Can you imagine what life would be like if suddenly you lost your house, your bank accounts and almost everything that matters to you? What then? How will you survive being homeless? One thing is certain, it isn’t going to be easy and these homeless survival lessons learned from the less fortunate might come in handy one day.
There are those who struggle everyday…we see them but yet, we decide to ignore them as somehow, they are part of the background. The homeless are the real survivors of the concrete jungle and they have developed proven ways to survive against all odds.
It might surprise you, but there are homeless people interacting with you every day and you don’t even know they don’t have a place of their own. They look just like you and me, and they manage to survive in a world that doesn’t offer them much.
While working for a homeless aid organization, I’ve managed to get a glimpse of their world and learn more about their struggles. Some of their stories are real homeless survival lessons and we can all learn something from their ordeal.
Homeless survival lessons – Shelter in a time of need
For the homeless, shelter is probably the most important, basic needs of them all and they have developed ways to make this a priority. No matter the situation you’re in, a safe and warm place to rest is a given. Dan, 54, after living on the streets for several years is now working for a community shelter and was able to share some of his homeless survival lessons when it comes to securing a shelter.
You have to look for the following three major aspects when choosing a shelter: protection from the elements, warmth and concealment. There aren’t many options available and the following ones are the most exploited ones:
If you have a car, you are one of the lucky ones and it will become your ideal cover. Having access to a Wal-Mart parking, a major hotel chain or any other 24 hour parking will keep you safe and you’re less likely to have someone paying you a visit. Your car can provide you with heat and power for devices such as cell phones. The best part is that you can move your shelter and get away from any unpleasant situation.
These are beneficial for those struggling in urban areas and they are treasured by the homeless communities. However, staying in one can be a challenge and it’s one of those homeless survival lessons that you will learn the hard way. First, you have to sign up early to get a spot, and most of the time it requires you to be confined to the area. Second, you have to accept the idea that you will be sleeping in a large warehouse with other 400 or more men and it’s a dog eat dog world. And third, what’s yours can become someone else’s and you will experience the true nature of humans. As a tip for keeping what’s yours, Dan recommends sleeping with your legs on your suitcase and using your backpack as a pillow. Shelters are recommended to be used at minimum, and only around meal giveaways and personal needs, such as showering. The worst part about the shelters is that they house a lot of people that are on one drug or another and these individuals can become dangerous.
This is the most common shelter for many of the homeless and building one is not as easy as it may look. It’s one of the homeless survival lessons that can come in handy during any emergency scenario and there are some good tips we can all use. When it comes to urban campsites, your enemies are moisture, the changing weather and environmental predators. Furthermore, in some cities outdoor sleeping can be illegal and you might be harassed or asked to move. If you find a place to build a campsite, make sure you divide it into three areas: where you sleep, where you cook and eat and where you take care of bodily functions. Make sure you pay a visit to the local restaurants to get some free napkins; they will serve as toilet paper if you can’t afford any. When choosing a campsite, most homeless people advise to go for higher ground, it doesn’t matter if it’s a hill or the rooftop of a building. Being elevated decreases your chances of sleeping in puddles or rainwater runoff. A tarp is an accessory that many homeless people carry because it can be used in many ways, it can easily be taken down, folded and carried. Tarps can easily be converted into tents and lean-tos. Heavy duty bags are also valued items because they can serve as both rain ponchos and storage containers.
Suggested reading: How to make a tarp shelter – 15 designs with pictures
Moisture is your biggest enemy and it will compromise both hygiene and warmth. You should avoid sleeping directly on the ground because the cold will permeate your body quickly and hypothermia can set in. Always build a bed from cardboard, tree branches or even polystyrene foam before putting yourself or your sleeping bag directly on the ground.
You have to remain unseen and make your campsite portable as much as possible if you want to survive. A clean and nonvisible camp is crucial because it is less likely to be disrupted or detected. One of the survival lessons you learn when being homeless is that you don’t want to waste physical and psychological energy to always rebuild your campsite. Make sure your campsite can be taken with you if you need to relocate. Although urban camping laws are different from city to city, in the case of a catastrophic-level event or martial law, all rules will go out the window. Make sure you don’t draw negative attention for now.
One thing on which all homeless people agree is that cardboard is a vital survival item and many homeless survival lessons are built around it. It’s a perfect insulator and you can build various shelters from it. There are those less fortunate that seek out smaller rooms in abandoned building and insulate the entire room with cardboard. It’s an item that can protect you from the elements if you line it with garbage bags and it’s really lightweight compared to other building materials. Think about this next time you want to throw away the cardboard box from your new TV, you never know when you might find a good use for it.
Homeless survival lessons – Fire and Heat
Just like in any survival scenario, there are a few ways to create a heat source, depending on your situation or environment. For the homeless, cans are invaluable items because their size makes them easily concealable and they can be used for warmth or cooking. Coffee cans are the most used ones when it comes to cooking. They get petroleum jelly and lighters from a 99 cent store and using a wood, newspaper, cloth or cotton balls, they are able to improvise a portable cooking stove. Most of the videos you see online about DIY can stoves are survival lessons learned from the homeless. You will be surprised to find out how many of them have flint-and steel methods to start fires. They also like to pay a visit to local bars or hotels to re-supply their matches stock.
Related reading: Different types of fire you can make in the wild
Tuna cans are used to make candles and they’ve learned to use all sort of kindling in order to make a good fire.
Homeless survival lessons – Hygiene, staying clean in a dirty world
If you keep yourself clean you will keep attention away from you, attention from people who might prey on you or your things. It is crucial to blend in and leaving behind a trail of strange odors should be always avoided. The city shelters that offer hot showers are the most used methods of keeping a good hygiene, but there are other methods as well. Swimming pool showers are great for the homeless people that are located near a pool or beach and hotel lobby bathrooms are also a good choice, as long as you can sneak in. Saving towelettes that come with the fast food are great for when you need to clean your face, under arms and groin. Baking soda is used as both toothpaste and deodorant substitute. Hand sanitizers, toothbrushes, and razors are also cheap at the dollar stores and are highly recommended by all homeless people. Good hygiene is crucial if you want to walk around malls and department stores more freely without looking homeless. A foldable camp shower is also a good addition to any survival bag and it is easy to use if you have a nearby water source.
Homeless survival lessons – Clothing and bags
You need to keep your feet as dry a possible whenever you travel and if you are homeless, you will travel a lot. Taking off your shoes and socks when you have the chance to get comfortable is a rule that many respect. Procuring extra socks has become a habit for many of the homeless, especially since the socks are the most needed item that is donated the least. Think about this next time when you do a donation.
Having multiple items of clothing helps in multiple ways because you can change them often and keep the “dirty look” away from you. Having multiple layers of clothes is ideal when winter sets in because you can keep warm even in harder conditions. Many homeless people prefer to carry a backpack with just the essentials while having everything else concealed at their camp. Carrying only the essential will not draw attention to yourself and this is one of the homeless survival lessons they all know. Carrying your house with you, will just make you a target for the others and you won’t be able to blend in. Usually for them, their backpack is their whole world (it contains their birth certificate, social security card and all the money they have) and they learned to keep a good eye on it.
Homeless survival lessons – Food and water, the basic needs of humans
Finding food and water plays an important role in the life of every homeless person and they spend quite some time trying to get what they need. They have developed various strategies and these homeless survival lessons are used even by those who have a roof over their head, but have a hard time living from one paycheck to the other. Hotels often have free continental breakfasts and if you look clean, you can eat and load up on food such as dry cereal, peanut butter, breads and bananas. Most fast-food restaurants and pizza places have food that gets thrown away at the end of the business hours and you can ask for this food, and in time, you can develop a good relationship with the managers. They will provide you with left-over food, before it reaches the dumpster.
Dumpster diving is another activity that is practiced by many homeless people, but you need to know how to do it. You need to know your nearby completion, the best times and places to do it.
Suggested reading: Survival Improvised cooking techniques that we should all know
Soup kitchens, missions, churches and shelters also serve food, but the trick is knowing when to go to these places. Also, you can’t always carry the food back to your campsite because it will attract animals. If you can’t keep a campsite and you need to travel a lot, you will need to carry food that is light, portable and small. Simple to cook food that will not spoil quickly is what they all target.
Water sources are fairly easy to come by and many rely just on boiling the water. However, there are those who have a lifestraw type of water filter in their bag to avoid getting sick from consumption. They carry one or two water bottles that they fill up every time they find a fountain.
Homeless survival lessons – The mental courage only few of us have
Being homeless takes a great toll on your mind spirit, regardless if you have a camp or access to food and water. Depression and mental fatigue often leads to substance abuse and apathy. You will have to get used to hear No and you will have to learn how to deal with rejection, without focusing on the negative. Most of the homeless people focus on the day to day life and don’t put too much thought on what will come tomorrow. Most of them expect for everything to go wrong and they manage to roll with it when it comes. No matter what life throws at them, they manage to stay strong and find the inner courage to push forward. They use common sense and live for each day, hoping that things will get better. They try not to focus on the negative and make good use of the homeless survival lessons they’ve learned from others. They can survive for days, weeks or even months on the streets until they get back on their feet.
Suggested reading: Survivor mind – prepping starts with you!
Homelessness is a real problem everywhere and it’s a true survival tests for most of the homeless. Knowing more about them and learning from these homeless survival lessons is a good way to prepare for any emergency situation that can change or life in minutes.
During this time of year, don’t ignore the homeless and help them if you can. They are the real survivors of our cities and they have to face a harsh reality, a reality in which we can make a difference. If you donate clothes, don’t forget about the socks because as I said before, these are vital items that are overlooked by many of those who want to help.
Stay safe and God Bless!
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