How to be Homeless around UC Davis

A short 3 week experience living around UC Davis.

How to be Homeless around UC Davis

The Story

I wasn't expecting to be homeless around UC Davis, but due to some unforeseen circumstances, fate decided that this would be my task: at around 7pm I set off from the apartment that I was at to UC Davis.

I started off on the east end, but all the building doors were locked, normal, since most classes end at 5pm, so the buildings close around the same time. After a bit of searching, I stumbled on Kemper Hall, a computer science building at the far West end of campus. It was around 10pm and extremely cold outside, so I was lucky that it was approaching finals for students and the door to the building was propped open by an empty picture frame. I walked in and explored the building. Students sat on couches and chairs with tables; I took the stairs up to avoid the common area.

After going through the building, I decided on my sleeping spot.



The next day brought me to my friend's car. Thanks.

After that, I stumbled upon a small isolated building near the center of campus, actually it was a lab building, and I found out the back door was unlocked at night, which is a key condition I look for when picking buildings to sleep at: accessibility is important.


I slept there the first night without a problem, and the second night I took the same backdoor entrance to get in.


This time, while I was working at a small conference room adjacent to the classroom I was sleeping in, a janitor came in and asked me if I had keys to the building. I told him I didn't, and he said that he was sorry, and that he'd have to ask me to leave. I grabbed my belongings, went downstairs to the first floor and listened for the janitor vacuuming the floor and changing the trash bags. After he was done, and I heard him coming to the first floor, I went up to the second floor, so that we avoided each other, and I slept on the classroom floor again.


The next day I went back and tried to be careful to avoid him. I decided on a location on the first floor since I thought he cleaned the bathrooms first and then went upstairs, and the location I chose was a corridor down from the bathrooms, so I would know when he began his shift. I also discovered a microwave while I was at it that I would use later to warm up the burritos I bought from the Trader Joe's about a 15 minute walk away.


While I was sitting down in the hall listening to music, I started hearing the noise of wheels, like a trash bin being rolled along the floor, I hesitated a moment, then immediately closed my laptop and began packing up the chips and drink I was still holding and eating at the moment. As I finished packing, I saw the front of the janitor's supply cart begin to roll around the corner, which gave me just enough time to run down the opposite corridor and head upstairs.


For the next hour the janitor and I played cat and mouse. Of course, he continued with his normal duties, but I kept hearing jangling keys down every corridor, so that it must have been the case that he had heard my footsteps, and he was being more proactive than he should have been. It was a small building too, so it took a lot of effort on my part to avoid his line of sight. I eventually ended up in a closet on the second floor, which was in an equally unused storage room, so that I was almost certain no one would find me; what I didn't like is that I had no clue what he was doing while I was in this room, but I must have stayed put for 20 to 30 minutes, which I felt must have been enough time for him to finish his shift which had already dragged on for quite a while.

When I walked out, I ended up in the small study room that I was at the previous night when he asked me to leave. All the lights were turned off and the trash bag was changed, so that I felt at ease, and I took out my laptop in the dark and began listening to music, propped against the wall. After a few moments, I thought I heard shuffling in the classroom adjacent to me, but I dismissed this thought. Another few moments later, the door right next to me opened, and in a last ditch effort, I hid behind the door. His voice rang, "Hello? Is anyone there?" and I eagerly waited for him to close the door, but he didn't and peered around the door, so that we looked at each other, face to face. "You scared me," I said. He turned on the light and his face puffed, "What are you doing here?" I held the pouch of Trader Joe's dried mangoes out to him, "I'm eating mangoes."

Our conversation continued in this manner for a little bit, until it became obvious that he was not in a pleasant mode, and he declared that he was going to call the cops. I tried to weasle out of it by offering that I wouldn't come back, but he said he wanted to be certain, so I agreed and said if that would make him feel better to do it. We stood there and made idle conversation as he tried to find the ranger's number or whomever he was supposed to call. I asked him about his life. He'd been working as a janitor for 20 years. I asked him if he liked it. He said, "Oh yah! I love it, it's... simple. Simple." I asked him what he did outside of being a janitor. "Oh, I have lots of friends!" I asked him if he had a family. "Oh nope, no, my parents are both passed away; it's just me." I asked him if that was hard. "Oh no, it's great!" and he gave me a placating smile.

"Are you looking forward to anything?" I asked.

"Retirement, maybe I'll work for another 7 years or so, and then..."

"And what after retirement?"

By this time he'd already called the cops, and we were waiting for them to arrive. He politely excused himself to go outside so he could wave down the cops so they knew where we were. The 3 cop cars came along the road, two of them passed us, but the third one saw the janitor waving his arms above his head and pulled into the space below the backdoor entrance.

The three cops came up the stairs and the janitor explained the situation to them. I was being very cooperative he said to them, but I was sleeping where I shouldn't be sleeping, and when he discovered me in the dark, I was being strange, etc etc. After that, I walked down with them to the ground level and they formed a little semi circle around me. We talked, and I repeated my situation to them: "I'm homeless because of some unforeseen circumstances, so I've been finding places to sleep." We talked a bit, and one police officer, obviously having a good time, told me I should check out this app call Wildfire. One of the other cops chimed in, "Are you sure it's not spelled with a Y? As in Wyldfire?" Regardless, the officer in the middle pulled out his phone and showed it to me and encouraged me to download it, "Maybe you'll find a kindred coder homeless buddy who can help you out! You know..." and he continued saying stuff, but I didn't really hear him. They also recommended a homeless shelter that was on 11th and H Street or somewhere close to there. Each of the officers gave me a handshake and went off, and I walked to see if the homeless shelter was still accepting people at midnight. They weren't; so I walked all the way back to campus and looked for other places to sleep.

I stumbled upon Lecture Hall 1100 at the Death Star (Social Sciences) near the main Memorial Union building at UC Davis. The front doors were locked, but one of the back doors was unlocked. I got into the lecture hall, pressed down two chairs on the top row and tried to find a suitable position to sleep in.

By this time, I had done some extra exploring in the mornings to discover other places to sleep. I also found showers that were accessible at the residence halls: Bixby and Malcolm. The first door into the building requires a student card, but after that all the doors are unlocked, so using the showers were pretty straightforward.


And Bixby, across from it:


With a shower settled, I searched for more places to sleep. I went back to the Asmundson area because even though I wasn't going to sleep there anymore, I'd stored my extra clothes inside a closet in the building, so it would be more convenient to sleep near Asmundson to be near my belongings.

I found another small building which tend to be good since there are less people who frequent it.


Once inside, my exploration of the two floors led me to the single lounge area in the building.


And there was a mini-fridge and microwave which I used for my Trader Joe's breadsticks and burritos.


A janitor came in at around 8pm to take out the trash and that was about it. The rest of the building was silent.

I took three of the chairs around the table and placed them in the fashion shown above in the picture, turned off the lights, and slept, with my gray blanket wrapped around me.

I did this for several nights, until one night I got back to the building late and it was locked, so I had to look for another place to sleep.

I went back to Lecture Hall 1100 expecting it to be unlocked, but this time, it was locked. Slightly panicked, I began trying all the other doors surrounding the lecture hall. One finally opened.


The building was just this single hallway.


And there were still open doors and people talking and working in the building. It didn't look hopeful, but then, while looking at each of the open rooms, I saw a few were empty and outside some of them had a sheet of paper:


The hours for when the room was in use, which meant, no one would be using the room until 9am (the earliest TA office hour), and the only person I had to really worry about was a janitor coming in and taking the trash out discovering me. After a bit of hesitation, I decided to risk it and simply try to hide myself if the door opened since the trashcan was at the entrance of the small room, and I'd be sleeping...




I turned the lights off, got into fetal position on the desk, and slept, cramped, but doing the best I could.

The next day I was careful not to repeat that occurrence and looked for secondary sleeping spots instead of Sprocket. I found a conference room that was unlocked in the Plants and Environmental Sciences Building.


The day after that, a couch in Cruess Hall, the design building at UC Davis.


But the day after that, I had to do laundry, and while I was doing it at an apartment on 1st Street, the building manager walked in and told me to leave or she would call the cops because the machines were only for building residents. I'd just finished washing my clothes too, and she looked at me and said firmly, "Don't come back and dry your clothes." I wrapped my wet clothes in my wet blanket and began walking to the UC Davis apartments for students which had a common area laundry facility. I'd just hope that someone would be doing laundry at this hour and let me in. Someone was. I dried my clothes.

All the buildings would be locked at this time again, but I didn't feel like exploring because it was cold, so I simply sat outside on the steps that lead to the apartment units. A few girls came up the steps, and I decided to at least go inside to stay warm while I thought of a plan for what I would do for the night, the complex was called "Primero Grove".

The hallway had an electrical outlet in a perfect corner location, so I decided that I could work and sleep there because in case someone found me, I could always say I was just studying for finals and fell asleep. The electric outlet saved me from having to find somewhere else to sleep. Goodnight.


While at the library with my friend, he left to run some errands. A few other UC Davis students came and sat at the table I was at because that's where the electrical outlets were; I met a few people and talked with them briefly, though beyond this.

A few days later, however, when I was walking around Memorial Union, a person, as I walking, looked at me intently like he'd seen me before. I walked past him with a slight recognition, but nothing more. A few moments later, I sat down on a high chair with a table, and it just so happened that he was sitting on the couch to my immediate right studying with someone. He looked at me again, and then I recognized him. We talked a bit, and I remembered his name, and he remembered mine, and we ended up having a few beers that night, and I slept on his couch at his apartment.

He also gave me this keychain:


An early Christmas present, thanks man.

Shortly after that, UC Davis students finished their exams and left for home. The campus became a ghost town. I walked around and explored a bit more liberally since no one was around:

Lots of bikes around campus:


Some graffiti at the top of Death Star:


View from the top of Death Star:


Hickey Pool at UC Davis: (yes, "Hickey" Pool)


Random painting in the Plants and Environmental Sciences Building:


And some random signs near Sprocket:



UC Davis is a real eerie ghost town when no one is around.


The final few days brought me back to the Plants and Environmental Sciences Building because I found this excellent location:



The pillows were there beforehand which makes me think someone else must have used it as a sleeping spot previously, regardless, I slept there for a few nights because people tend to follow the rules and won't open a "not an exit" door to discover what's behind it: me.

Total Spent: $208.79, over ~21 days. Monthly average $278.39

Location Times Went Money Spent
Chipotle 8 $61.18
Trader Joe's 11 $147.61
Korean Mart 1 $5.78
Davis Food Coop 1 $8.97


Being homeless isn't too difficult (though it has its difficulties). We like to think it's a temporary thing that isn't at all a lifestyle, but I think it can be one. Technology is going to continually improve and market demands are going to force alternative models of housing because the homeless population is rising quickly and the problem isn't actually that there isn't enough space, the problem is there is space we don't want to utilize.

In the meantime, learning to deal with a bit of uncertainty and discomfort is a small cost for gaining back your time if there isn't a job you've found in society that is appealing to you. Unfortunately, I think most of us are not satisfied with jobs for long so it's good not being tied to a job because of finances. Choosing the job should always be about the job, not its income, which unfortunately very seldom happens since we generally believe we need incomes to live comfortably and well.

Anyways, at the end of the day, working in order to live seems like a bad strategy if it prevents a person from living until they retire (35+ years?). I'll let you know if I change my mind, but for now: onwards.