There are a few words commonly used to describe how I am living. Depending on who you ask, I am “nomadic” or transient. Footloose or bicoastal. Remote. Home-free. All of these words have their own connotations but are, generally speaking, apolitical. There’s another—maybe it’s running laps around your left frontal lobe as you read this—but I’m going to ask you to stop; don’t say it. Because the one thing I’m not is “homeless”.
The first day out of my apartment, I started my morning at a doctor’s office. Routine physical, where routine falls between one and four years depending on how thoroughly I’ve convinced myself that, approaching the end of my 20s, I’ve surely contracted fatal, silent killers, have grown malignant, creeping tumors, that, surely, my heart is skipping beats, my lungs scarring (even more than than a lifelong asthmatic’s must already be). But having been reassured that I was, after all, quite healthy, I was excused to a second room where a nurse set to work drawing blood for tests. She exuded a warmth I often feel from friends, and we chatted amicably. Sensing this, and feeling especially friendly for reasons that will presently make themselves known, I told her, at her inquiry into my day so far, that I was actually rather hung over. In actuality I was drunk, the dry aftertaste of red wine lingering in my throat, but I managed to suppress my habitual overfamiliarity, unsure of the repercussions on self-respect were I to divulge my state of intoxication to this complete stranger.
Mercifully, she laughed. What was the occasion? I told her I had just moved out of my apartment, and of the traditional Tuesday wine nights I had with some friends, the intersection of which two events led to a characteristic nonchalance regarding my consumption in liquid volume of alcohol, 8am doctor’s appointments be damned. Where was I moving to? Well, kind of nowhere, I began, always unsure how to explain succinctly.
Maybe it was the hangover; maybe the five hours of sleep. More likely, I hadn’t yet analyzed the impact of using the word. Whatever the case, what I said, stumbling through an explanation of my pursuit, was “so I guess I’m… kind of homeless.”
“Welllllllllll, except that you’re not homeless,” she said. Direct, without hesitation. “I hate when people say that, especially in San Francisco where we have such a large population of people who are actually homeless.” I backpedaled, thanking her for calling out my misuse of the word. “I would guess you have dozens of people,” she continued, “that would take you in if you asked. And thank god for the hospitality of friends.”
I’ve heard the word used several times in the intervening months, and each time, now attuned to its use, I am quick to point out the weight of using that terminology. Depending on your location, homelessness isn’t something you routinely encounter; the word itself may hold less significance. Conversely, to live in San Francisco is to be nearly conditioned to its existence. In the several mile radius encompassing the neighborhoods of SOMA, Mission, Tenderloin, Financial District, Hayes Valley, Haight Ashbury, and Western Addition, you would be hard pressed to walk ten minutes without encountering a person living on the street. The number of homeless individuals in San Francisco, a statistic that is notably difficult to divine, is [estimated to be as high as 13,000] by Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness advocacy group. If any of those 13,000 people had a friend or relative to turn to, a safe space for them to live in while they received necessary medical treatment, or found steady employment, they wouldn’t be sleeping on the sidewalk and begging for change and food.
To be very clear, a nomadic lifestyle is a luxury, and the privileges contained therein are myriad. To have a job that affords both geographic flexibility and financial stability is a privilege. To live in a country with global mobility—[and as of 2017, US passport holders can travel visa-free to 174 countries]—is a privilege. To be, in my case, of a race, gender, and sexual identity that allows me to travel widely without fear of persecution or discrimination. That is a privilege.