Saturday, December 28, 2013

Surviving Homelessness in 2014

With the continued problem of long-term unemployment, the elimination of federal extended unemployment benefits, and the government's projection of a smaller percent of the population in the labor force, one can reasonably assume that homelessness might also rise in the U.S.

These excerpts by Ransom Riggs, and other passages obtained from The Survival Guide to Homelessness, has reinforced my early thoughts on becoming homeless, which usually happens when someone loses their means of supporting themselves, and when they have no one else to support them.

Why are there are laws against being homeless? There are laws against sleeping in public, in your car, on the beach, or anywhere in the public's view. It is the only law that prohibits a behavior that is involuntary. (My related post: If Unemployment is Illegal, then we're a Nation of Outlaws)

You must sleep. There is no choice. You must do it. The less sleep you get, the more physical and psychological symptoms you will suffer, until your mental faculties break down, your grasp of reality disintegrates, your self-control disappears. Your body will make you sleep, and if you use stimulants to avoid it, you will rapidly begin to become psychotic, with unpredictable mood swings, displays of aggression, and hallucinations. Nevertheless, the law in nearly every municipality forbids sleeping unless you are rich enough to afford a house or hotel to do it in.

Some people might think it would be easy to be homeless, that it is a lazy choice. Nothing could be further from true. Homelessness is very hard work. Homelessness can be very uncomfortable until you solve some basic problems. It is vital, for instance, to have a place of concealment. It is vital to assure that you will be warm, and to provide for safety, and for hygiene, and for communications, and even for a source of income. If you are newly homeless, you will not be meeting all of these basic needs, and to the extent that you don't, you will pay for that.

Surviving Homelessness: With a Car, but Not Completely Broke

There are two classes of homelessness, those with a car and those without car. If you are young and healthy and have a car, being homeless can be survivable. But without car, it is very hard for anyone. If you are homeless WITH a car, it is best if the car runs (although a running car is not essential as long as it is small enough to push.)

Location: A good parking space is difficult to find. It needs to be isolated, but your car can't stand out. It needs to be near other cars, but away from the prying eyes of property owners and tenants. It needs to be well lit, and yet your car should not be noticeable. Ideally your spot should be shaded from the morning sun. Such places exist, but usually you accept some flaws. It is best to be under a streetlamp. A well lit area allows you to have the dome light on in the car without light shining out through your car cover, so you can read or write without fear. Light also deters thieves. Darkness has no real advantages.

Change up your routine: It's a bad idea to have a regular pattern, like always being in the same place on Tuesdays. Think about it. You might have been observed in your car, and a complaint may have been made, but the police failed to catch you. If the complaint contains an observation of a pattern, the police will get you on the next cycle, the next Tuesday. Sound paranoid? Police have told me they were waiting for me.

On hygiene: Don't like a dry shave? Nobody does. Buy yourself some generic sex lube. It's only a couple of bucks at Walmart or Target or, really, any drugstore. A little dab and a disposable razor and you can get a nice shave. Rub a thimbleful of water over your face and wipe off to finish. It may sound funny, and of course your razor is ruined unless you rinse it out right away, but this works very well.

If you're in it for the long term, a gym membership is the only way to go --- like one with 24 hour fitness. It's well worth it for a good shave, bright lights, and hot water for a shower. It is also a nice, warm place to go when it's cold or stormy out.

Homeless Shelters: You have to sign up for the shelter at 3:00pm, but the free dinner of greasy chicken, bread, and green salad, with milk or juice won't be there till almost 6:00. Then blankets each are passed around and 14 guys find a corner or a wall to sleep against on the cold floor. Stake your claim of real estate then join the majority go outside to smoke. The entire group watches Jeopardy until the television is turned off and people begin to settle in. At 9:00pm the lights are turned out. You stare at the ceiling for three hours, then slept fitfully and uncomfortably until 5:20am -- which is when they wake you up to leave. Single men without children usually only have a 7-day stay, so it's back to finding another good parking place and sleeping in your car while trying to stay under the public's radar.

How to look like you have a home (and maybe get a job): Have work shirts laundered and pressed at a dry cleaner. Best is to hang them on a hook in the backseat of your car, but you can also have the laundry fold them and place them in boxes.

Get a cheap pager, and use it as your home phone number when using pay phones. Tell prospective employers that a page is the best way to reach you because otherwise members of your family may fail to give you messages. (When you can afford it, generally if you've found some employment, move up to a cell phone.)

Get a mailbox at a UPS store or similar establishment, and use that as your home address. Don't get a post office box. PO Boxes are dead giveaways, but a commercial mailbox has a street address.

Wear sunscreen: Seriously, wear it. Sunburn is a terrible hazard to the homeless. You can get a sunburn even on overcast days, since the radiation that burns isn't even slowed down by cloud cover. Chronic sunburns can lead to open sores and infections. It is thought that skin cancer can be caused by only a few serious sunburns, and may show up decades later, so stay safe. A sunburn is a tip-off that you are homeless, in addition to being a health hazard.

Okay, now you look like the rest of the "housed world". Keep clean and wear a smile. You can add finishing touches to your look by keeping a nice haircut. Keep clean nails and hands to convey the impression of "wealth".

Surviving Homelessness: Without a Car, and Completely Broke

The guide was for those surviving homelessness WITH a car. But if you are broke and homeless WITHOUT a car (especially if you are over 50 years old and have health issues, such as painful toothaches or more serious ailments), then you might also want to think about avoiding street gangs and other thugs.

Some people, when facing homelessness (especially if they are alone, old, sick, broke and hopeless), have preferred to take their own lives while they still had the comfort and privacy of their own home --- saving themselves years of pain, insults, harassment, physical abuse, low self-esteem, anguish, depression, anxiety and horrific suffering while living on the streets.

A few chapters from The Survival Guide to Homelessness

My related posts on homelessness

* Streetwise --- the 1984 documentary ---NSFW (Not suitable/safe for work)


  1. January 13, 2015 -- Hygiene and heartache: Homeless women’s daily struggle to keep clean

  2. My First Night Homeless

  3. UPDATE: Dec. 27, 2015

    For years, many homeless people have spent the night in airports between when the last evening flight lands and the first morning flight departs. But in a number of cities across the country, officials are now cracking down on that unspoken arrangement. As the number of homeless people has climbed in major metropolitan areas like Washington DC and New York City, there’s anecdotal evidence that the ranks of people sleeping in airports has similarly grown. One individual, according to Bloomberg, has even lived in LaGuardia for 20 years.

    (* MY NOTE: If someone bought an open round-trip ticket to Anywhere, USA -- could they still be kicked out of an airport?)

  4. Very good for this to be posted. I've experienced homelessness and understand the struggle, and how no one really does until it happens to them. Sometimes I'm annoyed with the simplicity and stupidity of people who don't understand. I'm hardened by circumstances, though luckily I have it a lot better than others. I've had it a whole lot better than it could be for sure, and got by pretty nicely. I wish there could be someone to change law and find a way to make life work for those without family and loved ones. Repeat: for those without family and loved ones to fall back on, because that's when you're homeless.