Tip #5: Be prepared for unexpected encounters
No matter how well you plan, there will always be twists.
Planning is incredibly important when being homeless since foresight and preventative measures are always the best way to avoid bad situations, however, despite planning, sometimes you have to throw them out and re-evaluate the moment.
It's not always easy knowing what the right decision is, but the worse thing you can do is to stick to a plan that's no longer effective.
Here are a few encounters where I had to act according to the demands of the moment.
Day 3: May 13th, Sunday
It's 9pm, so I head over to Easton Softball Field again. Everything goes according to plan, and I climb up similarly as last time, undo the rope tying the latch down, get inside, set up my blankets, turn on the heater, and try to sleep.
After several hours...
I wake up to music playing at 2am. It's coming from the speakers around the softball field. It takes a moment for me to recognize that music could mean people; I become extremely alert. Who turned it on? Did anyone turn it? Or does it just turn on by itself? If it turned on by itself, how? My brain tries to conceptualize what I'm supposed to do while looking out of the announcer box windows to see if I can get anymore information (like people walking around).
I head up to the roof to get a better vantage point, and try to look around, but I get no new intel. It's still relatively dark, why would anyone be awake at this time?
I head back down and pace a bit in the announcer's box, I'd like to sleep, but the music continues playing, haunting me.
After a lot of hesitation on how to proceed, I end up leaving my belongings in the announcer's box so I can scout for more information while remaining light. It's risky, but I figure if there's people, I'd have to adapt my strategy anyways, and it'd be good to first confirm or disconfirm the presence of people. I make my way carefully to the entrance of Easton Softball Field, and peek outside the main entrance to see if there are any cars or signs of people. I notice the car guardrails to the back side of the field are opened, they were closed when I arrived last night, but upon looking to the right, there are no cars. Does this mean someone came to turn on the music then left? I don't like this conclusion, and I promptly run back to the announcer's box, get my stuff, and head out.
As I'm leaving through the back, the music actually stops playing. I hesitate for a moment and consider going back and sleeping, but I decide against it and start walking towards Sunset Rec. I feel alert.
That same day I "showered" in Kaufmann North Pool, and I felt satisfied at having avoided the chance of any encounter, but I still didn't have a set location to sleep, so I ended up at Easton Softball Field again.
Also, being exhausted from all the mess of the last few days, I found myself reflecting in my journal, here's a snippet I wrote before heading to sleep.
At 9pm, I head over to Easton Softball Field; I sleep in the announcer's box, the heater glows gently orange.
After several hours... (May 15th, Monday)
I wake up to the sound of music playing at 2am, but exhausted and not adapted to the hours of sleep I'd gotten over the past few days, I fall back asleep.
I wake up to the sound of a consistent knocking sound that seems to be coming from outside. At first, it doesn't register consciously, and I roll around a bit in protest at having woken up, but then, I realize, as I open my eyes and look up, that the sky is not dark, and there's the early morning light, not yet with sun, but light rushing into the announcer's box. What time is it? But I don't have time to check, I get up immediately and investigate the knocking sound by looking out of the side window. I can't believe my eyes. There's a person in uniform standing in the middle of the field raking the dirt and pounding the softball mounds with a cylindrical pole. I immediately pack up my blankets, turn off the heater, and put on my shoes.
I consider my escape options. Rooftop? Maybe there's a way I could climb down from the top and avoid being seen. I start heading up, but change by mind as I remember the top is visible from the middle of the field. As soon as I opened the latch, it would be pretty obvious if he looked just slightly up. This doesn't make me feel good though, the only other way out is through the main door of the announcer's box which leads to the bleachers, which I'd have to go down several flights, not the mention it's hard to keep quiet on the bleachers, and it's in full sight of the middle of the field. I'll have to wait until he's out of line of sight before I can do anything. I stare at him intently.
The moment comes, the janitor goes to my left and out of sight, so I open the door to the announcer's box and head down the bleachers as quickly and quietly as possible with all my stuff.
On ground level I have more decisions to make, do I head towards him and through the main exit or try to find another way? I consider that if I'm caught now it won't be as suspicious, nor do I know a way out from the opposite end. It would be about the same risk if not more to take the longer way since it would look like I'm trying to avoid him, which I would be.
I slowly peer around the corners of each natural angle to see if I can spot or hear him before proceeding forward. Various plagues, awards, and images of UCLA softball players accompany me to the right. I move forward, and I'm accompanied by a fence now. As I continually bridge the distance between me and the janitor, the lines of sight begin to diminish, there are less things to hide behind or things to peer past. I get close to the exit, which means the janitor is likely close as well, unless he's back on the field now, but I can't tell. I pause for a moment, then decide to run for the exit while crouched. I reach the exit, open it, and keep running, not bothering to look behind, but I don't hear anything, so I consider myself safe. Regardless, I continue jogging towards Sunset Rec until I'm far enough away from Easton Softball Field. I decide it's a good time to shower, check my belongings (switching out dirty clothes for clean clothes), and head to campus.
So that situation wasn't the worst, but perhaps it should have prepared me for the next encounter.
Day 8: May 18th, Friday
After a short nap (out of fatigue), I head to Covel Commons and go to the roof again to sleep. It's only 8:30pm, but I'm exhausted and potentially getting sick. I arrive, I sleep.
After several hours...
Somehow I wake up, and I open my eyes briefly to see what time it is but it's still dark outside. My body tenses a bit; I think I'm hearing doors opening and closing; I consider that I'm likely just paranoid and that they are coming from inside the building. I try to close my eyes and sleep, but I hear another door open. I consider investigating the noises, but even if I did I wouldn't know how that would help me: there's only one door into the roof, so I'd have to find a hiding spot if there really was someone. I consider the places to hide, but there are none, the roof is a big circle, the best I would be able to do is jump up on the right-hand ledge and pray not to be seen as I loop around to the other side: this is unlikely to happen, so I close my eyes again... —until I hear voices, then footsteps, and then undeniably —I see two students in CSO uniforms, one Mexican about 5'4" with an average build and a hefty mustache, and a taller average white guy who seems to draw out his words just slightly at the end. They're talking to each other as if they were a couple going on a leisurely walk. In contrast, I'm lying prone on a plank of wood, my heart is about to explode, looking directly at them by squinting, and considering what I should do. If I move, I'll likely scare them and make matters worse. If I don't move, I'll have to pray that they don't peak any further, but they are literally right in front of me, their backs are just facing me. By default, I lay as still as possible. The Mexican crosses a set of pipes in front of me, lifts up the projector screen and calmly says, "Huh, this is cool." The other officer languidly says, "Yah... pretty neat —" then freezes, and he's looking directly at me now, while motioning to his partner, and without another word they both exit the roof room at record speed; I can hear their frenzied steps as well as the door to this room slam shut. I get up and consider my options, my mind is pacing, I have to decide on a course of action quickly —do I stay put? Do I try to hide somewhere on the rooftops? Do I try to catch up with them and talk to them? Every second that passes is another moment that they're contemplating their own actions in response to me —what will they do? But I can't possibly answer this question, I decide to put on my shoes and a jacket and see how far they've gotten. I move slowly but confidently so as to give off the appearance that I've done nothing wrong —this is my roof, that's the mentality. I retrace all the way to the main entrance to the roof, the stairwell, and open the door: the two officers are their on the bottom step, and they look up immediately at me. I speak first, "Hi, is there anything I can help you with?" My demeanor is calm, I've practiced tense situations before, and I'm confident that they are more terrified of me than anything else —after all, they are just students and they've probably never encountered anything like this before. The white guy responds, "Yah, we were hoping to ask you why you were up there," his hands are on his hips, his voice stern, attacking. I nod my head, "I was sleeping."
"How did you get up there?" the white guy continues.
"The door was open."
"Okay, but it's a restricted area, I'm still going to have to call my advisor and the police," and he starts talking through his radio walkie-talkie.
My brain freezes, and I consider my options if the police are really called. Strange thoughts flood my mind and I wonder if I made the right decision to talk to them. The white male finishes talking on his walkie-talkie and says to me, "You're going to have to talk to the resident director, he's coming over."
I blink, I'm still trying to process everything, then I remember my belongings are still upstairs, "I left my stuff upstairs, can I get it?"
He nods his head, his gaze stressed. The Mexican looks at him sort of inquisitively, but since he hasn't said anything the whole night, I'm resigned to believe he is mostly indifferent. I open the door, head back to my sleeping location, and grab my belongings. I begin to prepare my testimony, thinking of the different options of how the next conversation would proceed.
When I get back, they tell me to go in front of them and lead them down the stairs. I try to confirm with them where we are going, but it feels awkward to me that they are mimicking those police movies by keeping me in front of them instead of say at the back: somehow there's a real possibility in their minds that I might try to make a run for it and the white male continually insists that I keep going without ever walking in front of me. They guide me in this fashion a bit haphazardly until we reach the interior of the building and we go down those steps with me in the middle instead. I try to make a bit of small talk with them. They are both students. I also remark that if the roof is off limits why were they there? The white male responds, "It's our job to check things out!" Well...
We arrive at the entrance of Covel Commons, and the lady at the front desk looks at me a bit awkwardly as if to say, "Where did you come from?" We wait in the lobby for a few moments until I ask them if I can go to the bathroom. The white male says okay. I try to open the door, but it's locked and closed, so he opens it for me by pressing the pins in then pushing the door —neat trick. The Mexican accompanies me to the first floor bathroom, and I piss while he stands off a distance behind me near the sinks. I try to make some more idle conversation while washing my hands, "You guys are students?" He replies, "Yes." The feeling of having someone escort you to the bathroom is an odd feeling, it's like being a prisoner or a VIP, who knows...
We head back to the front desk and a humble-faced black man with a horizontal-striped polo, shaved head, and name-tag that says "Resident Director" walks in the front door. We exchange greetings and head back inside the main area of Covel Commons instead of hanging around the lobby.
The resident director looks at me softly and begins to ask for my story.
"Why were you sleeping up there? You have no where to go?" he asks. I confirm his statement.
"How long have you been up there?" —Just tonight.
"Where do you sleep then?" —I shrug, then say, "Wherever."
There's a visible sadness in the air, then he continues, "Are you a student?" —Yes, but it's a long story.
"When were you last enrolled?" —2015.
"Did you graduate?" —No.
"Can I see your bruin card?" I get my old bruin card out of my backpack and hand it over to him, as I do so, I prepare plausible statements in my head that I can make to get it back incase they want to keep it afterwards.
"I'm going to call my advisor to see what we can do for you."
He takes out his phone, heads over to the hall that leads to the bathroom, and calls someone. He looks at my bruin card and flips it around a couple times while waiting, and then he begins speaking. I hear little parts of the conversation, but otherwise the two CSO officers and I are just standing at the bottom of the first flight of stairs in Covel. The resident director's voice echoes down the hall slightly, "Hi Joe Bruin #6, I have here a... William Frunga— Gu," he continues to recount the details that I just told him to his advisor. They exchange back and forths, a few "uh-huhs", and then a, "well, alright. I'll try to work something out with him," followed by him hanging up his phone and walking back over to us.
He continues, while looking at me, "So I talked to my advisor, but there's nothing we can do for you because you're not a currently enrolled student," he pauses.
I respond almost automatically, not quite understanding how the circumstances turned out, but then realizing "it's completely fine, thank you!"
"And you can't stay in this building."
"Not a problem!" I say, and all four of us begin heading to the lobby leisurely. The CSO officers look astonished. The resident director gives a slight chuckle, "Now, I'm curious," then continues heartedly, "I wanna know how he got up on the roof!" I open the door heading outside, take the awkward stairs down, sit on the curb by the intersection leading up to Sunset Rec and down to campus, take out my computer, check the time (1:03am), and reflect on what just happened.
The sound of speakers, "IF YOU LIKE PINA COLADA!.... GETTING CAUGHT IN THE—" and a group of students break my thoughts. I look at them and contemplate what they are doing up at 1am on a Saturday. Friday night party? Dance group? They huddle at the intersection, and I take a picture of them for no apparent reason: they don't say anything.
Aside from unpleasant encounters, sometimes you just see another people unexpectedly...
Day 13: May 23rd, Wednesday
It's 7:21pm. There's a dude sleeping on the piano bench; he's been there for a bit, but two girls that just arrived are now laughing at him and walking up to him, waving their hands in front of his face, laughing more and running back to their chairs continually. He has a skateboard besides him; he's definitely homeless. He presses a piano key with a limp hand as if he heard me or the girls which falls down as sadly as the note that was played —sudden and ineffectual. Rip.
... Then a few days later:
Day 18: May 28th, Monday
I spend the next few hours working De Neve, then I see him.
This kid is definitely homeless too. Do you remember him? I took a picture of him in De Neve Rec room.
I wish he wouldn't be so blatant about it. I'd at least like to think I put up a good disguise, but maybe I'm not fooling anyone either. As I continue walking, I hear the sound of the tranquil voice of... Joe Bruin #1 and the Pi's down the steps. I consider myself absurd, but I check and do in fact see the group there. They are surprised to see me as I am surprised to see them. We talk briefly, then I head up and Josie Bruin #6, Joe Bruin #1, Joe Bruin #2, and Josie Bruin #7 follow suit to fill their water bottles. We walk the idle walk of idler's who have no use for time. It's around 2:30am. They fill their water bottles up and leave; Josie Bruin #7 says, "Bye Will," and I say, "Bye..."
I find my couch and sleep. It's 3:22am.
I wake up to the sound of a familiar janitor lady... the same one that gave me her spiel a few days ago at the bottom of the stairs. She looks at me half-discontented and repeats in her same monotone voice, "There's no sleeping here..." and heads over to the kid and gives the same spiel to him. It's 6am; I'm dead tired, but pack up my things and head to Jacaranda room, turn off the lights, and pass out there.
After waking up, I work for a while then head out to the couch since the Jacaranda room is cold.
The kid is still sleeping on his couches, but he was told to leave. This discomforts me greatly inside, "why the hell are you still sleeping there," I want to say to him, "don't you know you're going to jeopardize this whole facade for the rest of us too?!" but instead I'm forced to watch as the lead janitor lady walks up to him, taps him on the shoulder, and begins asking him questions much like the resident director had done for me. "Why are you still sleeping here?" she asks. No response.
"Are you homeless?" she asks. —Yes.
"Are you a student?" —No response.
"You know they have a shelter if you're a student, you can do that." —Thanks, will do.
"Alright, but no more sleeping here..." —Thank you. Thank you.