BLOG: AJ vs. Homelessness

AJ Dome, Washburn Review

I got a phone call awhile back from my mother. I moaned and grumbled as I answered it.


“Hey kiddo,” my mom replied. “I was just calling to let you know that we were thinking we’d come up there and visit you during Thanksgiving.”

Oh, really? “That sounds good,” I said. “Do I need to make any food for you?” I’m not a culinary bravado by any means, but I could whip something up for my parents at least.

She said no, and that we’d work out the details later. We talked for awhile later about life and school and work, then I hung up. After hanging up, I thought for a moment on the idea of Thanksgiving.

First and foremost, I’m thankful for food, clothing and shelter. Gotta appreciate the basics. Then I didn’t think about it for another week, until I interviewed a student representative for Oxfam America.

Angelique Flinn and I talked about some events that Oxfam was hosting on campus the week before Thanksgiving break. This week is Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, and there will be an event on campus each day this week. The Review will be covering these events, and putting together a little package about hunger and homelessness in Topeka. Expect to see these stories and more on our website:

Anyway, the gears in my head started turning… what would it be like to be homeless? What would I do? Where would I go? Who would help me?

So, I’m becoming homeless for a couple of days. I’m going to talk to some folks who have been homeless, or still are, and gain some understanding and viewpoints from them. Then I’m going to set up some guidelines to follow, and actually live on the street.

Here’s my guidelines so far:

*I won’t have access to amenities: my car, Internet, a bed, a shower, etc.

*I’ll have to use local homeless shelters and help centers. I won’t try to use anything my friends have, just to make it more difficult for me.

I will have a friend with me, documenting my experience on video. That person will also be tweeting and posting Facebook updates about how I’m doing, but they’ll be living out the homeless experience as well. They won’t be going all out though… I’ll be the one enduring the hard parts. I’ll set out a certain amount of hours to stay homeless, and after that amount of time, I’ll come home. I can’t spend an entire week doing this, so I’m having to kind of schedule it.

Of course, I will be interviewing a few homeless people, to gain perspective and ideas on how to go about this assignment. I’m open to any ideas on what to do and where to go. Everyone has a story, and I’d like to include as many plot points in my story as possible.

Homelessness has many forms, and sometimes they’re hard to spot. Even if you’re a student, couch-surfing from one friend’s place to another with a few bucks in your pocket, you’re considered homeless. So, I’m going to embody what most people consider homeless–no friends to help, no money to buy things. Just the clothes on my back and the city of Topeka to take care of me.

At the time of writing this, I had another phone call with my parents. They insisted that I call them as soon as I was done with this endeavor. Don’t worry Mom and Dad, I’m planning this whole thing out.

So, tentatively, this is the plan: experience a weekend of being homeless. Then, next week, I’ll be on Thanksgiving break. My family will come up to visit, and we’ll eat and be merry. I’m certain that I’ll be more thankful this Thanksgiving than ever.

This should be interesting. Stay tuned for more updates.

Until next time…