How to Live Homeless

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Homelessness is a fact of life in modern civilization. If you suddenly find yourself homeless, you must learn how to take care of your most pressing needs immediately: food, warmth, sleep and psychological peace. This article is mainly geared towards those homeless who live in towns or cities, but I will also briefly address rural homelessness. There is no time to waste, so pay attention.

Assess your needs and estimate how long you can go without each need. Are you hungry? Get food right now. To learn where, ask a panhandler or police officer. Be polite and direct: "Excuse me. I am starving. Do you know where I can get some free food around here?" To set him at ease and get a straight answer, look them in the eye, hold your hands calmly at your sides, and speak clearly. If she does not respond or does not know, thank them and move on to someone else. Do this quickly and efficiently. Sooner or later you will be directed toward a soup kitchen or food shelter. Write down the directions or memorize them as best you can. Go get your food, and take all that they offer, but do not break the house rules of the soup kitchen or food shelf. You need to keep up a good reputation. As they say, "Don't s*** where you eat."

Are you freezing cold? Get inside. Loiter where you can. Try to stay inconspicuous, and do not panhandle inside a private business. Be kind and polite, and refrain from ranting or raving about anything. You are not crazy, so do not act like it, or you will wear out your welcome quickly wherever you tread. If you can afford to buy a coffee somewhere, do it. It will sharpen your mind, warm you up a little, and make you look like a paying customer (which you are). Never be embarrassed about your appearance if you are dirty, and do not take it personally if someone kicks you out. Just stay smart and move on.

Is it evening? Do you have a place to sleep indoors? It is safer indoors than on a park bench. Homeless people are statistically the commonest, most vulnerable targets for random acts of violence. Try to find a shelter. Tell a street person or police officer you need emergency shelter for the night. Again, look her in the eye, hands at your side, and speak clearly and politely. Allow yourself to appear a little desperate, but do not overplay it. You need to establish a rapport with whomever you are asking assistance or directions. The panhandler or police officer might give you directions to a shelter. Listen carefully to any warnings they give you about the shelter as far as rules (when you are allowed to enter, what you are allowed to bring in with you, etc.)

When staying in a shelter, obey all shelter rules. Make yourself inconspicuous. Most shelters have curfews, and most are lock-in type shelters. Once you are in, you are in for the night. The reason they have lock-in procedures is to control any contraband--drugs, weapons--that might sneak their way into this vulnerable population. It is for your protection. Yes, it curtails your freedom, but once you meet a few of the people in the shelter and hear their stories, you will be glad the management is a bunch of fascists. On the positive side, the constricting rules of conduct that exist at most shelters are a great motivator for eventually getting out of homelessness. But let us not put the cart before the horse. You are in survival mode. Do what it takes.

When at the shelter, ask management and other "clients" (the word for people who stay in shelters) what kind of immediate services are available from other agencies in town besides the shelter itself. Can they hook you up with a job? Can they get you free bus passes so you can get back and forth for work? If you have any sort of chemical dependency problem and feel you need help with that, is there a counselor you can speak with for free? Remember, you are in a desperate situation and you should take whatever hand-outs exist, for now.

At the soup kitchen or food shelf, observe the rules. Get in line, do not budge ahead of someone, and say your pleases and thank-yous. Smile. It should not be too difficult, because you will be grateful for the food. Never take it for granted. Not all towns and cities have social services for the destitute. If the soup kitchen says prayers before eating, play along even if you are not religious. Fold your hands, close your eyes, and listen to the prayer being spoken. No matter what your religious attitude, this is a good moment to be grateful. Gratitude will change your attitude, and it will give you strength to carry on for the rest of the day.

About the Author

Will Conley's writing has appeared in print and online since 1999. Publication venues include,, National Journal, Art New England, Pulse of the Twin Cities, Minnesota Daily and Will studied journalism at the University of Minnesota. He is working on four fiction and nonfiction books.