Soon to Be Homeless - Facing Your Fears
Most people get some warning before they become homeless. The writing is on the wall and, at some time, losing your home becomes inevitable. You can't pay the rent or you can't pay your mortgage. Your business is slowing and redundancy seems inevitable. You're about to be divorced and you'll end up with nothing.
Whatever the problem is, you know you may well end up out on the street.
Sadly, children are also caught up in the homeless cycle. For the sake of your kids, don't wait until the last moment to figure out what you'll do when you are homeless.
Consider my ten tips for a better life when you are homeless. I sincerely hope you won't need them, but if you are in financial trouble and risk losing your home, your best action is to make a plan.
Where To Live When You Become Homeless
Talk to most people about where to live when you are homeless, and you'll hear the same five options repeated. These are the five alternatives most people consider when faced with losing their home.
- Living in a car
- Living in a van
- Living in a motel
- Staying with friends or family
- Relying on charity shelters.
Each of these options have huge disadvantages for homeless families.
My research indicates that there are significant needs that simply cannot be met by any of the five most obvious options when you become homeless.
Instead of living in a car, a van, a motel, a friend's home or a charity shelter, I urge anyone faced with homelessness to take a less obvious but more sustainable path.
Why to Avoid Living in a Car
I am saddened by how many people are currently living in their cars. It would be bad enough to be a single adult with your bedding and all your possessions cramped into a vehicle, but many children are also living in cars.
Apparently WalMart carparks are popular overnight accommodation venues in America. In the UK and Australia, cars are often parked in discreet suburban streets or alongside 24 hour service stations at bedtime.
When it comes to comfort, living in a car rates quite similarly to sleeping in a park or a doorway. Living in a car gives you the ability to lock the door, but if you are sleeping in a park at least you have room to stretch your legs.
When Living in a Van is a Bad Idea
If you own a small vehicle, upgrading to a van with a bit more headroom can seem like a great improvement. Because you can raise your bed and create storage at floor level, living in a van seems like an attractive option.
Let's face it, a campervan - particularly one with a pop-top and a bed inside it - can be a workable option for holidays. With a little gas cooker and a built in sink, perhaps even a tiny fridge, the old Kombi campervan can be a trusty and reliable friend.
But try adapting a standard van to residential living. It costs a fortune to add the 'camper' elements. The windows aren't made for controlled and secure opening, and are not fit with fly and mosquito screens. You could make room for a mattress, but living in a van brings many of the same restrictions and frustrations associated with living in a car.
The Cost of Living in a Motel
I watched a television documentary featuring a man who works at DisneyWorld in Orlando, Florida and lives with his wife and children year-round in a local motel. Apparently many of the local motels now house families full-time.
They live in cramped conditions and heat food in a microwave. By the time he pays his motel bill and buys packaged meals or take-away from nearby outlets, he has no money left for saving. There is nowhere for his children to play and no hope of a better life in the future.
Living in a motel is a dead-end option. How can you possibly make financial progress if your entire income is dedicated to your weekly living expenses? The cost of living in a motel includes not just the money you spend today, but the money you don't have to spend tomorrow.
The Negative Side of Staying With Friends or Family When You Are Homeless
Do you have someone in your life who you know will welcome you with open arms, feed you and give you a bed? If so, run to them. You'll need a kind ear and a shoulder to cry on as you make the transition from your previous life to the challenges that lie ahead.
Unfortunately, however, staying with friends and family is generally not a good long-term option. Particularly if you have children, the friendship is likely to be strained for any of many reasons.
- If they are renting, their tenancy agreement may be for a limited number of residents. You risk having them evicted.
- If their home is small, your presence will definitely cause stress and tension.
- Your children will have to adopt their house rules. This may be difficult.
- You will walk the fine line between being appropriately helpful and appearing to be 'taking over'. You risk being seen as lazy and at the same time you risk being seen as bossy.
- Staying with friends or family in a confined space will definitely change the dynamics of your relationship.
More on homelessness from a family's perspective
- Advice For Working Homeless Families
This woman spent 8 months homeless with her husband and children. She writes of her experience and offers tips about options including shelters, and obtaining food. (She also writes about the difficulties of staying with friends.)
Has Homelessness Touched Your Life?
Do you or a friend or family member feel at risk of losing your home?
Problems with Charity Shelters for the Homeless
Not every community provides shelter for the homeless. Those that do should be commended, but as soon as you walk through the door you have to accept that the space is not your own and you will rub shoulders with many other homeless individuals, not all who are as pleasant and honest as you.
Your children will be exposed to other children and adults who could potentially pose a threat. You will need to supervise your children very carefully to ensure their safety and avoid problems.
Many charity shelters for the homeless require you to enter and leave at specific times. This can make finding a job and getting back on your feet very difficult.
Planning a Better Life When You Are Homeless
With the right attitude, losing your home can become an opportunity to make positive change. If you have been unhappy or unsatisfied with the circumstances of your life, now marks the moment when you are going to do things differently.
- Circumstances are forcing you out of your home.
The first step is to accept that you have to make dramatic changes.
- You know losing your home is inevitable.
Don't wait until the last moment, and all your money is gone.
- You want a better life than most homeless people.
Make a plan to create a new home. And stick to it.
- You don't want to get caught in a cycle that spirals from bad to worse.
Let go of the past and be positive about a bright future.
Becoming homeless gives you every reason to let go of the old and embrace the new. All that old baggage you've carted around with you in the past is about to be left behind.
Here are my top ten tips for planning a better life when you are homeless.
Homeless Tip # 1: Move Quickly
When becoming homeless is inevitable, you have to move quickly - in every sense of the word.
- Make a plan quickly.
- Make decisions quickly.
- Implement your plan quickly.
- Give notice that you will be moving out as soon as you can arrange it. Don't wait until your money runs out.
There are many advantages to becoming homeless months earlier than it is forced upon you if it means that you'll still have money in the bank. Don't waste the last of your savings and incur more debt by trying to delay the inevitable.
You want the ability to set yourself up before your funds dry up. By moving quickly you can stop paying rent and avoid another power bill just a little bit sooner.
If you have a mortgage and can rent your home out for enough money to cover your bank payments, temporary homeless may ultimately save your home.
Don't Wait Until It Is Too Late!
Homeless Tip # 2: Before Your Money Runs Out, Buy a Tent Trailer
I believe a tent trailer is the single most valuable item to acquire if you are facing homelessness. Before you freak out about the likely cost and decide that you couldn't possibly afford one, give this option some thought.
Unless you frequently visit camping stores, you probably have no idea of how surprisingly affordable a lot of camping gear actually is ... including tent trailers.
You could buy a tent trailer and live in it without even having a car. All you'd need is a place to park it - perhaps in the backyard of a family member until you were able to relocate.
If you have a car with a tow bar, you can pack your tent up and tow it. If you have a place to set it up, you can leave the tent and the trailer in place while you get about business and life in your car.
The biggest strain on friends and family when a homeless family member comes to stay is having that extra person (or extra family) in their space 24/7. If you arrive complete with your own sleeping quarters and can accommodate yourself apart from using the bathroom and kitchen, you're likely to be far more welcome.
What a relief for you and whoever you are staying with. There is nothing 'permanent' about your visit. When the time is right, you can simply move on. Your tent can be packed up in your trailer along with all your personal possessions and your family can be put in your car.
Tent TrailerClick thumbnail to view full-size
Homeless Tip # 3: Sell Everything You Don't Need
Once you become homeless, you are going to lose everything anyway. Instead of waiting until your possessions are taken or sent to the dump, sell them.
Have a garage sale or a yard sale. Sell things on ebay. Stick a 'For Sale' sign up in your local supermarket and other public venues with photos and prices of large furniture items.
Take smaller items to a local market and display them on a picnic rug. To sell everything you might have to drop your prices, but every item sold is one less problem on moving day.
The cost of buying things you’ll need if you’re homeless - for instance perhaps a caravan or even just an ordinary tent - seems unreachable when you have nothing. But you don't have 'nmothing' until you walk out your door for the last time, leaving everything you own behind you.
Sell your possessions, apart from those you'll obviously need like your sleeping bags, blankets or warm bed covers. Just keep what you'll need for one very cold night - and one rather warm night - and sell the rest. Keep one pillow each.
The vast majority of your kitchen items can be sold along with everything in your lounge room, dining room, laundry etc. All your towels and linen and books and CDs and DVDs and toys and everything else that would be lost when you walk out the door should be sold to help fund the next stage of your life.
Homeless Tip # 4: Don't Just Vanish
Losing your home can be embarrassing. Nobody likes to feel like a failure.
But with more than 1.5 million Americans homeless as a result of the financial crisis and alarming statistics of homelessness in other countries as well, there is no need to hang your head in shame and want to vanish.
You really do need to keep in touch with your network of friends and family and be contactable in the event of an emergency.
- Facebook can be problematic if you don't have internet connection, so consider a cheap pre-paid mobile / cell phone that can receive phone calls and text messages. Explain that you don't intend to use your phone but you'll try to keep it charged and will check for messages every couple of days. (Of course you can check it every day - even if you don't want your in-laws to know you do.)
- Get a Post Office box or similar service in place before you leave your home and no longer have evidence of a home address.
You'll need to receive mail from government bodies including when it is time for your driver's license renewal. You can have your mail redirected at a later time when you know where you'll be based. It might be appropriate to have your mail sent to a trusted and reliable friend or family member who can forward it or open and read your letters to you over the phone.
- Tell at least one trusted person where you are going. Keep them updated with where you are and how you are coping.
Mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and friends who worry about you will feel better if they have some point of contact who can reassure them you are alive and doing okay. Choose a person who is very diplomatic and able to say, "You know this is a difficult time for Alex. My role right now is to listen and pass on the news. You have to try and be understanding and just wait until Alex is settled and feels comfortable calling you directly."
You'll complicate life for those who care about you if you leave everything to their imagination, so don't just vanish without explanation. Make an effort to stay in touch.
Homeless Tip # 5: Photograph everything you want to remember
Take pictures of your children's toys and their school work and their bedroom. Reassure a distressed child that one day you'll get another bed just like their old one if they want it, and more toys and another toy box.
Some children like the idea of getting everything new, so parting with the old is not really a problem. But if your child needs routine and feels uncomfortable with change, being able to show them digital photos as evidence that you plan to replace what they miss most will help.
Be happy we live in the day and age of inexpensive digital cameras and gigabytes of storage! When I moved from one side of the country to the other in 1990 with two kids, two dogs and two suitcases after a messy relationship breakup, taking photographs required film and processing.
One heavy suitcase was filled with documents and school awards that would have been a lot lighter if I could have brought them with me on a USB or a single CD.
The time will come when you are ready to fly again
Homeless Tip # 6: Take what you'll need to look for a job
Homelessness is a short term proposition. You don't want to be without a home for longer than necessary. Before you can get yourself and your family a new home, you are going to need an income.
Despite how hopeless life may seem at the moment, the sun will rise one morning and you will be ready to go out and get a job. Make sure you have everything you need when that day comes!
Very few employers will be impressed by someone who walks through their door in tracksuit pants and a t-shirt. When you apply for a job, you have to dress for the occasion - and when you begin work, you need to be dressed appropriately.
Fold your work clothes flat and tie them up in a plastic bag. Put a copy of your references in the bag as well. You need these important items to stay clean and dry until they are needed.
If you're an office worker, pack at least one appropriate outfit for work plus your references and a Cv profiling your past work history.
Leave a space at the top for your address, but include your mobile / cell phone number. You can always explain you are new to the area and do not yet have a permanent address.
If you think your best chance of employment is on a building site, make sure you have your workboots, a clean pair of trousers and a fresh safety shirt on hand. If you have your own hard-hat, bring it.
If you're unskilled and have no idea what kind of work you might find, pack a black shirt, a white shirt and a pair of black trousers ... along with a pair of comfortable, clean shoes you could wear if working in a cafe, a bakery, a variety store or any other store that might require staff.
Bring your musical instrument!
If you play a musical instrument small enough to carry with you, hold onto it. Your music might help you make money.
- Provide lessons to beginner students. Put a sign up on noticeboards - including in supermarkets, saying you'll come to the student's home.
- Try busking. If you are any good and you pick the right place, you might make some decent money. At the very least, you can enjoy making music for a while. :)
- If you don't have children to look after every night (or your partner can look after the kids), you could put a sign up in local music stores looking for a band to join. Then help the band get better paying jobs.
A mobile / cell phone makes it easy for people to contact you.
The same principle applies if you have other skills that people want to learn. Offer to teach clients in their own homes.
Tip # 7: Use Solar Lights and Rechargeable Batteries
I remember when I used to spend a small fortune buying new batteries for torches and toys. Not any more. Now I have a range of wonderful lights and torches that operate on solar power or can be charged by hand if there's no sunshine available ... and I buy rechargeable batteries that can be plugged into power for a short while before being returned to power other torches and toys.
I have one like this and keep it in my car. The solar panel charges through the car window. In an emergency it provides a flashlight as well as a warning beacon. Can also be used to listen to the radio and charge a mobile / cell phone.
Avoid unnecessary expenses
I've been using this for years
We use this nearly every day of the year!
This is the Nature Power system I use and love. Some of the reviews on the page are not so positive. I'm not sure whether or not it has anything to do with how you prepare and use the unit. All I know is it works great for my family. :)
We use this product when camping, and as lighting in our off-grid home.
You just have to look at other hubs I've written to see photos of Nature Power 40050 Solar Powered PowerPak with LED lights in action around my home.
- I profiled it in a hub about my family's life successfully living off the grid.
- You can see the lead in a photo I used in a hub about keeping warm in the winter and cool in the summer without using electricity.
- During the hot summer fire season I keep the little panel outside charging the powerpak and light inside my fire bunker. You'll see it on one of the photos I used in that hub.
Most of the year, however, we use it as part of our daily off-grid lifestyle. It illuminates my desk area at night now that we have my daughter's bedroom lights connected directly to our main solar system. :)
This is not a torch. You wouldn't want to carry it as you find your way from your campsite to the nearest toilet - but it is absolutely wonderful for lighting the inside of the large tent we take camping ... and a room in my house ... and my firebunker ... and every other application I have turned it to. :)
Preparing Food without your own Kitchen
Homeless Tip # 8: Cook Real Food and Carry Fresh Water
If you feed yourself and your family a diet of fast foods from takeaway food outlets, you can expect to gain weight and become less healthy. To be healthy, you must eat healthy foods. This may seem an impossible challenge when you are homeless but there are ways to cook real food without a kitchen, and with a little planning you'll find you can always carry fresh water.
Making healthy food choices should be high on your list of priorities. It is more important than ever to stay fit and well when you are homeless. A case of diarrhea is inconvenient when your bathroom is a few steps from your bedroom but it becomes a major problem if you are relying on public toilets.
Similarly, you'll be wanting to avoid constipation. Instead of being forced to sit for ages on a public toilet while struggling to rid yourself of waste, in an ideal world you will simply make a quick trip to a public loo when necessary and get in and out without fuss or drama.
Eating real food instead of junk food will help keep your body in good condition and avoid toileting problems.
Drinking fresh water instead of soda or sugary fruit drinks will contribute to maintaining good health. Plus you'll save money.
Look for an outlet that sells purified water and purchase one of their water tanks with a cap on the top for filling and a tap in the bottom for pouring water into a cup.
Carry a cup for each family member (or a small drink bottle) and encourage them to drink fresh water from the tank when they are thirsty.
Do not store your drinking water in the sunshine or a hot vehicle for long periods.
Make sure you keep it as cool and shaded as possible.
Homeless Tip # 9: Move to a Safer Place with a Better Climate - Preferably Not in a City
If you live where snow falls, that's not a place to be homeless.
If you experience tornadoes, you won't want to be caught without a basement.
Flooding rains, severe cyclones, raging bushfires ... there are many dangers that can be avoided if you are prepared to pack up and move to a better, less threatening climate.
Do you really want to re-establish a home in the path of regular tornadoes? Even if you have friends and family in the area where you now live, don't you think they'd be happy to come visit you if you establish a new home in a safer place?
While you are assessing where you will go, give serious thought to the type of environment you want to be in.
If you have always lived in the heart of a busy city, imagine your lifestyle if you no longer have a house with a living room, a kitchen, a dining room, a shower, a door to lock and a place to park your car.
Pitching a tent (or parking your trailer and erecting your tent on it, as suggested in Tip # 1) is not going to be easy in a city.
My suggestion is to head for a country town that is large enough to have businesses likely to be needing staff, but small enough for young people to leave when they want to get a university education or pursue their careers and dreams.
This type of community often welcomes newcomers and the locals are more likely to be aware of who needs workers (in shops or on farms or in orchards at harvest time). Local caravan and camping sites are likely to have lower rates than bigger towns and large cities and may have free camping areas alongside rivers or parks. Talk to a friendly local and ask for advice.
Discuss your personal hygiene needs including access to showers and toilets in the short term while you are settling in and finding work. There may be a free camping area with public toilets, and a truck stop with a coin operated shower nearby.
You'll have many options if you choose the right town. Ask if there's any local farmers, for instance, who might be prepared to let you camp on their land in return for doing some light work. Farmers often grow their own fruit and vegetables and have an abundance of fresh food to share.
Moving away from the city does not mean moving to the middle of nowhere.
Think carefully before setting up camp in a remote area or in a place where local wildlife could be dangerous. I have never encountered a bear, but I have heard enough stories to know that I wouldn't want to spend a night in a tent in an area where I might meet one.
What You Need vs What You Want
As difficult as it seems, it really is important to spend time imagining what you will need when homeless, where you can get it, how you will use it, and how you will transport it between the places you will stay.
Make a list of what you think your most basic needs will be. Then make a 'wish list' as opposed to a 'need list'.
So, let's talk about tables.
Do you need a table? If so, why? It will obviously need to be small and light if you don't have a permanent home. Where can you get one? How will you use one, and how will you transport it?
The next obvious question when considering a table is the issue of chairs. Do you need them? Should you put a camp table with benches on one of your lists? Which list?
Make your lists and then see how far your money will spread. Don't buy things you really don't need.
With school age children, I would consider a table with benches a 'need'. If I was only considering myself, or if I had pre-schoolers to care for, I would probably put just the table on my 'needs' list (because I'd be happy to stand when preparing food etc and would need to keep some things out of the reach of little ones) and put the seats on my 'wish' or 'wants' list.
Think through each item on your lists ... but don't take too long doing it. You need to make decisions quickly.
Tables Make Life Easier
These two height-adjustable tables can be used separately, placed end-to-end, or side-by-side for a classic square dining table. They are not recommended for holding stoves or extremely hot items but are good for food preparation, dining, kids' writing and drawing, etc. Helpful to be able to split into two tables if you want your children to be able to concentrate in their own space.
Homeless Tip # 10: Keep One Eye On The Future
Sometimes even the greatest optimist can have trouble seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Homelessness can be one of those times.
Coping with the challenges of being homeless takes a lot of effort but if you can always keep one eye on the future the process will be easier.
- Be confident that you will find work, save money and establish yourself in a new home.
- Dream of buying a cheap block of land, moving your trailer tent (or other tent if you really can't afford a trailer tent) onto it and ultimately building a house.
- Remember that your children need a good education, and don't neglect them in your period of instability. Make a real effort to teach them throughout your period of upheaval, and get them back into school as soon as possible.
- Be nice and pleasant to everyone you meet. It's a small world and today's stranger might be tomorrow's employer or a relative of your future landlord.
- Ask for help if you need it. Don't wait until a bad situation becomes worse.
- Make new friends. If you have children, take them to the park and chat with other parents who are watching their own kids. Be an interesting person. Don't just be a victim of the global financial crisis. :)
- Accept help if you are offered it. Learn to say, "That would be great. Thank you." You will get the chance to repay or pass forward any kindness you receive, so there is no need to feel uncomfortable when somebody lends you a hand.
- Actively seek out opportunities to learn, grow, work, save, and build your new life. Today's experiences will help create the person you become tomorrow. Make it your goal to become wise, not bitter.
Single and homeless - an option worth exploring
Even if you are single with no dependents, no commitments and nobody to answer to, being homeless is tough.
It makes sense to invest some money in your homeless lifestyle to protect you from the weather ... and the snakes and spiders and wandering dogs that can interrupt a good night's sleep on the ground.
One thousand dollars seems like a lot when you don't have a dime, but if you sell all your assets before taking to the streets you may well be able to find enough cash to buy yourself a bicycle camper trailer.
Your existing pushbike or a cheap one from a second-hand store or yard sale could tow your little bicycle camper trailer from one place to another.
Of course you are always vulnerable to theft when living in the outdoors, but if you can find a safe spot there are advantages to having your own bed on wheels.
- Water resistant and light weight.
- Storage space beneath the bed - small but better than none.
- Keeps you above cold, wet ground.
- Protection from insects.
- Can be moved without being carried. :)
With a small, mobile bed on wheels, perhaps you can find a job as a caretaker or security for a local business. Offer to sleep inside their building at night in exchange for a small fee and use of their bathroom facilities. You can move your bed to a discreet place in their storeroom or yard during the day when their business is operating and bring it in again at night.
We should all help the homeless
Homeless but not without hope
Good luck to everyone faced with the challenge of surviving without a home.
Many of us in the world have seen hard times and yet managed to rebuild our lives and find happiness and security again.
Yes, you may be homeless for a while ... but I hate to think you'd see a day without hope. Make a positive plan and do your best to stick to it.
I wish you all the best.
Questions & Answers
I wanted to thank you for your post. My name is Durval. I just turned 35 years, and since the age of 24, I’ve taken care of my mom who has suffered from two strokes. I live in the Azores (Portugal), and in a few months, I will be homeless. I will do all that I can to make sure my beloved mom stays safe in a house, but I am so lost that I am considering suicide. I don't know if anybody will read this, but thank you?
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