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
*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
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
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
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.