04-14-2008, 07:58 PM
The Joys (?)of Being Homeless
by Jerry Leonard (aka Recycler)
Photo provided by Phil Elmore of The Martialist (http://www.themartialist.com/)
<b>This was originally posted (by me) as a series of articles on another website a few months back and I've just edited/rearranged them all into one big article as well as added lots more stuff. Since I'm the author of this, and the original, no copyrights are being violated. Hopefully there is new and usable information contained here for everyone... It is long. – Jerry Leonard</b>
For a good part of 1992 I was homeless. What follows is some of the things I learned and did to keep going, but keep in mind that THIS IS NOT THE LAST WORD ON THE SUBJECT. I didn't then, and don't now, have all the answers for this type of situation. This is just how "I" handled many of the problems encountered. If you guys can come up with better solutions than I did, that is excellent. Hopefully none of you will ever have to live this way, but just in case...
Through a lot of discussions on this forum we've discussed various methods of “urban survival.” Sometimes, they looked more like standard wilderness survival talks than urban, but that's okay because there are MANY similarities. Whether urban or wilderness, you still have the same priorities and needs, only the setting has changed. There are some differences however...
DIFFERENCES between Wilderness & Urban settings:
LEO’s (Law Enforcement Officers)
In the wilderness you’ve got maybe a few rangers, some DNR (Department of Natural Resources) folks, and whatnot that cover large expanses of territory to monitor and “police.” If you are in a survival situation chances are good you’re going to try and signal them for help and rescue anyway, unless you intentionally don’t want to be found. With them I don’t see much of a threat.
But in an urban setting, most of the techniques and skills we teach ourselves to survive are prohibited because there are laws and ordinances that say so (conform to society and fit in or be put away). What does this mean to us? Being homeless and trying to survive (whether you’re victimizing people or not) will put you at odds with the rest of the community, including the police. Most of these folks wish you’d just go away…
With the police, you gotta make yourself invisible. Be as unobtrusive as possible and fit in with your surroundings (It boils down to - be a chameleon or be a statistic). Pay attention to the homeless population. If they are all over the place then you can let yourself look as cruddy as you want because the homeless are a fixture. But if you can’t find any of your brothers in poverty then you must either clean yourself up and become "presentable" or relocate.
Being picked up by the police can be a mixed bag affair. On three separate occasions I remember being picked up by very compassionate officers who sincerely wanted to help. Two other times I had the holy snot kicked out of me by some real sleazes. I think I just heard someone say, "Well, I would fight back!" I would place my bet on this being the outcome if you did -- "Honest chief, this bum just come outta nowhere and attacked us for no reason! Once we saw the (insert weapon here) we fired to protect ourselves."
Maybe I WAS being a coward, but I figured my best chances were to just take it and hope they would go away soon. So if you read through some of this stuff and it sounds more like an E&E exercise than a how-to for the homeless, that’s because sometimes your homeless experience WILL be a test on your E&E skills…
In a wilderness situation you’re not going to face a lot of competition for food, unless we’re talking about TEOTWAWKI. You have your choice of game and don’t have to be too discrete about how you procure it. If you’re in a high-density area for homeless folks, however, you’ll find that competition for food, clothing, decent shelter, and other "trash" can get really stiff. I’m positive that if TSHTF (whether from war or collapse) it will get even worse because there’s going to be even more people scrounging for what they need. The survivalist will have a distinct advantage here though IMO.
Because the competition can get fierce at times you need to be very careful in where you set up traps and hide your stuff. Everything you have and get is "community property" unless you have it on your person. So explains the "bag and shopping cart" contingent… Sharing your excess CAN net you some helpful friends however, just be wary about HOW you "distribute your wealth" (the homeless has its share of predators).
WEAPONS AND DEFENSE
In the "wilderness" you have a wide choice of primitive and handmade weaponry and concealability is not an issue. In an urban setting concealment is THE FIRST thing to consider. Remember that force (especially deadly force) should be a last resort. I’ll talk about this subject later in more detail, but I felt I should mention it here too.
There are other differences but these three have the biggest impact on what you do so they should be thought out well in advance of being stuck as a homeless person…
FINDING THE NECESSITIES
A lot of different ways to go about this;
1... The Homeless Shelters - Excellent way to contract lice and have whatever possessions you may have left stolen as you sleep. Also one of the first places some LEO’s will look if you are on the lam and they suspect you (or the perp they are looking for) are homeless or posing as one.
2... Woodlots - Many sizable towns and cities have woodlots (of various sizes) where you might be able to find or erect shelters out of the view of normal pedestrians and whatnot. A thorough examination of the area will tell you if it is frequently used by surrounding residents. Inspect for trails, large amounts of trash at "party sites", etc., and if you still want to use the woodlot for bivouac purposes, make sure to set up camp as far from those places as possible. Construct a debris shelter because they are much harder to spot for what they are and disturb your camp area as little as possible. Fires for cooking and heat should be used during the day and made as small and as smokeless as possible.
3... Abandoned Homes - Every town and city I’ve been in has their share of abandoned and condemned homes. Inspect them during the day for visibility from neighbors and use from kids and the drug element. Other homeless folks can be just as vicious and territorial as the druggies so watch your step. If you choose to shack up with other homeless wonders, expect to be picked up every once in a while or tossed out in the street as some towns will periodically have a "shakedown" to rid themselves of our "godless and verministic" presence. For awhile I was lucky in that I found an abandoned home that was out of sight in the back of a large woodlot bordering on a farmer’s field. It was never visited, still had some of its plumbing intact, and had a workable jet pump (well water!) that was quickly converted to manual use. It also had a septic system (that was in bad shape) still connected to the toilet (bucket flush). To avoid being seen at night, seal off rooms windows so that you might use a light of some sort. If your light is from fire, take the necessary precautions and make sure the room has ventilation. Go outside and walk around the house to make sure there is no visible light escaping, and cover up where it does…
4... Sewers, Storm Drains, etc- NOT! Trust me on this one, I’ve been in them… They come in all shapes and sizes, and while going from point A to point B may be okay you don’t want to live in the freakin’ things. Your sense of smell will be shot in short order and if you’re in them during a large rainstorm you’re gonna swear you are being flushed down a toilet. Let's not forget the opportunities contract all sorts of wonderful diseases/maladies as well as have your cuts &scrapes horribly infected. Rabies anyone? Excellent way to get yourself killed and when you come out everyone in a five-block radius is going to notice you (slight exaggeration but you know what I mean). Hard to remain unobtrusive if everyone thinks you’re a CHUD.
5... Junkyards and Industrial Parks - You can find access to cubbyholes all over most industrial parks, just make sure that a place you choose isn't patrolled by security guards at night. I accessed a couple boiler room areas on nights that got really cold, just don't sleep in the open in case late night janitors are around. Abandoned sites work well too. Some careful observation of the area will let you know if others are using it too.
I've never seen a junkyard or dump sight that was organized but all of them that I'd been in (that didn't have owner dogs) had hundreds of places you could curl up in for the night.
6... Alleys, Park Benches, etc. - Very risky. Police harassment aside, can you say rolled, beaten, generally abused, and pissed on, etc ad nauseum? As survivalists I KNOW we can do better than that…
Man, there're just so many places you can use - it's the precautions you take or don't take that'll burn you. Don't go into or out of your sleep hole openly like you're going in & out of your house. Try to let as few people as possible observe you anywhere near your spot. Come and go at night and the early morning hours.
All in all, expect to move around a lot… If you can find a spot and say "looks good", chances are, and someone else can too. Keep an eye on an area you like and soon enough you'll find out all sorts of useful things- other bums using it, gangs that party around it, etc.
As survivalists, I don’t foresee any of you being unable to come up with drinkable(?) water. Towns and cities are full of fountains and spigots. On the occasions that you run across spigots without handles, a pair of pliers should do the trick. There’s also rivers and ponds, but beware the pollution factor- the most it can do is kill you and the least it can do is lay you up with cramps, the "runs" etc. Purify if possible. Having a couple of 1 liter pop bottles to carry water in is a great plus.
Naturally, towns and cities are full of it.
1... Forageables - Hey, WE know the value of a lot of those “weeds,” but if you don’t then please take the time to learn. During the spring, summer, and fall there is lots of stuff out there. It’s winter that’ll get you… As is often said, make sure that what you pick doesn’t come from an area that’s regularly sprayed with weed killers.
2... Farmer’s Fields - If you’re close enough to them and the time is right, you’ll not starve…that’s a fact!
3... Dumpsters - My personal rule is if you didn’t watch them dump it- then don’t! I learned the hard way that just because it looks all right doesn’t necessarily mean it is. Cook the crud out of the veggies and expect to lose a lot of the nutritional value. Wash the fruit with the cleanest water you can get and peel it. I don't advise using the meat the butchers throw out because most of them will try to sell it until last possible moment.
4... HEEEERRRE KITTY KITTY! - All joking aside, in the towns and cities that is THE EASIEST way to catch "the other white meat"…. Personally, I’ll pass on the rat catchin’. It's good to understand that many of the woodlots will carry more critters than you may realize are out there, it’s catching them that can prove real trying. There are also ponds and creeks available in many places too, where you might be able to catch frogs, crawdads and turtles. Look for any signs warning of pollution and not fishing first. Make sure you thank the good folks that feed the pigeons for fattening the little beasts up. As far as what to use to catch the critters, silence and concealability are going to be your two biggest factors no matter how you consider the problem.
That being said I would concentrate on hidden traps and snares first. Baiting virtually guarantees something for the pot... As for traps suited for urban environments, I would say box traps in the alleys or wood lots. Most people don't recognize them for what they are, but you would still want to keep them as hidden as humanly possible, and rather than making them from wire make them from wood so nobody can look at it and see the critter. You'll probably get AT LEAST one skunk!
My Pigeon Traps - Pigeons are funny critters (and easy to catch, IMO). Besides beanin' them with sticks, I've chunked fist-sized rocks at em, and trapped them. In the cities, go where there's flocks of them and they aren't really afraid of people. Feed them for a little bit, then go about setting up your trap(s). Scatter a little more feed and sit back and wait. Shouldn't take more than a few minutes to get enough for dinner.
The traps were nothing more elaborate than cardboard boxes that had been broken down and refolded so I could stick my arm through the top to grab the birds. Put a weight on the top of the box so it drops quickly and prop it up with a stick. Tie a string to the bottom of the prop-stick and run it out about 20 feet or so. Bait the ground underneath and around the box so the birds have a reason to gather and when you have some targets, pull the stick out. Wearing gloves, grab them and quickly wring their necks, then leave the area before someone decides you are a "job for the police"...
I suppose you could use milk crates, but I never had any available... and while I never tried this, if you have a hammock, you could build a frame for it and set it up like you did the box. It would cover more ground so, conceivably, you can bag more birds at once (just a thought).
Eating pigeons and small birds - I don't know much about any diseases in pigeons (or other birds) but, while I was homeless, I ate hundreds of the little beasties without any ill effects....
The trick, IMO, is to give the bird a REAL GOOD once over before considering eating it. When you come across a sick pigeon, you'll know it. It'll be missing a lot of its "fluff" (not talking about molting here) and the bare skin will look like third degree burns or something. If the legs look like the skin is rotting, that's a good sign too. Eyes look funny? Like cataracts? Find any of these things, then just toss the bird. You can always get another. It IS possible that the way I checked the birds out was “improper,” but doing it this way I never got sick from eating them.
When preparing the bird, don't pluck it- strip it, feathers and skin. Clean it out real good with CLEAN water and inspect the guts. If it looked like he was rotting from the inside out, then toss him too. If it passed all that he should be good, then cook the sucker completely. Save the guts to use as bait for catching other critters, like cats, possums and coons.
Awfully involved for eating a pigeon, huh? As a last note on the subject, certain birds I would stay away from would be buzzards and seagulls. The buzzards simply because of what they eat (dead things), and the gulls because, without a doubt, those were THE NASTIEST TASTING birds I have ever had the misfortune of eating. I don't know if it was just those birds or if they're all like that, and I have no intention of doing any 'studies' to find out.
"Rabbit Sticks"- The nice thing about the city critters I encountered was that they were so used to people that it was very easy to get close to them - close enough that I started calling my rabbit stick a squirrel or pigeon stick (depending on what was about to get beaned with it). The rabbit stick has served me well for a long time, but first let me say that in all the years I've used them I am by no means an expert. I've probably bagged something with every ten throws or so (there were exceptions to that though). I don't know what kind of track record others might claim to have, but I think mine is pretty good.
Since I've settled down I've carved a few and still have them. I pull them out every once in a while and practice, but I don't do any practical hunting with them anymore (unless you count the neighborhood cats that venture into the yard).
When I was out on the streets, however, I pretty much grabbed whatever felt right in the hand. Other than a knife and "snap-stick" (and a couple of times a zipgun) I tried to keep as few weapons as possible on me. Doesn't go well if you're searched by the police...
One item I was real happy with, once I worked the bugs out (sorta), was a 1/2" water pipe. It was about 16" long and the first time I used it I took down a pigeon. Only problem with it was it made a heck of a racket bouncing off the concrete. So I bought a couple of end caps and that cut down on a LITTLE of the noise. I ended up stuffing a rag inside the pipe and duct taping the outside before I was really satisfied with the noise factor. For self-defense purposes, it also performed quite well...
The one thing I noticed most about using the sticks was that if it wasn't a bird or a squirrel sized critter, the best I could hope for was to stun it and get to it before it regained its senses and ran off.... With the pipe though, when I got in a good shot if I didn't kill it I had plenty of time to go finish the job. The biggest problem that I encountered with the rabbit stick was the sudden throw tended to spook whatever you were after. Same problem with slings, bolas, atlatls, etc. If it requires sudden or violent movements, the farther away you are the less chance of bagging something.
Airguns - While I didn't have one when I was homeless, an air pistol is a definite winner in my book. It is concealable, silent, no quick movements to use, and will collect small game like there's no tomorrow (provided you have good aim).
Slingshots - I can't use a slingshot worth spooey but if you like the idea of using arrows, then rather than using a bow (no concealability) modify a wooden Marksman-style slingshot with a large eye screw and shoot your arrows with that. Takes practice to overcome the "quirks" of the device, but it works great. You can use full sized arrows or shorten the bands and use smaller ones. Don't replace the pouch with wire, however, that way you can still use it for rocks and stuff when you run out of arrows (don't forget to take the eye screw out first). Only real drawback is the rubber isn't as responsive in the wintertime (cold).
If you just can't seem to hit anything with that setup, then buy some replacement rubbers and get a short length of PVC or water pipe (1 foot long will do). Attach the pipe SECURELY to a piece of scrap wood that you shape kinda like a pistol, then attach the slingshot band SECURELY to the pipe. Your accuracy will improve a lot doing it this way. Just make sure that the rubber side of the pipe is sanded smooth and rounded so that it doesn't rip the fletching off of your arrows every time you shoot.
5... Fast Food Joints and Restaurants - For awhile this worked out great for me. Go into the place and ask to talk to the manager. If it’s not obvious that you’re homeless and broke, explain your situation and offer to pick up trash and butts around their property for a meal. I found many that were more than happy to allow it because they realized that if you didn’t do it they would have to send out one of their own employees to take care of it (I’m sure some of them felt pity too but that’s irrelevant to me). Nothing like a shot at the buffet in the Golden Corral to boost ones spirits… Don't forget to stock up on sugar, salt, pepper, ketchup, & mustard packets when you are in there (KFC has honey and butter too, but use the butter ASAP when it's hot out). Expect to hear every once in a while "GO ON, BEAT IT YOU FREAKIN’ PUKE B’FORE I CALL THE COPS!"
6... Soup Kitchens- Not much to be said other than the food IS edible, just not every place has them.
You ever wonder why lots of homeless people wear so many layers of clothes? Here’s a few obvious and not so obvious reasons;
1... It gets cold out at night (duh) even in the summer.
2... Sooo many pockets- next best thing to a pack of some sort.
3... This way nobody can steal them from your "campsite".
4... Much easier to conceal a weapon, just make sure you can easily access it.
5... Excellent protection from slashing knife attacks and good padding for the times you find yourself being clubbed.
For the women - I had the opportunity to meet quite a few "bag ladies" and you’d be surprised at how many of them would actually have been very good looking if cleaned and "dressed" up. A lot of what they did as far as dress and appearance went (baggy multi-layered clothes, grimy hands and face, rats-nest hair, etc) was for purely defensive purposes. The crappier they looked, the less chances of being sexually victimized. I gotta tell you, I heard some real horror stories from some of these gals…
Here is an example - I had been in this one area (NYC) for about a week, so I was sort of "established"; but anyway, one night a car cruised down this alley and dumped a person, then sped off. Caused a big ruckus with the bums & bagladies.
Turns out it was a street girl who disappeared just before I started hanging around the area. She was trying to get a few bucks by selling her butt and got in this guy’s car. He disabled her with one of those zappers that plaster you with a gajillion volts, tied her up and raped and tortured her for a WEEK (according to one of the bagladies, she had cuts ALL OVER HER BODY)! To her credit the girl was still lucid, but can you imagine it?
As far as acquiring clothes, I never had to steal any because on more occasions than I can count I found clothes in the trash and dumpsters that were sturdy and entirely usable. Maybe obvious advice, but wash them clothes periodically or resign yourself to being a walking parasite hotel. A little change and a Laundromat does quite nicely. Shoes, on the other hand, are much harder to find (ones that fit well anyway). Don't settle for undersize or oversize shoes or I GUARANTEE you will have big problems with your feet. If necessary, scrape up the money and buy a pair THAT FITS.
There’s a few ways to look at the problem. Do you want money to buy little things you can’t scrounge or are you looking to drag yourself out of the pit you found yourself in? Everybody’s situation is going to be different based on the goals you set for yourself. In war, we’re probably all going to be in the same boat so any financial gains we make (if any) will likely be small. Expect to have to save the money you acquire till you have enough for whatever. I found that all gains were small until you get those "right time- right place" opportunities. They’re not as easy to find as some book writers make it out to be…
As long as the economy remains fairly stable you’ve got a host of opportunities before you. There are many illicit ways to get money and gear but I never had the heart to do them (my conscious is stronger than my intellect sometimes) so I can’t give you any practical advice there - sorry.
Let’s start with the simplest:
1... Loose Change - One thing that surprised the heck out of me was how the general public feels about change. I first noticed this when I started cleaning parking lots for a meal. Fast food joints, supermarkets, mall parking lots, sidewalks, etc are covered in it. Sure there were some days I’d be lucky to find .50 cents, but there were other days I could end up with $15 or more of just change picked up from the ground. So when you see the bums wandering around with their heads hung low, they may feel dejected but they’re also looking for "free" money. May not seem like a lot but $15 can get you a lighter & matches, a roll of string, bottle of multi-vitamins, and a few other little things you might need. Let your "survival mind" chew on that for awhile… What would YOU get?
2... Returnable Bottles and Cans - Another small one that adds up. You would be surprised in the more heavily populated areas just how many folks don’t bother with the things and toss ‘em… Remember those "party sites" I mentioned earlier? Those were usually gold mines for bottles and cans. Environmentalist bums, anyone?
3... Begging - It IS an option, and you don’t have to be deceitful about it. Don’t expect a lot of money if you beg "legit" however. A better way, IMO, is to apply a skill to your plea. In my case, I sang. I’m not gonna sit here and tell you that I’m another Don Ho or Frank Sinatra but I CAN carry a decent tune when I feel the urge. When my brothers & I were growing up we used to sing with our parents’ church groups so most of my repertoire revolved around religious and patriotic songs. By planting myself near the churches on Sundays I could usually net anywhere from $10 - $60. I admit that the higher end of that range were exceptional days. Location is the key no matter how you choose to go about begging. Other skills I’ve seen used to good effect were dancing, instruments, acrobatics & contortionists (if you can believe that), and reciting Shakespeare (?).
4... Barter and "Sidewalk sales" - I’ve only run across this a couple of times and if things get worse in this country I expect to see a rise in this practice, so dumpster divers and "junk" scavengers take note. The quantity of usable stuff that gets tossed is staggering. I’m sure you’ve all seen this at one time or another. One group of homeless people I ran across grabbed everything they could find that was still in decent shape or could be simply repaired, cleaned the stuff up, resold it at yard sale prices, and then divided the money up between them. Knick-knacks, clothes, appliances, furniture, and "junk" crafts (you name it). They did quite well for themselves. I think this practice has merit. Also, because of the variety of GOOD junk that I've found over time, it is possible to use the pawnshops to your advantage too. As long as you're not trying to get top dollar out of the stuff, you can probably still get good money out of the deal.
5... Under the Table Work - When you’re ready or determined to get yourself back on your feet, this is the way to go. Don’t expect to find any work, however, if you’re sporting the skid row look. You need to start cleaning yourself up and making yourself look presentable. Be up front with your problems and many are willing to help. Places I’ve worked willing to let you do temp work for cash were topless bars (stocking the coolers and doing inventories for the boss) & loading docks and construction sites (backbreaking work- loading/unloading trucks, carrying materials from A to B, doing site cleanups, etc). Try to use whatever skills you have to best advantage when looking for places to work and bid yourself below minimum wage. Also be willing to sign (and volunteer to) a "paper" stating that you won’t hold them liable for any injuries you may incur. If the businesses have unions in them— forget it--- they won’t be able to hire you. Small contractors are usually union-free and if you have your own tools and know how to use them, it’s a big plus. In some places the contractors paid me above minimum wage after they saw how hard I worked and a couple asked me to stay, so it does pay to give your boss your best effort. It’s hard to do this though if you’re only passing through, but for those who are ready to plant their feet and start getting their life back together this is your ticket…
Using any combination of the above and maintaining extremely frugal living habits, the cash will start to pile up. What you do and how you choose to apply yourself if you become homeless is entirely up to you but homeless doesn’t have to mean penniless.
The following covers what I believe to be important things to consider security-wise when faced with living on the streets and trying to avoid attention, confrontations, and being made a victim.
The most effective way to prevent drawing unwanted attention to yourself is to blend in with your surroundings. You should try to match your style of dress to the type of neighborhood you find yourself in.
There are places where it pays to "not look like a bum," such as;
Small and medium sized towns.
Middle class & up residential areas (suburbia).
The tourist traps - Since I've never really been in any, that I know of, I can't really vouch for this one...
Any posted "neighborhood watch" areas.
If the homeless population is non-existent, looking like a skid row executive WILL get everyone’s attention and you can expect the police (town, county, and state) to stop you and have a “chat.” If you are stopped and questioned- be clear, concise, POLITE and, if necessary, state that you are just passing through and looking for no trouble.
In the "big" city or inner cities, where the homeless populations can be substantial, I found that it was to my advantage to look pretty scruffy. One reason is that it saves the good clothes you might have from damage when you’re dumpster diving, picking through the trash and other things that might cause you to get messy. Also, the average citizen tends to ignore you, and the criminal elements don’t readily target you as a mugging opportunity unless you openly display some form of wealth.
WHAT IS AN OPEN DISPLAY OF WEALTH?
Dressing better than the scumbags. If you look like you have more than they do, they’ll want it.
Wearing expensive watches, rings and jewelry. Put your watch in your pocket, or take the bands off and safety pin it to the inside of your coat. If the rings and jewelry have some form of sentimental value (wedding rings) then stash them, otherwise I would pawn them…
Openly using your money stash. If you choose to keep all of your money on you, then what you should do is separate your money into two groups.
The first group is your wallet money. In this you keep enough money to make any purchases for the day and fill it up with stupid stuff (newspaper clippings, library cards, and other "trash paper"). Consider this your "mugging wallet"- If by some chance they do decide to roll you, you won’t lose all of your money and a little bit of cash will probably stave off more harassment or a beating for “having nothing.” Showing some non-aggressive concern over the loss of your "life savings" may convince them from making you empty the rest of your pockets (then again, it might not).
The second group is, of course, the rest of your savings. If you insist on keeping it with you at all times then DON’T just put it in your pocket. You should try something along the lines of a money belt or a wrist & ankle wallet (worn around the knee or above the elbow) under your clothes. What I did was to turn my coat inside out and, with some scrap cloth, a couple snaps, and a sewing kit, I made a pocket in the lining of the sleeve a few inches above the elbow. Since my coat was always with me, so was my money. Put your cash in a small ziploc (in case you’re caught out in the rain) and change your small bills to larger ones so it’s less bulky. When you need to take out some spending cash make sure you are isolated and no one can see you do it.
If anybody got the feeling from reading what I posted about places for shelter that maybe I was being a little bit paranoid - I was. You are at your most vulnerable when you are sleeping and I found that living on the streets can take its toll on your body causing you to go into a deeper sleep rather than a lighter one. Too much malnutrition and exhaustion can find you waking up to find all of your possessions gone (and maybe you won’t wake up at all…).
Keeping this in mind, you would do well to find an isolated (secret) spot to sleep away from any pedestrian traffic or other homeless people. If you are staying in one place for more than a day, ensure that your gear is well hidden so you don’t have to lug everything around with you when you’re out and about and just in case someone stumbles across your sleep hole while you are away.
SELF-DEFENSE & WEAPONS
I guess here I should say - FOR INFORMATION AND DISCUSSION PURPOSES ONLY…
When to defend yourself is a judgment call for each individual. There were times when I felt it more prudent to run away or let myself be roughed up and rolled than to whip out a weapon and have at it. It was usually pretty obvious who was looking to just harass me and who was threatening my life.
Firearms - For just about everybody reading this, I'm sure that first pick will be a firearm… But if you find yourself in a homeless situation you may find yourself without one in the beginning (or may lose/ have to ditch it in the course of your experience). In an inner city setting, getting firearms isn’t much of a problem if you’ve got the cash. Myself, I found it more convenient to buy the ammunition and make "zip" guns- reasoning being that if I had to use the weapon I could ditch it, not lose a substantial investment, and make another one later. The ones I made were for 22’s, 410’s and 12ga.
I only carried these when in the large cities where my chances for being stopped and searched were pretty slim, and if you choose to carry a firearm (of any kind) only you will be able to weigh the risks involved with having and using it. I never carried one where my presence as a homeless person would warrant attention from the police.
Knives - Another one that should go without saying. Whether for defense or not, everyone should have a good knife. A good lock blade or small fixed blade doesn’t matter as long as you’ve got at least one. Even kitchen knives will do in a pinch as long as you understand their limitations. I’ve seen homemade knives made from tin & sheet metal and mild steel which performed knife functions quite well in a pinch. Only "problems" I saw with them was they bent easily and needed frequent sharpening.
There are other weapons that can be used to defend yourself and below is a partial list that I have carried or seen carried by others;
Clubs/batons - Lengths of plumbing pipe (12-18 in) or wood. Cut down baseball bats stuffed up a coat sleeve (about the length of your forearm and hand- with your hands in your pockets it stays in place and if needed pull your hands out and let it slip right out into your grasp). When you get right down to it there is an endless list of items that can be used as expedient clubs - look around you…
Saps - Put one sock inside another and fill it with your choice of stuff like rocks, or the loose change you collect of the street - then tie a knot in it to keep it all in the end. One bum I knew kept a hammerhead in the socks, rolled it up and kept it in his pocket. He could have it out, unrolled, and bouncing off his targets’ head before the creep knew what hit ‘em.
Snap stick/ Bone breaker - I’ve always liked this one. Basically an 11-12 inch long hardwood dowel (1"-1 1/4" thick) with a lanyard on one end. To hold, hang the lanyard off your thumb along the back of your hand; swing it up into your hand from underneath and grip loosely. Used forcefully with a snapping motion at the joints and hard points of a persons body it causes a lot of pain and can break bones (takes practice though). Sharpening to a blunt point it can also be used to "stab" at the soft points of a person’s anatomy, again causing a lot of pain.
Iron Cross - Anybody remember those "Atchison Hunters"(sp)? These aren’t much different except they don’t fold up. Get two lengths of flat stock steel (8-10 inches each) and bind them together to make a + ; then sharpen the ends to points. Filing notches before binding will help keep them from slipping. Great fun for power throwers, and in HTH hold one end and use as a three-way stabbing instrument…
There are SO MANY different things to use out there that I couldn’t begin to list them all, but these were just a few suggestions.
ACQUIRING AND MAKING "EQUIPMENT"
In this section, let's consider gear and "stuff". When I first became homeless, I started out with nothing but the clothes on my back and an empty wallet. Almost everything I got was from the trash or from whatever money I could scrape up at the time (which, at first, was never a whole heck of a lot).
After some time, the stuff I accumulated sort of took shape into what you could call a "poor man's" backpacking outfit and what I describe next is pretty much all I had for awhile. As you're reading this you will probably find yourself thinking up better ways than mine to go about doing things. If you are that's EXCELLENT, because the whole purpose of this is to get you thinking about what you might do if you find yourself in a similar predicament. So just remember as you read this that it's not the last word, it's just a starting point....
Knives- Of all things I wish I had when I started out, the knife is the first thing that comes to mind. IMO being homeless isn't all that far off from being in a wilderness survival situation and because of that your knife is your #1 tool.
Since beggars can't be choosers I was thankful that so many folks chose to throw knives away instead of sharpening them, because I had found them in the trash (and still do) with amazing regularity. Pocket knives; lock blades, fixed blades & kitchen knives, etc. I found and used them all and never worried about losing or breaking them. If I did, it was just another trip to the trash...
If, for some reason, you can't seem to acquire one (IMO, unlikely) you can always improvise something to do the job by using, for example; broken glass, tin cans and sheet metal, or even mild steel. Doesn't matter what you've got as long as it CUTS.
Tools - During one particularly fruitful dive in the trash I found a bunch of tools. A lot of them were too big, bulky and impractical, but I did keep (and get a lot of use from) a small handful. The ones I kept were stored in a child's lunch box. They consisted of - flat tip & Phillips screwdrivers, tin snips, needle-nose and lineman's pliers, flat file, round file, triangular file, 16 oz hammer (cut down the handle so it would fit in the lunch box), hacksaw blades (just the blades), and a hole saw.
Also kept in the lunch box were two can openers (crank kind and the kind that just made holes), sewing stuff (absolute necessities), extra lighters and matches (kept in plastic bag and wrapped in scrap cloth), and bottles of aspirin and multi-vitamins (had to buy them). To keep everything from rattling around I just filled it the rest of the way with scraps of cloth.
Shelter - On the occasions that I couldn't find appropriate shelter for the night, it was necessary to erect something to keep the weather off. Nothing is worse than waking up in the middle of a rainstorm with no protection... Tents are nice, but since I didn't have one I improvised many times with plastic tarps (like the ones that cover lumber and other building supplies) and eventually I acquired an 8'x8' canvas tarp.
I used discarded clotheslines for guy lines and for stakes and poles I just used whatever sticks were available. Even large cardboard boxes or pallets with a tarp or plastic sheet over them (weighted down with rocks/bricks) will do in a pinch.
Cordage - Clothesline, appliance cords, twine, old shoelaces, etc. The stuff is all over the place and if you can tie it in a knot, you can use it. It's also cheap enough that you can buy plenty with a little loose change.
Bed Roll - At first I was happy just to have a blanket, but what I eventually ended up with was a thermal blanket (a real one I had to buy) sandwiched between a piece of plastic tarp and a blanket. I joined the whole thing together with big wads of thread on the corners and along the edges (a sew-pro I'm not). It would've been nice though to have it all snap together because when the blanket would get real nasty I'd have to cut the threads out to wash it and then sew it back together again.
Water Containers - 1-liter pop bottles. Simple. I made carriers from cutoff pants legs, added drawstrings and attached them to the sides of my "pack" (described below).
Mess Kit - Here again the dumpsters came through as I had my choice of pots, pans, silverware, cups, etc. I settled for a small aluminum pot w/ lid, small 8" fry pan, fork, spoon, steak knife and 1 plastic cup. You could probably do just as well at Wally World for $10.
Stove - For a "fire pot" (whenever open fires weren't a good idea) I would use whatever large tin cans or paint cans were available. I've seen at least hundred different ways to make stoves from cans, but what I did was punch a series of draft holes along the top and bottom edges (leaving the bottom intact) and make a small fire inside. It usually burned very well but you just had to make sure the holes along the bottom edge didn't get blocked with ashes and unburned crud. WARNING- If you use one inside a building make sure you set the stove on some bricks or something else COMPLETELY non-flammable, and that you have LOTS OF VENTILATION (for you, not the fire).
Packs - Once you begin accumulating a lot of "stuff" you need SOMETHING to carry it all in... Picking through the trash, I don't know how many gym bags (big and small) I found along with kid's school packs, suitcases, plastic tubs and buckets, etc. You should be able to have your pick if you look long enough.
At first I just kept a few gym bags, but it was real awkward trying to lug my crud from place to place. So after I got tired of that I gathered some scrap wood (1x3's) and a few pairs of discarded blue jeans and proceeded to make a pseudo-packboard. If what I describe next sounds weird you should see what it looked like. It DID look strange and was a bit uncomfortable, but it hauled my stuff across five states before I replaced it (and that's good enough for me).
1. For each of the verticals I started with three pieces of 1x3 (about 26" long) nailed together and set them about two feet apart (measured from the inside). Then I cut three crosspieces and nailed/screwed them to the verticals- one even with the top, one even with the bottom, and one a few inches below center.
2. Next, I flipped it over and cut the legs off of the blue jeans and laid them on the frame. Set them so that when you look down at the frame you can see the crosspieces underneath. Step on the ends so that the material is tight across the frame and attach using nails, screws, staples, or whatever you've got. You should have enough material on each side to wrap around the other three sides of the frame. Tack them down with nails or screws on each side so that the pants legs won't pull away from the frame easily (hopefully, not at all).
3. For the straps I took two more pant legs, rolled them lengthwise so that they were about 3" wide, and attached them first to the top cross piece. They then went over the top of the jean "pads" and I joined them to the center crosspiece. If you connect them towards the center of each crosspiece you won't have to worry about them always trying to slip off of your shoulders. Since the straps aren't adjustable, you'll have to try it on a few times before you tack it down permanently.
4. All that's left is to flip it over and attach whatever you are using to hold your stuff. In my case it was three gym bags. What I did was put a wood slat inside each bag that was long enough to reach both sides and screw them into place. I added two pouches on each side of the frame for water (pop) bottles. With everything packed up, I tied my bedroll to the bottom crosspiece and my shelter tarp to the top and was ready to go.
Hopefully that description was a lot clearer than mud. It was an ugly, ugly thing to look at but it worked...
HEALTH AND HYGIENE CONSIDERATIONS
***NOTE*** Please do not construe any of the following to be meant as medical advice. I am not a doctor. These are merely observations I have made concerning my own personal experience as a homeless person. If you feel that you might need medical attention then GO TO THE HOSPITAL... it is your life after all.
When we live our lives out here in the civilized world, we tend to take a lot of things for granted, for example-- nightly showers and baths, "unlimited" water, health and dental care, etc., but when you're on the streets it is a whole different story. You simply must take care of yourself!
Dental/Oral Hygiene - To that end, it would be a most excellent idea to make sure that you always have a toothbrush with you. Dental problems have a way of making life an extremely miserable affair, not to mention the fact that abscesses left untreated can become life threatening. Good oral hygiene will also do much to prevent cheek, gum and tongue sores which, barring infection, can make one an unhappy camper also. A couple of times I tried one of those old tricks you read about every once in a while, where you chew the end of a small diameter stick until the end is frayed and use that as an improvised toothbrush. If you're stuck in the middle of the boondocks with no store for miles around, it is somewhat workable and better than nothing, but you are much better off with a real toothbrush (even an old worn out one). It saves you the trouble of picking slivers out of your gumlines or cutting/scratching your gums, causing problems where before there were none. Salt water or baking soda make decent toothpaste substitutes to brush with, but if you don't have any just make sure to rinse really well after brushing. Eight years later, I'm still paying for not taking better care of my teeth.
Vitamins/Nutrition - We get our vitamins and minerals from what we eat and drink and it's important to make sure that you're getting what you need. Having a deficiency in one or more vitamins is a surefire way to suffer any number of wonderful maladies, scurvy (lack of vitamin C), beriberi (vitamin B1, I believe) and rickets (vitamin D and calcium deficiencies- especially harmful to children) among them.
Being homeless, meals were always an iffy proposition at best (three squares a day were out), and I suffered quite a bit by the time my experience was over. Sure, I know now that many wild foods can provide for a lot of your nutritional needs, but at the time I wasn't well versed in foraging for wild edibles (what was best or how to properly prepare them). And in the wintertime, if you're where it snows they just won't be there. Because of that, I resorted to scrounging money to buy multi-vitamins.
Take Care of your Feet - As a homeless person, walking was about the only way I got around. Not taking care of your feet is a good way to lose them. Armageddon-style athlete’s foot, trench foot, frostbite, blisters... the list is really quite large. Keep your feet CLEAN AND DRY, take your shoes off periodically and massage those puppies (helps circulation), and for God's sake, wear shoes that fit right. Too tight and you cut the circulation off; to loose and you're going to get blisters fast. As I said earlier if you need to replace your shoes, rather than settling for scrounged shoes with a bad fit, break down and buy a pair. Cheap is okay as long as they fit.
Wash Yourself - At the very least, a sponge bath (your whole body) every other day is okay, but wash your hands BEFORE YOU EAT EVERYDAY. Dirty hands and bad water are two excellent ways to get dysentery (monster diarrhea). You will dehydrate VERY QUICKY if you get this and while many modern medications can go a long way to fix this, being a penniless homeless person complicates things. Make sure that the water you drink is as clean as you can get and ALWAYS clean your hands before you eat. If you think you have this malady the emergency room at the hospital is the way to go.
One time I had what I was sure was dysentery... I couldn't walk five feet without having to void myself bloody. I had already had one bad experience in a hospital and was determined not to go into one again. Being flat broke as well ruled out getting something from the drugstore. It was then that I remembered something from a class I received while in the Marines-- That one possible way to get rid of it was to eat charcoal twice a day until your symptoms were gone. Not the kind you buy for barbecues, but wood charcoal from your fire (I do not recommend using charcoal from treated lumber). So that was what I did. Two days later, the "problem" went away... Even after that, however, I was still weak as hell for the next couple of weeks.
One thing I want to mention again is that when you have dysentery you will dehydrate very quickly and you must replace the water that your body is losing. At the very least, boil that water good, but keep up your fluid intake no matter what.
Wash Your Clothes - One word... LICE. Aside from being disease carriers themselves, if I remember correctly, a single louse will drink about 1cc of blood a day. An average man has about 50,000 cc's (I think) of blood in his body. Lice multiply quickly and a person that allows himself to become covered with lice (and I met many bums like that) probably isn't long for this world. Keep your body clean, inspect yourself regularly, and wash those clothes every once in a while. Suspect any clothes you scrounge to be lice infested and wash them well before you wear them for the first time. Change and a Laundromat...
Well, this is as far as I can think to go on the subject of being homeless. It wasn't fun but I got through it all intact and while I hope you never have to experience this kind of living, just remember that it IS survivable and once there you can pull yourself back up (I'm proof of that). Any comments or experiences of your own to share? I'd love to hear them.
PLEASE READ THE FOLLOWING!!!
A little note from Don R.
This article was originally written by a person named Jerry Leonard (a/k/a “Recycler”) and was posted online by a friend named Brian T. (You know who you are and thank you! If you are reading this, please contact me, I lost your E-mail from your old website. I tried to contact you by E-mail to “OK” posting this but could not reach you.) If there is a problem with using this article, I will take it down.
Attribution is very, very important to me. I did not write this article and do not want to take credit for doing so. I just thought it so incredibly valuable, I wanted to preserve it.
Have you ever read something on the Internet and then you went back, weeks or months later and it was gone forever? Well, I thought this article was so excellent, I just wanted to preserve it but wish to reiterate that I will remove it if I am contacted by the author and they want it removed. I would like for them to see it as a compliment instead of a rip-off. My intent is simply to preserve and to share it with people.
Thanks to Jason for writing it and Brian for providing it originally, I am merely a Host on this one.
I also want to say that I just touched the article up a bit when it comes to use of periods and dashes and some spelling, very minor stuff. The words and thoughts have not been touched and although I think the article is quite informative and valuable, I don’t agree with everything in the article. So, if you disagree with something in the article or with a view expressed, don’t shoot the messenger for the message. Likewise, as the original Author did, the medical information is written for worst case scenarios and DOES NOT TAKE THE PLACE OF EXPERT MEDICAL CARE! The Author (Jason) and the Host (Don Rearic) cannot and will not be held responsible for any damage or injury due to you not reading this disclaimer and seeking Professional and competent medical advice or care!
Take it for what it is, a really good article full of information! Thanks! – Don Rearic (firstname.lastname@example.org)
copyright 2004 DonRearic.Com
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