Homeless Street Survival Guide
Equipment, Clothing & Survival Methods
Conserve your resources. Many of the suggested material items can be found in thrift shops, Dollar stores, and Craig’s List.
Homeless - Where and How to Sleep Safely and Stay Warm (click to open)
Packs: Do not get anything that looks nice, it will attract attention and thievery. You will need 2 packs. A large backpack for your bedding, food prep, and larger items. A day pack for when you are mobile. The day pack should contain all your essentials. This is your most valued possession. Keep it with you at all times, do not lose sight of it. Sleep with it on your chest with your arms through the shoulder straps, or beside you with one arm through it. You can use it as a pillow. Even when sitting put your leg through one of the straps. Use a paper clip to tie both zippers together so your pack won’t be pilfered when asleep.
Blending in: Wearing a backpack in populated areas is a giveaway that you are homeless. Police may chase you. Find a place to stash your backpack and use the day pack. In wooded areas your gear will be virtually invisible if you cover it with a camouflage tarp and throw some leaves and brush over it. Make sure you can find it by noting a landmark. Many cities, shelters, and churches will let you stash things, some for an extended period of time. Do not appear to be homeless. Stay neat and clean and many doors will be open to you.
Be ready to leave: Sleep with your shoes on. Be prepared to move quickly. Set up your site with only 4 items to grab; your pack, sleeping bag, cushion, and tarp. Practice getting your stuff together for a fast exit. If you are sleeping in a dangerous area you may want to have pepper spray. You can use tabasco sauce as a weapon in a squeeze bottle.
Staying warm: Newspaper is a great insulator. Place it between your jacket and shirt. If you do not have a sleeping pad use cardboard which is a good insulator. Mylar space blankets are a must. They are cheap and very effective. They do not feel good against your body and are slippery. Sandwiched between two blankets with the shiny side facing in is a good way to use them. Down sleeping bags are the best, but are worthless when wet. Place tarp on the ground, then pad or cardboard on one half, place your sleeping bag on the pad, then wrap the other half of the tarp over the bag. Tuck the loose end under you to prevent the wind from moving it. This will keep you dry and warm. You use 50-80% of your calories to stay warm. So, stay warm and you won’t have to eat as much.
Shelters, Pros and Cons: They are warm during cold weather. They often have referral programs. You can clean up and go for a job interview. Shelters have an admittance process and check in times to get a place. They have curfews, so if you have an off-hour job, no luck. You may pick up parasites there. Your belonging may not be safe unless they have lockers. Many are run by religious organizations and have required service attendance. Unless it is family shelter, they will split up the family. Men are sent to a different place. Shelters typical reflect the neighborhood they are in. You can find better ones in better neighborhoods.
Encampments: Homeless encampments may offer you a connection with others, but at a high cost. You will likely pick up parasites, possibly get a disease, and a good chance of being robbed. If you need companionship, it is best to carefully pick a friend(s). There is good reason to have a buddy; you will be safer and less lonely It is best to stay away from encampments.
Sleeping near other homeless. If you are new to an area and you need to land, it may pay to make an exception to the rule of staying away from other homeless people. The people are probably staying where you found them because they are not being bothered by the police. There may be other nearby resources such as free food from a church or a shelter. Talk to the people staying there, they can tell you why they choose this area and where things are located. Learn from them.
Sleeping in back yards. You will be lucky if you have a friend who will let you use their back yard. You will be safe and maybe able to use their facilitates. Try asking stranger homeowners. Some people want to lend a hand. Let them know it will only be for the night.
Couch Surfing: Ask your friends. Be respectful and sensitive. Keep a very small footprint. Keep all your stuff in one or two bags. If you are on a couch or floor, be up earlier than them and put your bedding away. Make yourself useful, help clean, maintain, and repair their home. You will feel better about yourself and your host may invite you to stay longer. You will know when you are encroaching and it is time to move on. Circulate among several friends so you do not wear out your welcome.
Sleeping in wooded areas: You may camp free and legally on BLM land for 14 days. You can get by in large parks if you are discrete. Leave early in the morning and do not leave a trace. If you get a tent, get one that is camouflage as well as a camouflage tarp. The tarp is essential. you can build a shelter with it easily. It will keep ground moister off of you even in good weather. You will become virtually invisible if you cover yourself with it. If you have 2 tarps, one can be your ground cover and the other used as your shelter.
Sleeping in the city safely: If you need to sleep in the city try to find areas where you are hidden. Behind vacant stores, alleys, in landscaping, behind hedges. Roof tops are excellent and much safer than the streets. Make sure you are not sleeping where there is no wall or fence to protect you from falling. You can sometimes setup a tent behind, or in a parking lot of a business and leave before the business opens. Some businesses don’t mind long as you are gone.
Abandoned buildings and houses can be a way of staying out of site, dry, and a bit warmer. Be careful they may not be structurally sound. Look for sagging or collapsed ceilings. Are parts of the stairs missing? Is there rot, are any parts the building falling down? Check out the building during the daylight before camping there. You do not want any surprises. Try to find a room or apartment with a door that you can lock. If there is no lock wedge something under the door handle. Look for an escape route such as a fire escape or a low window. Avoid houses with other people or where drugs are being used.
Sleeping in the open: If you must sleep in a public place, pick one that is well lit with some security such as bus stations, trains, or a busy street.
Homeless - Finding and Preparing Food
You will need to conserve what money you have, so stay away from restaurants. The one that are cheap will be selling garbage food. That food will be high in fats and carbs and low in nutritional value.
Cooking: You can eat healthy on a few dollars a day. The Latin populations know well about that. They have survived on rice and beans forever. Rice and beans can cost as little as $1.00 per serving and is a complete protein. Having a small stove will be indispensable and will pay for itself hundreds of times over. Cooking may be simpler than you think. It can be as simple as buying a can of beans, 2 zucchinis, 1 large carrots, and an onion. Throw it all in one pot, cook for 15 minutes and you have a healthy and good tasting meal for about $2.50. Another easy dish is “Hobo’s stew: 1/3 pound beef, 1 packaged of onion soup mix, 1 large onion, 2 carrots, 1 large potato, salt & pepper to taste. Always keep a bottle of Tabasco sauce on hand, it gives everything a little zip. Be sure to balance your diet out with vegetables and fruit. This will keep you healthy and prevent constipation. Check out videos on making inexpensive meals in this section.
Do not be shy about asking for food handouts. Many restaurants, bakeries, and grocery stores will give you something.
Shelters and churches: Many hand out bag lunches at noon and a hot meal in the evening.
Food supplemental programs such as food stamps.
Food banks are good if you can get to them and have a place to store and prepare the food.
Bakeries: You can ask for day old bread.
Grocery stores may have food near its expiration date that they need to discard.
Restaurants typically have food that needs to be discarded because it won’t last another day. Arrive near to closing time.
Dumpster diving in back of restaurants and grocery stores.
Farmers markets: You can ask for food (best as the vendors are getting ready to pack up). They typically have some that is getting a bit old, or blemished.
In order to blend in, be accepted, and get work, you need to look good and smell good. That can be challenging in these circumstances. Use the below hygiene guide.
Homeless Hygiene Tips
Good hygiene can be a challenge without a home. Your physical health and self-esteem are dependent on good hygiene. Your mental health can be adversely affected if you do not feel good about your appearance. If you look shabby, or smell, it will be difficult getting a job. There are many ways to keep clean even in the most challenging situations.
Wash hands frequently to avoid illness and especially before you eat. If you do not have soap and water, use hand sanitizer. This is important after using the toilet. Avoid dental issues by brushing and flossing frequently. Use mouth wash to kill bacteria and for nice breath. You can also use mouth wash as a disinfectant on wounds. Clean your nails and keep them short. Clean up before going to sleep. You will wake up ready to meet the world. Use antiperspirant when you can’t shower, but that does not replace a shower.
Facilities with showers:
You can shower, change clothing, and groom at the YMCA (they have discounted membership low income), fitness gyms (Planet Fitness has a $10 a month plan), truck stops, camp grounds, and homeless shelters, public pools and recreation centers. College and University locker rooms are easy to slip in if you don’t attract attention. Many high-rise buildings have toilets with showers on the upper floors. If you are desperate enough there are cold showers at many beaches, or a coin operated car wash can do in a pinch with a bathing suit. Truck stops have paid showers for $8-$11.
Facilities with toilets:
Some restaurants have locked doors such as Starbucks. Supermarkets are very good, but not very private. Hotel lobbies are very good and hospitals have the cleanest toilets. Avoid gas stations; they are typically filthy and don’t have hot water. A folding bucket is very handy. Fill it and go in the stall a have a sponge bath. If you do not have a folding bucket, you can cut off the top of a 2-quart plastic bottle to make an instant bucket. You can store your toiletries in it to save room. If possible, get a medium sized microfiber towel. They absorb more, take up less space than a regular towel, and dry very fast. You can brush your teeth at the sink after your sponge bath.
Use a cloth shopping bag or day pack to carry your stuff into a restroom. You do not want management to know what you are doing. Do not come out of the restroom with wet hair, that is a dead giveaway. Dry your hair as best as possible and conceal your damp hair with a cap. If the business learns what you are doing, you will probably be banned.
You can clean up well with very little. Use a small spray bottle to moisten areas. Apply a very light layer of soap and wash. Wipe the soap off with a towel. Spray again and wipe to rinse. Be sure to clean your butt every day. An easy way is the “three paper towels” method. First towel is wet with soap. Second towel is wet for rinse. Third towel for drying. You can actually use a half paper towel for each operation. It may be obvious, but always wash your hands after cleaning your butt.
Drink lots of water to keep your urinary tract healthy. Do not avoid drinking water to stop frequent use of a restroom. This is a major cause of urinary infection. Wipe from front to rear (vagina to rectum) to avoid bacteria entering the urinary tract and dry thoroughly. Also drink cranberry juice or take cranberry capsules. Make sure your hands are clean before changing Tampons. Clean with towelettes when soap and water is not available.
Woman on the pill are more susceptible to Yeast infections. Yeast infections thrive in moisture. Keep your vagina dry. Use cotton underwear. Eat yogurt when you can. A pee funnel is good for keeping the area dry and for going at night into a small container.
Shaving in the ruff. You can use sex lube which can be had at Walmart or any drug store for a couple of dollars. Use just a little. You need just a small amount of water to rinse. Dry your razor so it does not rust. You can also use a little sex gel in your hair. After combing the gel disappears.
Do not use deodorant. That is different than “antiperspirant”. Deodorant only masks to smell. Antiperspirant actually stops the sweating. You can rub some onto the inside of the armpit area of your shirt for extra protection.
Urban Survival Guide
These days, “survivalism” has come to mean preparing for great events like nuclear holocaust or total government collapse. But disaster may come on a much more personal level. Individuals can suffer catastrophe as surely as nations can. When they do, it can be even more distressing because individuals feel alone in their suffering. I am talking about personal financial ruin and homelessness. Thousands of people across North America, indeed the world, have already experienced it following bankruptcies and foreclosures.
Whole families have been evicted from their homes, some quite forcibly. We see dozens of tent cities appearing across America, and more people ordering storage containers to live in. What we don’t see are the “hidden homeless” – those forced to survive by couch-surfing or moving back in with family. If 47 + million Americans now live below the poverty line, that means 47 + million who are either homeless or in imminent danger of becoming so. And the number is still growing.
When I lost my own job a while ago, I was not overly concerned. I had enough savings to live on for over a year. Then the economy self-destructed. It became exceedingly difficult to score a job interview, let alone an actual job. As the months of unemployment dragged on, my savings dwindled until I was forced for the very first time to consider homelessness as a real possibility.
What would I do if worse came to worst? How would I live? Not being a “rugged” or “street-smart” person at all, I knew from the outset that I could not follow the prevailing wisdom of living as the homeless do and trying to blend in with them. Sleeping in bus shelters, eating from dumpsters, and staying in homeless shelters was not for me. I feel that joining the homeless population, as many recommend, severely limits your options, especially if you hold out any hope of ever rejoining society.
My only survival experience comes from camping and backpacking. I’ve survived for days or weeks with just the supplies on my back. So I tried to adapt that same knowledge to an urban environment, envisioning a new kind of “home-free” lifestyle. I prefer to call it “distributed living” or being an “urban nomad” because it lets you have most of life’s necessities, just not all in one place. It’s based on the backpacking model of carrying everything you need with you and being self-sufficient. It does require some resources and preparation. A plan like this must be undertaken before you actually become homeless, when you still have some money and credit to draw on.
Fortunately, homelessness is more easily anticipated than some other disasters. You often can see it coming months in advance. But even those who do may prefer to live in denial. You may think it cannot happen to you. But it has already happened to thousands who thought it could never happen to them either. Nobody plans to end up in a homeless encampment. But lately, this is where more and more of the former middle-class are landing. Even many famous celebrities have had periods of homelessness.
If you’re one of the lucky few who have nothing to worry about financially, remember that poverty is not the only cause of homelessness. Things like chemical spills, radiation leaks, brush fires, mudslides, arson, water main breaking, and civil unrest could all force you from your home as surely as mounting debt can.
Natural disasters can strike anyone at any time. Hurricane Katrina rendered an entire city’s population homeless within hours. So have tornadoes in America’s heartland and nuclear meltdown in Japan. In such situations, people with vehicles and bug out bags ready will be survivors. Everyone else will be refugees. With that in mind, the following suggestions should be helpful to many, whether facing imminent homelessness or not. They can also be used in partial disaster scenarios where much of society still functions, with only some residents being displaced.
Obviously this is the main problem faced by the homeless. Those who stay in the city are restricted by laws against putting up any kind of temporary shelter. This is why the homeless are so often seen huddling in doorways, alcoves, tunnels, etc. Many cities have outlawed sleeping outdoors, which gives police the power to harass anyone they see lying down with their eyes closed. In fact, as long as you can be seen by anyone at night, your safety is at risk.
Homeless shelters may be no better. Filled with drugs and mental illness, they can be more dangerous than the streets, and many transients know enough to avoid them. Similar problems exist in tent cities. Diseases and parasites can easily spread when many people, all with poor hygiene, live close together.
Wooded areas appear safer and can be found throughout cities in the form of ravines, forests, valleys and parks. Some homeless build shelters there using tarps, plywood, cardboard boxes, or whatever else they can find. This may work for a while. But authorities keep tabs on these encampments and sooner or later come to take them down. Also, any shelter can be a target for thieves and squatters when you’re not there. Its mere presence during the day tells everyone that homeless person is living there.
I get around these problems by using a relatively inexpensive “pop-up “camouflage dome tent found online. A pop-up tent can be set up and taken down extremely fast, with very little effort. The idea is to find a secluded area in the woods or a local park, put up the tent at sunset, and then take it down again at or before sunrise the next morning. There is no campsite for anyone to find because it does not exist during the day. This is also known as stealth camping and many long-distance cyclists use it to avoid staying in motels. They camp on public or private land and take off before anyone knows they were there.
Your safety will come from being totally hidden. For anyone to see you sleeping at night, they would have to enter the forest after dark, leave the path at the right spot, and see through your camouflage. Even in broad daylight, a camo tent amid foliage is hard to spot. I have spent several nights in city parks using this method and haven’t yet been detected. A tent is one of the best possible temporary shelters you can use and gives a sense of security, even if it is mostly psychological. It does need a relatively flat, clear area of ground to be set up, so scout locations before you need them and clear them of debris before nightfall.
An even smaller shelter that fits practically anywhere is the bivy sack– essentially a zippered bag just large enough for your body, made of waterproof, breathable material. Some fold down to the size of a water bottle. A bivy will keep you dry and sheltered but won’t have room for anything else, like changing clothes. Some come with a framework that holds the fabric away from your face for some breathing room.
Satellite images on Google Maps are great for finding dense woods in your area. You want areas that are more “wild” and overgrown, not those which are obviously mowed and well maintained by the parks department(though if you are very diligent about always taking your tent down at sunrise, you should have no problems either way).
Find spots which are totally hidden from both the trail and the street. At the same time, they should not be too far from places you want to go during the day. Eventually you will have memorized a few ideal spots around the city and can rotate between them so that you never camp in the same place too long. I use a heavy camouflage tarp as a groundsheet, protecting the tent floor from sharp debris. This can double as a cover for your gear, keeping it dry and hidden in the forest while you go about your daily business.
Do not try to weather a serious storm in a tent. At such times, train stations, bus stations and airports are better choices. They are open24 hours a day and are designed for people to wait in, with ample seating, bathrooms, snack bars, and sometimes wi-fi.
In bad weather, some people will be sleeping in their seats or on the floor due to transit delays, and you can blend in with them. Keep a travel book from the library across your chest or some old boarding passes sticking out of your pocket. If you are in an airport with multiple terminals, change terminals every so often. Lingering in one place too long may attract the attention of security(though I have heard of one woman living for months at the airport before anyone caught on). Hospital waiting rooms may be almost as good.
As an urban nomad, pick your outfit very carefully. It must not only protect you from the elements and carry what you need it to carry but also fit into an urban setting without looking odd. In my opinion, black should be the color of all your items, including bags. Black looks right at home in the city, can go longer between washings without looking dirty, makes your bags and pockets look smaller despite being packed with stuff, and will render you practically invisible at night. My all-black outfit consists of:
waterproof hiking shoes
paratrooper or cargo pants (lots of pockets)
alternate pair of waterproof pants
expedition vest filled with pockets
waterproof coat with hood
baseball cap with built-in LEDs (like the Panther Vision power cap, for hands-free lighting at night)
Add to this a week’s worth of clean socks and underwear, as well as duplicate pants and hoodie so you’ll still have something to wear when doing laundry. In cold weather, I add wool socks, thermal insoles, wool turtleneck, wool long underwear, waterproof mitts, and a balaclava.
Huge packs made for backpacking may look odd in the city. I use a large size army surplus ALICE pack to carry bulky items such as sleeping bag and sleeping pad, with tent strapped to the outside. Choose a backpack that places the weight on your hips, not your shoulders, as the ALICE does. Urban commuter bags and messenger bags also work well for the city. You should be able to carry everything yourself when you need to. At other times, leave some of it stored or hidden and carry only what you need for that day. As backpackers know, the level of fitness required to carry everything you need on your back is not inconsiderable. So get in shape.
A compression sack may help fit everything in. Used by the army, this is a sack meant to be carried inside your pack. Fill it with compressible items (usually sleeping bag and clothes), then squeeze everything down, usually by sitting on it. At the same time, tighten all the straps around the sack. It will retain its smaller size until opened again.
Besides clothing, this is the other area that gives homeless people away. Though cities are filled with public bathrooms, it is hard to find one private enough to do anything more than use the toilet and wash your hands. So I recommend carrying a collapsible pail (found at camping stores) and a magnetic mirror (from a school supply store or dollar store).
Collapsible pails fold down flat to take up very little space in your pack. Fill one with warm water from the sink and bring it into one of the stalls. Set the pail atop the toilet tank or hang it from something if possible. Stick your magnetic mirror to the stall wall and use the pail as your sink. Now you can shave, brush teeth, and scrub your armpits in relative privacy.
Avoid bathrooms frequented by the homeless which tend to be the filthiest and most dangerous (eg. those in subways, public squares, certain restaurants, etc.). Clean, even elegant restrooms can be found in upscale shopping centers, colleges, theatres, airports, office buildings… places the homeless generally avoid. In hot weather, it may be possible to bathe in the same lakes and rivers where people go swimming.
When only a hot shower will do, visit a gym, YMCA, or university athletic center for the day, all of which have well appointed locker rooms. Fitness centers on college campuses may just be the cheapest, cleanest and safest, and are usually open to the public. A year’s membership will likely cost less than one month of rent, and may include perks like free wi-fi, towel service and a locker. It also provides a place to work out, rest, and socialize. Keeping suit clothes in your locker will allow you to go for job interviews. Beaches and campgrounds are other places to look for showers.
The travel section of dollar stores is a good place to pick up lightweight hygiene products like mini shampoo, mouthwash and toothpaste. Don’t forget plastic containers for your soap and toothbrush, and pill boxes to carry Aspirin, vitamins, and any medication you need. I keep all toiletries in a mesh bag which lets them air out after use. Replace your regular towel with a small, super absorbent one from a backpacking store. A battery-powered travel razor will let you shave just about anywhere, any time. Get one that runs on AA batteries as opposed to a plug-in rechargeable. Look for any way to save space, for instance using a bottle of camping soap also as dishwashing liquid and shampoo.
Facial cleansing cloths, wet naps, and hand sanitizer can keep you clean without water. If given any at a restaurant, save them until needed. Use those wet naps on your armpits and groin if necessary, where bacteria flourish. Use a high SPF sunscreen to avoid the telltale sunburn that many homeless people have. And if the look suits you, shave your head and forget about all the maintenance that comes with having hair.
Always practice good hygiene and grooming, not just for your own health but to keep blending in with civilized society. If you look and smell like a bum, you will find many doors closed to you.
The homeless survivalist does not have the option of storing food long-term or buying in bulk. You can only stockpile what you can carry – which amounts to maybe a week’s worth of sustenance at most. Peanut butter is an excellent choice, being easy to carry and eat, high in calories and protein, and needing no refrigeration. Trail mix is another. There’s a lot of energy in nuts and seeds, and most of these mixes now come in resealable bags. Think like a backpacker, keeping heavy items like canned goods to a minimum and removing any unnecessary packaging from foods to make them lighter.
Dried (dehydrated) foods are the lightest. Foods that are simple, won’t spoil quickly, and require little to no cooking are well suited for the urban nomad: think beef jerky, granola bars, raisins and other dried fruits, corn chips, banana chips, buns, bagels, raisin bread, peanuts, instant soups, etc. Again, dollar stores are good places to procure these items cheaply. Because your diet is sure to drop in quality, take a multivitamin daily as well.
Carry your food in a reusable cloth shopping bag and you will simply look as though you’ve just been grocery shopping. Also keep a length of rope in this bag for hanging it from a tree when in the forest. Never keep food in your tent or your pockets at night, especially in city parks teeming with raccoons.
You should still have some means of cooking food. Needless to say, a big open fire in the woods would give away your presence. My personal choice was a Jet boil propane stove, with an Emberlit stove as backup. The Jet boil may be the fastest, most efficient means of boiling water outside, making it good for preparing instant foods and purifying water. The Emberlit stove is a wood stove. It folds flat, taking up almost no space in a pack, and its fuel is essentially free. It lets you cook with a very small fire well suited to stealth camping.
Look into the ultra-light, compact kitchen utensils that backpackers use. Such products are designed to fit inside each other and take up minimum space. I fit my two stoves, fuel canisters, two bowls, pot, mug, cutlery, can opener, and even a Steripen water purifier into a bag less than 9” wide by 11” tall.
Cities usually have places to fish. Take advantage of this free food source by carrying a compact fishing rod. The smallest rods fold down almost to the size of a pen. For tackle, all you really need are a couple of floats, some hooks, sinkers, and a lure or two, all of which will fit in the palm of your hand. Add a package of scented Power bait, or some similar product, to always have bait on hand. Look for live bait beneath fallen and rotting logs, or use pieces of food like bread or corn.
I’ve heard you can cook and eat practically anything that walks on land or flies. But be very careful with plants and eat only those you can positively identify as safe. (The color illustrations of plants in the pocket version of The SAS Survival Guide can help with this.)
This should be the least of your worries. Drinking water is readily found throughout cities. You should carry at least one 1Litre water bottle and get in the habit of topping it up every time you come to a tap or drinking fountain. Once you get used to water, you need never pay money for drinks again.
In the woods, large rivers are the preferred water source and you’ll want to camp near one if possible. A fast moving stream will be cleaner than a pool of standing water. Of course any water drawn from such a source must first be purified, just like in the wilderness. That means boiled, filtered, or treated with tablets or UV light.
Water purification tablets (easily found at camping stores) are the easiest way to treat water without additional apparatus. River water should never be your first choice for drinking, but is good to have nearby when you run out of water collected from the city. Remember that almost all purification methods will remove the biological pathogens but not the chemical pollutants.
If rain is forecast, leave your collapsible pail outside to collect it. This water will not have to be purified.
Internet access is essential even when homeless. It is how you will look for jobs, send resumes, learn survival tips, and keep in contact with the wider world. You may even use it to earn money directly, using something like Amazon Mechanical Turk, or to offer your goods and services on EBay or Craigslist (the “gigs” section of Craigslist contains short-term odd jobs that pay cash). Under normal circumstances, this would hardly be enough to live on. But without rent or utilities to pay, the economics of a nomadic lifestyle are somewhat different.
Fortunately there are more and more places to use the Internet for free, especially if you can provide your own laptop, iPad or netbook. Find out all the freewi-fi zones in your vicinity. There will be some in places you never knew or expected. Large district libraries and reference libraries can be ideal. There you can find computers, cubicles, outlets to plug into, and some portable chairs to sit in all day. (Note: When using public wi-fi, always use a Virtual Private Network or VPN, like the free service Hotspot Shield, when entering passwords.)
The online environment looks the same whether you are homeless or not, and so can be a source of comfort and consistency as your living conditions change. When immersed in online activities, it almost doesn’t matter where you are. Even a homeless person can spend the day playing online games, watching shows, listening to music, writing a blog, and reading the news, much like a normal person would. If you have the need and the money, consider a rugged computer like the Panasonic Toughbook. Able to withstand drops and freezing temperatures, with a waterproof keyboard that glows in the dark, this laptop line is practically built for homelessness.
You should have a radio, like any survivalist. The lightest might be something like an armband radio for joggers, with readout showing the time and an alarm. Use it to check weather reports daily, and choose your attire and shelter areas accordingly.
Cellphones make having your own phone number as an urban nomad very easy. Remember to charge it and your other wireless devices whenever you come across an available outlet.
If you need to receive mail, one choice is renting a PO Box. There are also services that can provide you with a real street address if you want people to think you have one. You will get an address like “99 Paladin Street #1” where the number actually refers to your box. This is useful when you have to give your home address to obtain services.
This is the essence of “distributed living” – your shelter in one area, your shower in another, your mailbox in yet another. All are components of your “home”, you just need to travel a bit to get to each one.
Your own two feet may serve as your primary mode of transport. For this reason, don’t skimp on your footwear and make sure it fits perfectly.
If you can still afford gas, auto repairs, parking and insurance, then by all means keep your vehicle as both transportation and shelter. If not, consider a bicycle as a substitute. Having a bike makes everything seem much closer than if you were walking, and will expand your range considerably.
I already cycle everywhere and now prefer it to the often poor and overcrowded public transit system. Add a Bob Yak trailer, or almost any child bicycle trailer, and you can bring all your survival supplies with you. Some child trailers turn into strollers when detached from the bike. You can then push your belongings along the sidewalk in something a little more stylish than a shopping cart.
Not everyone will have concerns about winter, depending on where they live. For me, the problem of surviving a Canadian winter without a heated shelter must be treated with deadly seriousness. Many homeless people die on the streets of cold countries every year. Throughout Europe, we have just seen how extreme cold can strike even in unlikely places and kill hundreds without warning. Without going into all the details of winter survival, here are some tips:
You must test out your cold weather gear before trusting your life to it. For example, camp out in the backyard during a deep freeze. Winterized sleeping bags have temperature ratings but their effectiveness varies depending on the user’s own body heat, metabolism, and clothing. Sit in the park for several hours in your full winter outfit to see if it’s enough. The amount of insulation needed for sitting still in the cold is greater than what people typically wear for dashing from one heated structure to another. Dress in layers and always cover your head, even when sleeping. Wool is arguably the best material as it insulates so well, even when wet.
A sleeping pad is just as essential as a sleeping bag. This item is easy to overlook, but without it you will get cold no matter how great your sleeping bag is. The ground has a way of conducting the heat right out of a warm body. (For the same reason, never sit directly on the ground without a thermal cushion like hunters use or some such insulating barrier.) The warmest sleeping pads are also the bulkiest and cannot be carried inconspicuously. I chose to focus on the smaller self-inflating pads and get the one with the highest ‘R-value (insulation rating) I could find. Without a sleeping pad, you will have to sleep on cardboard or newspapers just like the homeless do, or use pine boughs when in the wilderness.
From what I’ve seen, gadgets like electric sleeping bags and propane space heaters are not practical or effective. And building a fire is usually out of the question. So you will be relying on your own body heat for warmth. Don’t lose it by leaving your shelter at night. If you have to relieve yourself, use a bottle instead. Study the survival tactics of winter campers and arctic explorers.
Anything that does not take well to freezing – laptops, cell phones, water bottles – should share the sleeping bag with you, down near your feet. Some winter sleeping bags have extra room at the bottom for this purpose. If you fill your water bottle with hot water before retiring, it will help warm you. Use extra layers of shelter if you have them. For example, using a bivy sack inside a tent may seem redundant but it will increase your bag’s effectiveness against the cold. So will using a tent inside a larger structure.
The U.S. Army Survival Handbook adequately covers the wilderness side of homeless survival. It takes into account the soldier’s need for stealth and concealment when stuck in enemy territory. Where other survival books tell how to remain visible and attract the attention of search parties, this one shows how to conceal your presence, move stealthily over terrain, and to build fires and shelters so that they cannot be spotted by the enemy. (For our purposes, “enemy” can refer to anyone – police, park rangers, security guards, neighborhood watch, etc. – who tend to make life extra difficult for the homeless.) This no-nonsense guide also has surprising and innovative ways to treat your own injuries and illnesses in the field using common materials.
Thanks to odd jobs, credit cards and help from relatives, I remain housed for now. But the threat of homelessness still looms large. My debts are such that I do not know exactly where I will be living three months from now. But even if homelessness never strikes, I won’t regret the time and money spent preparing for it. The increased confidence and peace of mind have been worth it. I know that, whether housed or not, life will go on. Even the idea of spending winter without a permanent shelter is no longer unthinkable, and that is an amazing thing. Preparing for homelessness has incidentally prepared me for other scenarios, like the furnace breaking down or a sudden evacuation. And I can go camping or backpacking at a moment’s notice.
Homelessness has to be one of the gloomiest things to think about, let alone prepare for. But realize that not thinking or preparing will make the reality of it worse. If you do find yourself out on the street, having a plan of where to go, what to do, and what to take with you can make all the difference. If it helps, don’t think of yourself as homeless but as a nomad practicing an alternative lifestyle. Without such an attitude or plan, you will start to resemble the typical bums who wander without direction or purpose. Who have nowhere to go, nothing to do, and nothing to hope for. Homelessness does not have to look like that. Develop the skills of the urban nomad and practice distributed living. Keep your basic needs met and your mind clear, and you can always live a dignified existence whatever your situation may be.
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16 Homeless Survival Tips For How To Survive On The Streets
1 – Newspaper Is Your Friend
Homeless people use newspaper for a multitude of purposes in order to survive. Here are a few examples:
- Bedding: There’s a reason why this use is so prevalent among homeless people – newspaper can act as a sheet to cover you when you’re sleeping, and a thick amount of newspaper can act as a mattress. You can even stuff an old pillowcase with newspaper for a soft (albeit crunchy) pillow.
- Insulation: The homeless often stuff their jackets and clothing with newspaper in order to insulate themselves from the cold. They can also insulate their shelter (in some situations) with newspaper in order to provide a little extra heat.
- Kindling: Newspaper can be used as kindling if you need to warm your hands from the cold.
- Reading: We can’t forget the importance of education, even if you’re living on the streets. Reading the newspaper will give you essential information as to what’s going on in the world, so you can be better prepared for what’s about to happen.
2 – Learn to Sleep on The Streets
Sleeping on the streets is a whole lot harder than we’d like to think. That’s because sleeping out there leaves you vulnerable to a whole lot of extra factors, such as city noises, freezing temperatures, passersby, and even theft.
Here’s a few ways that many homeless people have learned to get some extra shuteye:
- Find a Friend: Believe it or not, it can be extremely difficult finding another homeless person you can trust when you’re living on the streets. If you have the good fortune of making a friend you can trust, you can sleep next to each other and protect each other if something happens.
- Get Some Earplugs: Tissue will do in a pinch. This can work wonders to drown out the traffic and city noises.
- Get a Sleeping Bag: Homeless people that have a sleeping bag are in much better shape when sleeping on the streets. These will help keep you warm in freezing temperatures. If you do not have a cushion, use cardboard under the bag to insulate from the cold and help with rough surfaces.
- Find a Mattress: Whether it’s blankets, newspaper, cardboard, or some other material, it’s important to find something you can lay your body on in order to insulate you and protect you from the cold, hard pavement (or the sharp rocks and dirt of a city park).
- Hidden vs Open Places to Sleep: If you cannot find a hidden place (best choice), find an open area. One of the dangers of sleeping on the streets is it leaves you susceptible to theft and attack. However, many have found success sleeping in larger open areas that are vacant of others. You will be able to see anyone approaching. Stay close to the ground and make yourself as inconspicuous as possible. Before you go to sleep put everything back in your pack. Keep an arm or leg through the strap of your pack. Always be ready to leave quickly.
- Find a Shelter: Homeless shelters provide a warm bed for the night, so it’s important to know when they open so you can wait in line. However, the downsides to shelters are that not everyone gets in due to space, and there’s a higher potential for theft, disease, and fights.
3 – Remain Hopeful
This is perhaps the hardest thing to master when you’re homeless, as it’s incredibly easy to become filled with rage, desperation, and depression when you’re depending on handouts and sleeping on the street. However, hope and a positive outlook can be the very thing that gets you through it. One way is to recognize your own innate resources. Whether you’re a CEO or you’re a high school drop-out, each of us has a set of resources and skill-sets we were born with that can benefit us. Your job is to find yours. Are you funny? A hard worker? Street-savvy? Generous? A good problem solver? Do you like to learn? Do you have a strong focus? How about perseverance?
You can call upon these innate resources to begin forming a plan, gaining friends, receiving help, and getting on track. Another way is to change your perspective. After all, at the end of the day the only thing that we can control is ourselves, and so our perspective/actions need to reflect a positive, hopeful outlook. Think of the last angry, belligerent homeless person you saw on the street. Were you more willing to help them out, or the one that was kind? By changing your outlook and actions, you can work to change your outcomes. More than anything, you need to focus on what you DO have and what you ARE capable of; this belief, gratefulness and confidence will help you gain far better outcomes.
4 – Dress for Survival
Oddly enough, you don’t want to wear big heavy coats as your only protection, since if you overheat you’ll easily freeze from the sweat you’ll accumulate. Instead, layers are your friend when you’re living on the streets. This means having a few light jackets, as well as a variety of t-shirts and long-sleeve shirts. Zip-off cargo pants can also be a good thing, as you can switch between shorts and pants with ease, and the pockets provide essential storage space. Be sure to choose clothing options that have lots of pockets for storage, and that are neutral colors such as black, grey or tan. This will prevent you from standing out, and can keep you hidden in the dark.
5 – Look as Presentable as Possible
One of the best ways to boost your spirits is to clean up your appearance. Travel-sized hygienic materials such as shampoo, conditioner, soap, razors, deodorant, etc. can be found at your local supermarket or gas station, and shelters can provide you a shower to clean up in. Wet wipes can also be used as an effective tool to clean yourself off.
By keeping yourself clean and as presentable looking as possible, your self-confidence and outlook on life will improve. Plus, this will also help you gain friendships and handouts from others, as people typically respond more positively to someone that looks clean and put-together.
6 – Have A Few Pieces of Versatile Clothing
T-shirts and long-sleeve shirts can be made into ropes, sweatbands or bandages, and hats can be used to collect water. The more uses you can come up with for your clothing, the better off you’ll be (and the less stuff you’ll have to carry around).
7 – Get A Stray Dog
Friendly stray dogs can make great companions when you’re living on the streets, and can actually benefit you in multiple ways. For one, they can protect you from thieves, and can provide you extra warmth while you’re sleeping. They’re also great for decreasing depression and anxiety, and can provide you a friend to care for and bond with when you’re feeling alone in the world.
8 – Keep Your Stuff on You at All Times
Whether you’ve got a backpack, grocery bag, or suitcase, you need to keep your stuff with you at ALL times. Not doing so will leave you susceptible to theft, which is a real danger when you’re living on the streets (after all, many homeless people would love to get their hands on your things). If you have a backpack, it’s important to either use it as a pillow (and keep your arms through the straps), or to stuff it in your sleeping bag (if you have one).
9 – Stay Packed
Don’t get too comfy even if you’ve found the perfect sleeping arrangements; that’s because your situation can change at a moment’s notice. For instance, cops can come and shoo you away, another homeless group might come and kick you out, or the city may begin construction directly where you’ve set up camp. No matter the situation, always be packed and prepared to leave at any moment.
10 – Avoid Fighting Unless Being Attacked
It may feel weak and even shameful to not fight if a belligerent person (homeless or not) is yelling at you or degrading you. However, you need to think of how much you have to lose in the situation. For example, if the antagonist doesn’t appear to be homeless, he likely has access to a doctor’s office to get bandaged up. You, on the other hand, don’t have that luxury. Plus, if the cops come, who are they more likely to believe started it – the “upstanding citizen” or the homeless person?
Survival is hard enough to bear without having to deal with bruised bones and broken limbs. It’s often best to swallow your ego and move on. However, if someone is physically attacking you, it’s important to fight back and defend yourself until you can run.
11 – Blend In
A crucial way to survive in almost any scenario is to blend in with your surroundings. In this case, that means to lay low and not get into trouble. It also means to keep quiet about what you know and what you have. For example, if you were lucky enough to get a few bucks or to find something of value, don’t go telling other people about it. You’ll likely be the one they come after to get it for themselves. Also, be sure to keep the stuff you do have well-hidden.
12 – Keep Yourself Warm
There are multiple ways to keep yourself warm on the streets. For example, mylar blankets can work wonders, as their reflective material bounces your own body heat back to you, raising your temperature by as much as 20°F. You can also place the mylar blanket between two normal blankets, and then wrap them around you for some extra warmth.
Other ways to keep warm are to start a small fire to warm your hands, or to boil water and store it in water bottles to protect your hands from frostbite. It’s also crucial you choose your sleep spot wisely, and don’t sleep under overpasses in the winter. This video explains why:
13 – Stick to Familiar Terrain
Before you set up camp it’s important to make sure you know the area. Get to know the businesses and streets around you, and navigate the area as much as possible before settling down. Doing so can help keep you safe, as there won’t be as many surprises lurking around every corner. It may also help for receiving food and other handouts, as you’ll become a familiar face to the passersby.
14 – Have Access to First-Aid
Whether you have a large medical kit or just a few bandages, it’s imperative you keep these on you at all times. That’s because when you’re homeless you often don’t have access to medical care, and thus can’t afford to get diseases from cuts/scrapes you obtain on the street. Peroxide, band-aids, and antibiotic ointment can go a long way to helping you stay alive.
15 – Choose Your Foods Wisely
When you do have the means to buy some food, you need to choose very carefully. Chips are a bad idea, as they’re full of empty calories and don’t fill you up. The same goes for most candies. Options like granola bars, jerky, trail mix, and peanut butter are great choices, as they’re packed with protein, keep you full, and don’t have to be refrigerated. They also come in resealable containers, which is crucial when you’re living on the streets.
Make sure that all the food you buy is lightweight, compact and isn’t too bulky; this will make it easier to store in your bag or to hide in your pockets. Be sure to eat the food you buy or store it in a tree using rope or paracord. If you leave it in your pockets or in your tent overnight, you could wind up with some raccoons, squirrels and other critters trying to steal it.
16 – Carry Refillable Bottles
Purchase a couple water bottles at the store (bigger is better) and keep these with you at all times. These bottles are refillable, making it easy for you to have a constant intake of water. Fast food restaurants will often let you fill up your bottle with water, as will gas stations and other places with soda machines.
It’s also helpful to keep a pack of water purification tablets on you to help make the water drinkable if you get it from somewhere not from a tap (i.e.: lakes, rivers, etc.). Need more info? Here are more homeless survival tips from a real homeless person:
The fact is, whether we like it or not, homelessness is a daily reality for millions of Americans nationwide. And, whether it’s from financial hardship, family troubles, natural disasters, or any other sort of event, homelessness can often come out of the blue, leaving you stranded, alone, and desperate to survive.
The key here is to prepare NOW for homelessness so that you’re ready for the unexpected. Doing so will help you become better adjusted to living on the streets, and will make you more mindful of what it takes to survive. Plus, even if you’re lucky enough to not become homeless, preparing for it now will provide you the knowledge and survival tools you can use for countless other situations, such as biking, hiking, camping, and more.
Below is a list of items that will make life much easier for you. Click on the photos to enlarge. Bad things happen when you are disorganized. Keep things neat. Establish a daily routine. Do your toiletries in the morning and at night. Try not to skip. Keep your pack organised. A routine will help you stay grounded and give you pride in the way you are negotiating a challenging time in your life.
This kit was purchased for about $30. Most items came from a Dollar store. The one luxury item is the 20″x40″ microfiber towel ($10) in the upper right sitting on top of a microfiber wash cloth. The towel folds tiny, is super absorbent, and dries quickly. If you have a place to stash things you can save money by buying larger sizes of most items and filling small containers.
The spray bottle is for cleaning up in toilet stalls and outdoors. Spray water on, lightly soap area, and wipe off with a damp towel.
Soap w/soap case
Toothbrush & toothpaste
Comb & brush
2 Micro fiber towels
Tampons & Pads
Your cell phone is your link to the world.The solar charger will keep you going. It stores energy in a battery and can charge your phone at night. The Swiss Army knife and headlamp are essential.
A small medical kit can prevent infections, reduce pain, and divert an oncoming cold or sore throat if you take 2000mg of vitamin C for a few days.
The nylon cord can make a shelter with a tarp. You can use it to hoist your food up a tree branch to protect it from animals.
Tech & Med List
Cell phone & charger
Flashlight or headlamp
Thin nylon rope
Matches or lighter
Pen & pad
Combo tool (optional)
Vitamin C 1000mg
Keep it light. It is easy to get bogged down with camp cookware. White gas stoves are the most economical to run. Have an extra cup to share coffee with a friend.
Learn to make simple nutritious meals, Items like canned beans with an egg thrown is easy to prepare and has lots of protein.
Try “Hobo stew”: 1/3 pound beef, 1 packaged of onion soup mix, 1 large onion, 2 carrots, 1 large potato, 1 cup red wine if available, salt & pepper to taste.
Small camp stove
Bottle of white gas
Pot & pan
Camp pot handle
2 Plastic dishes
2 Plastic bowls
fork, knife, & spoon
Can opener (small)
Salt & pepper shaker
Sponge & Potholder
1 Gallon Zip Lock Bags
These are the bare essentials. Other than the shoes, the list does not include what you are wearing. You must have good shoes or boots. Use synthetic fabrics as much as possible. Synthetics shed dirt, do not stain easily, drys quickly and weighs less. Keep one nice outfit for job hunting.
Get a down sleeping bag if you can. They are light and stuff into a small bag. The down side to down is they are worthless when wet. Always put a tarp down under your pad and bag. Wrap half of the tarp over your bag to keep dry and to stay warmer.
Good solid shoes
2 pair pants
1 Collar shirt
5 Pair socks
Ground cloth (tarp)
What’s In Your Day Pack?
With this pack you can go into a public restroom and take a sponge bath and have a change of clothing. Use the spray bottle to wet yourself, then soap up and rinse with a damp towel. Use the flip flops for public showers. It helps prevent athletes feet.
Don’t loose it. When sleeping cuddle up to it and put one arm through the shoulder strap. When sitting put one leg through a strap.
Suggested Day Pack List
Ski cap & Baseball cap
Kleenex (small pack)
Pen & pad
Swiss Army knife
Small first aid kit
Vitamins & Medications
Roll of thin nylon rope
Keep a small assortment of:
clothing pins, rubber bands, paperclips, safety pins, push pins, nails and screws. This will be invaluable.
A 6’x8′ tarp is an essential item. You can make a rainproof shelter, wrap yourself with it, or cover your possessions. If it is brown or green, it can camouflage your possessions. If you can afford get a high-quality nylon ripstop one, it will be a lot more compact, and not make a lot of noise in in the wind. It will also outlast by several times the cheap plastic ones.
Swiss Army Knife
This is an essential item. It will open a can of beans, clean your nails, open a bottle of wine, and fix things. Don’t skimp here if possible, get a good one.
It can be used as a pepper spray to defend yourself. Put some in a small squeeze bottle and keep it handy.