Learn survival techniques from Homeless people! How do they survive?

homeless people
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Learn survival techniques from Homeless people! How do they survive?

Tragically there are many people currently homeless in the United States. One of the things to realize is that a lot of these people don’t necessarily suffer from mental illness or drug and alcohol abuse. Many of them were just a paycheck away from losing everything and they lost their job. 

There are a shocking number of Americans that live from month to month, paycheck to paycheck and it’s important we recognize how easily you could face your own personal SHTF situation, particularly in recent times where bankruptcies and foreclosures are an everyday reality..

A SHTF situation doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a nationwide situation – it could be a personal SHTF. Something that you have to deal with in your life that results in you having nowhere to live.

There are a great many lessons for preppers and survivalists to learn from homeless people and how they manage to survive living rough from day to day.

This article will highlight some of the most valuable lessons we can learn from homeless people and their everyday survival techniques and strategies and hopefully help you if you ever find yourself newly homeless. 

Make a plan

Over and over again when reading accounts of homeless people, the ones who make it out stress the importance of having a plan. Start working on an exit plan as soon as you find yourself homeless. 

homeless people pin

Set a plan, a budget, and stick to it. Figure out how and when you’re going to get out of this shitty situation and don’t get discouraged when you just want to sit and cry because you haven’t eaten in four days and shit sucks. You’re allowed to be upset, but you’re not allowed to break down. It helps nothing. By having a plan of action you have a focus and that will help tremendously with keeping your spirits up. Positivity is so vital. 

Where to Sleep

One of the most essential priorities is somewhere safe to sleep. 

The most obvious place to start would be to ask family and friends. It can be really hard, but accept help. It’s a horrible feeling to push aside your desire to be independent and self sufficient, but if you have anyone who can help you, don’t turn down their assistance. It’s not worth your pride. 

If you do manage to ‘couch surf’ then it’s super important to remember to be extra grateful for their hospitality. This may sound like common sense but don’t take their help for granted. Offer to help out around the house whenever you can. If you upset someone (even if you don’t agree with why) apologize immediately and promise it won’t happen again. You want to try and be as invisible as possible so as not to piss people off. 

If you have to sleep in the car be sure to sleep in a well lit, preferably guarded but not supervised, area. Super Walmart parking lots are good if you park a bit further out – just not too far out as that will raise suspicion and you’ll look like you are up to something dodgy. Just a few parking spots past the last car in the lot is about right. It still puts you pretty far out where people will leave you alone, but not far enough that warrants investigation of this ‘mystery car’. Have an excuse ready. 

“Why are you sleeping in this parking lot?”

“Oh, I’m sorry, I’m on a long drive home and was tired, I stopped to take a nap for road safety.” 

Don’t park in the same place twice, try to switch it up to different parts of the lot.

Shelters are not generally recommended though this will depend on your location. The majority of homeless people warn against them – they can be terrible places and will drain your soul faster than you might think possible.

With a decent tarp and some warm clothes there are other options that may be preferable to a shelter. On most highways, under an overpass, is usually a concrete shelf that keeps you from being visible by the road. These can be the best places in the world to set up camp in urban areas.

Sleep far away from your food sources. Rats hang out where there’s food, and snakes hang where the rats are, and spiders/flies tend to hang out there too.

The rooftops of high end condo developments are a fantastic option if you’re in the city.  Take the fire escape up there before most people get off work at five. If you can wear a white t-shirt and an orange vest, just wave to anyone who sees you. They’ll suspect nothing because they will assume you are fixing the cable TV on the roof and you’re dressed for what you should be doing. Proceed to sleep on the roof, use the rooftop pool. Enjoy yourself.

Where homeless people find food

One of the places you can go to get food are churches. In some locations there are church run programs for those suffering drug addiction that hand out bread and water when they have it. It might feel weird at first but you are able to do your laundry, get a hot meal, shave and shower for free.

Many restaurants and stores throw away perfectly good food at the end of an evening – research your local area and ask around to know which are the best for this. Whole Foods dumpster is a gold mine. Most of their employees are super liberal, and will tell you when they’re throwing things out and would genuinely rather hand it to someone. 

Many non-chain local restaurants (especially pizza joints and ethnic food places) will give you their leftovers at closing time if you ask nicely and explain your situation. Build relationships with these people, especially if your town doesn’t have a whole foods. It could be the difference between starving and not starving.

There are also food sharing programs now that encourage the cheap sale of extra food at the end of the day. Research these online. Dumpster diving is also an option and in fact some people do this now just to save money. If you live in an urban area, there is always food being thrown away.


Maintaining a good level of personal hygiene is really important and can be especially challenging for homeless people. The benefits of managing to stay clean are an obvious appeal to potential employers and people you might want to reach out for help. But in addition there’s also a huge mental boost that comes from being able to stay clean and this shouldn’t be underestimated.

Research the cheapest 24 hour gym membership you can afford. With this you have access to showers whenever you need it. This lets you continue to look good for a job by being clean and hygienic. 

Planet Fitness only costs $10/month and they even give out free food on certain days. So shower/toilet/food/fitness/wifi for $10/month.

If you need to wash your clothes, take them in with you to the shower. If you go late at night, no one will really care about you washing your clothes in the shower. A lot of these gyms have special dryers for swim trunks so you can dry your clothes in that. Dry, clean socks are the most important thing you can have. It can be easy to neglect foot care. You also have all the fresh, clean towels you need from the gym. 

Another bonus of having access to a gym is you can have a locker to store your stuff somewhere safe. You can store one set of nice clothes for a job interview in a locker. You also have a place to charge your phone, which is important for getting back on your feet. 

There is free drinking water at the gym – you can refill your water bottles there. You also have a place to go to cool down or stay warm for a couple of hours whenever you need it. Plus you are around people in a friendly environment. You might be able to strike up a conversation with someone about work while relaxing in the sauna or in the hot tub and get your next job.

Truck stop bathrooms have showers you can use for cheap.

One of the best places to shower is hospitals. On nearly every patient ward, there is a bathroom in the hall with a shower. Dress normally in non stained clothes, and if anyone asks, you’re visiting patient ‘Betty Jones’ – hey, I need to use the restroom, is there one on this floor? Bring a towel and soap with you, it’s not always provided.

Many apartment complexes have outdoor laundry areas. If you have quarters, nobody’s going to come up to you and ask if you’re a resident. Again, try to switch it up so you’re not at the same place often. For a few bucks you can get your laundry done so you don’t smell homeless.

Making money

Having a skill to busk for money, such as playing an instrument, is a good way to make some fast money. When busking or flying a sign, only allow a small amount of money to build up in your cup/hat/bucket, it’ll keep people from thinking you’ve got enough. Downtown during lunch hour, and around bars after dinner are your prime hours. You don’t need to be good at what you do, just passable enough to allow someone to be generous. 

If busking isn’t your thing, most cities have temporary labor companies. You show up at 4 or 5am, and then around 6 or 7 they bus you to some factory. Most of them will give you a sack lunch as well.

Find the nearest temp agency and fill out the forms etc. Then show up there every morning as early as you can until they give you some work. Don’t sit on the side of a road with a sign – yes you might get a few bucks but you’re not going anywhere with this and more importantly begging all day will have a damaging effect on your psyche. 

The transient nature of the hospitality industry means that restaurants, bars and cafes are often short of people. Try walking into a random restaurant, ask to do dishes in exchange for a meal, and you’ll often find you wind up getting three meals and a ride. 

Another great tip is asking a business if you can clean their restroom in exchange for goods or services – this can be about 90% successful at night. At an all night gas station, 7/11, or Waffle House, it is always the night crew that get stuck with cleaning the restroom and NONE of them want to do it. 15 or 20 minutes of cleaning is usually good for a few burritos and a coke!

Take some time to advertise yourself at an intersection: “Homeless student with good grades and XYZ degree, desperately need a living wage / paying work.” Have resumes on-hand, in a backpack. Sometimes people will hire you for a day to do manual labor. Sometimes you’ll get a real job out of it but in between them, pick up extra work on Craigslist moving furniture and other stuff. Try to make friends with those people who hire you – nine times out of ten, they’ll give not just money, but food as well.

Health & Protection

One of the most important things that could potentially shorten the time you are on the streets and also help keep you safe  is to have a cell phone. You can call agencies and get on waiting lists. Agencies can call you back and let you know a spot was open. You can keep in touch with family and let them know you are ok or if you need help in some way. Also, it means you can call 911 if you really get in dire straits. You can find out about getting a free government cell phone.

Remember to always keep your money hidden

Get a good first aid kit, and know where to go if you need medical services. The people working at shelters usually can direct you where to go. There are more services available to the homeless than the working poor – usually, medical, dental, everything for free or nearly free prices. Use these. Get checked out. Get your teeth fixed. Stay presentable and healthy so you’re able to work if you find a job.

Always have a weapon on you that does not classify as a weapon under your state laws. Box cutter, Phillips head screwdriver, mag light, small knife etc. Hopefully you will only need to use it as a deterrent but if your personal safety is in jeopardy, be ready to defend yourself with deadly force. If you’re arrested, your first phone call should be to the ACLU, and any charges pressed against you should be countered by you pressing hate crime charges. Don’t pussyfoot around ever.

More great tips for homeless people

Find out when trash day is in particular neighborhoods, and obtain items that make your life more comfortable. The first thing is some tarps and duct tape. That way, when someone throws out a couch, gank the cushions, waterproof them with your tarps and duct tape, and you’re pretty golden in terms of comfortable sleeping arrangements.

The public library can be a valuable resource. Most systems require some sort of address verification for full privileges, but many offer graduated access for internet access. Another tip here is to get a library membership BEFORE you become homeless. They’re free and I can’t think of any reason to NOT have one. 

Use this time in the library to look for jobs, find housing or child-care. If you have a cellphone, you can charge it here. There’s often free wifi if you have a device that can utilize it but no data plan. At the very least, you have a warm building that is open and welcome to you for twelve hours a day. Obey the library standards (don’t sleep, don’t eat, don’t bother anyone) and you’ll be fine. Use your time to better yourself and research opportunities. Some systems (Seattle, San Francisco, Chapel Hill) have social workers on staff specifically for this purpose.

Look into getting a bus or transport pass. Even though you have few resources, you can at least get to places that are providing them, such as clothes, food, personal care supplies, etc. Another option is a bicycle but only practical if you have a safe place to store it.  Check Craigslist for freebies/ cheap bikes – you don’t need the latest mountain bike, just something that will get you from A to B. 

For freshwater find a churchyard or graveyard. Somewhere there will be a stand pipe, as people bring flowers to these places.

Avoid drugs and alcohol despite the temptation. They are an expensive and a harmful trap. No matter how depressed you are, stay away from the hard street drugs. These bring nothing but sketchy folks around you. The further you stay away from sketchy folks, the sooner you’ll likely become un-homeless.

Go to as many free business/marketing/networking seminars as you can find in your town, free food, hot drinks, and generally a good chance to meet business owners and employers, potentially letting you nail a good job down (if you don’t already have one) or even get a better job somewhere else.

Stay true to yourself

One last point that is super important to remember for your own mental health: be good to people. Hopefully your time being homeless will be as short as possible and more than anything you want to try and protect your inner goodness during this time.

Give away precious cigarettes or toss another guy a dollar – that stuff finds its way back to you. Some call it “karma,” and in my experience it exists. That’s not to say you should let yourself be taken advantage of, but if you have more than you need at that moment and someone else is lacking, let it go. It will make you feel great and it’ll come back to you for sure. 


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