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My Story as a Homeless Developer (medium.com)
482 points by jessehorne 10 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 300 comments

Becoming homeless is one of the greatest fears of my life.

Hi Jesse,

I want to recommend two books for you to read. One is about developing your monetary power. The other is about developing your career capital.

"Early Retirement Extreme" by Jacob Lund Fisker.

"So Good They Can't Ignore You" by Cal Newport.

You might be homeless right now because you haven't been protecting your personal power. The personal power to command a good salary. The personal power of having money in the bank.

You might have been giving away your power and depending on other people. Try to watch out for that.

The more you build your career capital, and the more you build your bank capital, the more free you'll be.

Imagine having money in the bank that lets you walk away from a shitty job. Imagine having the savings that lets you take a few months to find a new & better job.

We know you have skills. Your linkedin profile could be improved, some more detail on what you did at each job, and include some of your portfolio in there.

You can find work on upwork.com or other sites. Setup a profile on there, set your hourly rate at $20/hr, and start from there. On your profile, highlight the fact that you're in Iowa and fluent in english.

I'm not from the US but can't the state help you with money and a shelter? If you have problem in the US the streets is your only option?

Pretty much. Shelters are either provided by charity or the local government, and state/federal money is only for very sympathetic classes like women with infant children.

> I was still stubborn and would not agree to believing in the almighty bearded creator in the sky, so one of the two shelters would not help me.

I know it’s really common but it still shocks me when charities make receiving support contingent on believing whatever they happen to believe.

I was incredibly humble and polite when I walked into that shelter. My past activism with the Catholic Workers which were a couple blocks away flagged me as a dirty communist liberal, in their eyes. I volunteered there in several different ways. When I asked that the other shelter let me become a member, I was brought into a room with three larger males and pretty much trash talked and intimidated. The guy that ran the place said something like "You think you're better than us?". I was almost crying at this point. I was hungry and tired. My knees ached. They thought I was a drug addict. I had just walked a couple miles from the library. He told me that if I didn't believe that I would die on the streets with no help. I politely declined to be subject to that sort of treatment and I walked out of that door nearly sobbing knowing that I may have to be cold again that night. But I will risk pain any day over giving power to people like that. Being content is the problem. I was thinking bigger picture. It may have helped me to conform in that situation, but it would be doing the next person in my place a disservice. I'm happy I was strong that day but many other times I was weak.

Which is profoundly immoral and also shows their true colours.

Someone hook this human up with some gainful employment and attempt to assist him in auto-stabilizing. He sounds like he would be a real asset given a relatively small investment.

FWIW, I can't think of any other country this is possible in besides the USA.

Why not work any job first and get your life straight? McDonalds, cleaning, Kirchenhelp whatever.

Than with a small flat, internet and a computer you have enough to try again a career in it.

This article makes no sense to me. It feels like there is something wrong with this dude and he still hasn't figured out what yet. I guess this article is for soliciting pity. But his real story seems extremely juicy. He should write about the details there. All of the interesting decisions and events that got him to where he is was glossed over in this article.

"My interest in computers and programming was more like an intense obsession. It affected my ability to focus at school." <- this makes no sense. To me, programming is an exercise in formulating a plan, executing the plan, and verifying the outcome. Every step requires focus. How do you "study" and "program" without being able to focus?

"Undiagnosed mental-health problems led to some fairly poor decisions." <- what health problems? what decisions?

"Relationship issues for a now twenty year old developer proved to be too much. Emotionally I was devastated when that relationship ended. It affected me and I had no one to help me through the emotional stresses of the situation. It affected my work. It affected my activism." <- Every sentence here is interesting. If he went into detail and wrote about this, it would fit the title and it would grab my attention.

> "My interest in computers and programming was more like an intense obsession. It affected my ability to focus at school." <- this makes no sense.

It makes perfect sense; an obsession makes it easy for you to focus on the subject of obsession, and hard to focus on other things. As school likely mainly consisted of things other than programming, an obsession with programming would naturally adversely impact overall focus at school.

Maybe that's the issue. For him, programming is an abstract notion. Whereas it's really just a practice. You work on it, figure out where you are being dumb, then go home and take care of other stuff.

It seems like you're making up a definition of "programming" that happens to describe your particular circumstances/abilities.

For example, It doesn't sound like you have ADHD. A classic symptom of ADHD is the ability to hyper-focus on one thing, to the exclusion of anything else. Such as being stuck so deep into a book or project that you'd barely notice if the building was burning down. Any sort of school/life balance would be extremely difficult to achieve.

How do you "study" and "program" without being able to focus?

Because when it's time to study biology, all one thinks about is how to distribute units of work across GPUs for that thing they're working on. Kind of like the two pit bull terriers I have at home. Oh, they can focus like a motherfucker. Too bad that when they're focused on a squirrel they have no bandwidth left for my commands.

I could focus for long hours continuously for days without end, but not on biology. Around the time I was taking biology I was focused on learning Lua and the LÖVE framework (https://love2d.org/).

I am thankful for your response. The longer story would be fairly juicy, I guess. I want to write more on it but it is painful and I am embarrassed by many decisions that I have made. I've been to jail several times for activism and for someone else, for example...but I've never been because I did something considered immoral, I guess is the right way to put it. I want to write on these things and your response motivates me to do that. I will think on it a bit and figure out how to approach this.

"painful and I am embarrassed by many decisions that I have made."

This I get. One of the hardest mental blocks that I had to get around was thinking that it would be deeply embarrassing and triggering if I talked about my decisions and experiences. That I would be "found out" and "be exposed as a fraud".

It is quite the opposite. Talking about your experiences is extremely liberating. You can be who you are, you don't have to make anything up to fill in the gaps, and it is just in general much easier than worrying about conforming to some expectation. AND you will be much more interesting, because you have lessons to pass on that somebody else may find valuable and apply to their own lives.

> I've been to jail several times for activism

Don't you think you should probably stop your activism? It isn't good for you and you're in no position to advocate for anyone.

>I want to write on these things and your response motivates me to do that.

I would caution you not to. What goes on the internet stays there forever. Google will fight your right to be forgotten. Real names are a great way to attract batty twitter haters who want to ruin your life due to some perceived slight from reading your stories. You can easily go from pity story of the day to "ZOMG I hope you never get a job and die in the streets" in just a few words on this board. Be wary.

I'm HFA and I can only focus on what interests me. I got through school because I could just read a textbook the night before an exam and ace it, but when I was in actual classes I pretty much just napped. But I was an admin of my school's computer lab and trained students and teachers, ran a BBS and co-sysoped a multi-line chat system, while holding down a part time job etc. So I totally get the inability to focus on things that are uninteresting or seem not to be useful in a contemporary sense. (This is still the case =)

I am also a homeless dev and when I was in hs I only programmed and could not do school work.

I understand the pain.

A similar story is pdxHomelessDev from last month. Some people on HN helped him out but I never heard if he got off the streets. His gofundme hasn’t updated. https://www.gofundme.com/homeless-dev-support

Moving to a larger city with a tech focus will allow him to sleep in a rented tent on the sidewalk. This is a lot more economical.

So it sounds like you'd rather be homeless and not lie to others than stay in the religious-affiliated shelter and lie to them about your belief.

Have you thought about this deeply? Seems like perhaps the experience of being kicked out by grandma because of your atheism has perhaps poisoned religion to you to the extent that now you're so headstrong about denying it that you are missing a huge opportunity to get some stability by simply nodding your head and saying what they want to hear at that shelter. Might be worth sacrificing your principles temporarily to find a place to stay. If you can't do that, try finding a church that will you help you if you agree to at least hear them out - maybe you don't need to profess faith but they'll at least accept you listening to their beliefs (even if deep inside you know nothing they say or do can change your mind, letting them feel that possibility and try might be enough for them to shelter you).

The truth is that small towns are probably one of the worst and best places to be homeless, but a lot of that 'best' comes from churches. So if you're going to lock yourself out from their help, you probably would be better off street begging or something in SF or NYC or some larger city with government assistance for homeless and staying in a non-religious shelter there. Because small towns don't have that government infrastructure, but they do have churches with foodbanks and religious families looking to get someone back on their feet if they can feel that they've turned that person into a Christian.

If you're so passionate about secularism - you could lie about believing, live at that shelter, get your life together, and in 10 years use the income and resources you have then to advocate for secularism or atheism.

My other piece of feedback is remove the secret keys from your GH account (I saw some on your IRC bot), you may be missing out on lots of potential work because that's a huge security flaw (or some other word greater than flaw) - no company will want you to work for them if they think you could expose secrets to the world wide web.

Last - try to do less experimentation with code and more experimentation with your job application process.

If you are repeatedly starting phone screens with your story about needing a car and it isn't working, try something different. You're not going to find many articles on the web telling you to lie about yourself, your history, your reasons for resume gaps, or your home situation. But most people aren't as desperate as you are. Maybe get creative with the truth and sell yourself as something you aren't.

Have you considered just making up an address or choosing a random house address when you put down your place of residence on an application?

It seems wrong that faith-funded organizations are allowed to discriminate based on religious belief. This also seems like a different scenario than, say, paying for birth control.

> It seems wrong that faith-funded organizations are allowed to discriminate based on religious belief.

Not that I think it's morally acceptable for faith-funded charities to turn away some people based on their lack of faith, but:

a) Individuals acting on their own founded and run the organization. It would be a violation of several important rights (theirs) for a government to regulate how they choose to run their charity, or whom they choose to help.

b) I have a hunch that a lot of these anecdotes attribute discrimination incorrectly -- i.e. I suspect the person in question was more than "not a believer". People who get turned away because they're chronically abusing the system (or for similar reasons) tend to infer malice where there is none, and level accusations accordingly.

That being said, I strongly disagree with any open-to-the-public charitable organization discriminating on the basis of religion or any other categorization, beyond the "this person is abusing the system and we don't want to hurt them further by continuing to enable this destructive pattern in their life -- so we can't provide further X to them until they do Y and Z".

> It would be a violation of several important rights (theirs) for a government to regulate how they choose to run their charity

No, it wouldn't, especially if they want the tax subsidy of being a 501(c)3 charity; they aren't merely tax exempt, but donations to them are tax deductible. That's an outright public subsidy: the government literally is paying people (and paying rich people more) for every dollar they donate.

Government subsidies come with government restrictions.

You can have a lot more freedom if you choose not to drain the public treasury, and even more freedom if you also don't choose the liability shield associated with the corporate form (which also comes with favorable tax treatment, in some regards.) And even more if all the work is done by partners in the effort committed to the cause for its own sake, and not as wage labor.

But, yeah, volunteering for optional, preferential government status and engaging in the employment market subjects you to government rules associated with those things

> It would be a violation of several important rights (theirs) for a government to regulate how they choose to run their charity,

They formed a charity to get the tax relief from that same government. With that relaxation on taxation comes a restriction on activity.

> They formed a charity to get the tax relief from that same government.

Nope. They formed a charity to help people.

> They formed a charity to get the tax relief from that same government.

Not at all. They formed a charity because they wanted to make a positive difference in the world.

That US law originally recognizes charities, churches, and other non-profits as tax-exempt is a a recognition of the solid, positive contribution to society that such organizations make. Their tax-exempt status was originally granted as such, and not with any idea of using it to stipulate how they should do things.

So I strongly disagree that tax-exempt status somehow grants the government authority over an organization's affairs. It would be better to revoke all organizational tax exemptions than to begin to use it as such leverage.

> That US law originally recognizes charities, churches, and other non-profits as tax-exempt

...Is a false statement. It doesn't “originally recognize” any such thing.

It permits charities, including churches and some other non-profits with specific functions, to voluntarily apply for status that includes tax exemption, a public subsidy via tax deductibility of donations, and a wide variety of restrictions on behavior.

Most shelters / street churches like that are happy to help you as long as you respect their beliefs and you're willing to listen to what they have to say.

Homelessness needs to be addressed nationally. Doing it on a city and county level is not effective enough at addressing this national crisis. The problem is deep and all American cities are impacted by it. We need to look together at it and come up with solutions that address housing affordability, addiction, mental illness, medical disease and insurance issues, and a basic standard of living. We need a central place where all homeless can have these issues addressed and can work to help advocates and other homeless people in the community to recover. The solution is needed now.

I love this response. It reminds me of the problem of organizing in Anarchist circles. There's two big camps that exist. 1. Insurrectionism 2. Platformism Insurrectionary Anarchism promotes distributed affinity groups and a sort of anti-organization methodology. They are the types to start community farms or food not bombs in their community and worry less about things they aren't directly connected to. It overlaps a bit. Platformism is basically the belief that an organized structure of representation, where affinity groups across a region elect representatives to make decisions for all of them if the decisions follow their "platform". I definitely have had ideas and tried to implement a few, to address homelessness, in both of the cities that I was homeless in. The projects did not get far as I was struggling to survive, but I hope to continue that work later on.

my boss is hiring and i have a spare room to let. only half a world away.

Is the offer still up?



wtf is this women advice... (i don't actually want to hear how you justify it)

That's too bad because it's my opinion, not yours. The purpose is that people in hard times need to focus on getting one's life in order before bringing anyone else into theirs, not on love as a panacea or escape because the drama and chaos will lead nowhere good. The overriding principle is no one else can save them and it's an unhealthy mindset, they must be their own "hero."

that has nothing to do with gender, so you've brought that in why?

>keeping a charge was almost impossible

Hey Jesse, pick up a solar panel. You can get waterproof two usb port that'll crank out 20-30 watts ~$50. I'd recommend an ARM laptop too. They're cheaper and Intel is generally too power hungry anyway. A Samsung Chromebook Plus used on swappa would be really nice. It has a really bright display so you can still see it outdoors in the sun. For data, T-Mo is unlimited for $30/mo pre-paid.

Put your panel in the sun, sit in the shade at a park, tether your phone for internet, and you're golden. You can strap the panel to your backpack and charge on the move too.

Any link or suggestion for laptop solar chargers? I want one.

Most of these don't provide anywhere near the advertised wattage. And when they do, it's usually in direct bright sunlight (i.e. depending on where you are and what season it is, it can be that efficient only for a few hours, and sometimes none at all).

If you want a decent portable solar panel, get the non-flexible monocrystalline one.

Any suggestions on models?

I like the flexible one because it's lightweight and not easy to break. I'd be open to other options though if you have suggestions.


> Problem is capitalism.

I don't think that's the problem.

Judging from his nick, that's a troll alright.

It's definitely not helping things.

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