Friday, July 28, 2017

Finding the Food You Need

My last post got some pushback from homeless people who basically scoffed at the idea that a homeless person has money or that a homeless person would worry about nutrition. I currently have earned income, and I do worry a lot about nutrition. I am not the only homeless person who has some kind of income or worries about proper nutrition.

But, I have gone through periods in the past when I had a lot less than I have now. At one point, my bank account was locked up for 30 days by one of my creditors. I basically was limited to found money that month, though I did have food stamps and I was in downtown San Diego with access to food pantries and the like.

So, I do realize that there are homeless people who have no money at all. I suggest you start by checking out the Money page on this site, plus the Food page. If you are in San Diego County, the Food page has some listings for local meal sites and the like.

But, this page is being written on the assumption that:
  1. You aren't in San Diego County
  2. You don't have food stamps, can't get them or they simply aren't enough
  3. You currently have no cash and no ready means to get any
  4. You probably have dietary restrictions due to health issues

Where to Get a List

As I said in a previous post about Finding the Services You Need, when I was going to homeless services five years ago:

the state of the art for getting information into the hands of actual homeless individuals was word of mouth and paper handouts.
I was able to find a paper handout with a list of local food resources at places like:
  • Food Pantries
  • The Welfare Office
  • Homeless Services Centers
So, if you can locate any of those things in your city, go ask for a list of meal sites and other food sources. It may part of a more comprehensive list of resources or it may be a stand alone list.

Food Pantries

I used to use the food pantry services from Catholic Charities. They were really good and gave you some choices. You filled out a form that let you check mark one of two to three choices per listed category. This helped me get things I was more likely to actually eat, given my dietary restrictions. They provided about three days worth of food. You could go once a month, about eight months out of the year.

Churches

Churches sometimes have free meal sites and other services. If they do a free hot meal, the norm seems to be once a week. Some of these are good and some are not. If you have no idea where else to start, go find out what is available from churches.

Free Meal Sites

If you are in a big enough city, you should be able to find free meal sites. In addition to churches, these are often served at homeless services center and sometimes found at parks or at places where homeless people are known to gather for some reason. Keep your eye out, ask other homeless people, ask for info at whatever services you can find.

The Big City

Wherever you live, if you are really destitute and you are in some small town or mid sized city with little in the way of support services, go to the nearest big city. They will have more homeless services and more meal sites. This is exactly why I spent six months in downtown San Diego when I was first homeless and at my most destitute. I left after I acquired food stamps and was generally in a little better shape.

Bread and Produce

When I was homeless in downtown San Diego and really destitute, I was initially getting a lot free bread and drinking water from water fountains. Word to the wise: This is a great way to wind up horribly constipated. Once I knew that, I began trying to make sure I got bread and produce. Since I do have dietary restrictions, the meal sites were often not a good fit for me. But I applied for food stamps and I began learning where I could get bread and produce about once a week. Once I had mapped out enough places to reliably get bread and produce (plus a good breakfast site), I generally had enough to eat, without having problems like severe constipation.

Middle Class Free Food

I also use discount cards, reward programs, etc. I still participate in Microsoft Rewards (formerly known as Bing Rewards) and I get free Starbuck's gift cards that way. I have a Starbuck's membership and I get free items for participating in that. There is a website/email list called Free Food Guy that tells you about promotions at restaurants and the like where they do free items periodically. Even while dirt poor, it is sometimes possible to get some freebies from the middle class route of promotinals, reward programs, etc.

So, find out what food resources are available where you are at and do your best to use the ones that meet your needs. If you can't get your needs met where you are, consider going to a bigger city which is likely to have more resources.

But, also, take it upon yourself to begin working on solving your problems. If you don't have an income, you need to develop one. I have spent the past 5.5 years doing the following:
  • Getting healthier
  • Paying down debt
  • Developing a portable online income and scaling it up
The fact that my income is portable allowed me to leave San Diego County and move someplace cheaper. I may also eventually leave California entirely and move someplace cheaper. I hope to be able to afford housing again sometime in the not too distant future.

Warning

I am aware that some homeless people get food and other items out of dumpsters or eat out of trash cans. I have never done this. My entire plan for solving my personal problems hinges upon the need to get well first. I am very big on germ control. Dumpster diving and digging in trash cans runs counter to that plan. When you are homeless, it can be impossible to get properly cleaned up again after exposing yourself to something like that.

Part of the point of this website is providing tips on how to get your needs adequately met such that it preserves your path back to a middle class life. Eating well and staying healthy are a big part of that.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Where to Get Bacon, Eggs, Butter and Affordable, Quality Beef While Homeless

Like a lot of homeless people, I have health problems that come with special dietary needs. I blog elsewhere about managing my health problems largely with diet. But what I don't typically talk about there is the fact that getting specific foods that I need comes with special challenges while homeless.

If I need something like beef, I need to find a place that serves it cooked because I have no cooking facilities. It also needs to be affordable for my constantly strained budget and it needs to be high enough quality for my health needs. Here are some of the things I periodically need that can be hard to find on the street and how I handle that:

Bacon and Eggs

Bacon and/or eggs can be surprisingly hard to find, plus bacon can be surprisingly expensive. Both are easier to find now that McDonald's offers breakfast all day. You can get a bacon, egg, cheese biscuit for under $4 any time of the day if you are near a McDonald's.

You can get bacon and eggs 24/7 at Denny's. Some of the breakfast items include bacon and are affordably priced, such as the Value Slam. Though if you get the Value Slam and want bacon, tell them "all bacon." Otherwise, you get a single slice of bacon plus a sausage. When you say "all bacon," you get two slices of bacon.

Taco Bell has breakfast items until 10:30 or 11 a.m. that can include bacon and/or eggs. A Bacon Breakfast Burrito from Taco Bell is one of the cheapest ways to get both bacon and eggs.

Sometimes, grocery store delis sell things like breakfast burritos and there are other restaurants with breakfast options. But these are the ones I typically rely upon. They are reasonably "homeless friendly" and affordable.

Butter

Butter does good things for my condition. Among other things, it seems to provide good support for bone marrow, which is a critical part of the immune system. I used to buy sticks of butter and a roll or two and make butter sandwiches when my pain was real bad. I haven't done that in a while. I don't need as much butter as I used to.

Although butter is on the expensive side, it is covered by food stamps and it will keep for a few days without refrigeration, especially if you are someplace with a mild climate (like San Diego).

When I do get food from Denny's, their breakfast items typically come with a small tub of butter. That is the primary source of fresh butter for me currently. I do sometimes stick it in a Ziploc bag and hang onto any unused butter, because it does keep for a bit.

Alternately, I read labels and buy bakery items made with real butter. This can include sugar cookies or loaf cake.

Beef

Beef is a good source of protein, plus it is high in iron and B vitamins. I and my oldest son sometimes desperately need beef to get an adequate supply of those nutrients.

My go-to answer for affordable, high quality beef is Chipotle. They have two kinds of beef: Steak and Barbacoa. I typically get a barbacoa taco. I am missing a lot of teeth and the barbacoa is very soft. It is basically shredded beef.

If you have never eaten at Chipotle, the menu prices can look pretty intimidating. The listed price is for three tacos. If you get just one taco, it should be under $3.

Yes, this is still a lot more money than a taco at Taco Bell. But I don't eat beef at Taco Bell. I mostly eat vegetarian options there, plus the occasional item with some shredded chicken on it.

If you don't want a taco, you can just get a "side" of beef in a bowl. It will be over $3 for a single scoop, or around $6 for a double order. Compared to going to a steak house, this is still a bargain.

When we were first homeless, we sometimes would get take-out from a steak place, like Outback's. That usually ran us around $20 or more because you have to order an entire meal. You can't just get a steak by itself.

Beef jerky is another option. Some beef jerky is pretty decent quality. It also keeps well and can be bought with food stamps.

I also sometimes go to Panda Express. They have at least three beef dishes that work for me, including Broccoli Beef. But their Angus Steak option is made with higher quality beef than their other beef dishes and that is the one I typically purchase.

It is an extra charge. So I am paying a bit over $8 these days for a 'bowl,' which is one main dish plus either rice or noodles. That still is vastly more affordable than a place like Outback's and vastly better quality than a hamburger from a fast food place. I almost never eat hamburgers. Because of my health, I am very picky about meat quality.

If you have special dietary needs and are homeless, it generally makes more sense to try to find a means to meet your special dietary needs than to ignore them. Ignoring them can lead to very serious health problems and this can be miserable, debilitating and can lead to substantial medical bills.

It can take a bit of research, but I have been able to take good care of my health while homeless. I am actually growing stronger and healthier, and this is part of my plan to eventually get off the street and get my life back.