Being Homeless
Being Homeless At The Gay Baths

The weather has been crazy, and those who dismiss global warming as a myth are clearly in denial. The past couple of days have been below –10. We have gone from one extreme (hot drought in the summer) to the other (frost in the winter). This cold weather has gotten me thinking about people experiencing homelessness. When the cold weather strikes, it is always in the news. Because of those zero-degree temperatures, homeless men routinely check into the baths for shelter.

Every single one of us is just a few paychecks away from being out on the street. We are all vulnerable to being on the breadline. Gay bathhouses are where the impoverished stay, both gay and straight men. Yep, you read that right. Plenty of straight men spend the night at the baths. Beggars can’t be choosers as the baths are a cheap alternative where people experiencing poverty can stay safe. The baths are not free, so the skid row has to stay at places for people without housing. But if the choice were between a shelter (where your life and valuables are in danger) and the gay baths, the baths would win every time.

The baths are a relatively safe environment (drug users and hustlers notwithstanding). You have a warm bed, a place to shower, and sometimes even free food. If you play your cards right, you can get your laundry done. Every bathhouse has on-site laundry facilities for washing (with heavy bleach) cum filled towels. However, only some bathhouses will be receptive to doing your laundry. The majority of bathhouses will say NO. But it doesn’t hurt to ask. If you are a regular customer and charm the laundry guy, he may slip your clothes along with the sheets and pillowcases. Don’t worry; the heavy bleach and overheated dryer will kill any cum residue.

You even get entertainment in the form of free cable. Years ago, several older men would arrive at the baths every night to watch ESPN. They would come armed with their dinner, snacks, and non-alcoholic drinks. Planting themselves in front of the TV, fully clothed, they would watch hours of non-stop sports. Unfortunately, they were also bad for business. The television was in the lobby, where potential customers could see them through the cash window. They would see these older men sitting around watching TV and assume the bathhouse crowd was elderly. So no one would come in. It got so bad that management had to remove ESPN from the dial so the men would stop coming.

How someone can afford to sleep nightly at the baths is a mystery to me. Where do they get their money if they have no source of income? Wouldn’t renting a bachelor’s apartment be cheaper if they had money? The last statement I can answer. Coming up with the first and last month’s rent, a key deposit, a signed lease, and a credit check would only be possible with help. With no previous address, it can be challenging. What about a cheap motel? You’d need a credit card to register, and with no credit, what can you do?

It is overall cheaper to rent a bachelor. But living hand and mouth daily, the only option, other than a homeless shelter, is the baths. Some homeless guys cannot afford a room and can only purchase a locker. Then the challenge is to find a discreet place to nap. Management dislikes this and will discourage it, rousing men from their sleep. But it is hard to police. So it is common to see fully dressed men sleeping on the patio at 3 AM. When I had to go to the gay baths at the crack of dawn, I would encounter some homeless men who were leaving. Their 8 hours are up, and it is time to check out. These are ordinary people that you’d pass on the street. Not realizing they are without a home.

Bathhouses don’t encourage people experiencing homelessness to spend the night at the baths. But they don’t discourage it either. Unless the person is a real nuisance, management has no reason to refuse entry to someone who lives on the streets. As long as they are not dirty, relatively clean, and don’t smell, they are fine – no worries about encountering men who reek of odor. But gay baths are a business that needs to make a profit. They depend on a revolving door of men who come and go – turning over rooms quickly for the next customer. The more guys check in and out, the more money bathhouses make. If you have guys spending all 8 hours at the baths, there is less money to be made. It is why when midnight comes, the music gets cranked up at FULL BLAST. It adds to the excitement of cruising the hallways. But more importantly, it discourages men from using the baths as their place to crash nightly. How can anyone sleep with the loud dance music blaring in their ear? Some get around that rule by figuring out which rooms are the quietest from the music. They will even go as far as to be put on the waiting list until a specific room opens up, as a good night’s sleep is essential.

Though I would see homeless guys (both gay and straight) all the time at the baths, I’ve only gotten to know a handful. One guy I remember was from England, looking for work. He had no place to stay but picked up day labor jobs that were cash only. So he would go to work during the day. Then at night arrived at the baths as if it were his home. Another guy who seemed completely straight (and morbidly obese) was going through a separation from his wife. I suspect he came out to her, and she kicked him out. With a low-paying job, his choices were limited. Like the guy from England, he also treated the baths as his home. So night after night, he would arrive at the baths to spend the night.

Then there was Kirk. He was always upbeat and in a good mood whenever I saw him. Identifying as bisexual, he is utterly comfortable with his sexuality. You’d always see him in his towel, shooting pool and guzzling beer. Early one morning, I walked in, and Kirk sat at the bar sipping coffee. He was down in the dumps that morning, which surprised me. Kirk was fully dressed and taking advantage of the complimentary breakfast the baths serve every morning. Sadly everything had gone wrong for him, despite kicking his addiction and being a certified drug counselor. He couldn’t get any work, lost his housing, and now lived at the baths. Kirk asked himself what had gone wrong. He did everything he was supposed to and followed all the rules to stay clean. Now Kirk is living on the streets. He wondered why he even bothered to get off of drugs. At least being on drugs, Kirk was part of a community, accessing services as a drug user and making cash selling narcotics. Where was he now? Spending his nights at the baths and wandering the streets during the day, wondering what he could do next – while lugging his coffee pot, a bulging knapsack, and a suitcase on wheels.

Kirk cut all his ties with his drugged-out friends. Then people he thought were his friends dropped off the face of the earth. Only one person helped him by giving him a job in his restaurant. Kirk made just enough cash daily to rent a room at the baths. Then he started to cry. I was at a loss for words because I didn’t know what to say. I had never seen anyone look that defeated. Here was someone who I thought had it all together, sober but still hit rock bottom. So what was the point of getting clean? There was nothing I could do or say, and I felt so helpless. So I gave him a free pass to the baths. That way, he wouldn’t have to spend any money when he returned later that evening. I ran into him a few days later on the street, and he looked much better. I didn’t get any details, as he was with someone else, and I haven’t seen him since. So hopefully, everything has worked out.

But not all homeless stories are that sad and depressing. Antoine is from a rather large metropolitan city. He is in his thirties but decided to throw caution to the wind. Antoine came here with no job, only aspirations of living in an even bigger city. He found some work and a roommate. But with a few missteps, he wound up jobless and homeless. Most guys usually spend their nights at the baths and spend their days on the streets. But Antoine does the opposite. For him, it is a homeless shelter during the evening and baths during the day. How he found a safe shelter place to sleep is a mystery, as I’ve heard nothing but horror stories about sleeping at a shelter. Before Antoine lost his housing, he told me he wanted to return home. I recently followed up with him on that. Why are you still here with no housing, no job, and very few opportunities? A few months ago, he was threatening to leave. So why is he still here? Antoine told me that even though he comes from a big city, this city is bigger and better. Despite being homeless and jobless, he doesn’t want to leave. There are more opportunities, more fun, and a better atmosphere.

Nobody wants to be homeless and live out on the streets. These men are just like you and me, so there is no reason to be afraid of them. These guys are surviving, and it is the gay baths that help them survive and even thrive. At the gay baths, no less.

3 thoughts on “Being Homeless At The Gay Baths”

  1. You’ve raised an important issue in pointing out that the homeless are showing up at the gay saunas in the West. Sometime ago, I wrote a post on my gay blog predicting the emergence of Tuberculosis in gay saunas in the West. I said this would be due to the homeless, the druggies, the warm damp environment and the chronically compromised immune systems of so many sauna customers.

    I received flak for having the temerity to suggest this could happen in a “developed country”. The sad reality is that these “developed countries” are showing the social characteristics of less-than-Third-World countries. Many in the West are still in denial.

    No doubt you have read the very recent news reports of TB appearing in the homeless shelters of Skid Row in Los Angeles. What’s a bet some of these homeless also make it into the gay saunas of West Hollywood?

    creator of the Fuel Injected Male gay blog

    1. You wish you were actually getting attention for having the “temerity” to mention whatever dreamt up disaster scenario you wish upon the West. Still licking the wounds over having been rejected by the native guys there. Now in Hong Kong playing the big shot, feeling superior to rice queens. It’s what gets you off, as no one will fuck your hairy brown sand paper ass.

  2. No country is truly civilised where homelessness exists. Basic accomodation should be provided to all those who can’t afford rent or a mortgage. And by that I mean studios or one bedroom appartments with bath and kitchen – not a rabbit hutch or a bed in a “shelter.” Some would call me a communist, well perhaps capitalism has gone way too far already. I’m from Western Europe, and already here I am shocked at how American things are becoming, so can’t imagine how awful the U.S.A. itself must be (then again, it depends on region perhaps).

    Anyways. I have also met semi-homeless people in the sauna, sleeping over, or drugging themselves there. They often left home due to traumatic situations, immigrants that did menial work that didn’t leave money for proper housing, some socially disabled persons who fell into a social vacuum with no support system, or tearaways. I felt great concern for all of them, and did chat with them offering them advice (even though I know finding a solution is not that easy at all).

    I was shocked when other bath patrons mentioned that they didn’t care about these homeless and only thought they were convenient cheap rent boys – or riff raff to be looked at in scorn. Which again, shows what microcosm of society, the sauna can be. People are stone cold and have no moral qualms about exploiting people in dire straits – no empathy. To the point that I do not wish to have sex with people with that attitude, because it’s like letting evil have access to me. I’d much rather hug a kind homeless chap and buy him a coffee, than to have a super affluent well hung professional arsehole.

    From your story I conclude that you are a person who feels great concern for those in problematic situations, and willing to help them in whatever small way you can. You are not just a gifted writer, but also a blessing to those in need. What a lovely beautiful person you are.

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