Josh Bolinger: Being Homeless Changed my Life
Being homeless was like being reborn.
Of course, it was in many ways far worse than that, as even the worst birth is over in a matter of hours or a day or two, and homelessness, while you’re living it, seems to go on forever. Poverty and desperation are monotonous. But coming out the other side of it, growing successful, and building a career and a home and a family, made me a new man.
It is very easy to become too comfortable, to get complacent, and this can make us lazy, it can make us satisfied with the way things are. People who are not challenged often don’t learn to exercise their character, they become atrophied. Growing up in a comfortable middle-class lifestyle made me feel pretty safe. Then one day it was all gone.
For me, having to re-start my life from the very bottom of the ladder, having to fight and claw for everything I have, changed my whole perspective. I find the person I was before almost unrecognizable, now. I am much less inclined to accept things for the way they are, and much less inclined to dismiss bad situations as permanent facts of life.
When you have nothing, when you are barely feeding yourself, every risk you take is life-or-death. Every time you bet, you’re all in. But I learned from that, it taught me that risk-taking is the only way to really make big changes. You have to be willing to take a chance on yourself, you have to be willing to give yourself chances, even if the stakes are high. When the issues are big, the stakes are always high.
Having been homeless, and also having seen homelessness in other cultures and the grinding poverty of that life, I understand that life can be fragile. And by that, I don’t mean being alive, I mean a life – income, a home, loved ones, comfort, and the resources to build a better life for the next generation. It can all be taken away, sometimes so quickly it seems like a car accident. I’ve heard it referred to as a “life crash.”
Homeless, lonely, destitute. It can all be taken away, and getting it back is a battle that doesn’t work out as well for everyone as it did for me. This is what people mean when they talk about “creating opportunities.” No one I’ve ever discussed these issues with thinks that the American system should just hand people a life that they don’t have to earn and keep. But we can help make the path back more open. It should be possible for people to get back on the ladder.
Because it can happen to anyone. It happened to me, and it can happen to you, or to people you love. It takes courage to come back.
It also takes courage to make changes – in ourselves, and in our society. That doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile.