What would you do if you suddenly found yourself homeless? Penniless? Without a friend or relative to help set you back on your feet? Granted, this is a worst-case scenario for most people, but it does happen. I won’t go into the how or why of this happening in America, the reasons are as varied as they are glum and doing them justice is the work of another article. Hopefully, this guide will serve to illustrate how to survive homelessness if the worst should happen to you.
The biggest threat to you is your own despair, I cannot stress this enough. If you give up hope, your chances of escaping the situation are slim at best. It will likely lead to a cycle of drug and alcohol abuse, depression and cynical apathy. That said, the next thing you must do is to find help. There are resources available to you in such a state, in any state. Specifically, you need to call 2-1-1. It is toll-free and there will usually be a human being on the other end who wants to help you. Make sure you ask about local shelters and kitchens, where to find extra clothing in winter (this is extremely important in a cold climate), how to get on food stamps and where to find a free clinic. Case-workers in state clinics usually know about counseling and medical programs in your area designed to help the unfortunate. Even if you don’t think you need treatment for mental or physical health, you probably do. Homelessness can be very hard on both body and psyche, and keeping healthy can go a long way towards making your life more tolerable.
A few tips of lesser importance worth remembering:
- Get a library card if you don’t have one. Books and public computers are effective tools for combating the boredom and loneliness of homelessness. They are also a great way to find local resources and jobs. Being homeless doesn’t mean you have to drop off the grid entirely. You will be required to give an address and photo ID. Don’t worry! You can use the address for a homeless shelter in many cases.
- Be careful making alliances with other homeless people. Some will try to prey upon you, others may well become the best friend you’ve ever made. As a rule, you should never make an enemy of a man or woman with nothing to lose, but at the same time you must be discerning. Look for signs of drug abuse and stay away from them if you see it. I am not going to lecture about the perils of alcohol or drugs, just be aware that alcohol will not protect you from hypothermia and that you do not want to be both homeless and an addict.
- Be respectful and wary of police officers. They usually have better things to do than harass you, unless you give them a reason. Learn about vagrancy laws in your area, especially if you live in a small town or suburb. Sadly, it is a crime just to be homeless in some parts of the country.
- Consider making your way to a large urban center. There are always better social services in a city, and most of these will be located downtown. If you don’t have a car, use the public transportation. Get a monthly pass if you find work somewhere away from the shelter, it will save you money in the long run.
- Think very carefully if you are going to go about carrying a weapon. Make absolutely sure that you know the law when it comes to this, as it can get you into a lot of trouble, and it will get you kicked out of any shelter you stay in. Situational awareness, quick wits and swift feet will serve you better than a knife in most cases.
- If you have a family, be prepared to be separated from your significant others. Shelters are often segregated between men’s shelters and shelters for women and children, and they can sometimes be set miles apart.
I had to learn most of these lessons the hard way, but that doesn’t mean you have to. Remember, it isn’t the end of the world if something like this happens to you. It’s unpleasant, frightening and demoralizing, but it doesn’t have to be permanent. Get help, keep a level head, remember your dignity and forget your pride. Do this and you will get out of it in time. Finally, to those still on the streets and in the shelters, my heart goes out to you. I have not forgotten.