Days 1-3 on the Streets

Robin Greenfield on the Streets

12/25 Day 1

I left the house at around 4:00pm with just a few hours left in the day. I had meant to leave much earlier in order to give myself time to adjust before night fell, but I was late as usual.

I wandered through my neighborhood on my way out and passed multiple friends along the way. It was nice to be with friends, and I found myself wondering why I was heading outside my comfort zone when I could be having a joyous time amongst my friends who love me.

I continued on anyway and, as the sun set on the ocean horizon, I turned my back to the west and strolled east along the San Diego river. With the sun went the heat and the night grew cold quickly. I walked for a few miles along the river checking out a few possible sleeping spots along the way.

I met a man named Jay who was just setting up his sleeping bag under a bridge. He told me he stays there because it is close to the Home Depot where he goes every morning to look for work. He said he’s known around here because he sells cigarettes. He used to have a bike but he lost it when he went to jail.

I found a park near Hotel Circle and wandered back into the brush to find a private place to sleep. Jay told me that there were homeless people sleeping “all up in that place”, but that everybody minds there own business and I’d be safe.

It was real cold in there and I was thankful I had some socks to keep from touching the cold polyester of the sleeping bag.

It was probably no later than 7:00pm when I went to bed and surprisingly I fell asleep within minutes of crawling into my bag. But ahead of me was a great number of nightmares and wacky dreams that swirled together the real world and the dream world.

At one point I woke up restless, freezing, and desperate for morning, and nearly gave up when the clock read 12:30am. The night had just begun and I laid there contemplating heading up and starting fresh in the morning. Somehow, I fell back asleep and before I knew it the sun was peaking over the river valley. 


12/26 Day 2

I was so happy to see that sun, and within moments I was packed up and heading back towards the beach. I decided that if I wanted to get the most of this experience I would need a warmer sleeping bag and long underwear so I walked the 4 miles home to grab those things.

I enjoyed watching the ducks, hawks, and herons feeding in the river and found a few bananas for myself along the path. Then, after switching out the bag at home, I searched the alleys for some food and within a short time found some tangerines and another banana. I was set.

The ocean was calling my name and I started the day anew with a dip in the brisk water. I realized quickly that I had to be myself if I was going to be comfortable with this experience. I had shredded and dirtied up some clothes to help me fit in but it was eating away at me. I didn’t feel like myself. So I found a clean sweater and a pair of shorts in the alley and shed the dirty clothes. I felt better instantly having decided I would just be me and experience this week as myself, the only way that I really can.

I wandered through the neighborhoods on my way to downtown and found a tennis ball to keep me company for the 7 mile walk. A Subway dumpster presented about 60 fresh loaves of bread, of which I took just 1/10th for the day.

After stuffing myself with three 12” loaves I was feeling very sleepy so I took a rest at the beach near the airport.

When the time was right I took a dip, dried off in the sun, and continued towards downtown feeling as free as a bird. I walked down streets of San Diego that I have never walked down before and I saw them in a different light. 

Still, with my goofy Mohawk and big bag full of sleeping gear, I was feeling out of place. I wondered what other people were thinking, and in doing so realized that I was judging myself, and if I judge myself on such minute details then I must still judge others as well. That is one of the things that I am working on constantly.

I saw beautiful women and assumed they would have no interest in me but only because I was comparing me to my other self. All of this, though, I realize is solely a matter of self-reflection. I cannot possibly know what others are thinking but I have painted a picture in their mind based on what I am thinking of myself.

I enjoyed the simplicity of my day but my big bag also dragged me down. As of late, I am used to traveling with nothing but the clothes on my back and possibly a few things in my pocket, but in this case I need to have gear to keep me warm in the nights.

I arrived at the library at 4:30pm where I used the computer for a bit. With my library card, I have access to a computer for 2 hours each day and disposal to an unlimited amount of information in the thousands of books. 

I hit the streets when the library closed at 5:30pm not knowing what I would do next or where I’d go. I wandered with hopes of finding some food. I asked around and some people on the streets led me to God’s Extended Hand for dinner.

I sat through a half hour of Godly music and then a short explanation of why the Christian God is the only way. I was amongst about 50 and besides listening to the music and preaching I also observed the rest of the bunch I would be dining with. Some seemed very interested in the music, others not so much.

The man preaching started off by raising himself above all of us and saying that he was privileged and never had been in a valley like us. I know what his intentions were but I felt like he separated himself by doing that. He then went on to convince us in a “factual manner” of why worshiping multiple gods or no gods is wrong and there can only be one god.

He explained that if you praised many gods you couldn’t possibly please them all-you would end up very confused. His example was that if you didn’t feed the monkey god its bananas, it would be mad at you, and the monkey god is just one of 300 million other gods in a polytheistic religion. And if you believe in self enlightenment over God then you would be constantly searching, because there is no measure of comparison to know when you will arrive at enlightenment.

The food turned out to be quite a bit better than his preaching. It was healthier than I had expected, too. I had rice, mixed veggies, salad covered in ranch, dinner rolls, and a cookie. I got singled out a bit when I asked for no meat. They couldn’t believe I didn’t want the gravy either! I’m pretty sure there were Doritos in my salad, but I was able to eat fairly healthy by being a bit choosy and the portions were quite huge.

I hit the streets again at 7:00pm and asked around for a good place to sleep. Everyone was really nice and they all said I’d be fine sleeping right there on the side walk. The few people I talked to suggested finding my own spot rather than sleeping in the crowd. It was reassuring that I would be alright but I decided to head to Balboa Park to sleep in the trees.

The problem there, though, is that it is illegal lodging and you can get ticketed or arrested for sleeping there. I decided to risk it anyway and found some nice Eucalyptus trees to sleep under. It was 10 to 15 degrees warmer and I think maybe that was due to micro-climates. This area was protected from the ocean while the San Diego River was not.


12/27 Day 3

I woke up better rested than I have been in months. It was another night of 12 hours of sleep but this night was much warmer and also on a flat surface. I feel my absolute best when I let the sun and regulate my sleeping patterns, but it so hard to do that when living in a home.

My morning was not that peaceful, as I had to go number two really bad. I packed up as quickly as I could and while running up a hill to the bathroom my sleeping bag fell out of my backpack and rolled all the way back down. I couldn’t wait so I scurried to the bathrooms which turned out to be locked. Then I had to go back down the hill to get my bag while avoiding the park service vehicles which probably saw me running around anyway.

I had remembered seeing a McDonalds about a half mile away so that’s where I headed after getting my bag. I made it to the bathroom and so did most of my load. Actually I guess all of it did but some was in my pants. Talk about a rough start to the day man. But I managed to clean up just fine. 

I sat inside the McDonald’s eating my bread, appreciative of the seat and the radio music that nearly brought tears to my eyes. 

I left there not knowing what to do and ended up wandering the streets looking for some food without much luck except for another banana. All the dumpsters were locked up, which often seems to be the case in areas that have many people living on the streets.

I sat outside the library and watched people as I waited for it to open. The sun was hot and I was happy to be outside stretching. I used the computer for a while and then left the library not really wanting to leave. However, I really wanted to be outside breathing fresh air taking in the sun.

I wandered aimlessly and hungry not knowing what to do with my morning. In a grocery store garbage can, I found a half eaten apple and some pizza crusts, not your ideal garbage food, but at the time better than nothing.

Then, I headed to the Salvation Army to trade my small backpack in for a larger duffle bag that would actually fit my sleeping bag inside. They wouldn’t trade even though my bag was way nicer, but after a bit of talking the lady paid the $1 for it so that I could have it.

After that I decided to go find Lee, the man who had suggested I live on the streets. This all started because he told me if I wanted to understand that I had to live on the streets myself so here I am now. I didn’t find him but I did find a huge bag of bread and a Trader Joe’s salad. I was so stoked to feed my hungry belly. There is a surplus of food around the homeless hangouts right now and that may be because of the holidays.

I cleaned up some trash and a man named Rico praised me for about 5 or 10 minutes and told me that he has my back now. 

I asked around for Lee but nobody knew him. A couple of people knew a Lee, but it went along with really long stories about some other guy named Lee. Oh well, I’ll check again another time.

I returned to the library which for me is such a safe and promising place. It seems to be a comfort zone for many of the San Diego homeless as well. As I walked through the library I saw so much promise. It’s such a wonderful resource for so many people. 

I am starting to become familiar with a lot of the people on the streets. I saw one of the men I shared dinner with last night in the elevator this morning. He said, “I’m trying to find a job but it’s hard with all this stuff.”

Then he motioned at the bags on his back. I have found that the most difficult part of this experience so far is my stuff. I can’t leave it anywhere which results in me having to lug it around. The library has a size limit on bags that can be brought in, and I’m sure that leaves out a lot of people unless they can find a safe place to put their bag.

Everyone has been extremely nice to me. I’ve seen a lot of people being nice to each other and I keep seeing people going out of their way to help others. I feel no danger on the streets when just a week ago I was very hesitant to even walk here. 

I have much excitement inside of me right now for this simple way of living. I feel very free and I am really appreciating the simple parts of life. I am happy when I am outside, whether it is on the streets or in the woods. At home, I tend to sit on the computer too much.

Just as the sun and the food in my belly, the happiness comes and goes. Nightfall has always brought me loneliness when I am off on my own. Nonetheless, I am excited to be alive and amongst my fellow San Diegans. Tonight I will sleep on the streets outside of the library.

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