SAN FRANCISCO - SEPTEMBER 16: A homeless man holds a cup as he begs panhandles for spare change on September 16, 2010 in San Francisco, California. The U.S. poverty rate increased to a 14.3 percent in 2009, the highest level since 1994. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Our Declaration of Independence states that, “all men are created equal.” I firmly believe that. In the United States of America you are born equal; after that all bets are off. You are on your own.

You are not entitled to any kind of free ride at the expense of your fellow citizens unless you’re physically or mentally unable to contribute to society.  In those cases all necessary help that can be provided should be provided.

What’s It Like To Be Homeless?

In the 1980s I was a flat broke panhandler living in my out-of-gas car on the streets of San Diego. What was that life like?

It’s a double-edged sword.

On the one hand it’s nice to wake up every day with zero responsibilities. No job, no taxes, free food at soup kitchens, relief centers and churches.

The down side is safety. Being robbed by other homeless or rousted by police. So the homeless often travel in pairs or small groups for protection.

Someone always knows what time bakery’s throw out yesterday’s doughnuts that didn’t sell.

Working Your Way Out of Poverty

I could have stayed in that life and been fairly happy I guess, but I wanted something more. So I panhandled for gas money, bathed in gas stations restrooms as best I could to keep shirts as clean as possible so I could go on job interviews.

Shoplifted razors, shaving cream, deodorant, toothpaste, soap, etc. Not all in one trip but a little from time to time and only after casing the store. Few security cameras back then.

The heat coming through the back window of my hatchback Mazda would press my white shirt and one suit for job interviews that I found in the paper.

I had to park near a pay phone (this was before payphones were outgoing calls only) and long before cell phones. It was the only way to find out if I got a job. I prayed the traffic would be light if anyone did call.

That One Big Break

I went to a job interview and the interviewer sensed that I was in trouble and after some denial I told him my story. He referred me to a local church.

I met the people there who allowed me to take an actual shower and gave me a few bucks for gas.

They invited me to the church service that evening and a gentleman on disability offered me his couch until I could find a job.

At last I had an address, and phone.

I finally did find a job a few months later in a town close by so I moved out and got a room in a flophouse motel.

No lock on the door so each night all my possessions came out of the car and into the room. Reversing the procedure each morning before work.

After a time I was able to rent a room in a home, then eventually a small apartment.

Some Final Thoughts

The only thing that got me out of poverty was the personal desire to get out. I know not everyone could follow my example exactly as it happened to me. It did not happen overnight. Took a couple of years.

I do know that is you want something, and are willing to sacrifice for a short time you can better your life. Opportunities are all around us if we can just recognize them.

But I also know, from first hand experience that unless you are physically or mentally unable to work — being poor in the greatest country in history is a choice.

Help is everywhere, but you have to choose to take advantage of it.