Based on a conversation I had on Twitter a few days ago, I realized that having friends who are homeless has some unique benefits.
I must admit that I never would’ve guessed that one day I’d be speaking Romanian to and hanging out with homeless people but then again I also never predicted I’d be learning the Romanian language at all (in 37 easy steps) because I never thought I’d be living in this country.
Hey, it is what it is :)
1) Never on vacation
What few people ever realize is that most of your “regular” friends are on vacation, or out of town, quite often for one reason or another. Sometimes it’s to go on a holiday, sometimes it’s for work and sometimes it’s to go to a hometown (or your partner’s hometown) for a special occasion but just about everybody I know is regularly out of town.
Not my homeless friends, who are in the city 365 days a year and always have time to hang out.
2) Drink a beer with you when you want to drink a beer
A few weeks ago, a friend of mine’s wife and kids were out of town so he was in the mood to have a beer with me. Unfortunately, I was busy as heck and also suffering from a vicious summer cold to boot so he was quite bummed out.
Too bad for him he didn’t some homeless friends because they’re always available and in the mood to drink a beer with you. Even the homeless folks I know who aren’t alcoholics will drink a beer with you if you’re buying.
3) The gift of giving
If you’re not homeless, it always seems like you’re accumulating stuff that you don’t really need. Whether it’s clothes that are out of style or too big/small, or old but still functional mobile phones, or extra things you don’t need (at one point we had three umbrellas in this house for some reason!) it’s hard to get rid of those things because you don’t want to pitch them in the trash.
But when you have homeless friends, you can always find someone who has a need for those extra/unwanted things and make good use of them. Then I feel good for having helped them out and they feel good for having received something they needed or wanted.
4) The gift of receiving
It seems counter-intuitive but usually the richer someone is, the stingier (Rom: zgarcit) they are while the poorer someone is, the more generous they are.
Having (literally) almost no attachment to material things, my homeless friends are some of the most generous people I’ve ever known. Whatever they have, they’re willing and enthusiastic about sharing it with me, even though they know I could buy most of those things myself.
5) Handy for odd jobs
Sometimes there’s an odd job that needs doing that you can’t do yourself. Who do you call? Well when you have homeless friends, you always have someone who can (probably) do it for you.
When my book was launched last December, the poster design came in at the last moment and so we had to scramble to get them printed up and put up around town. My homeless friends were perfectly suited for the task and did excellent work in a very quick amount of time.
6) Meet the police
Homeless people have regular encounters with the police, the vast majority of which are pleasant. The cops are on patrol and the homeless people are standing around in public so it’s only natural that the two groups meet and get to know one another.
And when I’m hanging out with the homeless, this benefit extends to me as well as I get introduced to the local cops. Why is this a benefit to me? Well you never know when you’ll do something stupid and having a personal relationship with a cop will come in handy. It’s already happened to me once here in Romania and several times back in the United States.
This is probably only applicable to me personally here in Romania but it’s quite handy sometimes to have homeless friends who speak Hungarian, a language that is notoriously difficult to learn.
During the recent Hungarian Days festival, I had my bilingual homeless friend tagging along with me a couple of times, helping translate certain signs and posters that I was curious about plus giving me tips on the proper pronunciation of some words.
He also helped bridge the gap when I found some Hungarians who spoke neither Romanian nor English, which was quite cool.
8) Being outdoors
Homeless people, by definition, spend a lot of time outdoors. And so when I’m hanging out with them, I’m spending a lot of time outdoors too.
Sometimes it gets a little rough, especially when it’s raining or quite cold, but it’s damn good to be outdoors for more than just a few minutes while en route to some indoor location. I once wrote a post called The Secret to Happiness where I postulated that people who spend at least an hour outdoors every day are far happier than people who don’t.
And I fully believe that is true. It doesn’t matter whether it’s hiking in the forest or sitting on the beach or squatting in some urban street corner, getting some sunshine on your face is a critical component of human happiness.
With my non-homeless friends, it’s nearly axiomatic that we meet somewhere indoors, whether it’s in our homes or a bar or a cafe or something so it’s really great that I also have homeless friends to hang out with outdoors.
When you wander the streets long enough, you get to know where everything is. My homeless friends can tell me how to get to the tiniest alley or the most obscure address with ease.
They also know where everything is, from a fabric shop to an after hours dentist and know exactly where to go to or with whom to consult for just about anything. In a country like Romania, it’s an invaluable aid.
10) Time spent together
Whether it’s leaving town for vacations and holidays (#1 above) or just the demands of school or work, it’s really hard to spend a lot of time with my non-homeless friends.
No matter how much we enjoy one another’s company, our busy schedules make it damn hard to see each other more often than about once a week with all of my non-homeless friends. Unless we go to school together or work in the same office, anything more frequent than that on a regular basis is just about impossible.
Meanwhile my homeless friends are up for hanging out seven days a week if I had the time and inclination to do it. Add up all the hours I’ve spent hanging out with my homeless friends and it becomes immediately apparent that I spend far more of my personal time with them than I do with absolutely everyone else, including my online time, my family and my non-homeless friends. My girlfriend is the only person I spend more time with and that’s only because we live together.
If you really get along with your friends and really and truly enjoy their company then it is a real blessing to be able to see them often and spend a lot of “quality time” with them.
Minus the suffering and privation, I wish some of my other friends would quit school and/or lose their job and become homeless just so I could see them more often!