin explains, a significant part of the art of homeless living is project management. And the project: locating, mapping out, and attending all the free meals available through area churches. Within biking distance, he has figured it all out—which church serves a free Tuesday night dinner, which serves a Tuesday free lunch, and so forth. Apparently, there’s enough of these free meals to enjoy a free meal or two every day of the week.
Way to go, churches!
“I do miss the fresh fruit and vegetables, which are rarely part of these free meals,” he explained. “And any meat other than chicken is a rarity. “
He says that the biggest problem with these free meals is the clientele. Many of them are fine folk, just down on their luck, as they say. But a certain percentage of the regulars at these meals are off their rockers, or only good company when they are sober, or downright dangerous and frightening.
I guess that’s the price of the free meal in Los Angeles.
Mind you, Erwin has some income. But he never buys food out of principle. What principle could that be? “Remember, Ric, my goal is to live cheap to get out of debt. If i can cut out my food budget altogether, then why not?”
Homeless breakfast—not for the faint of heart
Apparently, church folk aren’t morning people, because the free meals are only at lunch or dinner time. So, unless Erwin wants to fast for breakfast daily, what’s his plan?
He leans in further to explain. “Okay, I’ll admit it. I forage.”
“Forage … oh. You mean dumpster diving?”
Pretty much, yes, that’s what he means. But he doesn’t associate his breakfast strategy with the connotations associated with common dumpster diving.
Yes, there is such a thing as uncommon dumpster diving. And here’s what it looks like: “I know exactly which trash cans to explore,” he explains. “You have to be selective. You have to know which business’s tossed-out food is going to be reliably good.”
I decide to take his word for it.
Which is good, because he considers this information top secret. He knows the food toss-outs he will find in particular dumpsters are primo. Compared to what he finds in other dumpsters.
So … I’m finding this part of Erwin’s homeless strategy a little hard to stomach. And, as he readily admits, it sometimes is for him too. While some perfectly good food is trashed by restaurants, and much of it is entirely edible, he has gotten sick more than once from dumpster delectables. But that’s part of learning the art of living homeless, he explains: “I knew that one time that the food didn’t smell quite right, so I shouldn’t have eaten it. And another time, a meal I had scavenged was fine when I got it, but went bad because I kept it in my car for a couple hours on a hot day. Bad idea.”
Again, I’ll take his word for it.