How to Survive Being Homeless

When most people think “survival” they might think apocalypse, wilderness, pandemics, or even nuclear disasters. However, these scenarios — while very much possible — are somewhat rare. Homelessness, on the other hand, is something that is very real and is happening on a large scale; and it can be just as dangerous as any other survivalist situation.

In fact, over 47 million people in the US live below the poverty line. This means most of the people in this statistic are either currently homeless or nearly homeless. The worst part is, this statistic grows each passing year.

Luckily, if you ever find yourself in this situation, there are ways you can get by. Here’s how to survive being homeless:

How to Survive Being Homeless: a Step by Step Guide

1. Find Shelter

This is the main concern for those who are homeless. Those who are in cities are restricted by laws that don’t let them put up temporary shelters. That is why homeless people normally hang out in doorways or tunnels. 

There have been a lot of cities who have banned sleeping outdoors, which lets police harass those who are seen with their eyes closed in the streets. If you can be seen sleeping somewhere at night, then you are not safe. 

The shelters made for the homeless are no better. There can be many people there who have drugs or mental illnesses and can sometimes be more dangerous. A lot of the same problems are also in tent cities. Those who have poor hygiene and live in close quarters can easily spread diseases.

Places in the woods seem to be better, though. Some people who are homeless are found building shelters there with tarps, plywood, cardboard boxes and more. But, this might only work for a short period of time. 

The best way to stay safe is to stay hidden. If anyone sees you at night, they would have had to go into the forest and left a path at the exact right spot. Even if it is during the day, a camo tent among the leaves is very difficult to spot.

The bivy sack is good, which is a zippered bag that is just big enough for your body. It should also be made of breathable and waterproof material. Some can get as small as a water bottle when folded. Some of the designs have a framework that helps keep the fabric away from your face, which allows room to breath.

It is best to find a place that is away from streets and trails. But, they also shouldn’t be too far from places you might need to go during the day. Soon, you will have places that you can switch between.

Never try to stay in a tent during a dangerous storm. When these happen, the best places to go would be train stations, bus stations or airports. They are open 24/7 and have people waiting in them with lots of seating, bathrooms, snacks and sometimes internet. 

During bad weather, people might be sleeping in seats or on the floor anyway during delays. You can easily blend in with the crowd. You will fit in even more if you hold a travel book or old boarding passes. 

If you are at an airport that has many terminals, you should try to go to different terminals frequently. You don’t want to draw attention to yourself by staying in one spot for too long. Another place that might work is hospital waiting rooms.

Primitive survival shelter in a forest

2. Use The Right Backpacks & Bags

Huge backpacks may stand out when you are in a big city. A good thing to use would be an ALICE pack, which can be used to carry your sleeping bag. 

The ALICE puts all the weight on your hips instead of your shoulder, so look for a bag that does the same. 

Bags that also work well when in a big city are urban commuter bags and messenger bags. They should also carry everything you need to have. You can also leave items hidden throughout the city.

You will also need to get into shape because it takes a lot to carry everything on your back all day long. 

Another thing that might help is a compression sack, which is used by the Army and is supposed to be carried inside another bag.

The sack can be filled with things like sleeping bags and clothes and then squeezed down. You can normally do this by sitting on it and tightening all the straps. It will stay as a smaller size until you undo the straps.

Men's Restroom

3. Keep Yourself as Clean as Possible

This is another thing that is harder for homeless people and usually makes them stand out. It is normally hard to find a private bathroom to wash up completely. 

It is a good idea to carry a collapsible pail, which you can find at any camping store, and a mirror with a magnet, which you can find at a supply store or dollar store.

The collapsible pails can fold so that they don’t take up much room. You can fill one with warm water and take it into a stall and hang it from something or put it on the toilet. The magnetic mirror will attach to the wall of the stall. This will help you shave, brush your teeth and scrub as privately as possible.

You should try and avoid bathrooms that are normally used by homeless people because they can be nasty and dangerous. Better places would be bathrooms that are in upscale shopping centers, college campuses or airports. When it is hot outside, you might be able to use a lake or river to bathe.

You can also use the locker room at a local gym, YMCA, or college athletic center. Those that are on college campuses are normally the cheapest, cleanest and safest. 

A gym membership for a whole year will probably cost at least one month of rent. It can also include things like free WiFi, a towel service and a locker. It can give you a place to rest, socialize and work out. If you can keep a suit in your locker then you can save it for when you have job interviews. You can also find showers at local beaches and campgrounds.

The dollar store is a good place to find lightweight products to easily carry around like shampoo, mouthwash and toothpaste. It is important to have plastic containers for soap and a toothbrush. You should also have pillboxes for any medication you have.

If you have a mesh bag, you can use it to air out your products when you are done using them. You can also have a small, super-absorbent towel that will fit in your backpack. A travel razor that is battery-powered will let you shave anywhere whenever you need to.

It is best to have one that runs on AA batteries. You also need to find a way to consistently save space, like using camping soap for several things, like shampoo and dishwashing liquid.

There are ways that you can keep clean even if you don’t have water. It is best to have things like wet naps, hand sanitizer and facial cleansing cloths. The wet naps can be used on your armpits and groin, if needed. You can also get a high SPF sunscreen to help stop a sunburn.

You can also decide to shave your head so that you have one less thing to worry about. You should always try to have good hygiene, not just for the health of yourself but also to blend in with the public. 

Soup Kitchen

4. Find Food

Unfortunately, when you are homeless you can’t store food for long periods of time. You can only have what you can carry around with you. This might be a week’s worth of food at most. Peanut butter is a good choice because it lasts long, doesn’t need a fridge, has calories and protein and is simple to carry around.

Another good option would be trail mix. It gives you a lot of energy and comes in reusable bags. If you are trying to keep heavy items, then it could be too much for your backpack. You have to think like a backpacker and get rid of packaging that isn’t needed. 

Dehydrated foods are also good because they are the lightest. The best foods to choose would be ones that are simple, don’t expire fast, and don’t need cooked. Some examples of those are beef jerky, granola bars, raisins, bagels, peanuts, soups, etc.

The dollar store is a good place to go because you can find all these items at a cheap price. You should also try to take a multivitamin every day.

If you can get a reusable cloth shopping bag, it will look like you just went grocery shopping. This will be another way to blend in. You should also have a rope so that you can hang the bag from a tree while in the forest. This is so you can avoid raccoons or other animals getting into your food.

You can find light, compact kitchen utensils since they can fit in small places. In the city, you can find several places to fish. You should have a compact fishing rod with you so that you can take advantage of this. 

Some of the smallest fishing rods can fold down to the size of a pen. When it comes to tackle, you just need some floats, hooks, sinkers and a lure. Those can all fit into the palm of your hand. You should also have a package of scented Power bait — or a product like that — so you can consistently have bait with you. You can also find live bait in the forest or use pieces of food, like bread.

5. Stay Hydrated

Finding water should be one of the easiest things to do. Drinking water is found everywhere in big cities. A good rule of thumb is to carry around a 1 liter water bottle and try and top it off when you are near a drinking fountain. 

When you are in the woods, you can use large rivers as a water source. If possible, it is best to set up camp near a river or other body of water. A stream that moves quickly is cleaner than water that is just standing there. Despite this, water taken from any outside source should be purified. You should try to boil or filter the water. You can also treat it with tablets or a UV light.

The tablets are easy to find at camping stores and are the best way to treat water without needing anything else. River water shouldn’t be the first thing you decide to drink, but it is okay if you run out of water that you got from the city. Most of the purification methods will remove biological pathogens but not chemical pollutants.

If you know that it is going to rain, leave your bucket or water bottle outside because that water won’t have to be purified.

Homeless man with phone

6. Take Advantage of Free Internet/WiFi

Despite being homeless, you still may need access to the internet. This will help with job searching, resumes, survival tips and keeping in contact with those throughout the world. You can make money directly with sites like Amazon Mechanical Turk. You can also offer services through eBay or Craigslist.

There are a lot of places to use the internet for free, especially if you have your own electronic device. You should try and find all the free WiFi zones in your city, like libraries. 

Libraries — large district ones and reference ones — can be perfect. Not only do they have free WiFi, but they also have computers, cubicles, outlets and portable chairs. If you decide to use the free, public WiFi, it is recommended to use a VPN if you have to enter any passwords.

7. Get a Free Phone (if Possible)

It is important to have a cell phone so that you can have your own phone number, especially when searching for jobs. You just have to remember to keep the device charged and always use outlets when you can.

8. Rent a PO Box to Send/Receive Mail

If you need to get mail and don’t have a permanent address, a good solution would be to rent a PO Box. You can also have it to where it looks like a real address so no one knows that it is a PO Box. This is very helpful when it comes to giving out an address to get services you need. 

This is called “distributed living,” which is where you shelter in one place, shower in another place and have a mailbox somewhere else. All of these things make up your “home,” but, unlike some people, you just have to travel to each one.

9. Find Safe & Reliable Transportation

It is important to have good shoes because your feet will be the way you get around. If you are still able to spend money on gas, auto repairs, parking and insurance, then you should keep your car not only for moving around, but also for shelter. You can also consider buying a bicycle. This can help you get around a little quicker than walking.

You can also add a Bob Yak trailer or a child bicycle trailer to bring your personal items with you. Some of the child trailers can also turn into strollers when they are taken off the bike.