Survival Guide to Homelessness

No matter where you go, there you are.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Keeping Cool

If, as I suggest, you are sleeping in a car with a car cover, your problems don't end with staying warm at night. On most days the sun will enforce a wake up time. Cars heat up. On sunny days in California, sleeping past 10:00am will make you sympathize with baked potatoes, so get up before you get cooked. Also try to park under shade trees or next to a building that will cast a morning shadow on you.

During really hot times of the year, under blistering sun, even getting out of the car and finding shade may not be enough. At those times, exploit the commercial sector. Malls are a great place to hang out. Loitering is not prohibited in malls, so long as you don't look like a stereotypical homeless person. Go in dressed well. Bring your hygiene supplies and get cleaned up in one of the mall bathrooms. You may as well solve two problems at once. Spend the day window shopping and eating samples at the food court. On a hot day, when you are feeling idle, you could do worse.

Go to a movie matinee. It's the cheapest time to see a movie, and it is in the hottest time of the day, between noon and 4:00pm. Movie theaters are air conditioned, restful environments and if you aren't interested in the movie, no one will notice you snoozing unless you snore. Even then, many matinees run without an audience. You may have the entire theater to yourself.

McDonald's, Jack in the Box, Carl's Jr., Burger King, Wendy's, KFC, Church's, Taco Bell, these places have two things in common, bad food and air conditioning. Buy a soda and you can sit and nurse it for several hours. Often the refills are free as long as you are in the dining room. This will keep you out of the sun in the afternoon.

Wear sunscreen. Seriously, wear it. Sunburn is a terrible hazard to the homeless. You can get a sunburn even on overcast days, since the radiation that burns isn't even slowed down by cloud cover. Chronic sunburns can lead to open sores and infections. It is thought that skin cancer can be caused by only a few serious sunburns, and may show up decades later, so stay safe. A sunburn is a tipoff that you are homeless, in addition to being a health hazard. During the summer, wear sunscreen or keep out of the sun.

If it is really hot, dress appropriately. Don't try to carry everything you own. The car is a great storage bay. Dress lightly, but bring a windbreaker. When you go into the movie theater, restaurant, or mall it may be too cold for comfort. People overcompensate.

37 Comments:

At 12:05 PM, Blogger The Lioness said...

You DO need to get published. Former peers need you.

 
At 8:07 PM, Blogger Jonathan B. Horen said...

Public libraries down here in South Florida are wonderfully air-conditioned and offer clean restrooms, effectively unlimited reading material, and fast-access Internet connectivity.

Other plusses include the opportunity to network with a wide variety of people and, of prime importance, the library is an island of calm and quiet in an ocean of raucous noise and tumult.

 
At 7:26 AM, Blogger CarVaughn said...

I recently Expanded My residency to a much bigger home I like to call the planet, My 95 Neon Shelters and Moves me, Currently I'm in Central Florida (west coast) and its Hellishly hot even in the darkest shade, I'm getting a lot of practice sweating. After reading "keeping cool" I have a question, since I sleep in my car while waiting for 5am to roll around so I can go to work at the Labor pool (50$/day Back breaking labor) how can I keep from sweating all My internal juices and wakeup with some left to work? (need to sweat there too)

 
At 11:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lueshi says hit up a couple of the 24 hour fast food resturants, and ask for a large water with lots of ice. Most of hte time they wont care, so drive around to the window and say thanks. Dump out the water, put the ice in the hot water bottles from "keeping warm" and voila.

 
At 11:51 PM, Blogger Mobile Homemaker said...

Why not just ask for ice?

 
At 9:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am not homeless, but move around a LOT due to work.
I have found that a 5 day cooler from Wallmart is a great investment. ($23)
You can get free ice at hotel ice machines.
(I am staying here, but they are outside. I will let you decide if this is a moral issue.)

http://www.kurtsaxon.com/ Has some very good/cheap food ideas under 'survival foods'

 
At 9:27 AM, Blogger csselement said...

Interesting blog. I've enjoyed it very much so far.

I have a question for you: What do you do during an average day? I think I'd get bored 'nursing' a fast food beverage for several hours or repeatedly visiting a movie theater just to stay cool.

I know you have to be creative! I'm not asking what I should do, I'm asking what you do during a regular day without a home.

 
At 9:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why not drink the cold water ~AND! keep the ice too...Brilliant! now we're onto something~

DieselWestfalia-on-WVO.

 
At 1:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a nice van with windows, but it still gets terribly hot sometimes. Does anyone know some innovative ways to cool it down. For example, is there something that, if put over the windows, would prevent light from greenhousing me and yet not make me look like that trashy homeless person that always seems to get harrassed by the housed? In the winter I will then be wondering how to retain heat . . .
I'm dealing with LA climate.

 
At 4:33 AM, Anonymous PlumFairy1 said...

I can't believe I'm posting again so soon, but....

When you need to get cool, fast, such as have gotten too much heat, try the local bowling alley. It's noisy, but compared to heat stroke, it is an option if it's close by.

Also, here are a couple of other ideas, since I was originally from L.A., and now inland N. Calif., and don't handle excessive heat well:

There are small, handheld fans which run on batteries. Mine is 20 yrs. old, and was free from a store. This one fits almost in my palm (I have a very small hand, it would fit completely in most peoples.) and runs on double A batteries. Recently a Dollar Tree dollar store opened here, and they have cases of double A batteries which come in packs of 16 for, well, $1!

Also, if you are in a dry climate, moisture is important. A small spray bottle can become your best friend in the heat. Misting yourself helps with needed cooling.

Too, there are combo fan-spray bottles. But they are a little larger, and a tad attention-getting.

Remember, you lose heat in the winter through your head, hands and feet, and that can work for you in the summer.

If you are too hot, sit somewhere with your hands in cold water. (A bowl just large enough to immerse your hands works. No waste of water needed.) Don't take them out for a little while. This summer I actually used ice water when we had our heatwave. It works! It's more difficult, and again, attention-getting, to put your feet in cool water, but if you have privacy, or can get to a fountain or pool where others are, it will cool your body down.

Wet cloths at the wrist, back of the neck etc. might also help on a bad day.

And, finally, get a hat. That keep the sunburn at bay also. Sometimes you have to be out, and just going from point A to point B can cause too much heat, or a burn. A hat helps. They now have breathable hats which scrunch up so that they take almost no room at all. And they are meant to scrunch up for travel, and unfold looking fine.

I don't know where you might find them, but I'd look around in discount stores, and also thrift shops. Which, by the way, are a good source for all sorts of things. Aside from Salvation Army and such, the thrift shops for local senior centers and hospitals generally have an every changing array of items, so really useful, for excellent prices. Look through them often to get what you want/need.

 
At 2:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

deep cycle yellow top which can be drained & recharghed many times, the batteries r good for running fans to stay cooL & can run lamp/(s) for heat , an inverter is needed too to plug into. the more batteries in parallel for longer powering times &/or more power. Starter batteries r designed to start auto compared to deep cycle batteries which can start & discharge many times.

 
At 2:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One other thing that works is visit the local libray and read or get on the computer its kind of relaxing to say the least>Im on my 15th year doing this and its not fun but its all Ive ever know thank you for this blog writer and Ill rea the wehole thing.

 
At 9:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

what about mosquitos and hot summer nights? Ever time I have slept in a car the car gets hot and humid inside due to my breath, this is much worse in the humid summers and if you try to solve this problem by rolling down your windows you get attacked by mosquitos.
I've been thinking that maybe some insect netting and tape might solve this problem but it would not be very convienent. What have you used to solve this problem?

 
At 9:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

dryer sheets (like bounce) strategically placed near the open window will keep the mosquitos away. I am not homeless, but after 30 years of living in FL you learn what keeps those little buggers away. When ever we have an outdoor BBQ we hang dryers sheets on the rail of the deck. They can be used to freshen up your clothes, keep your car smelling nice, reduce static electricity, eliminate odor in your shoes, get baked on grease of of that old pot, etc. You can get a box of 40 at Dollar Tree.

On the same note the best way to get rid of the itch of a bug bite (mosquito, ants, bee stings, etc) is to dab a bit of deoderant on the wound. The itch will be gone in seconds and the red swelling disappears fast too. I always keep some in my car for the kids. Any type of gel also works.

 
At 2:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The question about boredom nursing a drink for hours is a good one.
Its a good reason to not do the fast food thing. I sometimes do it, but I try to take some 'project' along. You can find computer paper printed on one side in a dumpster, check books out from the library for reference, and sit and write a short story.
I find I get restless if I'm in one place for hours.

 
At 2:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Real RV's have a vent in the top you can open to let the heat out.
The drill is that first thing in the morning you open this, which makes it just a little chilly, and then at sundown you close it.
Don't know what you could home-make. Do know that RV owners think long and hard before putting a hole in a roof.

 
At 8:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was blessed with having to be homeless for almost 3 1/2 years. I'd NEVER want to do so again but I am thankful for the experience and grew from it. It's amazing what one can learn and I know now what kind of stuff I'm made of. I was never unemployed but worked as a lab technician making excellent wages. I just was faced with a series of events which quickly drained my savings and ended up losing my apartment and was unable to get back on my own feet for awhile. I was also blessed that I had a car to live in and as such I never considered myself truly homeless as I had a roof over my head which is more than some could say, and that roof belonged to me. I joked with friends telling them my license plate number as my address.

Summers in a car can be stifling hot and miserable and I found a trick to help me out in that regard. Peppermint oil! A very small bottle can cost about $6-7 but it only takes a few drops. I applied a drop to my forehead, the back of my neck, chest, the small of my back and behind my thighs and in a matter of seconds, it felt like I had my own personal air conditioning system. I still perspired, but the chilling sensation allowed me enough respite to fall asleep comfortably. A word of warning though: TEST IT FIRST. I found out the hard way that SOME people are sensitive to it and instead of chilling them, they feel an uncomfortable burning and iritation. I suggested it to a friend once and it was a mistake. The best thing to do is just try a diluted (with cooking oil)drop to a less-than-sensitive portion of skin (the back of the arm for instance) and wait to see if there is a reaction. For those who aren't senisitive to it, I hope this helps.

 
At 3:53 PM, Blogger Mobile Homemaker said...

Of course peppermint oil only provided you with the illusion of being cool. It is important that the illusion is not strong enough to allow you to BAKE yourself before you seek some other relief. Still a great comfort tip.

 
At 7:30 PM, Blogger Ishmael Napoleon Daro said...

This was a great post but what I really need is advice on food. Is it worth grocery shopping or do you just hit the fast food? Should you eat at real restaurants for the nutrition?
I'm considering doing the homeless thing in the near future and I'd love some more insight into the food problem.
Thanks.

 
At 6:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been enlightened about your posts on staying cool, hygiene and such. But how do you handle keeping your clothes from being wrinkled or having a stale smell from the heat of the car?

 
At 8:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For those of you with cars, you can build an air conditioner out of a cooler and run it at night, without your car being on:

http://www.instructables.com/id/Portable-12V-Air-Conditioner---Cheap-and-easy!/

 
At 10:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You can also use cooling ties and vests like they use in the military. These aren't the kind that rely on ice packs. They have some kind of gel that stays cool for up to 24 hours. You do not refrigerate them, but soak them in water in the morning to activate them. Then you wear them as a tie or a headband. Some places have packets that are sewn into baseball caps. I got a couple this winter to use next summer since I am subject to heat exhaustion, since some friends said these are great. The site I found is Polar-products.com. Feel free to delete the site name, since I have no connection to the company and am not trying to sell anything, but thought it might help someone to find it.

 
At 7:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Keeping cool is no joke. I used to live in an 8X35 trailer in a park. Mine had a broken swamp cooler, and the times it was working only made the 100+ degree weather so much worse with humidity. Cars are even worse than that.
The 10:00am wake-call from the sun is all to real. If I needed a nap from driving to friends' houses, that is a definite reality.
Cooking breakfast on the dashboard wouldn't have been a problem.

 
At 3:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

First, being from Florida, there is NO better mosquito repellent than Listerine mouthwash. It is so potent that a few strategically placed sprays, using any spray bottle you find and can clean, around your car will keep those pests away for approximately 2 to 3 days. Test your skin first before applying it to you. No, it is not the alcohol, but the proprietary ingrediants that repell those pests better than anything. Any flavor will work and the largest bottle, quart, is a few dollars and can last you months. Why isn't Listerine advertising this? They would own the market overnight, world wide. It is so potent it will kill a mosquito in mid-flight. Vae Victis

 
At 4:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Secondly, I am a paranoid schizophrenic, no longer medicated for over a decade, and I will not go back to any 'hospital' again. Employment is not an option, though it has been attempted. I lost my grasp and career. Frequently, I lose myself for days. This isn't a blackout, I'm simply not here. While lucid, I am more than competent at hiding in plain-sight. Have you met any schizophrenics and are willing to impart any of their survival skills? I should have predicated this by stating I cannot stay at any location long; compulsory fleeing/agoraphobia. Humans are psychotic apes. I miss my momma. My twin won't talk to me. I bought a Droid as my credit is good. Monthly cost of $125.00. I came to the desert. Hydration and shade are paramount. Population of less than ten thousand; very few humans. Night sky is beauty defined. Meteor shower, can't remember the events name of next couple of nights, can't remember what the comets name whose trail we are passing through either. Thank you for any information you can relate and have related. We're all alone, but your mother is in your heart. I forgot where my home is. She is 62 now. She used to teach, but retired. My twin talks to her, but he stopped talking to me. I know I'm not right, but I just miss him. They wanted me medicated. Psychiatrists know nothing. E.C.T. is barbaric torture. It burnt my brain to the core. Stay safe and Godspeed.

 
At 9:10 PM, Blogger Mobile Homemaker said...

I'm not sure if I am being punked, but I've put your comment up, paranoid. I'm afraid I have no idea how to help you, but if the blog is useful, I am happy. Good luck to you.

 
At 3:00 PM, Anonymous ThesnakeAZ said...

Dont forget malls and fast food places have restrooms, brush your teeth, quick shave, even use the soap and brown paper hand towels to wash your face and under arms. I prefer places where the sinks turn on full(like older gas stations), not the water saver sinks like at walmart. Also a good tool would be to have a water key for the outside of buildings. You can get them at Home depot. I have been in maintenance for 14 years so I know all about having to cleanup after a job and that includes my self when working with floor grout or paint exc.

Other thing to consider local churches give free food & clothing so have your ID, you might have to dumpster dive to( Have seen stores throw away good food that could have been saved for someone less forchant.)
Some times you have to think like a solder behind enemy lines. I did my time,US Army 4 years.We have a term called "field expedient method" In basic in means doing what ever it takes to make it work. ( If your pant belt breaks use a rope, if you don't have gloves(Cold) use your socks, need over a wall and you have a buddy ally up over a wall. Remember this is Urban survival and on the streets you might not do the moral thing to stay alive just one more day.

 
At 2:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm about to become homeless the day after memorial day. I'm a combat vet, 41 yrs old and in great condition. I'm utilizing the VA for certain things, but not for their 3 hots & a cot. Bed bugs, a lot of sick people sleep there and basically unhealthy. I bartend nights so I can't utilize a shelter (check-in time is usually 5 or 6). Looking for a day job. I have a minivan, so it will be my home for the next couple of months. Some of your tips are very helpful and will force me to be compartmentalized and efficient. Whereas in the past I wasn't, that was my ex-wifes' department. Any continuus tips are appreciated.

 
At 9:49 PM, Blogger Mobile Homemaker said...

Homelessness does not need to be traumatic. You are going into it with a van and a job. You can handle this. I'm glad to hear some of my thoughts are useful to you. Stay away from shelters. You don't need them. Black out the windows of your van, or add curtains. You'll do fine.

 
At 12:32 AM, Blogger STMahlberg said...

I was just wondering how to spend my day if I were homeless, which I am considering. I have great job but I'm just tired of giving most of my money to some else or housing. I work graveyard and normally sleep in the afternoons. Just not sure how I would spent my down time.

 
At 2:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

did someone mention bookstores with cafes? - bring your laptop and other electronics that need charging! escape the heat or the cold and read all day for the price of a drink
Bookstores w/o cafe in malls are even better - free reading for hours!

 
At 1:05 PM, Blogger Brandon Selby said...

I've been "freelance living" for ten months and counting. I work full time, but it's the graveyard shift. So sleeping it kind of hard. So I've been sleeping 2-3 hours right after work, and 2-3 right before. This leaves me the mid part of the day to play. But the Texas heat is coming and I had trouble being dehydrated sleeping in my backseat.

I even considered moving north for the summer heat. But I'll consider trying the portable ac or the gel packs to stay cool.

 
At 9:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amazing info so far. Thanks for helping me face this "what if" in my life.

 
At 6:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

11-21-12

When I was a child in the early '70's, when AC was an expensive option for vehicles,that most people didn't choose to add on, my parents would fill a cooler with ice and leave the cooler open in the back seat footwells. During the heat of the day, it melted fast, of course, but it lasted longer at night and was nice. I've used roadside self service ice machines, that will fill a cooler for $2 or less, in the south east US. Wet bandannas or hand towels worn around the neck have helped keep me cool on construction jobs in FL. When they start feeling hot, just swing them through the air a couple of times and evaporation will cool it, again.
If you have a relatively safe spot to place it, a zeer pot will keep foods and beverages10-20 degrees cooler than outdoor temps by utilizing evaporation, as well.
Rocket stoves are a solution to cooking outdoors, with minimal smoke and no need to buy propane tanks. They can be built from scraps or in a pinch made with clay and sand.
If you have a self-built hut or shack in the woods that is dark during the day, you can fill 2 liter bottles with water and a couple capfuls of bleach and wedge them into holes in the roof and caulk around them with sealant or tree sap for daytime interior lighting without wasting batteries, candles or lamp oil.
I know MHM doesn't approve of smoking, but for those who find quitting just one more reason to be depressed. There are cheap alternatives. Rolling your own. Whether with rolling papers or prefiltered tubes and a small one cigarette machine. You can strip tobacco from butts that you find around bars, restaurants or businesses, after hours. Stripping the butts, instead of smoking them as is, keeps you from catching communicable diseases like hepatitis, tuberculosis, etc. Wash or sanitize your hands well after stripping the tobacco and before rolling your own, though.
If your going to stay in an area long enough to plant and harvest. Then buy a few $1 packets of seeds of your favorite vegetables, fruits or berries and plant a couple here and there just off the marked paths in local parks or empty lots. Granted, wildlife might get to them before you can harvest, but if they don't then you'll get back more in food than you spent.

 
At 1:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really like your blog and I have to say EVERYONE has great ideas. I was homeless in Hawaii for about 6 months, then lived in 2 places for about 6 years and now will be living homeless again. I have to say I am more prepared for this type of lifestyle than ever. Being homeless in the summer time can be killer, we'd rent a hotel room for a weekend to keep cool and during the weekdays we'd invested in the 5 day cooler (NOW Wal-Mart has a 10 day cooler) we'd fill it up with ICE, packs of bottled water and whatever fruits or meats that would stay help us to stay cool. This eliminated us from having to go to Fast Food all the time. Also we wouldn't sleep in the same spot everynight. One night we were on one side of the island the other night we slept somewhere else. Also here's a helpful hint : If you can afford it get a camping permit for the week in Hawaii it's only $25.00 for the whole week at least you'll have a shower and restroom and space you can park and sleep or have a tent. I WISH HAWAII WOULD ALLOW RV'S but they DON'T.. I'll be doing this and yes I like the Library visit during the day and the movies too. Also DON'T forget to utilize the FREE public pools as this has showers and restrooms. Or if you can get a 24 hr fitness, month-to-month membership so at least you can work out during the day, or swim, jacuzzi, & most important SHOWER & RESTROOM in your area. Cheaper route could be the beach or your local YMCA. Ooo well, I hoped this helped as I'll be doing this.

 
At 5:21 PM, Blogger JuJu said...

I have been homeless for one week. The first day was the hottest day of the year, August in Texas. If you don't have a laptop or notebook, get one. A good way to keep cool is hang out at the library and use their WiFi Free electricity to charge your cellphone and you can nap for a couple hours and no one will say boo about it. Get the library card ASAP. There are several libraries in my city but the first one I went to denied me a library card because I revealed that I was homeless. The supervisor gave me a rather insulting explanation that it has to do with the library having residency requirements being that its funded by the taxpayers... but I could have a card for 50 dollars. I work here and go to school here and that was my first day homeless and they wouldn't give me a library card. I just went to another library and didn't say anything about the address on my license not being a current address and scored a card then.

 
At 10:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here is how to make a cheap "air conditioner" Get a medium size cheap stryrofoam cooler and a small battery fan. Get a piece of 2inch PVC pipe a couple of inches long. Cut a hole in one end of cooler lid, put pipe in and tape. Cut a hole to fit fan, blade side down into the cooler . Tape. Fill cooler with ice. Can also put driks on ice. Turn on fan. This will lower temperture of a van at least 10 degrees.

 

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