All these answers are contingent on time and place. One must be flexible when homeless to adjust to the changing climates, biological and political.
The basics: I became homeless the first time in 1982. Since then I’ve accumulated about 17 years of homeless street experience with a few more years living in halfway houses, etc. I am 53 years old.
1. If you can’t find a place to sleep (in a shelter, hotel, home) where do you go at night? This doesn’t need to be an exact address or location, but general.
If I can’t get into a shelter one night but know that I can the next, I’ll usually find some 24 hour coffee shop and stay up all night – perhaps catching a few Zs, if I can get away with it – that depends on the coffee shop. If I know that I’ll be on the streets indefinitely, then I’ll go look for other homeless people who are also sleeping out, and I’ll set up camp as close as I can to them. There is safety in numbers. For that safety though, you usually give up a bit of peace and quiet, considering some of those homeless may become rowdy during the night.
2. What are the top 5 personal belongs you need to keep with you while you are without a home?
A quality backpack (Jansport is the best at a fair price), a couple changees of clothes, a sleeping bag, a tent, a towel.
3. Do you keep your personal belonging with you at all times? Or do you find a place to store them?
It’s always best to keep your things with you at all times – which necessitates keeping your belongings to a minimum – of course some are unable to do so. Some cities offer storage to the homeless, others’s don’t. Some homeless who get monthly social security checks will rent with a regular storage facility. Some times I’ve tried to hide my stuff, under foliage, in parking garages, etc., but often it gets stolen, or I forget where I left it 🙂
4. Have you ever had them lost or stolen? What did you do? Did you get help from others or the police?
I have had many, many things stolen while on the streets. Of the few times I tried to get help from the cops, they were of no use.
5. Have you ever felt your health or safety threatened?
Yes, “feeling” threatened is a constant. Actual incidents of altercations are rare. Usually, you only find trouble on the streets if you go looking for it. Stay friendly, stay sober, mind your own business, don’t take things personally, and you’ll be as safe as any non-homeless person.
6. How do you stay safe at night? Is this different then how you stay safe in the daytime?
Yes, there is a dread that comes over you when night falls – It think that has more to do with our DNA (have you ever read Carl Jung?) Being that by law the homeless are not allowed to do much to protect and provide comfort for themselves, and being that the cops are constantly enforcing against homeless people, homeless people always feel vulnerable. I have seen people attacked on the streets, and although I understand that the people involved were looking to start an altercation, the innocent cannot help but fear the same may happen to them as well.
7. What do you do about bad weather?
As much as is allowed. When I look out the window of McDonalds and see the snow falling, and realize that I’ll have to spend the night out in it, I remind myself that the pioneers dealt with the same situations and survived it fairly well. A good sleeping bag will protect from just about any hypothermia.
8. If you could give a piece of advice to someone that was about to become homeless for the first time, what would you tell them?
“Don’t Panic, always know where your towel is.” Although that’s a humorous line from a book, it actually applies to homelessness. It is natural to freak out the first time you become homeless, being that you are suddenly immersed into a very strange and unknown world, but panicking will only make matters worse. Get out of homelessness as fast as you can, but be prepared for it to take longer than you anticipate. Don’t tell anyone you are homeless unless it’s to your advantage.