If you’re lucky enough to have never been homeless, then you probably won’t ever know what it feels like to not have anywhere to go at the end of the day. Nowhere to sleep, nowhere to eat, and no real way to protect yourself from the elements – or anything else that might come past you.
These 15 people do know, though, and they’re willing to share.
So let’s listen, because the first step to understanding begins with knowledge.
15. Not being able to eat is a big wakeup call.
I remember being really hungry and acting weird because of the low blood sugar, almost delirious. This was when I made a futile attempt to run away from an abusive home with no money. I ended up going back because of that.
14. Sometimes you just need a little bit of time.
I was only homeless for about six weeks, at 36 years of age. After several years of depression and anxiety slowly eroding my resources, relationships and general will to try anymore, I ended up having a final blowout with my gf, who reasonably couldn’t handle me anymore.
I started sleeping at work, which wasn’t even a full-time job.
The delicacy involved in not getting caught, and the freedom from the extremely unhealthy state my relationship had been in, kept my mind away from the absolute, abject terror that was hiding beneath the surface; the scary part of homelessness for me was the growing sense that if I fell any further I’d probably never get back up. It takes resources to be clean, fed and rested, and if you aren’t those things it’s very hard to get resources, let alone find the will to try. But that first night was all triage, all focused on being sure the second night wasn’t going to be on the street.
I pulled it off for six weeks, and that time, actually, saved my life; I was away from conflict, intimately connected to how dire my circumstances had become, forced into a very regular schedule (routine is really good for me but nigh-impossible in a depressive state), and, without bills, was able to save enough for damage-deposit and rent.
I still struggle with depression in a pretty serious way but the animal terror of having no where and no one really seared itself into me. A better motivation would be the-future-i-want than the-future-i-fear, but as it stands I at least have a motivator strong enough to escape the incredible gravity of mental illness.
13. You learn quickly to stand up for yourself.
My mom used to lock me out of the house regularly for no reason and I never had a place to sleep either so I would walk two hours to the beach and just wait until sunrise when my mom went to work and would sneak in thru my window. Sometimes I would spend a few nights on the beach at a time. It’s terrible, lonely, and really messes with your self esteem especially when your young and have nobody to take you in (I didn’t really have friends she prevented that). I’ve been solicit led for sex tons of times by grown men when I was 14/15 and was terrified the first few times but quickly leaned that being meek gets you in bad situations so I would bring a knife with me and tell at them. I’ve learned a lot from those times and I hate remembering the loneliness and the hopelessness. I felt like I could’ve died and nobody would’ve cared or even known who I was. It’s a sad feeling knowing that if you disappeared nobody would come looking for you or even care
EDIT: you’re** solicited** and whatever else word I butchered. sorry I was on the train and was typing super fast, I didn’t want people to look over my shoulder lol
12. It’s hard to stay clean and presentable.
First night my wife and I landed up sleeping outside we slept in a local park that I knew. We had come down from the countryside with a few Rands (enough for 1 meal maybe) and had hoped to stay with a friend. He was unable to give us a place to stay, so we had to sleep outside.
After the insecurity of that 1st night I told my wife that we have to find a safer place to sleep, so we climbed up the slopes of Table Mountain (about a 1 hour walk) and found quite a obscured spot amongst some bushes and trees. We cleared it out of sticks and rocks, made it a bit habitable and then went make to the city looking for work. We’d spend the day going from one place to the next looking for work until it started growing dark. Then we’d head up the mountain to our little spot for the night.
Did that daily for a month until we were able to secure a small shack room in the townships, where we stayed for another few months until I get a job offer.
Was my wife’s temp waitering jobs that kept us fed whilst I was looking for work.
Biggest challenge was mental, keeping focussed, clean, looking presentable and just making my job looking for a job.
11. How alone you are in the world.
When I was a teenager I had lots of problems with my mom, I pretty much chose to be homeless. I slept at a Catholic Church across from my high school so I could still make it to school and graduate early. I remember feeling really sad because I slept where they put peoples ashes, and I remember being so sad that those people could comfort me in death more than anybody alive. I used to talk to them, if there’s camera footage I look insane. I never realized how alone I was in the world until I was homeless. And I never realized how cold concrete can be, it chills you right to your bones and is painful.
10. Camping would be a bit of a trigger.
I was about 9 years old, and my mom said we were going on a camping trip. I didn’t really suspect anything, as it was summertime and we went camping a lot when I was younger. Although I did wonder why we were packing so much stuff. After a few weeks of “camping,” I started to complain, but my mom kept insisting that it was good for us to get in touch with nature, etc. Then school started, and we were still camping. And we kept camping for another 6 months. When we finally got a house, my mom cried with joy. And we don’t camp anymore.
9. Life can be hard.
I was homeless for a couple of months a year or two ago. I had a car and a low paying job so I lived in the woods in a tent for a bit. The first night was miserable. I ended up sleeping really uncomfortably in the passenger seat of my car and it was a really cold night. After that I got a tent and slept on an old climbing pad i had. The first night was hell but the next several weeks were actually not so bad. I had a spot in the woods where I was well hidden and would cook over a fire. I really didnt have it that bad but it gave me quite a bit of sympathy for people who really do end up on the streets in a much more desperate situation. Shit is not easy.
8. The adventure never ends.
When you’re a teenager it seems kind of cool to sleep in the car, on the couch or floor of a friend or acquaintance, or for your dad to scam a rented apartment for a month or two without paying for it. Moving around every few months carrying everything that you can in an old Honda Civic seems like an adventure. We once moved a couch across town in it. We must have looked like a couple of idiots.
Once after a few months of staying in a place where we had no furniture, were sleeping on the floor, the carpet of which was so flea-infested that you could literally see the fleas hopping around, the landlord got so frustrated with us basically squatting in his property (my dad promised to pay and never did) that he removed the front door. So we went out to scam some food from somewhere and came back to find no front door. Which in retrospect is a pretty awesome way to get someone out of your property.
One of the ways we scammed food would be to go to the breakfast buffet of a fancy hotel, tell the server that we had a room there, eat a ton of food and just walk out. This was also kind of fun but looking back it is a kind of fucked up way for a dad to treat his teenage kid.
7. There’s a learning curve.
It was terrifying and cold and hungry. I didn’t sleep a wink. I adapted over time. Extremely steep learning curve to surviving homelessness. Nothing really prepares you for it.
6. This is heartbreaking.
I kept waking up in the middle of the night and would start walking “home”. I’d get a few steps then stop and realize I had nowhere to go and turn and walk back over and lay on the ground.
The ground is very cold and I felt a lot of shame.
5. That’s a lot at 13.
I was 13 when my parents kicked me out and told me they no longer wanted anything to do with me. I was terrified to visit a shelter because I’d known some foster kids and the whole system scared me plus I wanted to continue going to the same school. In didn’t want to lose my friends too. The scariest part at that age was really finding out what I was hoping to eat. There had been a dilapidated trailer just minutes down the road from my dad’s place so I stayed in that.
I don’t think it all really hit me until I had to choose one night between food and blankets because the temperature was expected to drop down to the mid 30s and I had only had one somewhat thin blanket at that point. The next day, I put on my best attire which was nothing impressive and asked for a job at Long John Silvers. I lied and told them I was 15 and I worked 5 days a week rushing over after school.
I ate more unhealthy than I have since to save money for some form of shelter which came in the form of a 91 Toyota Camry that I purchased out of the Thrifty Nickel for $300. I loved that clunker plus heating myself was much easier.
From there it was mostly uphill. Found an older lady willing to rent me her garage without any sort of credit check. Took a couch off the side of the road to sleep on. I even had internet in there where I mostly read scary stories all night (I wish video streaming services were really a thing back then) and I just kinda… Learned to roll with the punches. My childhood wasn’t normal. It was downright terrifying a good chunk of the time but it is what made me who I am today
4. The homeless shelter isn’t always safe.
Sleeping in my car wasn’t that bad. It was summer, so it was pretty warm which was my biggest issue.
Showered in the gym, and spent most of my day at the library before going to work.
For the first few nights it wasn’t bad. However one night police found me sleeping in my car and escorted me to the local homeless shelter, which was one of the most terrifying nights of my life. Since I’m lying there in a top bunk, when a huge argument breaks out because one guy breaks out some meth, wouldn’t share it with a second, then a third got pissed and started screaming at them to be quite because he needed to sleep.
Edit: since this is coming up a lot, people keep asking how it was legal that the police escorted me to the shelter. I don’t know the legality of the issue, what I can say is that I was woken up by a knock on my window to see four cops, two cop cars, they were singing those super bright flashlights through my window at me, and I didn’t even think of arguing with them.
3. When you realize you’re alone in the world.
I was kicked out by my mother at 16 and spent 2 months homeless before the local authority placed me in foster care.
I think what hit me first was how my own mother could make one of her own children homeless. I felt like the least favourite of her children – it all came out of nowhere, I racked my brain for years after, trying to think of what I might have done in particular.
Also the crippling loneliness you feel when you are trying to get hold of people to ask for a place to sleep for the night. I could not feel more alone in the world when someone would either not answer my message or tell me they were busy.
I’m pretty sure I camped out in the park that night. Didn’t sleep at all.
2. Just keep swimming.
Slept in my vehicle, couch surfed with a friend, squatted in an unused trailer; all while still working at a Walmart. Saved enough to get a crappy apartment and just kept going from there.
1. Concrete never gets warm.
When I was about 16, I went to homecoming with a bunch of kids and we had all planned to have a slumber party afterwards — cant remember where. I was in a town about 20 minutes away from home and had no cell phone. It was around 930pm when everyone started to drop off and go home, and eventually I was by myself.
I was about a 15 minute walk from a park I knew that had bathrooms which locked. I went there and curled up on the floor, trying to make myself as small as possible in my homecoming dress to keep warm. Some kids came in the middle of the night and yanked and banged on the door. Scared me half to death they would find me in there sleeping.
The next morning I woke up and walked to a friend’s house where they were all surprised to see me. Nobody commented that I was still wearing my homecoming dress. In hindsight it may have look like I spent the night with a guy. Prefer that to them knowing I spent the night on a bathroom floor.
I’ve come across a statement about homelessness where it says that no matter what you do, concrete doesn’t get warm, so the best thing to so do is get cardboard to put underneath you. Its true.
I’ve been homeless several times since but always had somewhere to go. That was the only time I ever slept outside likea homeless person and I wasnt even homeless. I’ll never forget how afraid I was.
I’ve never told anyone that story before.
My heart hurts just thinking about it.
Do you have personal experience with being homeless? Share what it was like for you in the comments, if you feel comfortable.