“There, but for the grace of God, go I” goes the old canard, usually in reference to a disheveled homeless person, dressed in rags sitting on a street corner begging for change and smelling of b.o.
What you are seeing is the result not of homelessness, per se, but dysfunctionality in general, due to substance abuse, mental illness and a host of other contributing factors.
You may see homeless people everyday and never suspect them. Conversely, that panhandler on the street corner may not be homeless at all. But, perhaps, you have that fear in the back of your mind that such a fate could happen to you. Maybe you work a crappy job, living from pay check to paycheck “one paycheck away from living on the street” or maybe you remain in an abusive relationship in exchange for the security of a place to live. Perhaps you find yourself making the choices you feel forced to make rather than the ones you want to make. You may be putting up with that abusive boss, that demeaning job or crazy roommates thinking that the alternative is much worse.
If so this guide is for you. You may never be homeless but knowing what it entails and that you could probably pull it off may give you the confidence to take more risks and fewer compromises, and thus make better choices toward leading a fulfilling life.
To escape a horrible environment, You may have to abandon/throw away all your shit. I will say this: You will miss it a lot less than you think. If you were a fox caught in a trap you might have to chew your foot off, so if your living situation is sucking the life out of you or putting you in physical danger, losing material possessions is a small price to pay. You can probably sell your books and CDs to used book stores for cash which you’ll need. Often what they won’t buy they will let you dump there so they can donate it to Goodwill. If you have any sentimental items that you can’t bear to part with, mail them to a relative sandwiched between two books to send at the cheaper book rate.
BUDGETING FOR HOMELESSNESS:
Assuming you work close to minimum wage and have no savings, you probably make around 600 bucks every two weeks. If you skate on all your bills for the next month and move out that means you will have at least 600 bucks cash or more to make your getaway.
That’s actually enough to get established somewhere else. What you will need:
- One person tent from Army surplus store or department store: $100.00. (Pass on REI-too expensive)
- Set aside some $ for a PO Box using this website. That shouldn’t be too much.
- Sleeping bag from Goodwill$: 12.99
- Get a Virgin Mobile pay as you go phone for $15 with a $20 top up card. That gives you 400 minutes. You might want to lose the Droid/Iphone if you pay a lot month to month, or it might be worth it to you to keep it. Either way you’ll have a phone. People don’t need landlines anymore, so that’s all you’ll need in order to maintain contact with civilization.
- Book bag/backpack, tooth brush, deodorant, two changes of clothes (one to wear, one to pack), and seven pairs of socks and seven undies. (Hopefully you already own most or all of this)
WHERE TO CAMP:
If you live in a big city, walk, hitchhike, or take a bus ($2.00) to the suburbs. The best place is a medium-sized college town. Look for a little patch of woods in a park or even on a college campus. Hopefully the college has hippies that enjoy communing with nature and that you will be mistaken for one of them and blend in. One huge advantage to camping on a College campus is that everyone walks around with back packs, and if you are fairly young you won’t stand out at all. Even if you are older you will look like a “non-traditional” student.
Camp in a clearing in the midst of a patch of fairly thick woods that is not on a path. You may have to hunt around a little for a suitable spot. The best place is where no one normally walks, but fairly close to a road so it’s lit up and you can find it at night. Don’t allow yourself to be observed coming and going from your camp. If people are around, act like you are tying your shoe or texting and then jump in the bushes when the coast is clear. Don’t bring food to the camp,(besides unopened canned goods) don’t store anything valuable there (or anything that has your name on it and can be traced to you), and don’t wear a path to your camp. Approach it from different ways and step lightly. Go there at dusk, set your phone alarm on vibrate and wake up just before dawn.
Follow your instincts. You may find you have survival instincts you never knew you had.
HOW TO SLEEP IN YOUR CAR:
You may have to be a little counter intuitive on this: You may be tempted to find a place out of the way, like the parking lot of a public park or in a quiet suburban neighborhood, but that’s totally wrong. Cops will harass you if you sleep in your car at a park and homeowners will call the cops on you in a “nice” neighborhood. Hiding in plain sight is best. Good sites are in low-rent busy areas with people coming and going at all hours, like where college students rent. Also, Walmart Parking lots are safe: just hang some shirts over the windows and sack out in the back. Crack the windows so it won’t fog up too much and keep a towel handy to wipe off condensation that does occur on the inside of the windows. If you don’t have a hatch back and seats that fold down, you will get cramped knees after a couple nights, though. As long as you don’t accumulate a lot of crap in your car and fold up your bedding and put it away, no one will suspect you are living out of your vehicle. Once again, when it comes to material possessions less is more. Avoid hoarding.
HOW TO GET FOOD:
It’s really easy to get food stamps if you are homeless, especially homeless and jobless. You just have to sign up for them at the Department of Health and Human services. If you don’t know where your local one is, ask a bus driver. When you get there, just tell them you are camping out and they will expedite your application. You will then get $200 a month on a little card that looks like a debit card. Be sure to cancel your benefits when you get a new job and a place to live: If your income goes up, you may have to pay the money back.
Wherever you find yourself, as long as you are in a medium sized town, there will be food banks and places where you can get free meals. Most towns have enough free meals for a person to get fat on. If you wanted to, you could eat six times a day if you timed it right, plus load up every few days at a food bank, plus buy food with your EBT (food stamp card). No one needs to starve in the US and no one is panhandling for something to eat. Panhandling is for cigarettes, alcohol, drugs and money to get hookers. That’s simply the facts, Jack! You are naive if you think you are keeping panhandlers from starving to death by giving them spare change. You are at the very least helping them buy cigarettes, if not drugs.
HOW TO GET CASH (besides panhandling):
- You can donate plasma twice a week. You may have a Plasma center in your area. They actually don’t want homeless people, so keep a piece of old mail, like a utility bill from your former residence, and say you still live there.
- You can do day labor at Labor Ready or similar companies. You sign up for this, show up at five a.m. and hopefully get sent out on a job, usually cleaning up construction sites. They will give you cash at the end of the day, which usually amounts to $50. Be smart. Don’t blow it on fast food. That’s what food stamps and free meals are for. If you work fairly hard and don’t look/act semi-retarded, the Company sub-contracting to Labor Ready might hire you. It happened to me.
- Volunteer for a Clinical Research Trial. (Click to read my previous article on this topic.)
Brush your teeth in public restrooms, wear deodorant, scrub your crotch daily and change your socks and underwear. It’s important to take your socks off at night, otherwise you will develop athletes foot from always having shoes and socks on. This is really important. I am a guy, so I just shave my head and face all at the same time with an electric battery powered trimmer I bought at Walgreen’s for $20. Its in style now to have a shaved head and your hair will never look greasy. If you are camping out and keeping your job, just do laundry regularly. No need to stink or look dirty unless you are an alcoholic and don’t have your shit together. It has nothing to do with being homeless. If you don’t have a job, you can still get free clothes at Clothing banks and Free Stores too.
OTHER HOMELESS PEOPLE:
I avoid shelters since I camp out if I have to. It’s natural to seek rapport with the people you are hanging out with, but you want to avoid having dysfunction rub off on you too much. You don’t want to start thinking its normal to stink and be dirty and drunk or stoned all the time.
Homeless shelters suck unless you enjoy sleeping on a mat on linoleum floor surrounded by rows of people hacking, coughing and farting all night and talking in their sleep and occasionally vomiting. Plus, they often have bed bugs. But some shelters allow you to take a shower there, do laundry and eat meals without having to stay overnight. One of these might be a good place to find information and access goods and services that will enable you to find day labor opportunities and a new permanent place to live.
One thing that should give you peace of mind: Most homeless people are harmless. They are not criminals; just sad, passive people generally. Some are actually pretty intelligent, many are kind of crazy.
Plus, here is another thing to keep in mind: People work at shelters and food banks because they want to help people. It’s more fulfilling to help people that can actually be helped, but in any given shelter there will be 80 to 90% hard cases that will continue to drink, not wash regularly, smoke meth/crack etc. and stay homeless. Only about 10 to 20% will be normal middle class type people that have found themselves in a bad situation. This is you. People will go out of their way to help you, even the other hard case homeless people might. So if you swallow your pride and accept the help, you may soon find yourself with a new place to live.
I am not promoting this as a lifestyle. I am just saying if you had to do it temporarily you could.
FINDING WORK AND A NEW PLACE TO LIVE:
If you practice normal hygiene, wear clean clothes, have a cell phone and a PO Box, then there is no reason you can’t get a new job and a new place to live. Check out Craigslist
While being Stealth homeless, You can keep your job, camp for a while, and save enough money for a down payment on a new apartment, or for for a clean start you can migrate to a new town get a PO Box there camp out for a while and look for work. If you move to a new state and still have your out-of-state ID, you can take a break from camping and stay at a hostel for a day or two for $10 to $30 a night in order to have a warm bed and a place to take a shower. Everyone else will have back packs too and nobody will know you. You might even hook up with an attractive stranger looking for a one night stand. Foreigners staying in hostels are looking to hook up with Americans. It’s part of the adventure they are looking for. You could be anybody. You aren’t homeless: You are traveling.
There is also Couch surfing where you can find places to stay for free on a temporary basis. Keep it positive: You don’t have to share all of your depressing problems. Once again, you are traveling not homeless. Once you stop paying rent and utilities and start camping out, you will have more cash if you have any self discipline at all. So, if you do quit your job and leave town, have some fun. See the sights, do free activities, join clubs of people with common interests and attend free lectures (and eat free refreshments afterwards!) Find some anarchists at an Infoshop, or giving out free vegan food for “Food Not Bombs”. They might hook you up with a place to squat for a while. Hang out with some buskers playing music for beer money. It is important not to be isolated from others. Maintain and cultivate social contacts.
Think back to a time in your life when you may have been homeless without realizing it, maybe when you were in college or the Army and making a transition. Recapture that excitement. Hike the Appalachian Trail or even fly abroad and backpack around for a while. If you find yourself homeless but have a couple grand, (from not paying that months rent, from selling your car or as a refund from a tax return) do something fun and not worry about rent while you are doing it. You might make some new friends that will lead to a new job and new place to live. It has happened to me. It’s all about having a positive mindset.
You can do this. Live the Life you want to live, not the one you think you have to for fear of the alternative. The danger may not be as bad as you think. Hopefully this little guide can help you out of a bad situation or at least give you some peace of mind. Good Luck!