Homeless Survival Lessons – Good Tips For All

Homeless Survival Lessons – Good Tips For AllCan 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 sure; it isn’t going to be easy. 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. Somehow, they are part of the background. The homeless are the real survivors of the concrete jungle. They have developed proven ways to survive against all the odds.

It might surprise you, but homeless people are interacting with you every day. And yet, 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.

Their lessons

Homeless survival lessons – Shelter in a time of need

For the homeless, a shelter is probably the most critical, fundamental needs of them all. 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. He 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 significant 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 visiting you. 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.

Homeless shelters

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. Use your backpack as a pillow to make sure it’s always there.

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. These individuals can become dangerous and are a real threat to others.

Urban campsite

This is the most common shelter for many of the homeless. Building one is not as easy as it may look at first glance. It’s one of the homeless survival lessons that can come in handy during an emergency scenario and there are some useful 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 going for higher ground. It doesn’t matter if it’s a hill or the rooftop of a building.

Suggested reading: How to make a tarp shelter – 15 designs with pictures

Being elevated decreases your chances of sleeping in puddles or rainwater runoff. A tarp is an accessory that many homeless people carry. The tarp can be used in many ways; it can quickly 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.

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. Hypothermia can set in and medical aid is not available. 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.

Suggested reading: Planning A Shelter In The Wild

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. Many homeless survival lessons are built around their various uses. It’s a perfect insulator and you can build multiple shelters from it.

There are those less fortunate that seek out smaller rooms in abandoned buildings 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 wood, newspaper, cloth or cotton balls. They can 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. Most homeless people have learned to use all sort of kindling 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 always be avoided. The city shelters that offer hot showers are the most used methods of keeping 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 fast food are great for when you need to clean your face, underarms, 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 an excellent 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. If you are homeless, you will be moving 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 make a donation.

Having multiple items of clothing helps in numerous ways. 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 stay 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. This is one of the homeless survival lessons they all know and respect. Carrying your house with you will just make you a target for the others. Even more, you won’t be able to blend in with your environment. 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 a vital role in the life of every homeless person. They spend quite some time trying to get what they need. They have developed various strategies and these DIY Water Generatorhomeless 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.

If you look clean, you can eat and load up on food such as dry cereal, peanut butter, bread, and bananas. Most fast-food restaurants and pizza places have food that gets thrown away at the end of the business hours.

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 reasonably 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 a few of us have

Being homeless takes a significant toll on your mind spirit, regardless if you have a camp or access to food and water. Depression and mental fatigue often lead to substance abuse and apathy. You will have to get used to hearing “No” all the time. 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 into what will come tomorrow. Most of them expect for everything to go wrong and they manage to roll with it when it happens.

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. The homeless are trying 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. It’s a real survival test for most of the homeless. Knowing more about them and learning from these homeless survival lessons is an excellent 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.

Other Useful Resources:

The LOST WAYS (The vital self-sufficiency lessons our great grand-fathers left us)

Bullet Proof Home (Learn how to Safeguard your Home)

Survival MD (Knowledge to survive any medical crisis situation)

7 thoughts on “Homeless Survival Lessons – Good Tips For All”

  1. funny thing is I have studied these survival skills in wilderness survival. many years ago even in high school i learned about setting up basic shelter and staying warm. i learned about wild edibles and things i needed to know to stay alive in the wilderness. I gained a lot of self confidence because i knew these survival techniques.

    Then I became jobless and homeless. At first i was able to rent a motel and this motel chain (Motel 6) allows well behaved dogs. so my dog was my best companion for awhile. I searched for a job but it was hard to come by during a recession and being a stranger in this city. No address means no job and no job means no address.

    My bank account did run out except for $100. I still had a car i had been making payments on and it was my shelter except it is not good shelter in 100 degree heat. It would be my shelter until the loan company repossessed it. To run the air conditioning you need to run the engine once in awhile. this is not the best thing to do when gas is at $4 a gallon. I drove to the mall where i could walk around and cool off but the mall is not very private. The survival skill i was the least good at was the mental part of it. I already had been a servant of Jesus Christ so i wasn’t afraid of death. The hard part was having no place to go and no purpose. Every day seemed like the same. Entertaining myself with mental thoughts and imagination went only so far. Living on your own homestead is far different because it is easy to set goals and work to achieve them. Living on the street alone is the worst kind of survival situation. It lasted only three days but it seemed like a lifetime. I pray that i will never have to experience the mental part of homelessness again. To me it is not survival but mere existence.

    One thing we Americans might have to prepare for is survival in an even worse place and that is survival on a battlefield. I have had a little training for that as well and have had enough training to realize it is not the place i want to be even though there are millions around the world who have to survive in a war zone.

    The ultimate survival skill is faith in God and the promise of eternal life after physical death. It is that hope that keeps me going from day to day even in a homeless situation.

  2. Hygiene – Get two, 1 gallon zip lock freezer bag. In one bag, put in a clean wash cloth. Add a little water and anti-bacterial dish liquid. In the second bag, a clean wash cloth, with or without water.

    Locate a wash room. Have a quick bath. The point is not to spend a lot of time preparing your spa visit. Get in, get ‘er done and get out. When your done, rinse both wash cloths and bags well and dry.

    This also works for bicycle commuters.

  3. Having been blessed with a bit better set of conditions than most of the homeless, in that my Social Security Retirement check is sufficient to maintain a very cheap Motorhome and a Bank account. The anonymity that is associated with hygiene can be accomplished by membership in Anytime Fitness for a monthly fee of $39. Living in a state that has deposit on cans & bottles does augment the stretching of meager funds.

    Dumpster diving need not be limited to food. It has afforded me with a 23 Qt pressure canner that needed the weight & seal replaced. With the propane cooking stoves, it is possible to drive into a park with running water and pressure can a number of items. It doesn’t take long to acquire glass canning jars from dumpsters as well.

    Chili is a good steady staple to learn to can. Once you have enough jars, you can pressure cook a canner full of chili, transfer it into jars and can up three loads in a day. If you focus on the right jars, you can put 4 quarts 4 wide mouth pints and 8 or so wide mouth half pint jars in each canner load.

    In states with beverage deposits, it is possible to collect enough to rent storage space and collect enough to purchase tools to assist in utilizing materials from dumpsters. You are limited by your own imagination. Bottle returns and materials gleaning can become a full time occupation, as with a regular job, but without tax withholding.

    According to the liberal interpretation of the tax code, the money earned from collection of beverage containers is other income, therefore not subject to Social Security withholding unless you want it to be so. The funds are used to pay for purchase of more tools for greater long-term profit. If annual profit never exceeds $432, none is owed anyway and you have established intent to produce a profit. In that established intent, no flags are tripped within the IRS statistical analysis of your return if you do file one.

    It takes time, but I started with earning $3-$5 per day collecting cans & bottles until I found a serviceable in a dumpster. With the bicycle, I was able to increase my daily income to $7-$8 and find materials from which to construct an steel/aluminum framed cart to haul more cans and cover a greater geographic area. With the cart, my daily average reached $14/day.

    As more aluminum material was gleaned and other materials were able to be sold through thrift stores etc, the checks received were deposited into the bank account. Developing good relationships with the thrift store managements tended to assuage suspicions of potential illegal acquisitions of your merchandise. They could also serve as references when graduating to rental of storage unit space. Often times these served as a good source for day labor performance that could be performed in exchange for rent applications as well as being a contact when one of their clients need assistance with emptying a unit for moving.

    As my nom de pluer indicates, functioning as an umpire of amateur sports can supplement annual income or become total source of annual revenue as a sub-contractor.

  4. Wow this was the best source of information I have ever read. I don’t ever plan to become homeless, but neither did anyone I have ever known. I will start buying socks to give to the homeless.
    Thank You so much for taking the time to write this !

    • I read through this quickly. Most of this advice i have already learned through studying wilderness survival and combat training. I know it yet when i was homeless, living in the car the biggest challenge for me was the mental and spiritual nothingness. One thing about having a home is you set goals and expectations for yourself. You anticipate that Friday night fish fry or that monday night night poker game and if you are a Christian you anticipate church on Sunday morning. having a job and going to work everyday is a sense of direction. As menial as they are it is a direction to go. When you are homeless it seems like an eternity of nothingness and nothing can be counted on. Fortunately when i lived in the car i could go to safe places if i didn’t like my surroundings. After this short period of only 3 days i still lived in transient conditions and it took me about 2 years to really get on my feet where i could make more of my own choices. Living transient i experienced neighbors that were derelicts of all kinds. It is good to learn these practical survival skills and they sure helped me but the inner challenge can devastate the most prepared.

  5. The dollar store is such a help. Smaller less expensive needs can be found.
    If you think you are headed in this direction plan. While you have a address, get a PO box, bank account, find that small storage locker and plan out what you need to keep in it. Find a safe place for what you cant loose, I chose a larger storage space and lost everything because I could not keep up the payments. I lost photo albums, special things that break my heart still.

    Libraries are great for all kinds of things, books, and even free movies to maybe watch on lap top. And free computer time for job searches or helps. You can charge phones there also. And of course books to learn something new or just to keep you from getting bored.

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