Early November brought mixed emotions for Danny, left. He found housing, although he also had to grapple with the fact that his close friend, Carl, right, a couch-surfer, was dying. This photo was taken in July. John Huff/Fosters.com

Danny calls 'houseless' life a fight for survival

By Kyle Stucker

PORTSMOUTH — Danny doesn’t even remember how young he was. To him, he was just camping with his mom and sister.

He didn’t know until later in life, when he was forced to stay at a local campground, that he was what many people consider to be homeless.

“I didn’t realize,” says Danny, now 32. “So, I looked at it as (if) it was fun. But then as I got older, I realized, ‘Now I’ve turned into survival mode.’”

Danny is one of many Portsmouth tenters who have found help through Cross Roads House, a shelter in the city. In July, Danny, shown here at Adelle's Coffeehouse in Dover, was still healing from a dog bite that required several stitches. John Huff/Fosters.com

Danny, who declined to give his last name, describes himself as “houseless.” He says he’s never been homeless a day in his life because he believes his home is wherever he rests his hat, which on this day is an immaculate white baseball cap with a flat brim.

Survival has been Danny’s default mode on and off his entire life. He’s bounced between campsites in Dover, Rochester and Somersworth, although he’s spent most of his time tenting in Portsmouth. Each time he’s moved his site, it’s typically been because police or property owners no longer allowed him to stay there — but there have been other reasons.

“Everything’s a frustrating world out there,” he says. “People think you have no responsibilities, when you’ve (actually) got to sit there and worry about, ‘Oh, I have to move my campground again because the cops kicked me out,’ or you’ve got to worry about people running up on you in the middle of the night, slitting your throat.”

Looking out for your fellow tenters is key, according to Danny. On the streets and in the woods, particularly in Portsmouth, he says he’s found mutual connections that run deeper than any other relationship in his life.

“I’ve got more family on the streets than I do my own blood,” he says. “This is my family.”

That family’s bonds run through laughter and jokes. Danny says a sense of humor is vital to survive life on the streets.

“We also like to have a couple beers now and then, but we don’t mess with no drugs,” he says emphatically. One reason for that emphasis may be because Danny lost his mother to a fatal overdose years ago, something we learned after our interview.

Even if Danny and his neighbors were interested in using drugs, Danny says, it would come at the expense of the little cash they earn to feed themselves. For Danny and many others, meals are a rare treat in a painful, churning cycle.

“Just surviving and trying to figure out that next plan, how to find that next bite to eat, how to make that next dollar. It’s a continuous thing,” he says.

“You’ve got to eat. You’ve got to eat,” he says, repeating the sentence with added emphasis. “We’ve got to panhandle every now and then, fly a sign, you know, just to hope that we as brothers and sisters can fill our bellies for the night.”

Danny moved into a new apartment in Dover during the first week of November, and this time he hopes it sticks. He’s been in and out of different housing situations over the years, some of which he’s found thanks to “tremendous” assistance he received at Portsmouth’s Cross Roads House, the Seacoast’s largest shelter.

For Danny, living on the streets does bring a sense of freedom. However, he says, he looks forward to giving up some of that freedom if it also means saying goodbye to the unrelenting physical and mental beating that comes with the lifestyle. He also hopes to help other houseless people in some way.

“Spending so much time (out in a tent) takes a toll on you,” he says. “I’m 32 years old and when I complain about my aches and pains, I got older brothers who sit there and (say), ‘Oh, you’re only 32,’ blahbity blah, ‘Toughen up, fluffy’ and all that stuff. You know what, you get weathered. It takes a toll on your body, and people think, ‘You don’t pay rent, you don’t do nothing.' We’re all young people, and we are so weathered. We’ve been out there so long.”