Joining the 'discretionary homeless' : a reporter's decision to live in a Walmart parking lot and what he found
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I lived eight months of my final year of graduate school at the University of Texas at Austin as a homeless person, sleeping in my car. I parked overnight at various Walmart store locations across Austin. There was a group I have come to think of as the "discretionary homeless" who also regularly parked on Walmart lots. Being a member of the discretionary homeless means living in your car and being mobile - an option that many homeless people do not enjoy. Not unlike many members of the country's struggling middle and working classes, they may have had trouble finding steady work, failed to meet payments on a mortgage or opted not to deplete their financial resources to zero. It’s unclear how big a subset such people make up of the country's 610,000 homeless but what I learned from my reporting is that there are a sizable proportion of people who have made a conscious decision to become homeless. And perhaps it is a good prism through which one can examine these discretionary homeless -- to get a sense of the logic behind their decision, and to see how they are being handled or offered help. Discretionary homeless people are not likely to come in frequent contact with city residents and will likely continue staying on Walmart parking lots. We are generally self-sufficient and usually not a nuisance -- able to blend in with everyone else on the road and in public.