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No Place Like Home

I just got back from four days and nights at my daughter Jenn’s house—more accurately, the basement apartment of her mother-in-law’s. And I do appreciate the chance to shower and wash clothes and sleep in the air conditioning in exchange for watching the grandmonsters (he’s seven, she’s four). But the multi-layered tensions there between all parties, and the battles royale that flare up like Middle East border wars between Jenn and her husband can set my already-fragile nerves jangling and negate any rest I do get.

Last night, I was dropped at the Timonium Light Rail stop at 8:30 P.M. After one train and two buses—the first of which showed up an hour late—I got back to Pikesville a little bit past 11 P.M., and although totally pissed off at the MTA, the accumulated familial stresses and toxins began to dilute and decay. It was way too hot to attempt to sleep in the shed, but just being able to lighten my bags and dump some clean clothes and grab my extension cord felt good. As did being able to run the chain through the door and the wall and snap the makeshift lock shut. It’s not much, and the derecho that rolled through on Friday night blew in some cardboard wall patches, knocked down some of my corrugated rainwater-channelling system from the rafters, and spread grit and gravel along the floor, but this abandoned shed is my only little hideaway and somewhere that I can feel at least the semblance of privacy and security.

Except that it has no heat, no air conditioning, no electricity, leaks like a sieve (or a top-secret Congressional investigation), no plumbing or facilities, all-season flow-through ventilation, and that I’m basically trespassing and trying to slip in and out unnoticed, it has its charms. As crappy as the shed is—and don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen and lived in much worse—it is still in essence . . . mine. Weird how important a little, even a very little bit of independence and freedom can be.

One thing I’ve noticed, among some of the other homeless folks I’ve had more than superficial contact with, is that most have some sort of personal hideaway or even just a habitual place where they tend to retreat in times of stress. Whether it’s a place to regroup, relax, or just isolate oneself, it may be a building like my shed, or an abandominium, a campsite in the woods or under a bridge, a familiar doorway, bus shelter, bench, or stretch of sidewalk. I’ve been asked, Why stay in a structure not really fit for human habitation? Why not go to a shelter or a mission? Well, the experiences I’ve had at missions and shelters have all been negative, fraught with anxiety, paranoia, and agoraphobia—fueled by the atmosphere of barely suppressed anger, violence, and bigotry. Being able to lock myself in and not have to worry about having what few possessions I do have being ransacked or stolen, or being the recipient of someone’s drunk, stoned, or frustrated anger is well worth the discomfort and dilapidation.

There are times I bitch and moan about the weather-related issues, or stay somewhere else if I can/have to, but two-thirds of the year, the internal temperatures are bearable. During those months, the benefits of not having to hit the streets at the break of dawn, the nominal safety and security of being out of sight/out of mind and able to bar the door from the inside, and the illusion of having a place that is mine and mine alone help maintain the connection to normalcy that is part of the facade that I hide behind.

There have been a fair number of days, mostly in the period when I had jury-rigged electricity and had power for the fan, lantern, computer, and/or TV (two at a time maximum), where—between days of continuous rain or snow, bouts of depression, or just plain exhaustion—I stayed in the shed for up to three days, leaving only to run to the Giant or gas station to use the restroom or grab some food. Some people, when I told them that “I slept in and took a staycation.” I heard things like, “Oh no, you shouldn’t have done that,” or “You have to get up and go out.”

There seems to be a twisted perception among some that, just because I’m homeless, I have to be out on the street each and every day, that I’m not allowed to acquire any creature comforts to make my abode as homey as possible, not that. Be it ever so crumbled, there’s no place like home.

Dave blogs about life on the street at

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