A Lesson in Understanding From My Former Homeless Life

Fear, motivation, and a lot of luck star in a little dance

Source: Myriams on Pixabay.

When you’re lower middle class, there are many luxuries you can still afford.

When you’re lower middle class, the world still looks different. As you move up the socio-economic gauge, the world continues to look farther from reality. We often think about hardships in relation to ourselves — this isn’t a bad thing, as the idea isn’t to diminish the existence of hardships.

However, relating hardships confuses the voiceless at the bottom. Those who have nothing and feel bad for having nothing despite working relentlessly.

When I was homeless, even before my family and I afforded a tiny apartment approximately 12 years ago, here were the things I did not have, in no particular order, for a few years while I got mine and my family’s life back in order:

  • Health care. Everyone thinks that everybody else has this, a study in 2018 shows that about 28 million people in this country are uninsured. My mom, my sister, and I were three of those uninsured in 2008.
  • Transportation. I didn’t always have a functioning vehicle. My mom had a 2001 Honda Accord that had a transmission issue caused by Honda. It was a design flaw. When I called Honda, they refused to help. It cost us our life savings and then more because this car broke down many times it turned into a nightmare. When it was able to transport me and my sister to school and back, it was a blessing. We lived in that fear every single morning on our drive to school. I continued to worry because my mom needed that same car for work most days, too. We didn’t know if any one particular day would be the day the car would die forever.
  • Equity building. Before I got involved in markets as a 16–17-year old, I never thought about the luxury of building equity in anything. When you’re living paycheck to paycheck on the bare minimum, you can’t afford the smallest things, much less a mortgage. The sole idea of ‘ownership’ doesn’t even exist yet; it’s a luxury.
  • Off days/taking a break. I started working full-time when I was 16. I was also going to community college, and I eventually transferred to Berkeley, as did my sister. My friends could afford to take days off. They had wealth built behind them that gifted that entitlement even though they would never realize nor admit it. That was not a thing for me. I couldn’t stop, and I wasn’t allowed to. If I failed, it meant homelessness. Failure for me was different than failure for an average teenager. I learned early on that messing up was not an option in my scroll-down list. If I did fail, I needed to work quicker and harder to make up for the lost time.
  • Time. Many of the kids I went to high school with remained right there at home. The city I went to high school in is predominantly white and lower-to-upper middle-class. Those kids can afford to not do anything. They didn’t need to have aspirations. They didn’t need inspiration. Many peaked in high school as sports stars or in general local popularity. When I visit my hometown, I see a lot of the same faces. When I start a conversation with them, they’re still talking about the same things from over a decade ago. To them, nothing has changed. And, it never needed to. As someone who is lower-to-middle class, you can stay that way and be relatively content for the remainder of your life. If you are extremely poor, that safety never exists. You’re always in absence of time.

Even with each of these little notes, a poor person will never look like any of these things to someone who is lower or middle class. This is because, without the personal experience of being homeless yourself, you’d have no idea what that life is like.

Most kids and adults will only know life from the perspective that they know life themselves. If they haven’t seen what it is like to barely be able to feed yourself, they won’t understand why you can’t afford health insurance, either.

Most people love Starbucks. Most people would agree that they need Starbucks in their life. If all the Starbucks employees quit, you’d demand that they go back to work. This is primarily because you know you want the luxuries of having a coffee in a drive-thru format every morning.

However, even though everyone believes Starbucks is amazing and great, most people would not agree that your average Starbucks employee should not receive a liveable wage.

And there lies the paradox of actual understanding. Unless you’ve been there, you would never know what it is like.

Written by

UC Berkeley, mathematics. Los Angeles. Long-time runner. Top writer on Quora, 100M+ total content views. New to Medium. Inquiries: Moumj@berkeley.edu

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store