MEET HOMELESS PEOPLE WHO HAVE CREATED BUSINESSES
From Scratch to Success:
I’ve had the opportunity to update news from previous contacts who were just beginning to develop a hobby into a successful business. That in itself is not particularly unusual, but these people were and still are living out of vehicles. One man was/maybe still is re-constructing an old tugboat that he found rotting near a riverside dirt road. The concept of homeless people all being “street people” is still the popular opinion, and after 45 years of proving that that isn’t true, I still find only newspaper articles and internet stories about those who are living back and forth from mission to shelter – or too openly living out of their cars. Why are these very visible homeless the only ones we see and hear? The answer is that the subculture of the undetectable homeless is not recognizable as homeless.
Since 1975, I have specialized in working with the undetectable homeless who appear to be outwardly living normally -- with the usual traditional house, employment, or homemaker’s full-time job. S/he may be old enough to pretend to be retired and thus able to wander around in mid-day in what is usually “women’s world.” Why would I spend half of a lifetime locating, interviewing, and filming this subculture? Because I was one of them; I know their strategies for survival. It takes having “been there, done that” to notice the little tactics that give them away – to someone who has become accomplished in “masquerade.” As more and more jobs disappear and more houses are lost due to inability to pay the monthly mortgage, the undetectable homeless numbers are rising every year. I am positive that there are more of the invisible/hidden homeless In America than there are “street people.” This may not be news to the reader if s/he knows someone who is living in alternative housing (on wheels, water, in the wilderness [e.g., state parks], in abandoned or seasonal homes, in medical or university complexes, or in offices/stores). It sounds implausible to others who think that shelters are the only places for the homeless to sleep, obtain food, and find used clothing.
So many more of the homeless in the 2010-2011 era are stable people, even though life has hit them hard: losing a job, unable to find another, leaving a cherished home (and sometimes a family that scatters), and being left with not much more than a vehicle that serves as “home.” It may be anything on wheels, but it is a roof of one’s own that is safer than any shelter and provides a place to keep some belongings. It also preserves the personal dignity of being self-sufficient. It offers mobility, which is necessary to even look for a job, especially since there is no longer an address to provide for a resume`. (“I am moving to a new place which is being painted now.”) The prices of very modest apartments continue to rise, and without proper earned income, you aren’t welcome. Therefore, innovation is necessary, and that my many thousands of contacts use to their advantage.
Some of the people I have talked to at length (and recorded) for 45 years have become friends. Women who related to my own story of homelessness found that I wasn’t just an academician or social worker, but rather empathetic, not sympathetic. That creates a different kind of relationship, one which allows for personal information to flow easily. Plus, they listen to any advice I can provide without feeling that some government or agency official is talking down to them. Having “been there, done that” in my case, is a positive attribute.
In this Cyberlog, I will be revealing stories of two men who are plying a new trade that began as either a hobby or from a childhood background. A woman who just roamed in her vehicle, looking for any part-time job for food and gas money is now a business owner with an unusual product. Another woman, living out of a different type of vehicle, took her pet’s need for a lot of cold water to a higher level with a business: Pawpsicles.
Let’s begin with Sam. That’s his real name, but most only know him by his nick-and-business name: PigOut. I recorded his story first in about 2005 when I practically fell over his product – a small pig – at an agriculture faire near the border of WVA. He was selling pigs to those who wanted to raise one or two for food and skin. (One said “pet,” but Sam didn’t believe that). We sort of hit it off, and he took my email address and has often updated his news. Sam is probably still in his sixties, short, plump, bald, and has one foot missing. He wears a fancy leather boot on that leg, and a plain one on the leg with a foot. Part of this story is from the original recording and parts are from updates to 2010. Sam has a long drawl that reflects the southern Midwestern farm on which he grew up, and there is no way for me to duplicate it. He stutters a bit, and has a twitch in his left eyelid. He said a sow had “attacked” him once when he tried to take a piglet from her.
This photo is not Sam’s pig farm, but it has revived a memory of one that existed in my upscale area about 3 years ago. I don’t think that anyone other than the neighboring farmers and estate owners have photos of this (allegedly) illegal hog farm. I never saw any reference to this in our local newspaper, and I cannot recall ever seeing a photo anywhere. It was the source of much anger against the landowner who was taunting the neighbors because he wanted to put a housing development on his acreage. While the County Council refused the homes, somehow a “special exception” was given for a hog farm! This is not an area which would ever allow such an eyesore, odor, or contrast to the signage “scenic biking country.” It remained for much too long until lawsuits were to begin. I’ve always wanted to use this photo, and now I have a purpose. I’m going to digress for two paragraphs to tell you why this photo is important.
Many of my readers know that our nonprofit’s goal is to create new interacting small sustainable farming communities for and by the homeless. (“Pioneers” also welcome!) I have been traveling for many years, crossing the country filming abandoned and dying small towns for recasting so that stable homeless people could build new homes and businesses with their special skills. I also have presented conference papers and written books on the ecological destruction by developers who buy eco-sensitive land and eventually build despite the obvious pollution of others’ land and all waterways. So, this is a message to all who live in areas of polluted water from run-offs (from any source) that your county or town is making you pay extra taxes to “save the river” or any waterway. In this case, not one politician who has insisted that s/he will “save your waterway from pollution” has told the truth. The Chesapeake Bay is dying, and if you take the chance and eat anything from the Bay, it’s your fault for becoming ill. Everyone knows who is responsible, but no one has the money to fight the developers’ lawyers – or the elected officials. The citizens of all of the land surrounding the Bay and its tributaries are paying extra taxes for nothing that will save the Bay. It’s been like that for so long that no one can put a date on it. The river that runs into the Bay from my area is disgusting: full of raw sewage that could be prevented if the county didn’t allow new developments to use an already overloaded wastewater plant. I’ll be at risk for saying this, but I don’t care anymore. The few people in our area who keep trying to stop this abomination do not have enough money for lawyers to fight even their own town and county council/commissioners. Why are the same type of people being elected? They own businesses or are real estate brokers and they want more businesses and county land to annex to their property tax base. They are also either related to other town or county voters in some way or have many personal friends. Thus, newcomers and the “old gang” who see what the in-place destruction has already wrought cannot beat the “for growth” runners every election year.
Obviously, this is happening all over the country, and there apparently has never been a movement for a large enough march on any state capitol to demand ecological safety. The EPA is practically worthless; they rarely care what happens in rural areas. The few instances when they can mention an example of saving a watershed or marshland is because it is an established nature preserve, protected by a grandfather clause. When an occasional little rural tributary is “cleaned-up” by local volunteers, the EPA has had nothing to do with it. The EPA is not refusing permits from developers to build on eco-sensitive shoreland in any area around here….
I feel better just saying what others are afraid to.
Here is Sam’s story:
“…so, you see, I got one good foot and the other is just a boot that I made to look real classy. Got sparkles, bangles, and red leather coils all over. And I got me some signatures of a few country singers that made it fancier. See, I put varnish over them so they wouldn’t be scuffed-off. (He put his leg up so that I could see it up close). Inside is a thing that the vet hospital gave me to attach to my stump….Yeah; I used to work in a slaughter house, and a piece a ‘quipment jammed and just chopped my foot off. I guess my time in the army was worth something. I got a new foot….I couldn’t walk good for ‘bout a year, and I just sat ‘round the farm feeling sorry for myself. Then the shit hit the fan and the farm burned down. My wife and two kids died….The sheriff said it was arson, and I know it was my neighbor who wanted my land, but there wasn’t ‘nough proof and he got away with it….”
All I had left was a part of a barn and three barrows, a few shoats, and young pigs. The sows and boars died. [I asked for the definitions of what I have always called hogs. Barrows are castrated males, shoats are baby pigs just weaned, piglets are the just born or very young, and “hog” is defined as being heavy and older than just a “pig.”] I put the three barrows in my truck and went to a county fair to sell them. A lady asked how she could barbeque a smaller pig the ol’ fashioned way for a country picnic her church group was gonna have. I told her how to kill a pig humanely and finally string it up ‘n put it on a spit with a fire underneath, all in a sorta stoned pit….Then I had a idea. If she could do it, so could I. And maybe I could make money doin’ that since I like being with them pigs. But I wasn’t ready in my head yet to set that all up. So I went back to the farm and took a couple of pigs with me in a bigger truck that was just sittin’ ‘round in the field. I’d fixed it up over the years and it ran, but not real good….I figured that if I could sell pigs and make money, then I could get a better truck with room for them to have a pen and all them comforts ofa barn….”
I went on the road from one county fair to the 4H groups to anyplace that had something to do with ag[riculture]. When I sold all my pigs, I went to auctions and got a few more….A kid asked me one day what part ofa pig was the best to eat, and I got out a colored pen and made markings on a picture ofa pig. I showed the shoulder cuts and the ribs and all parts that can be eaten. After the fair, I got a good chart made up that I could use to sell the barbequed pigs once I got that all figured out in my head….My first fair for barbequing a whole pig made me feel like a new man. I set up the slings, put the pig on a long spit that rotated, and put the chart on a chair so that everyone could ask for what part of the pig he wanted to eat. I got surrounded by people and felt sorta faint for a while, and then I got into it like a real butcher. I’d done that some when I was younger livin’ on the farm, so I felt like a expert….The next year I got some repeat customers and some requests for parties that were coming up. Like conventions of butchers or farmers, or vets, and a wedding and even a funeral. So, I moved into a bigger truck and lived with the pigs as I went farther to parties. I put a sign on the side of the truck, calling myself PigOut….My business got bigger and people asked fairs to get me and now I got a route that takes me where I also got barbeque parties. I used to use a store-bottled brand of sauce, but I made up my own and use it, secret sauce-like….I’m in the money now and I’ll be gettin’ my own bottled brand of barbeque sauce. I make my own sausages and special sandwiches and slaw to go with the parts I cut off….I never had more than a business license to sell pigs, but I was told I have to have a couple a other licenses, so I’m learning the real business world. It has made me feel alive again and the idea of getting’ more into big business makes life worthwhile. It’s fun, too, and I haven’t had real fun since I had the farm and my family. I got a kid I’m training to help me with the pigs and I even think I’ll get a piece a land and start another small farm. The prices of the kind of land I need aren’t that high now since the housing market went to hell….I have a newer motor home in sight so’s I can do much more than I ever expected.”
Sam called last year and told me to go to where he was going to buy a used huge motor home. It was a private sale from an estate, and he was paying cash. Lots of cash. He can afford it now, and his business is booming. His advertising is more word- of-mouth since he has plenty of satisfied customers. He gave me a bottle of his sauce, but it is too strong for me. I liked the smoky bacon and maple flavor, but it has something very strong in it (chilis or hot sauce?). I’ll stick to just real Grade A maple syrup from VT.
Richie was a stockbroker for many years. When Wall St. began its fall, Richie lost his job. For a few years he lived off of his savings, and then he realized that it was disappearing and he would have to find something in the way of a job. But by then his attitude toward life had changed. Divorced and without children, he decided to do what he had always desired: re-build a boat and roam the rivers, fishing and making and selling his own creative fishing equipment. I met him in Maine while he was trying to haul an old tugboat from a hill beside a riverfront. I watched for a while and he finally came down the hill for food and drink. He sat on a big rock and ate and really didn’t pay any attention to me – reading and writing on a legal pad. He dropped a can of soda and it rolled right to my feet. It wasn’t long before we were chatting about the lovely region. I asked what he would do with the boat. He couldn’t have been happier telling me about his plans. I realized that he was one of the hidden homeless, probably living in the basement of a nearby long-abandoned isolated house that still had a torn For Sale sign on what was left of a porch. The old wooden cellar doors were open, and for what other reason? I saw a small truck near the entrance to the river road, so maybe he lived out of that as well. He told me about his life when I told him that I had been homeless in the ‘70s on a deserted island not too far away. We talked about how the island was now not only inhabited, but completely unrecognizable, with short roads and expensive summer homes, the forest felled, and my lovely untouched sandy cove now a graded private beach for the two families that had new houses there.
I promised not to photograph the house or the tug. He watched me. This is the road to the river where we were sitting and this is undoubtedly his truck.
“It’s been a tough time being without a New York City apartment, but I’ve adapted to this way of living. I couldn’t get another stockbroker job, and the months turned into years, and I headed back to Maine where I grew up. None of my old pals were still living around here, and I felt lost, driving around looking for I don’t know what….I traded in my nice car for a truck, and it’s OK for the time-being. I’ll get something bigger when I do some construction work on a new boat for a man who can’t….What I really want to do is fix up this boat and get on the rivers while I make some of my own fishing gear. I don’t particularly like what is sold now. I used to collect old rods and reels, and I made my own lures. I carve them out of wood and make peculiar insects that seem to attract fish….I have a lot of work to do on this tug, but I’ll love it. Eventually, I hope to move around and sell my fishing stuff to places like LLBean and other tackle shops. I may even open my own store if I can find someone to share with so the rent won’t break me in the summer months. I’ll keep the truck just in case this all falls through, but I have this feeling….”
Rhonda is a recycler who is taking advantage of the many items that are thrown away from large stores that sell home décor and repair items. She started recycling her own unwanted household things by giving them to friends who could use them. When she had to sell her home to the bank which owned the mortgage, she spent a year living in an old trailer that was for rent in the town dump area. The income she had from a pension suddenly stopped, and she was frantic; she thought she had no skills for anything but cleaning houses for a living. Since the town ladies were in the lower income bracket, there were few homes that had owners who could afford maid services. Rhonda is going to tell you how she went from poverty to making a living from recycling.
“It was sort of just a hobby, uh, finding things to turn into something else. I did the things that a lot of people do, like taking old tires and cutting them into scuffs [shoes], and using those plastic water jugs by painting them like animals and filling them with dirt for outside doorstops or potted plants….I’d take nice wooden planks and make toy boxes, and I made a lot of bird houses out of pieces of wood that weren’t perfect. What bird cares if its house is crooked if it looks inviting for living? I had a lot of fun seeing the ones I made into faces of wizards hanging from heavy tree limbs. I found the paints in almost empty cans in back of a paint store and used them all mixed-up for pretty or scary homes for the birds….”
I didn’t think I could find enough to do more than what I found as local stuff, so I moved into an old bus after getting rid of most of my belongings. I had to be where the merchandise would be, so I drove to the biggest city near me that had the big box stores….At first, I went through their bins late at night and found some interesting things that were not only pretty, but useful. Like, I found old samples of carpet that were still on the board that was inside the store….I went back day after day in the late afternoon when the stock was being changed and went through their throwaways. I found samples of tiny colored tiles for kitchens or bathrooms still intact on the company sales boards and lots of broken window frames and returned items that still had some use….I love the broken colored glass. I put them into see-through containers, like big glass bottles and they make nice garden decorations….There’s always glossy magazines tossed out, and I look for the ones with color pictures, cut them out, and make papier mache baskets. I clear-varnish them and after awhile, I got the knack of making modern art paintings of my own. Some I even sold for store displays.”
One day a guy found me collecting his junk and saw inside my bus. I had just finished a few old wooden window boxes from scraps of different woods from a sawmill scrapyard. He asked what else I made, and I showed him some photos of what I had in a small shop. He offered to buy all of my window boxes and bird houses if I’d work part-time on week-ends when he wanted to be with his kids….Now I have a job and a business. I have lots of other ideas for making things that are being recycled, and that’s so popular these days….”
And then there is Teresa. She and her four-legged pal have been traveling as Snow Birda for 10 years. She spends the winters in FL and summers on the coast of ME in a trailer park convenient to NH and Canada. While she lives on a Social Security check and pension, it does not allow for the maintenance of a home or for the entertainments to which she was accustomed. Fortunately, she is not a “collector,” nor does she mind the close quarters of one big van-room. She knows that when she hits her 80s, she will have to give up the traveling life, for arthritis is crippling her hands. She says she found her business opportunity by accident, but then who can plan exactly for a stable future? I reconnected with her last year. She has been looking for a permanent place to live in FL but isn’t quite ready to give up traveling. This is from her original interview:
“…my pal here, DaddyO, I’ve had since he was born. He has a thirst problem now. He just loves to keep going to his water bowl and taking a few slurps, especially in the summertime. His long,thick hair doesn’t help keep him cool, and I clip him often so he is comfy….I needed a job of some sort to add to my monthly stipend, but I couldn’t really identify with anything in particular….I had a good run for many years in a (major company) which I enjoyed. It was stressful, but I didn’t mind getting up so early in the morning. I did mind the long day, though….When the company reduced its workforce, I got a pink notice – but it was in funeral black – and I knew I’d never be able to get another job at my age ….”
I hated to give up my house, but it just wasn’t possible to pay the large mortgage every month, plus the utilities and all that jazz. So, I sold my furniture and looked around for a low-priced substitute. I didn’t like the single-sided ones in the mobile home parks. I had wanted to travel for years when I couldn’t, and here was the chance to do that. Not that I thought it would be a picnic to be without lots of room, but I didn’t think I’d like being in a small apartment – which cost nearly as much in rent per month as the house was. Yes; I was used to nice things and a nice house with a yard to garden and flagstone patio to sit under an umbrella and have my version of High Tea: a martini or two….”
I saw an advertisement for a converted van for sale, but the price was too high. I called, and apparently there hadn’t been many people interested, so I was told to come on over and take a look-see. He had other vans and SUVs as well. I loved one large van immediately, but I was smart enough to point out all of the faults. The price almost halved, and I gave a down-payment. I’d never driven anything that big, but I ventured around the city carefully, trying to see what I’d have to avoid, like in underground parking and small street parking spaces. I got used to it, and by the time I’d sold the house, I felt like I’d make it without too much trouble. There were a few clubs to join for information and some traveling by caravan so I didn’t get lost or feel that if I had a breakdown, I’d be alone….The years went by and I had an established routine that I liked.”
My arthritis began to trouble my hands, and I traveled less as the steering wheel made my hands cramp. I have curtailed the extra traveling, and just stick to the regular route and the friends I have made in Maine and Florida….I noticed that I wasn’t getting the usual amount of money, and I called for information. My pension fund had lost a lot of money, and I knew that wasn’t a good sign! I had to have that extra money!”
DaddyO was getting older too, and his thirst was getting worse. A vet said he had a mild kidney problem, gave me some pills for him, and said I shouldn’t worry, but keep lots of liquid available for him. To make myself happier, I guess, I began to put some flavor into his drinking water. He just loved it! When summer came along, he wanted to lick my ice cream cones. I knew that he shouldn’t have sugar, so I thought about how to make a flavored water that would stay cold in the summers, outdoors….And then one day I had a popsicle in my hand and DaddyO grabbed for it, dropped it since it was so cold, and then just waited for it to melt. He kept licking the melting popsicle, and I gave myself a slap on the back….One of my summer neighbors in the park asked me why DaddyO wouldn’t leave his water bowl to play with another dog. I said that he loved his melted popsicles too much. She asked if it had any sugar, and I could honestly say it ddn’t. And then she asked if I would make some for her shaggy dog, and then another neighbor asked for some for her cat. I made up a menu of the flavors I would make every day, and thank heavens Hugo [she named her vehicle] had a generator and refrigerator with a large freezer.”
I had the idea of making molds in the form of paw-prints for my Pawpsicles, and took a winter to figure that out with a kind of stick that was really part of a dog biscuit. That was 2 years ago, and I now make 6 flavors of Pawpsicles! I’m the Baskin-Robbins of the trailer park, and I make money in the park and at a roadside stand that sells ice cream to the summer highway tourists. Many of them have pets with them, and sales are good all summer long. I’ve been asked to sell my Pawpsicles at a small private grocery store….I can do this in Maine and in Florida, so I think I’ll be making some of what I’m missing from the pension check. Or close to it, anyway….I’m so proud of myself!”
I know you want the recipe for the Pawpsicles, but I can’t take a chance of it getting around. Please don’t tell anyone or show my mold for the pawpsicles. You wouldn’t mean to tell, but these things come out when you least expect it to. As soon as people around the country find out how I do this, it will be copied and I don’t want national competition, like grocery store chains….I have other pet supplies I’m thinking about now. I’m making my first catalog that I can leave on bulletin boards and at all of the Rest Stops where I go when traveling. I think I can make a good amount of money in pet supplies for people who travel with their pets. There must be birds and fish tanks in the trailer park houses, so I am creating new kinds of toys and eatables for unusual pets….I’m a bit worried about how to tax for these things when I’m not in Maine or Florida, and I’m talking to other women who belong to the travel clubs for information. I didn’t even know about having a business license for this kind of thing, and I’m aware that I’m learning an entire new area of business law. No one seems to mention it….”
If I learn enough and can have a larger freezer, I’ll go to some of the
craft faires that I usually pass on my way back and forth to Florida.
There ought to be lots of pets there in the summers, and they all will
want Pawpsicles and maybe my other toys. Thank God for freezers! I
even answered an ad from a former ice cream salesman who wanted to sell
his very old Good Humor truck. I must have been mad at the time. How
could I drag that along behind me?”
Almost everyone has some skill that might become a business. To wait for someone else, even the government, to provide an income, is not using one’s innate abilities. It undoubtedly will not give you back what you had, but if nothing else, it is very good therapy. I have many such stories and will continue to add them to these Cyberlogs. If you have knowledge of people who have created businesses from hobbies, do let me know! Someone who needs a “job” might be able to use your information. It isn’t a solution, but it does make a difference when you feel some independence when making money from a hobby – or just from a childhood memory.
IF YOU KNOW ANY TRAVELERS WHO ARE LIVING THIS KIND OF LIFESTYLE,
DO EMAIL AND SHARE STORIES! THERE WILL BE MANY MORE STORIES OF
SURVIVING WHILE BEING THE UNDETECTABLE HOMELESS,
SO KEEP AN EYE AN THIS SITE!
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