Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Tips for Getting By When You're Homeless

After learning about a homeless man who was nearly crushed to death in a recycling truck at my father's place of business, I though about how that could have been prevented. The man sought a recycling dumpster when the weather dropped below freezing at night in mid-April. It was out of the wind and dry inside, which is more than he was getting out in the elements. These are the kinds of things homeless folk have to resort to at times. Being homeless is dangerous like that, but there are some ways to make it a little more manageable.

Note: Homelessness and mental illness are often related, so I'm pretty sure I'm not veering wildly off-topic with this post. Forgive me if I am, but I'm still going to post about homelessness from time to time.
1. Dumpster Safety
According to this formerly homeless man, sleeping in a dumpster is never advisable.  I'm astute enough to know that rules are rarely important when you're freezing near to death in a place like New England. Therefore, I'm going to suggest a few things from my experience working in places that use dumpsters. Some have pick up times posted on the side. This helps business owners when their trash is getting picked up. It can also help homeless people know when it is a bad idea to sleep inside or even near a dumpster. If you must sleep in or near a dumpster, wait until evening, get out before dawn and don't risk it on nights before picks ups. Trash and recycling trucks crush their contents after pickup. You can die a very gruesome death. There is no overstating this. 

2. Keep Yourself and Your Sleep Spots Clean

Getting a hot shower isn't easy when you don't have a home. I'm going to drop a few tips regarding that in here somewhere. First, I want to hit on the importance of cleanliness when you're homeless. If you are neat and clean, business owners and authorities are less likely to think you're a problem if you snooze at a park or come in to get warm. As for where you sleep, if you don't clean up, you're going to be noticed. People are less likely to be accommodating if you leave a mess. 
*Keep a hygiene kit with toothpaste, toothbrush, hand sanitizer, soap, and some wet wipes. Keep a book handy, so you can blend in when you do nod off in a park.

3. Spring for a Gym Membership
I understand that this tip isn't feasible for everyone, but it's a good idea for those who can manage it. Gyms have water fountains with clean water, showers, television and help you stay in shape. You can come in every other day or even every day for a shower and a workout. You can even brush your teeth while you're in the shower. Paying for it is tough, but some gyms offer memberships for as little as $10 a month, and if you are on state health insurance, you might be able to get a rebate for some or all of that cost. You may need your own towel, though.

4. Get a Good Pack and Fit Your Life in It
You don't have anywhere to store stuff, and leaving stuff out tempts thieves. People may also "clean up" after you, thus throwing away your belongings. To avoid this, find a sturdy hiking pack. I found an excellent on for my hiking excursions at a thrift shop for under $20 once. This is a necessity. The second step is to make sure you can fit your life into it. Food, water, bedding, clothes, hygiene products, etc. Break it down to the bare necessities like a long-distance hiker would. That's what you need.
*If you have a sympathetic family member or good friend, ask if you can keep a small number of items at their home, such as extra clothing and some food.

5. Get a Library Card and Use It for the Internet
If you cannot get access to a smartphone, you need a library card to get access to the Internet when you need it. Libraries are warm. You can read books in them and borrow books to take with you. More importantly, you get access to the Internet. The Internet is today's greatest tool for the homeless. You can apply for jobs, network with other homeless people and look for help in creative ways. For example, my local town has several "yard sale" pages on Facebook. I use them to sell things and buy secondhand goods. By doing this, I noticed another type of page on Facebook–"Free items." These pages will focus on a certain area. People can post sh*t they have lying around their house that they don't want anymore. You can also post "in search of" inquiries when you need something like a good hiking pack or a sleeping bag. Just be careful to follow posting rules, so you can come back to this resource when you need it.

6. Use the Laundromat
This goes back to the topic of cleanliness. In order to look clean, your clothes have to be clean. Laundromats are perfect because you just need some change, they are warm inside, you can hang out for a few hours without suspicion, and they have bathrooms. Use the bathroom to clean up a bit, being careful not to draw attention or make a mess, while your clothes are in the wash. Don't be afraid to toss your pack in the wash too. It will get dirty, and you don't want it to stink up your gear.

7. Protect Yourself
It is a sad fact that homeless people are often the brunt of brutality. They make easy targets because they lack shelter and often the protection of society. If possible, invest in something like pepper spray, being sure to stay well within your local laws. When you camp at night, do it in the most hidden spaces you can find. Make sure you are there after nightfall and gone before or at sunrise.

8. Stay Warm & Dry
Okay, staying warm and dry sounds like a tough job, but you've got to do it to the best of your ability. If you cannot find a couch to crash on, a shelter in which to sleep or a handy 24-hour public restroom, you need to have an alternative. There are small pup tents that take a couple of minutes to construct. Waterproof tarps make excellent ground cover and even tents. A sub-zero bedroll is great if you live in a cold area. Make it your life's work to get hold of these or similar things, and when you do, keep hold of them. They will fit in your pack and make your life much more comfortable.

9. Find Heavily Wooded Areas
This article from the Survivalist Blog suggests using Google Maps to find dense foliage that is also close to places you need to be during the day. Sticking to dense foliage keeps you from being seen, and also acts as some protection from the elements. Still, as the post notes, it is much better to find shelter when big storms come in, which is another reason to have access to the Internet–weather reports.

10. Get the Right Clothes
I'm just going to refer you back to this post from the Survivalist Blog, which has a really great list of clothing items you should acquire.

11. Keep Basic Medical Supplies With You
You've got to have your toiletries, as mentioned above, but you also have to have some first aid stuff handy. Just a few Band-Aids, pain relievers, fever reducers and wound antiseptic should do. If you have any allergies or medical conditions, carry the medication you need for that too in a waterproof bag.

12. Know Your Sources of Food
When you're homeless, you have to know where you can get free food in the area. You also need to be able to carry food that has a lot of sustenance and takes up little space. Trail mix, peanut butter and dehydrated foods are great for this. Canned foods can be good too, but you won't be able to carry too many or heat it up, so choose wisely. (Keep a can opener on your key chain to open these.) Churches and community centers are the typical locations for food pantries. Learn their schedules, as you can only collect from these a certain number of times a month. Shelters will sometimes offer meals at certain times. Of course, there are also soup kitchens, friends, dumpsters (if you're very brave), samples, and food stamp programs.

13. Have a Mailing Address/Identification
There are certain things you will need an address for. Among them is a library card and state benefits. Ask a friend or family member if you can receive mail at their home. Make sure you collect it regularly too. You never know when the state will try to cut off your benefits. You need that correspondence so you can prepare. As for identification, well, you need that for benefits too. It will also come in handy if you are injured and authorities need to reach a family member. Come to think of it, you should also keep an emergency contact number in your wallet.

There are a lot of other things to consider when you are homeless, so check out this article too, which offers ideas for making money. Also, if you are mentally ill and homeless, like so many people are, try to use the resources in your area to get help. You can be homeless and still have access to therapy and medication. Moreover, if you go to something like an AA meeting, they often have refreshments. Reach out in any direction you have to to get what you need.

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