06/01/2011 09:01 pm ET Updated Aug 01, 2011

Facing My Biggest Fear: Homeless in 30 Days (By Choice)

Mark Horvath, Shelene Bryan and Seth Godin
Photo credit: Barbara Cameron

That darn Seth Godin. Once again, something he said is helping me take a risk. This time, though, maybe the biggest risk of my life. Listening to Seth validated, again, that moving forward is really the only possible solution for personal and professional growth.


Back in July of 2008, after nine months of unemployment, I was offered a job in Los Angeles as the marketing manager for a major church denomination. I took the gig very seriously as I would be responsible for the communications of 55,000 churches. I would also be working with Brad Abare, who many consider (me included) one of the top church marketers, and I was excited to learn lots of new things. This job offer could not have come at a better time. I had been unemployed since November of 2007 completely living off my credit cards. I applied for food stamps in May of 2008, and the emotional crush of heading back into homelessness was overwhelming. This was at the beginning of the recession so no one knew how bad it was going to get, yet because I made over six figures, Burger King and Home Depot would not hire me (I tried), and marketing was being cut, and nonprofit marketing was being cut even more. It was a very dark time in my life.

I had a nice three-bedroom house with a pool in O'Fallon, Mo., that I quickly put up for sale. I had been downsizing for some time selling most everything in the house to have some income. I figured I would rent a "ghetto" apartment in Hollywood for a year while the house sold. I grabbed the lowest-priced apartment I could find in a safe neighborhood that I knew. The plan was to only live here for a year while I sold the house and got used to my new job. Then I would move to a really nice apartment, start a new rock band, find a new wife and vacation in Hawaii. That really was the plan.


The economy kept getting worse. Three months into my new "dream job," they were forced to lay off 50 people. I was last in so that means first out. I found myself, once again, without income. But this time I had a mortgage on a house and rent on an apartment to pay. And with the economy getting worse, my house was not selling even after dropping the price $40,000 lower than what I paid for it. My credit cards were now maxed after living off them for so long. My dark life had returned with a vengeance. I often think about the wonderful people who helped me get through that dark time. Several helped pay my rent. New Hope, a church lead by Charles Lee, gave me food cards. And many of you took me out to eat. It is nothing short of a miracle that I didn't end up back on the streets during that time.

As many of you know, it was in the middle of this crisis that I started

I lost my house to foreclosure. I didn't really have any other choice. We are programmed to buy property and build our American Dream. But I was powerless over any of this. Going through a foreclosure makes you feel dirty.


I ended up on the streets. But I am one of the lucky ones; I got out of street homelessness rather quickly. But it took eight years of living in a church program before I had a normal life and was no longer homeless. Don't get me wrong -- I am grateful that the church provided me with a place to live. But I always had to share a room with others and bathrooms were down the hall shared by many. Freedom of choice was not something I was given. It was a communal lifestyle where everyone knew everyone's business. I really love the church that helped me, as they help more people than most. But like many faith-based programs, they are not very good at getting people back into society. There were many good times with great people I will cherish, but it was a very long eight years before I was able to be the person God would want me to be.

Maybe the best day of my life was the day I moved out of the church into an apartment. I had saved up every penny because I was sick of donated everything. I wanted my fresh start to be a real fresh start. I went around Los Angeles shopping for the best deals that could be delivered. I unlocked my empty, new apartment one Saturday morning and waited for delivery men to show up. By the end of the day, I had a furnished apartment of all new stuff. It wasn't the most expensive stuff, but it was my stuff and it was new stuff. I had a home! My home! And I was no longer homeless.

Since then I have moved several times but I always had a place of my own to call home. It's a safety net of comfort for me. I hated the hopelessness of living on the streets, and it took me EIGHT YEARS to get my life back. It was hard work. Really hard work. Having an apartment is much more than stuff. It's the reward of my hard work and validates I am no longer homeless.


So there I sat in my ghetto apartment, which is where I still live. I keep telling myself it's not that bad if you name the cockroaches. The apartment is one block from Hollywood Blvd. and the circus in front of Mann's Chinese Theater. It gets rather crazy. For example, when Michael Jackson died, numerous helicopters hovered nearly around the clock for days getting footage of people gathered around his star on the Walk of Fame. Outside my window is Hollywood High School's football field, so there are sports and marching bands most of the year. And when school is out, the field is rented to just about anything. When I come home from a long day of working with homeless people, I just want some peace but instead get Jimmy Kimmel's musical guests sound-checking and setting off car alarms. Sleep from Thursday night to Sunday night is impossible after 2 a.m. when the Hollywood clubs close and drunks walk back to their cars. Well, sleep any night is spotty because of the noise from Hollywood. But probably the worst is the dirty building that is not maintained. The bathtub is disgusting even at bachelor standards, and I am still not sure the water in this building is safe.


The last two summers, I have driven around the U.S. and paid for rent on an apartment I hate while I was not even here. That does not make much sense, unless you know some of the history and my fear of being homeless again. Being honest, I never expected any of what has happened to happen, so having an apartment to fall back on gave me comfort. Plus, the road trips happened so fast there was not really enough time to sublet or move. This year it's different.

For a long time I have had this feeling that if I wasn't bound by an apartment, and having to raise money for rent, I could travel more to all the hotspots of homelessness when they happen. When I see something in the news about homelessness I would love to have the freedom and resources to travel and help the homeless cause while the story is still in the public's eye. Eventually will get to that point.

Placing what little stuff I have left into storage and leaving this apartment has seemed like the smart move. But my emotions scream real loud with fear when I think about it. Seth describes this as the "lizard brain". When I heard Seth speak I knew I had to face this fear head on. My friend Greg Hartle also helped me fight this fear. He is traveling the country with only "Ten Dollars and a Laptop." We spent some time at SOBCon this year and Greg says he is "an evangelist for possibilities." I like that.

This week I faced another fear and sold my car. Yes, I have this awesome GMC Terrain, but it's only a loan for a period of time. Not having a vehicle in Southern California is insane. But I could not afford to pay for two parking spaces, and storing my car while I drove the Terrain didn't make sense.

On June 1st, I will give notice I am moving out of this apartment. I will give most everything that is of value to homeless families when they move into apartments starting a new life. I will be homeless by choice.

I have no idea what is going to happen when I return to Los Angeles in November. I actually am trying not to think about it. I will be going back to PATH Achieve Glendale to help with the winter shelter season. But I won't have a place to come back to. I won't have a "home"!


This really has started me thinking, "What is home?" I mean, this is not the first time I was homeless. When I was on the streets 15 years ago I didn't have a choice. Circumstances in life took all choices away from me. I ended up on Hollywood Blvd. selling pictures of my iguana to tourists to survive. It was the very worst period of my life. The hopelessness was so unbearable I don't really understand how I made it through the madness. But I did, and today, I actually look back at it as a "blessing", because today I am sober. My life changed for the better, yet the fear of becoming homeless is strong.

So what is home? I will be homeless for the remainder of this year, but it is by choice. So am I really homeless? Is homelessness really about a structure or the loss of choice?

As with most anything there is a paradox in life. As I find the courage to face my fears I am also finding freedom. The fear is still strong but as I get closer to making huge life changes I start to dream about future possibilities. It is in those possibilities I find the strength to move forward and face my fears.

In less than 30 days I will be homeless. But this time, it is a good thing.