The Friedman Archives

Homeless for 3 5 Years



Imagine getting on a plane to go to a foreign land with only a few dollars in your pocket, no particular plan, no place to stay, no place to return to, and because you’re on a tourist visa, no way to work legally.  Now imagine doing that and criss-crossing the U.S. while being officially homeless and jobless for three years.  These two sisters, age 25 and 28, have been living that life.  Coming to America in November 2008, they’ve been having no shortage of adventures across the U.S. and seem to take their entire transitory lifestyle in stride.  It's a pretty amazing story.

[Editor's note: Other than the fact that the picture above was taken with wireless flash and a Lumodi beauty dish, story has nothing to do with photography.  I'm sharing this with you because I found the story fascinating, and I thought you'd be riveted too if I told the story well.  (I'm sure you'll let me know how I did. :-) )  -GF]

I first heard about these two from mutual friends.  Upon hearing of their story my mind instantly filled with questions:  “Homeless with no income for three years?  And they’re traveling around the U.S.?  How do they manage that?  Where do they bathe?  How do they deal with the cold?  Why don’t their clothes look tattered?  What do they do for money?  What’s it like to be homeless and hang out with that community?”  

Somewhere in Northern California

A few months later I heard even more stories:  They were camping out in the Malibu mountains for 3 months.  They met Martin Sheen.  They had thousands of photos documenting their trip and a ton of possessions they’ve been accumulating.  (Where did the money for THAT come from?)  And then this strange tidbit: They’re bicycling through the Pacific Northwest – on bikes that they BOUGHT.  ???


That’s it.  I had to meet these two and interview them.  (Hey, if nothing else it might make an interesting blog post!)  Back in April 2011 they were in Southern California and my friends arranged a meeting.  The only condition was that their names could not be used, and I couldn't run the story until I got their approval.  Fair enough.  They also allowed me to view some of hundreds of scanned photos (from a film point-and-shoot) documenting their journey, a few of which are sprinkled throughout this post.

Washington, DC

So let me give you a condensed version of their adventures.  And let me start with the obvious questions:  They felt they had to leave a very bad home environment.  They have no bank account or financial support to fall back on.  They go from city to city relying on homeless shelters, churches, and the kindness of complete strangers. They are well-educated and articulate.  And I’m sure their youthful appearance opens a lot of doors for them.  While they can’t officially work for a paycheck they certainly can barter and because they’re both natural networkers, they were able to house-sit, care for stables, do language translation and other odd jobs in exchange for having a place to stay for short periods. 


They spoke of many adventures in many cities across the U.S., and most of their stories go something like this: They get a handout at a homeless shelter or church; they use the money to buy a bus or train ticket to somewhere, they strike up a conversation with a friendly stranger while en route who eventually volunteers to help them out – sometimes to put them up somewhere, sometimes to provide more funding.  Then they’d find an obscure place to camp and hang out for awhile, surviving on the local feed-the-poor infrastructure. 


Somewhere in Georgia

Here are some abbreviated stories:

Somewhere in California :-)

Another bath.

A sample of each girl's writings.  (When there's no money for paper, every square inch counts!)  Resolution is intentionally low to discourage you from reading the content - I was actually more impressed by the density.  There are many, many pages like this!

Martin Sheen (Charlie Sheen's father for those of you on twitter :-) )


Living it up in someone's living room

Job is in the background, yelling as they make their egress.


The entire trip has been like that.  They estimate they've traveled through about 30 states so far.  According to the girls, they never actually went around ASKING for money – they just start conversations, people like their story, people then want to help financially.  “I wish I had done that when I was younger!” the strangers would say vicariously. 


Some pointed questions during the interview:


Does the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service know about you?  Yes, they did have some run-ins with the INS, but it’s their policy (probably due to budgetary constraints) not to deport people who are here illegally if they haven’t broken any laws.  (Especially if that deportation involves an expensive plane ride.)

What does their future hold? 
 They can’t say.


Do you want to be living like this 20 years from now?  Probably not.  They might get married and settle down one day, but it would have to be a legitimate marriage; not one of convenience.

Was sex ever involved to help you get by?
  They both say no.

I heard you bicycled your way through the Pacific Northwest.  How were you able to afford bicycles?  After two years they finally communicated with their parents, who sprung for the bikes.  They got flat tires every day and their backs were sore carrying all of their material possessions with them at all times.

Bicycling through the Pacific Northwest

Any other wisdom?  “Don’t ever have anyone call you collect.  It’s cheaper to get a throw-away cell phone and toss the phone.  Two collect calls a few minutes each cost almost $100.   (Collect calls don’t go through the phone company anymore – it’s now a private company.)


Their story is epic and is difficult to encapsulate in a blog post - in fact I've only touched on a few of the stories they had to tell.  I guess part of my fascination is that their choices and actions were completely the opposite of everything I was ever taught when I was their age: get a stable job, save your money, plan for the future.  These two live for the moment and the future is rarely an issue.  I wonder how far I’d get (being a less-attractive half-centurian) if I ever found myself in their situation.


This story was written in 2011.  I'm not sure where they are now, but I do know they're still out there.  Last we communicated they were in Virginia heading to Philadelphia.  I'm sure their adventure would make a good screenplay someday.

The most recent picture I have of them... from July 2011


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