Perhaps you found yourself out on the street all of a sudden, looking at the place where you used to live only minutes before. Perhaps you were evicted and now all of your possessions are lying down on the sidewalk next to you. Perhaps you saw it coming, the financial perfect storm that sank you. Perhaps you had time to prepare a little, perhaps not.
No matter what happened — or how you handled it — the result is that now you’re homeless and, most likely, a tad disoriented, wondering if there is life after homelessness.
Greetings and salutations. Welcome to the next phase of your life.
Few people are homeless because they chose this “lifestyle.”
As a newly homeless person, you have much to learn. Because let’s face it: Being homeless is no picnic. Sure, we get lots of outdoor exposure and we get to experience firsthand the way our ancestors used to live before the advent of plumbing, but few people are homeless because they chose this “lifestyle.”
You’re in broad company, though. As the fastest-growing demographic in the U.S., we, the homeless, are a diverse group. We come in all colors and sizes, and hail from all socioeconomic backgrounds. Many of us have jobs, study, pay bills and taxes and don’t have drug or mental problems. We have different religious, political and aesthetic views. We like different foods. Sometimes we agree with one another, sometimes we don’t.
The only thing all homeless folks have in common is that we don’t have a place to live.
I’ve been homeless for quite some time — and found that there’s little information available on how to manage it. So I’ve gathered a few tips, based on my experience, which I’d like to share.
Try your best to keep clean
Nothing screams “homeless” more than lack of hygiene, and you don’t want housed people to notice your housing status right away (unless you want them to leave the premises or call the cops or both). A health club membership (if you can afford it) works best. If that’s not feasible, familiarize yourself with the area shelters or churches that provide free showers, state parks with shower facilities or a public restroom with a door that locks from the inside. As a last resort, spray air freshener on your clothes. Don’t inhale, close your eyes and avoid spraying on your face and exposed skin.
That goes for your car, too
Avoid suspicion about your housing status by keeping a tidy car; blankets, drying laundry on the windows and open cans of food are all dead giveaways. An unsecured load can also pose a serious hazard; in an accident, your stuff may get lost, impounded or come flying at you or others. Plus, it attracts cops, robbers and nosy housed people who will call the cops. You want to avoid this kind of attention.
Regular vehicle maintenance can save your life
If you live in your car and use it to go to work and for everything else, it only makes sense that you treat it as if it were your newborn baby. Address noises, change the oil regularly, check the brakes, fill windshield chips and check the fluids. Take care of your car and your car will take care of you.
Make friends who have microwaves
Sometimes a homeless person wants to eat something other than a spongy PB & J. Lacking a kitchen, the best option available, I’ve found, is a microwave. Veggies, meats, pasta, rice, potatoes — all of them cook fast and taste great. Since most microwaves available for public use are in gas stations, befriend the attendants and ask politely if they’ll allow you to use theirs. Bring your own microwave-safe container, and don’t forget to ALWAYS clean afterward.
When nature calls, have a way to answer it
Unless you’re parked next to a business that’s open 24 hours and allows you the use of its restrooms, you’ll need to find a place to, well, go to the bathroom during the night. Plan ahead before bedding down.
When you’re homeless, you lose a bunch of rights you never dreamed you could lose.
When you’re homeless, you lose a bunch of rights you never dreamed you could lose. You’ll get kicked out of places where you’re a paying customer simply because you’re homeless. You may get fired, or not hired at all, if it comes to light that you’re homeless. You will get backed off, moved away and brushed aside.
But being prepared — and taking a few measures to keep a low profile — can help get you through it.
Check out the full Aug. 22 - Aug. 28 issue.
Real Change is a non-profit organization advocating for economic, social and racial justice. Since 1994 our award-winning weekly newspaper has provided an immediate employment opportunity for people who are homeless and low income. Learn more about Real Change.