17 Formerly Homeless People Share Some Of The Rules They Followed To Survive

Thankfully, most of us will never know what it’s like to not have a home to go to at the end of the day.

That said, homelessness could happen to any one of us, given the right set of circumstances coming at us in the right order, so there’s definitely no judgement here.

These 17 people have experienced homelessness, and if you’re curious what it can take to survive the toughest of days, they’re getting real about it below.

17. Think of others.

When dumpster diving, if you find a pair of shoes and they are not your size or clothes then leave them neatly by the side of the dumpster for the next diver.

16. Very good advice.

I was homeless for about 4 months in Las Vegas. Rules I learned in the area: (I’m a girl BTW :))

Don’t walk around without some sort of knife, because drunk, stupid people like to pick on homeless people.

Search each machine you can for loose change and vouchers. Also, if you spend a dollar at the penny slots and need a drink, you can get free ones on Fremont Street, which is also a great source of free entertainment when you’re bored.

If you find a friend, make sure one watches while one sleeps.

Make use of shelter money. In Vegas, there is a social service run by a church outfit that provides you with housing vouchers if you are one of the first 10 people in line in the morning. You can find a friend, double up on the vouchers in some places and get a weekly rental for an entire month. This is awesome during the summer when it’s 120 degrees outside and you need AC and a shower. This is also cool if you find a job with a telemarketing company or something that requires you to shower daily.
If you get involved in drugs, or have a gambling problem, and you’re already homeless, you’re pretty much destined to remain homeless in Vegas.

If you have food stamps, share. I once had a homeless man buy me a sandwich, and it was the most humbling experience in my entire life
That’s about all I got. It’s pretty gnarly out there, and I’m definitely glad I am no longer homeless. I give back what I can these days, and am pursuing a career in Social Services so that I can continue to help others.

15. Respect others’ territory.

Don’t beg on someone’s corner if they are already there.

14. It can be a community.

My dad told me about the time he had to live homeless for a week for a class; he was working toward being a Catholic deacon.

He has lots of stories from it, but the one that stuck with me was his first night of being “homeless” he woke up covered in layers cardboard, with a rock on top to hold it in place.

The other homeless took care of him his first night on the streets.

13. A good rule of thumb.

Respect your elders aka don’t mess with the old timers.

usually the guys who have been there, longer, the 40 year old guy outranks the 60 year old guy, but it wouldn’t be well looked upon to mess with the 60 year old guy either unless there was some kind of bad rumor going around about him and unfortunately rumors don’t need much verification for the homeless community to believe them when it comes to new comers.

12. They’re often employed.

If you’re trying to run away from good parents, and are underage, we will make sure the police find you.

Kid was 15, and after talking with his friends, we heard no reason for him to be running away. (teenage angst) Made sure the police took him home, and left my cell phone number in case he ran away again.

Just because I was homeless, that didn’t mean I didn’t work 2 jobs. Would work about 56 hours a week at a gas station between 2 stores, and then did the usual selling papers on the streets in the morning.

11. Some weird rules.

I lived on the streets in Seattle in 2000, and lived in shelters and transitional houses for many years after that. I was 15 at the time, and there is a pretty big homeless population here.

We had some weird rules. I mostly lived on broadway, and each homeless group really had their own rules. There were also the ave rats, who lived up by the university. They had a whole political system.. people were at the top, and people were at the bottom. You could also get kicked off the ave, and most those kids would end up on broadway. Almost everyone on broadway was a junkie, or gay. And there were the downtown kids, mostly young foster runaways or kids with mental issues.. lots of juggalos down there. So, I guess we were sort of the crazy group.

The big one I remember is that you always take off your shoes when you sleep. And if you sleep outside, sleep on top of your bag and tuck your shoes under it. Sometimes my bag was way too packed to pull that off comfortably, but people would take your shoes. Just to f**k with you. They would call the annoying or new kids oogles, but they wouldn’t ever kick someone out of the neighborhood like ave rats. Just too much heroin going around really to have that type of control.

Probably the most offensive thing you can do, is finding out where someone who’s homeless lives. If you follow them they will stop and talk to you, and if you just enter a squat uninvited.. well, it’s really dangerous. It was respectful to pretend like you didn’t care where your friends went at night. At any point you can get uninvited too, and you’ll just be locked out that night. They do not give a s**t about where you are staying, this isn’t a pity party.

Broadway is pretty small too, just about 7 blocks long.. so people would panhandle right next to you all the time. If they weren’t at least 2 shops away, they were probably doing it to piss you off.. or it’s just their normal spot. Like I always camped out in front of this mexican place, because they had awesome leftovers. But, it was absolutely uncool to sit or lie down around other homeless kids. Or stand on the side of the sidewalk that the stores are on. It’s illegal on broadway, and doing that just attracts the cops. I remember asking other homeless kids to stand all the time, just because I was sick of getting picked up by the cops.

Lots of theft too, no real like idea of a moral code at all there. Although, people would share their drugs with you all the time. That way they had someone to bug about sharing back when they didn’t have any cash. Later on I lived at tent city, and still got stuff stolen from me quite often even though they have a decent community too.

Heh I think that’s about all that I can think of right now. 😛

10. The best bad option.

I was 15 when I ran away from home, because my mother threw a cast iron frying pan at my head.

I didn’t even have the chance to grab my shoes, or a good pair of pants.

And there were people who instantly helped me on my feet. I was able to find shelter (a tent city) by the end of the day, was directed to three square meals per day, and from there, my own place, and my own life. I was on the streets for a matter of nine months.

My advice:

Don’t loan out anything you need to expect back.

You don’t have to make friends with people to survive. In fact, it’s often better if you don’t know a lot of people. Just never be a d*%k to someone – you never know when they’ll help out. There’s no need to burn a bridge before you have to cross it.

If someone is helping you out, be super f**king polite about it. A lot of shelters/programs have strict guidelines for how long you can use their programs. If you’re polite, they may help you beyond that, or they may use their contacts to get you in a better position, moving forward to the next step.

If someone shares something with you, if you can return the favor, do it.
If you’re a runaway, don’t take anything with you that was paid for by your parents. The cops can go after you as if you were a thief. If you have to run, then treat it like a clean break.

Aim to not be homeless (:D). It can be fun, just living on the street, and not having expectations, but your goal should be to get the f**k out of that. Try to get your education in order, get certifications, and get yourself a job. A lot of programs are available for the homeless – take advantage of them.

Don’t do drugs/get drunk. I know that sounds like a ‘written rule’, but there are a lot of homeless people who commune by getting trashed together (or become homeless after picking up a habit).

F**king avoid this. It’s expensive, both in time and money, and most people aren’t going to give you s*%t if you say no – and they won’t give you s*%t if you say yes. You’re responsible for yourself.

9. It can be different for everyone.


find a group of people you can trust (not easy to do) and stick with them.
don’t be the guy with the sign asking for money…ever Edit: if you must ask for money, state the reason why and if someone says “instead of giving you the money I’ll just pay for it myself and give it to you”, don’t turn that down! F**king ever!

people think all homeless people are on drugs because that’s the stereotype they are presented with, do your best to not blend in with those people. You will be amazed at what people are willing to do if your making an honest attempt at getting on your feet and you do your best to present yourself that way.

don’t do anything stupid to get money (sex, crime), you will regret it 4.1) also, don’t be a f**king rat, that s*%t will get you killed. Remember, a lot of the people in your world are “off the grid”

if you are getting nowhere in the city you are in, get out of there. There is always someone “headed your way”

never ever turn down a chance to do some work. Never. That may be an opportunity to get you started again.

even if your not religious, if a religious family offered you a place to stay (sometimes “if you go to church with us” but not always), don’t turn it down. 7.1) don’t do anything to them such as steal or rob them. That’s how reputation get started.

you never to good for anything, if you think you are that may be why your out there to begins with.

yea, those cloths may stink but at least you have some.

Americans – if your young enough, the military may be your best option. Money, food, bed and job and all you have to do is show up.

stay off drugs, that again may be why your there and could very well cost you a chance to get off the streets

I’m sure that’s not what you were asking but it’s been over 20 years since I got back on my feet and those are the things that have stuck with me.

Source: Homeless for 2 years

8. Save every penny.

Save every penny.

Buy a tent. Put your tent next to a river.

Go to the library every single day. Spend as much time as you can applying for jobs. Take the first job you can get.

Keep bathing in the river, and working until winter.

Do not spend a dime on booze. Once winter comes get an apartment, and keep working.

Apply to your local technical college, and get a job in IT. Stop being homeless.

Worked for me.

7. The code.

Don’t steal each others food, be friendly to one another, and only steal from those who have to much.

That was the code back when I was homeless.

6. Be wary of gifts.

Be wary of items given to you by other people.

My cousin counseled homeless youth for a few years, and one of his favorites got sent to jail for accepting a “gift” of a cell phone. The phone ended up being stolen out of the owner’s car, and had GPS attached to it.

The police found him with the phone, and arrested him on the spot. My cousin was called in as a character witness to testify on his behalf. Not sure what happened after that though.

5. Go to the library.

I’ve been technically homeless about 3 times before the age of 15, but you would not be able to tell just by looking at me or conversing briefly. Average looking white, 20yr male college student.

Without explaining a ton of other stuff and including many sad stories, I’ll get to the meat of the question.

For my family, I remembered that we would go to the library everyday for several hours at a time. It’s a place where extended stays aren’t particularly unusual.

Additionally, you have ac/heat, internet/computer access, water fountains, bathrooms, lounge chairs, and nearly endless educating vessels surrounding you in the form of books.

TL;DR If you’re ever homeless, go to the library

4. You don’t want to lose it.

Sleep with your phone by your balls so if someone tries to rob you whilst you sleep they can’t find your phone.

3. Experiences may vary.

Edit: Since I’m getting upvotes, I might as well shamelessly plug the subreddit I mod. If you’re homeless, previously homeless, volunteer with the homeless, or in danger of being homeless, please join us over at r/homeless!

I was homeless (at age 17), but lived in a shelter and not on the street. My experiences may vary from yours.

Don’t f**king trust anyone. The women in my shelter would befriend you and back stab you just to laugh at you when you get kicked out.

Is there general prostitution in the area? Chances are some of the women in the shelter are a part of that problem.

Mental illness. Mental illness everywhere. Doesn’t have to be severe, but there are a lot of messed up people. Be careful who you confront, especially if you’re unsure of their mental capacity.

Do you own things of any value? Welp, better keep them to yourself, because some a$$hole will try to steal them and resell them.

Do not f**k with people’s children. Seriously. You don’t know who is “friends” with who, and might f**k your s*%t up. Also don’t make comments about their baby daddies if it’s very obvious they have several. Touchy subject usually.

Don’t steal each others food. If you do, they will hunt you down and find you. I once saw a woman have drugs planted on her so that she’d get kicked out once they found out she was stealing food.

2. Share what you have.

Share what you have with your group. What goes around comes around.

If there are a group of you, each person can stand on a different corner to beg and make far more than you would by yourself.

1. Everyone is struggling.

Look out for each other and be good to each other. We’re all struggling, so let’s make it as good as we can for each other.

When I was homeless we paid for each other’s food, clothes, and any other essentials if one was truly in need.

These answers are so raw and honest, and heartbreaking at the same time.

Have you ever been homeless or been close with someone who has? If so, chime in about your experience down in the comments!