Contrary to the beliefs of some, homelessness is not a cushy occupation for people who just don’t want to work and would rather instead rely on handouts. No, being homeless is hard, miserable, and is actually a major threat to your health and continued survival.
You might not think that being forced to live out of doors without a home, house or apartment to call your own is a genuine survival situation, but you are absolutely, one hundred percent wrong.
Despite having all the modern niceties and conveniences of civilized life all around them, homeless people are deprived of an awful lot of things the rest of us take as given.
They do not always have easy access to water. They certainly cannot pay for food in the abundance that they should. Climate control is out of the question unless they gain access to a shelter or can temporarily go indoors somewhere.
They don’t even have a proper bed, instead being forced to scavenge one together from whatever materials they can find or, if they are lucky, a park bench.
Being forced into homelessness will put into doubt your ability to continually provide all of your survival necessities: shelter, water, food and security.
And this article will give you some tips for surviving on the streets or elsewhere if you are ever unfortunate enough to become homeless.
You Have to Be Tough and Resourceful to Survive Homelessness
I would invite anyone who thinks that going around homeless and panhandling to make a living is an easy, if shabby, way to do so to give it a whirl for a month.
It certainly is not, and all available data for the homeless in America points to a pretty grim standard of living for the average homeless person.
Aside from being perpetually snubbed, scorned, ignored and dehumanized homeless people are far more likely than others to be targeted for robbery, and harassment.
Being homeless is only a hop, skip and a jump away from basically having your categorization as “human” revoked. Very few people notice, and fewer people care, when something like that happens to a homeless person.
If you should have the misfortune to wind up homeless the vast majority of people in society won’t even notice you when they go by.
You will effectively be out there on your own, and when you take into account the serious and constant threats to your health and bodily well-being from exposure, malnutrition and a lack of personal hygiene you will indeed find yourself in a harsh and unforgiving test of your survival acumen.
Not one, single thing is guaranteed for homeless people; the only thing you will be able to guarantee is what you can provide for yourself. Everything else is just a bonus.
If you were living out on the streets or in the sparsely populated fringes of civilization, and somehow lack the ability, skill or grit to procure or create what you need things are going to go from bad to worse. Your suffering will be unabated.
Depending upon the charity of others and homeless outreach programs is not a strategy for success.
Standing in grim testament to this reality thousands upon thousands of the homeless die every single year from diseases that are easily cured or prevented for the rest of us, from exposure to the elements and temperature extremes, or from illness brought on by malnutrition or drug abuse.
It sounds impossible when someone is in the middle of civilization in America and elsewhere in the world, but it is true.
I tell you all this, reader, to impress upon you how dire a survival situation it will be should you wind up homeless.
With ever-widening gaps between the lower and upper classes in the first world and constantly increasing economic uncertainty brought on by world events, it is the height of hubris to think that it cannot happen to you, that you cannot wind up homeless.
Check your ego at the door, sit up straight and pay attention. Every prepper should know what to do, and how to survive if they wind up homeless.
Survival Skills and Tips for Homeless Survivors
The wise man will always learn from the experience of those who came before him.
As sad as it is to say, there are a great many people who have already trod the path of homelessness and continue to do so. Some of them have been doing it a very long time and have become quite adept at it.
Being homeless and trying to survive on the oftentimes hostile or indifferent streets of America or any other major cities is a specialized survival situation that requires a variety of skills just like every environment on Earth.
You’ll need to know how to keep your head on straight, and you also need to know practical skills like providing shelter for yourself.
You will also need some expertise when it comes to staying safe, and how to prioritize your energy expenditure since your next meal is never guaranteed.
I have assembled a list of tips and procedures bellow gleaned from the experience of people who have lived that life and survived.
Don’t let your arrogance blind you to the wisdom contained below. Read these tips. Learn from them, and remember them in case you ever find yourself really down on your luck, just one of countless homeless on the streets.
Resourceful People Are the Only Ones Who Survive Homelessness
In any survival situation, and homelessness is certainly counted among them, it will be the preppers who can think on their feet, think outside the box and think quickly when the time comes to solve a problem.
And like any other problem, there are usually multiple ways to solve it. If your first attempt or solution just doesn’t work out, you can come up with something else. The answer is never to give up, sit down and accept your fate.
Consider one of the quintessential problems of homelessness, coming up with food.
Chances are if you are homeless you’re already dead broke or really close to it, so what will you do to find food, and hopefully nutritious food, that is safe to eat?
Let’s look at things practically: one of your best bets will be to seek out an institution that gives out charitable meals for people in your situation. It could be a church, a food kitchen or some other outreach.
You could try panhandling for a little while and see if you generate enough money to go grab a little bit of grub. If you are really hungry and desperate you could go dumpster diving.
The more industrious homeless will collect cans and bottles to turn in for a paltry recyclable bounty.
How about if you are facing a more immediate threat, say bad weather, or rapidly falling temperatures? Even then you have multiple solutions to the seemingly pressing problem of you not having your own shelter.
You could try ducking into a publicly-accessible store, a place where you are unlikely to get picked off by gatekeepers, maybe a Wal-Mart or a gas station.
If you have a little bit of extra change you could grab a cup of coffee or a small meal, and sit down to eat it at a fast food restaurant.
If you are really in a jam all you should try to do is find an overhang to keep yourself out of the wind and rain, or gather some things to make a small improvised shelter.
Heavy-duty trash can liners are perfect for shelter building and, completely impervious to water.
As you can see from these simple examples, you will have to be just as resourceful and solution-oriented in a homelessness survival situation as one where you were lost or stranded in deep country.
Stay Mobile and Ready to Move
It is a sad fact that homeless people rarely get to stay in one place for long.
They are never a welcome sight, often treated with indifference, derision or outright hostility by common citizens and business owners alike. Police officers will often hassle them and keep them moving along so they don’t loiter in one place.
This extreme variability in how long they can remain in one place and rely on it means that constructing meaningful shelter is often out of the question.
No matter where they go, they will never know how long they can stay there before they have to grab their pack and get moving again.
If you have paid any kind of attention in any urban or suburban area you will have seen homeless people out carrying pretty much everything they own on their backs or, if they are very lucky, inside a wagon or a shopping cart.
The vast majority of these items will remain packed up and easy to move until they need them.
That is simply because if they have everything unpacked and spread out they will not be able to get moving quickly, either in order to seek shelter, avoid a threat or avoid arrest.
Chances are you probably take for granted that no matter what kind of day you are having, no matter how terrible your week has been, tonight, this very night, you’ll be able to lay your head down on your own pillow in your own bed.
If you are homeless, you will not have that luxury. You won’t know where you’re going to be able to set your head down 5 minutes from now, much less 5 days or 5 weeks.
But if you should discover that there is a shelter that opened up in order to provide bedding for the homeless at night (especially during the winter time or during periods of bad weather), you might need to move quick, and I mean really quick, in order to take advantage of it.
The same thing goes for the limited amount of food available at a church pantry or soup kitchen. No matter what your situation is when you are homeless, make sure you are always ready to go within a minute’s time.
Try to Stay Unnoticed
We already know that the homeless are rarely welcome anywhere for any length of time, even in public spaces.
This can be a problem if you have found a pretty good place to make camp, or just arrest for an extended period. You definitely don’t want to be ran off, and you certainly don’t want to be arrested or attacked.
Homeless people will rarely have the force of law backing them up if they are attacked or want to make a stand, no matter if they are right or wrong.
That is just the way it is. Legal interactions with police just never seem to work out well for them.
So how can one decrease their chances of being run off a good patch?
The very best thing you can do if you wind up homeless and don’t want to get hassled is to remain unnoticeable. Stay in the background, nondescript and beneath notice.
Just like any other survival scenario, there are people that won’t take kindly to your presence, or simply want what you have.
Your average homeless person will often have to fend off other homeless people who are more desperate than they are.
And of course, you can never underestimate the fact that there are simply some people who are flat-out bullies or plainly psychotic, and will beat you, steal from you, or even kill you just for a lark.
Generally if it is possible, you want to stay out of sight unless you have a reason to be in sight of someone. Try not to make much noise, and pay attention to light discipline, either with fire or flashlights.
Your body language also has a lot to do with this.
Unless your appearance is truly awful, if you comport yourself with a certain amount of composure and dignity people might assume you are waiting for someone, biding your time or doing some other innocuous activity, not looking like you are trying to shelter in place which will naturally invite them to run you off.
And however limited and grubby your possessions are keep your most valuable possessions out of sight, or play down what they are.
As mentioned above, there are always people who are worse off than you are and are willing to try and take what you have.
Something like a nice rain coat or even a backpack that is in good shape could make you a target for theft.
Improvised Shelter Skills Will Save Your Life
Urban and suburban preppers are somewhat notorious for eschewing their skills and shelter construction for material preps like food, water, medical supplies and weaponry.
It is understandable why they might take shelter for granted, since they are surrounded by buildings at all times. This could still prove to be a mistake if any of these people were to lose their homes for any reason, be it to destruction or to homelessness.
Next to a lack of oxygen, a lack of adequate shelter, which helps you thermoregulate your body’s core temperature you can die in as little as a few hours from exposure; far, far quicker than from a lack of water, even.
Since the homeless must survive out-of-doors, pretty much all the time the ones that have managed to survive for any length of time have become very skilled at improvised shelter construction, and at staying warm or dry no matter the conditions. They have to be.
Your average homeless person knows if you are sleeping outdoors there are a few things you have to do in order to get any kind of night’s sleep, much less a restful one.
First things first, you never sleep directly on the ground.
The ground will suck all the heat right out of your body even in warm weather after temperatures start dropping at night.
If you are already cold and wet and lying on the ground, you are probably only a couple of hours away from hypothermia.
It might feel helpless when you don’t have access to a sleeping pad, you’re nice, high-tech sleeping bag or a hammock, but even the “greenest” homeless person figures out quickly that a thick sheet of cardboard or two between you and the ground will form a significant enough barrier to help you conserve your body heat.
Getting properly up off the ground using a bench is even better.
And speaking of maintaining body heat, what should you wear or wrap around you to conserve your body heat?
Most homeless people must be content with whatever clothing they can procure, and I’ll bet you any amount of money it isn’t going to be a nice North Face parka, either.
Once again you can use things that people throw away as trash or refuse as insulation, and surprisingly good insulation at that! Another homeless standby is newspaper; alternately you can use that heavy brown packing paper that comes in many boxes.
By taking this thick paper, crinkling it up, rolling it into a ball or sheets and then stuffing it inside their clothing a homeless person will trap more air inside their clothing and against their bodies where it will be warmed by their body.
A similar variation involves the same paper, but stuffed between two nested 55 gallon drum- or trashcan liners to make a sort of insulated sleeping bag. One can also make use of cloth, certain kinds of foam, and other materials for the same purpose.
This is a great example of adhering tightly to a survival principle in order to obtain a positive outcome, not slavish worship and reliance of gear.
Sitting around complaining about what you do not have will not do anything to keep you alive and doesn’t even burn enough calories to warm you.
All that matters is the principle, in this case insulating the air around your body in order to stay warm.
By focusing on technique, and not on their gear or rather the lack thereof, the homeless can show surprising ingenuity and success in sheltering themselves.
Learn Your “AO” Backwards and Forwards
Preppers trying to survive in any environment who don’t learn that environment inside and out, usually don’t survive for long.
I think I’ve made the case that your average homeless person is indeed a survivor in a specific environment, and I will guarantee you that the majority of them will be a wealth of information on a given area.
It might not be information that is valuable to your average person, but it is extremely valuable to people who need to survive the same way they are surviving.
They will certainly be able to tell you which parts of town are the safest, and which are the most dangerous. They will know which intersections, which shopping centers and which neighborhoods are the most charitable.
They will also know which ones are the stingiest and the cruelest. Your average homeless person will be able to tell you which restaurants they can linger in or near, and which they had better avoid at all times or step lightly if they step in at all.
Homeless denizens knows which cops will look the other way if they aren’t causing trouble, and which will go out of their way to hassle them. They will know which shelters are often open or have room, and which you can never get into.
They will know which dumpsters are easily accessible for food or building materials.
They will know which gas stations have the nicest bathrooms, including ones they can lock to get a little bit of privacy and time to themselves.
All in all, the homeless know that their continued survival and their outcomes are inextricably linked to the area they are in. Beyond the terrain and the geography, they will learn to read the attitudes and the “heartbeat” of a place.
They will generally know when people are in a good mood and more likely to help them, or when people are stressed out and more likely to avoid them, or even call the police on them.
More than anything, they will have a safe place or two in mind, a sort of hideout that they know they can run to if they need to be alone and be safe.
You must do the same thing if you ever end up homeless.
Avoid Fighting at all Costs
Your average homeless person that has all their wits about them knows that they must avoid fighting at all costs. Anytime a homeless person gets in a fight it ends badly for them even if they win.
Fighting means injuries that they can ill-afford to have treated, loss of possessions and even imprisonment.
It might be a terrible blow to your ego to have to endure the insults, accusations, laughter and spitting from haughty, cruel people, but no matter what they say you must remind yourself to simply walk away or ignore it.
If someone is attacking you and there is any chance at all that you can escape, you have to do your best to ensure you can. Fight only if you have no other choice and must defend yourself.
The vast majority of fights that will ever ensue aren’t even for reasons of life and death. They are about ego, and nothing else. Why would you fight and risk everything over something so stupid?
You don’t need anyone else’s approval and you don’t even need your own dignity most of the time. You need to survive if you’re going to improve your situation, and it is hard to do that if you are severely injured with no way on Earth to get quality and ongoing medical care.
Aside from injury and your health you will certainly be risking all of your possessions if you get into a scuffle.
You Must Stay as Clean as You Can
It is no secret that many homeless people smell very badly, with filthy clothes, hair and skin. Such is the toll that lack of access to soap, showers or baths and other grooming care on demand will exact.
Even if they have access to the facilities or to a safe place to bathe they probably don’t have much money for anything more than a simple bar of soap.
In the same vein, oral care will probably go out the window, and many homeless endure missing or broken teeth alongside other mouth, teeth and tongue maladies.
It is essential that you budget for and find a way to keep up with a hygiene routine if you become homeless.
A dollar store toothbrush, tube of toothpaste and bar of soap along with some foot powder can go a long way towards keeping your body clean, and your skin and mouth free of infections caused by filth.
Some of those maladies might be just annoyances, rashes, hives and things like that. But as minor and aggravating as they might seem, given enough time and enough filth they can develop into full-blown infections, or even abscesses.
Especially for broken teeth in the mouth, infection leads to major agony in a very short time span, and will become completely debilitating shortly after that.
In parts of the world without proper dental and medical care, abscessed teeth are actually a common cause of death.
Not for nothing, if you smell good, or at least don’t reek, and appear clean, people are more likely to help you.
There comes a point where you can become so filthy, so grubby and so nasty that even people with huge hearts will find it difficult to interact with you.
It is in your best interest and also a survival imperative to keep as clean as you can under the circumstances if you are homeless.
Make a Friend
The idea of a lone survivor is popular in fiction, but is rarely a concept that works out well in real life.
It is definitely an attractive idea to rugged individualists, with the notion that if you are skilled enough, motivated enough and strong enough you can handle everything that the world will throw at you.
There is just one problem: it is almost never, ever true. If you have paid attention to homeless people in the suburbs and the cities of America you have likely noticed more than a few of them moving around in pairs.
The reason why they do this is simple: there is safety in numbers. Also having another person that you can trust, at least nominally, will help your mindset and also make light work of other tasks.
Misery may love company, but suffering right alongside someone else can ease the pain of both of you.
Most importantly, two people are much harder to jump than a lone individual.
When you consider what we learned in the section above about bullies and psychopaths preying on the homeless, it makes sense to have a sort of survival wingman to help keep you (and you keep them) safe.
The task of surviving is hard enough no matter how many people you have with you, but it will be excruciatingly difficult if you are trying to go it alone.
With no one to watch over you as you sleep and no one to watch your back the chances that you will be preyed upon or just run into a problem like an injury or sickness with no lifeline is too high.
It might seem like an insurmountable task if you are homeless – trying to find someone, also homeless, who is trustworthy. That being said, making friends is pretty much the same wherever you go, and no matter what the situation is.
You’ll have to talk to people, feel them out, create some kind of bond through sharing and mutual courtesy, and then decide to take your chances together.
Consider a Dog
More than a few homeless people have a canine companion and that is with a good reason. Dogs are certainly excellent and friendly companions, but plenty of preppers might overlook their survival value.
A good dog, even a small one, is sort of a survival multi-tool, able to serve as an early warning system when you are sleeping, and also a sort of humanizing link to people that might be able to help you who otherwise would ignore you simply because you are homeless.
Also not for nothing, a warm and furry dog will help you stay warm and cozy when temperatures start falling, and many dogs can easily survive temperatures that will be troublesome for a human being thanks to their fur.
If you’re able to befriend and keep a larger breed of dog, the bond between dog and master might be valuable for security purposes since even an untrained dog is a significant and intimidating deterrent to people who would harm you, and more than capable of inflicting serious injuries with a bite.
Even the cowardly dog that has an impressive bark and snarl may be all the security you need!
Also, it is well-documented anecdotally (even if science cannot quite put their finger on it yet) that many dogs have a sixth sense when it comes to feeling out people’s intentions.
Many dog owners will tell you that they don’t trust anyone their dog doesn’t trust; no ifs, ands or buts. Your trusty dog may be the only warning sign you get that the person you are dealing with has ill intentions.
Keep Your Mind Right
Mindset is everything in a survival situation, and that applies double to homelessness. This is one part where being homeless is actually quite a bit different from a typical survival situation where you are perhaps stranded away from home out in the wilderness setting.
The survival situation will go on and on and on. In a way, you are home; the streets are your home. There is no warm and happy reunion waiting for you if you are found or rescued. No one is coming. It is up to you.
For this reason it is essential that you strictly regulate what thoughts you allow yourself to think. Your thoughts become your words and your words will become actions.
If you give in to panic, despair or resentment it will only harm your efforts to survive and edge you ever closer to giving up entirely.
Don’t laugh this off. Many survivors who are not facing much of a trial, or even worse, ones who are sitting pretty with fully stocked pantries inside intact homes, took their own lives because their minds gave out before their bodies did.
Don’t let that be you! As long as you are alive there is hope!
In speaking with homeless people on all of my travels and occasionally for work, I noticed one consistent factor among the “veteran” homeless, if you want to call them that.
They all accept their situation. That’s it. They just accept it without negative or positive emotion.
Most of them will focus only on solving the problem right in front of them and the problem for the day, nothing else. They have anything else left in the tank, or they have a surplus then they will try to focus on the problems of the future.
There is nothing to be gained from despair. Being calm in the midst of a situation that seems so horrible does not mean you are crazy or not in touch with what you are facing.
Time spent thinking clearly and regulating your thoughts is never, ever wasted. Panic will always be the enemy, and despair will forever be something to fight.
However you personally feel about homeless people and the homelessness situation in America and elsewhere, never be so arrogant to believe you will never join their ranks.
Thousands of people have made that mistake before, and it cost them dearly when they found themselves with pockets turned out on the streets with nowhere else to go and no assets.
Humble yourself, be willing to learn from their experiences, and make their wisdom part of your own.
The homeless deal with problems that most of us cannot dream of, but if you ever have to join them you will need to know what to do just the same, for you will be in a genuine survival situation.
Tom Marlowe grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, He has the experience in helping civilian shooters figure out what firearms work best for them.