An Inside Look at What It's Like to be Homeless

In Harrisonburg alone, there are more than 150 people who are homeless.

To understand what it's like to be homeless, WHSV's Tom Dempsey took an inside look at what these people endure day-in and day-out.

He found out what it's like to search for food or wonder where you will have to sleep.

Jim Van Orden helped answer these questions.

Van Orden has been homeless for the past decade. Unlike many people, he chooses this lifestyle.

"I call it 'glamping' because it's more like glamour camping. I have all the things I need to live rather well,” said Van Orden.

Ever since he was a child, he has moved around from place to place.

"I traveled so much as a child,” said Van Orden. “My mother and I calculated that we lived in 11 different places by the time I was 10."

He says he and his friends rely on services in the city for many of their needs.

Different churches and shelters offer meals throughout the week, but at certain times, these options are not always available.

Jim says he often looks to dumpsters for his meals. He says much of the food will go to waste. He finds fresh food from searching through trash bags.

"A lot of times the boxes will just be sitting on top of the bags. You can just reach in there and it only takes two seconds and boom, you got a pizza,” said Van Orden.

Finding a place to stay can also be a challenge.

The city offers heat shelters for the homeless in the winter, but in the spring the services stop.

When he runs into inclement weather, Jim says an abandoned home becomes a perfect shelter.

On a day to day basis, Jim's house is a tent.

He lives by himself in a forest. Everyday he sets up his home.

Three other people we met along the way, Dave, Kaylah and Kevin, also have a campsite.

Tom hoped to stay in one of the tents over night, but he was told there was limited space.

He ran into a problem that hundreds go through every night. Shelters were closed and churches were locked. His best option was an alley.

"I think we're going to sleep here tonight. I think if you live in Harrisonburg,you can't be seen sleeping in public so this should be safe for tonight," said WHSV Reporter Tom Dempsey.

He says he was constantly on edge, worrying that police would find him and make him move.

For him, it was a relief seeing the sun come up.

“Definitely some weird moments in the night when you'd hear people walking close to you. You didn't know if someone may have seen you of if they were just walking home. It started getting colder in the morning. I woke up almost every hour,” said Dempsey.

WHSV found it is not easy being homeless, but for some, like Jim, it is a way of life.


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