My Story as a Homeless Developer

By Jesse Horne

I’ve been writing code, good and bad, since I was eleven years old. Living at my grandmothers at the time, entertainment for me usually consisted of flipping on the television to Cartoon Network and watching “Ed, Edd n Eddy” or my favorite, “Dexter's Laboratory”. I would see the lab that Dexter, a child, had built, and would try to recreate it using variations of crayon-covered paper and oddly-stacked furniture.

The moment I received my first computer, I was hooked. A friend of the family who also was our go-to plumber, gave me a Pentium II. He handed me a CD of Ubuntu. It took me a couple of years to convert but I’ve been using variations of Ubuntu ever since. Before I convinced my grandmother to pay for internet, I would take floppy-drives to school and download antiquated BASIC interpreters and copy-n-pasted tutorials from old textfiles. I’d bring them back home and try to learn as much as I could. She finally agreed to pay the bill for the lowest speed available. My machine could not run the games that my friends were playing, so alone in my room, I coded the days and nights away.

As the years went by, my interest in computers and programming was more like an intense obsession. It affected my ability to focus at school. I started doing poorly in 6th grade. From that grade, I barely was able to pass each year. I was learning so much at home, that I had no interest in the mundane and ineffective methods used at my schools. I’d rarely do homework, and when I needed to know something for a test, I waited until the last night before the exam and I would find tutorials that covered the subject. I wish I had understood the value of school, then. I began to learn the hard lessons of life when I decided to drop out, in 10th grade.

I quickly received my GED but ended up at my grandmothers house on and off, because of family problems, searching for freelance work and finding just enough to keep my portfolio growing. I knew I had to escape my neighborhood and my family. Undiagnosed mental-health problems led to some fairly poor decisions. I was seventeen when I experienced homelessness for the first time. I was kicked out of my friends house and my grandmother didn’t want me there. She was adamantly Christian and I was a stubborn, computer-obsessed Atheist. She looked at me the day I showed up to her door-step, desktop in hand, and said “You can’t live here. I will call the police if you do not leave.”. I had did nothing wrong to her. I never stole from her, always demanded my brothers to respect her even with her faults and practically begged her to love me. But nearly an adult, I knew I had to get on my feet and survive on my own from that moment on.

“red neon light cross signage” by Diana Vargas on Unsplash

Luckily, I was not homeless for long. I made a few calls to people across the country that I had worked on projects with and a very good friend knew someone in Atlanta that could pick me up and house me. They saved my life. I ended up staying there for three months. I would help with yard-work and every moment awake not doing that, I would be working on my portfolio. After the third month, I was offered to be flown to a small town in Wyoming and interviewed. I had been offered to be flown to California a couple of times when I was sixteen years old for interviews, but my grandmother wouldn’t let me go. She said that it was a trap and that I would be kidnapped, even after I showed her printed pages of evidence that it wasn’t some psychotic scam.

I spent eight months or so there working hard on antiquated PHP accounting software and introduced the company to better ways to maintain their sites. They weren’t the most moral of employers. They took care of me but demanded more than I could offer as far as over-time. The pay was low and the living costs were high. My hourly wasn’t working for me. So after a couple months of searching for a new position, in private, I found a contracting firm in Iowa that offered to fly me out for an interview. I landed in Des Moines late one night and the recruiter picked me up. They put me up in a hotel and gave me rides to work long enough for me to get into my own apartment. Getting on my feet from that moment became easier to do.

I worked hard and advanced in that position fast. We were writing RESTful JSON API’s in Python 2.7. I learned so much in my time there. It was a great experience. Relationship issues for a now twenty year old developer proved to be too much. Emotionally I was devastated when that relationship ended. It affected me and I had no one to help me through the emotional stresses of the situation. It affected my work. It affected my activism (that’s a story for another day). My contract was ending and my manager, a friendly and intelligent guy, suggested that I figure out my problems and work somewhere else for a little while and then come back. Sadly, I haven’t been employed since then.

I ended up losing my apartment, made more poor decisions, and couch-surfed. I’ve been couch-surfing ever since. Slowly I lost every amount of savings I had, my car, and friends that tried their best to support me through that time. When I got a chance to sit at a computer, I would obsessively write code and start projects that I thought could potentially earn funds. I was able to get back to my hometown in Georgia, where I had no friends at the time, that were willing to let me spend the night, much less put me up. I’d hang out at the bars downtown and the nights I had a place to sleep were the nights they had friends over to drink and play card games. That wasn’t working for me so I managed to get back to Iowa.

Photo by Ben Hershey on Unsplash

I quickly lost my living arrangement there with a friend and was on the streets again. Being homeless is hard. It’s hard to get access to wifi without walking miles every day and keeping a charge was almost impossible without running into police who didn’t want a smelly young guy sitting in the public walkways with his bag. My friends were the ones I was around in the shelter and on the streets around the neighborhood I was in. It gets very cold in Iowa, in the winter.

I was still stubborn and would not agree to believing in the almighty bearded creator in the sky, so one of the two shelters would not help me. I was still obsessively interested in programming and had no interest in any other job. I didn’t take advantage of the other shelter. My days consisted of walking around downtown, keeping a charge on my phone, calling people looking for work and reading tutorials that I couldn’t really put into practice. My limited time at the library was spent trying to write code in a browser because I could not download the editor that I preferred. Yes, I also tried to write code on my phone. The projects I started never went anywhere and I never received any work.

Being homeless is very hard. It’s never as easy as anyone says it is, to get back on your feet. I’ve been trying to find jobs in this small town but that hasn’t worked so far. I have no car and I do not find enough freelance work to save, so I don’t imagine I will have one anytime soon. I’ve had countless calls with recruiters and so on… The calls usually go something like this.

Me: “First thing, is I am looking for a remote position just long enough to allow me to save for a vehicle.”

Recruiter: “Sure. *spends 20 minutes gathering as much information about me as they can*”

Recruiter: “We’d love to move forward with a position but you do not have a vehicle and the position requires you to have reliable transportation.”

Me: “Thank you for your time. I’m sorry for the inconvenience.”

“seal laying on bench” by Jackman Chiu on Unsplash

So all this being said, being homeless is *hard*. I blame no one but myself for this situation. I now have a chance to get back on my feet and although I have a ton of obstacles in my way, I believe I will succeed. I’m working on projects every second that I’m awake.

I appreciate your time, readers. I woke up this morning not knowing what to do and feeling like there’s no hope at all for me. Finishing this article up has given me the motivation that I will need to work another day. Any and all feedback is welcome. I’d love to hear about other similar situations. Are you struggling with similar problems? Let’s talk. Two poor, homeless minds are better than one. If you are in a similar situation as I, don’t give up just yet. I know there’s stability and peace in my future, and I’m not any more important than you are in this universe, so it’s there for you too. We just have to go and get it.

“asphalt road between the trees” by Arthur Aldyrkhanov on Unsplash