How Lynn Became Our Story's Protagonist


I've been meaning to write this post for WEEKS now. It's been consistently delayed because of all the wonderful things that have happened to me super recently, but also because I to some extent I really dislike writing about this sort of thing. But I feel like I should, and that it'll be helpful.


So I've mentioned having been homeless often enough that I think most people have heard about it, and that's where I'm going to start this off. What do I mean by "homeless" though? Well, there are 4 main types of modern urban homelessness that I know about: couch surfing, sleeping in your car, sleeping in a shelter, sleeping outside. They represent a spectrum of approximately how much society values the welfare of that particular individual, as we don't live in an ideal society that guarantees every person the luxury of a place to sleep that is relatively safe and stable (whether or not we COULD sounds like a fun economics question). But I was couch surfing, and in a shelter (two of them actually). Couch surfing I think most people can imagine. On the other hand sleeping in a shelter can be a very surreal experience, especially when you juxtapose the two shelters I was in.

1st - women's domestic violence shelter. Fairly calm place. 3 meals a day. Your own bedroom, bathroom shared with 3 people. Average age 35. Lots of children running around. Curfew was 10pm.

2nd - young adult (18 - 24) shelter. Incredibly erratic and dangerous environment. 1.5 meals a day. 30 ~ 40 people in the 'room', with high concrete partitions (they didn't touch the ceiling and so weren't walls) separating the room into [door-less] single gender sleeping areas of 4 ~ 7. Bathroom shared with 15 ~ 20 people. Curfew was 7pm.

The 1.5 meals part of the second shelter is actually a pretty important point. Because, if you're homeless and 18, how are you going to eat? Well you need money - and for money you probably need a job. It's very likely going to be retail. While working on said job, you aren't allowed to show any obvious signs of homelessness. In fact, the majority of the homeless people I know are by no means visibly identifiable as such. If you frequent low end retail (example: Walgreens or CVS), I would be willing to bet that you've been assisted by someone experiencing some degree of homelessness.

Training Montage

That was a short advocacy aside, because I was not actually employed during the time I was homeless. I was instead working on training my coding skills. In my opinion, learning to code while homeless is a ton easier than working retail while homeless. But objectively, here's an example day of mine (in the 2nd shelter):

  • 8am Mandatory to be out of the shelter by this time
  • 8a - 9a Writing code on my [paper] notebook while sitting outside (+1)
  • 9a - 12p Writing code on my laptop in the library (+3)
  • 12p - 1p Hunt for free food
  • 1p - 3p Sleep (somewhere random)
  • 3p - 6p Writing code on laptop at the LGBT center similar (+3)
  • 630p In by curfew
  • 7p - 9p boring stuff stuff (eat, clean, draft emails, etc...)
  • 9p - 11p Sleep (in shelter)
  • 12p - 3a write code on notebook in shelter (+3)
  • 3a Sleep (in shelter)

So there are a few things to note here. First, I was 'at work' for 10 hours a day generally. This is actually a low point in that respect, when I was in the other shelter it was 12 hours and when I was couch surfing it was 14. Second, I had my laptop no more than 10 feet away from me at any given time (showers were not an exception), but it wasn't always safe to use it. Writing code on paper can be good experience to have sometimes though! Third, I kept this sort of schedule up for about 4 months. That is the, write / read code for 10+ hours a day while eating minimally and living in super unstable housing (shelters are inherently unstable but also I had to move once every month during this time period). And this was everything that I did. I didn't leave out spots for eating and self care, they simply didn't happen.

And at the time that I was doing all of this I had this really intricate plan that went out 6 - 12 years and involved me either getting into school, getting an internship, getting a job, figuring out how to get financial support independent of the commonly used systems of employment (ex: gittip!), or getting in free or income based housing. I was doing all of this work with the idea that it would make me look good enough to maybe get one of those things to happen, and then I was going to work that into a long time life plan. 4 months in I was still doing a ton of work and wasn't really sure what I was going to happen with it, and then...

A String of Wise Women Bring Lynn to the SWORD OF DESTINY

I think a lot about the long, impactful single chain of people [i.e. the Wise Women] that led me to this point, but the SWORD OF DESTINY is very obviously feminist hackers. I was already the intersectional feminist of your worst nightmares but it never occurred to me that I could connect my feminism with my professional aspect, as a means of breaking into a community. So when I found out that this community existed (more specifically, when I found out about Double Union) I was extremely excited to be a part of it, AND! it turns out that I happen to fit into it fairly well.

So the feminist hackers contributed to me, and I contributed to them. I started going to hackathons, talking to people about my experiences, coming to terms with parts of my identity. To continue with the gamer theme, I gained a TON of experience in social, community, and professional in a very short amount of time. Except... I didn't really realize this was happening? I knew I was doing cool things and meeting cool people but things happened so fast that it never really registered that I was making so many accomplishments. To this day, me brain oftentimes slips back into "I'm homeless, black, trans... I can't buy food, what do I do???". But despite that, I was stilling making the accomplishments. And then all at once, the experience started cashing in.

Lynn Slays ALL of the Big Bads. ALL OF THEM. AT THE SAME TIME.

So I said just a bit ago that my life plan was set up such that if one amazing thing happened, I would then be empowered enough to stitch together a better life. Except what happened was much better than that, so much better that I'm not even sure how to handle it. Also, it all happened in March, but really it happened over the course of two weeks. It being? Well, I:

  • Got someone interested in me in a way felt very akin to a sponsorship. Or, as I've been describing it socially: "halfway between an adoption [i.e. like adopting a child from an adoption agency] and a venture capitalist investment"
  • Got into 2 really amazing internships with local organizations (here is one), and with each one doing work that could very well lead to a career
  • Got into a 2 year free housing program courtesy of the state
  • Got accepted as a Gnome OPW intern working on Linux stuff
  • Opened up about me needing [financial] support, and started getting $250/week [!!!] on gittip
  • Got accepted into Mills College as a Dean's Scholar

And probably a few other things that I'm forgetting, or that happened a bit out of this time frame (ex: my mentorship and class mobility project). If any single one of those had happened to me, I could have weaved it into a successful life. But ALL OF THEM HAPPENED. AND PRETTY MUCH AT THE SAME TIME! The bulk of this occurred 2 to 3 weeks ago and honestly I still haven't really taken stock of all of it.

Happily Ever After

So at this point I'm set. By which I mean that I know at the very least I won't be homeless again, ever. But it means so much more than that! There are so many things I can do with my life now! Like, umm... that's the "problem" actually. My life has been uplifted so dramatically that I'm not even sure what to do with it anymore. Reconstructing those 6 - 12 plans will take a lot of effort, but it's an effort I'm really looking forward to spending time on. And I'll definitely write about it! Hopefully people will like reading it?

-- Lynn