Survival Guide to Homelessness

No matter where you go, there you are.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Reader Tip - Free Showers

I don't know if you only post personal experience or not, but here's one you should know. With the truck stop showers they are FREE if you have a refueling slip. When a trucker fills up his tank he/she gets a refueling slip. They're usually good for a week, and can be redeemed at any truck stop of the same brand as they came from (Pilot, T&A, Flying J, whatever). Most truckers get a stack of these things that they never use. If you're polite they'll usually give you one if you ask. Just hang out by the fuel pumps and catch them coming to or from their trucks. If they say yes, then just hang and be patient and wait until they give it to you. Then you get everything you described for free.

I was homless for almost a year, and then again for a few months, and this was my prefered method of showering and it never cost me a dime.

You're doing a great service and i wish you'd been around when i was doing this. Keep up the good work, and if there's any kind of help you need with the site please feel free to ask. I've worked as a web designer and a copy editor and i'd be more than happy to lend a hand.

Thank you again.



I did quite a bit of hitchhiking in my younger days, and I paid little attention to the experience. I remember it, but mostly I tried not to process it. I just endured the rides. More recently hitchhiking has become very difficult to do, at least in the areas of California I've been in, and I attribute that to a combination of my age and world events. People enjoy picking up teens, either because they want to exploit them, or because they want to protect them. People don't much like picking up tall, imposing men in their twenties and thirties. All the stories of axe murderers come into their heads and they just drive on by.

The other day, though, I had a roadside emergency. I locked my keys in my trunk. I was only about five miles from home and a spare set of keys, so I set off at a brisk walk and started thumbing halfheartedly for a ride. To my surprise, less than three minutes later someone stopped.

I looked in and said, "Hi." No guns, no knives, no obvious weapons, tire irons, baseball bats, ejection buttons, cans of mustard gas. The guy wasn't wearing camoflage. He was big and muscular, but it looked okay. "You going to SmallTown?" He was, and I got in.

And then it began. The all-over-gaze. He never said anything wrong, never made any proposals, never made an advance. We talked about how hard it is to get a ride in the age of terrorism. All the time, though, the guy slimed me with his eyes, and I really remembered my teen experiences. In those days the guy would have tried more than looking. I felt violated in a vague way.

This is an illustration of the problem of charity. A ride is pretty small charity, but it is charity. Those who give charity always have an agenda. That agenda does not necessarily match up with the welfare of the recipients of their charity. When it doesn't, it can leave you feeling violated, insulted, or damaged. It can waste your time. While you are getting the charity, you aren't finding other solutions. Even the mildest forms of charity often turn my stomach.

Beware the hand that gives out of pity.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

A Typical Morning

Eyes open, the windscreen glowing, sweat's beading over my nose, head pounding. Ugh. I slept late. It must be ten, and the car is an oven. Quick now, into my clothes. Try not to make the car sway too much. Last thing I need is some confused passerby. Listen and look for a quiet moment outside. Open the door and shimmy on out under the cover, and damn, three people saw me. Well, maybe they aren't residents. Better park somewhere else tonight.

Now untie the cover and fold it up. Pack it in the back and I'm on my way. The local supermarket is the next stop and a wholesome meal for under three bucks. A bread roll, a piece of fruit, pint of chocolate milk, and a couple of fried chicken legs. Other times a quarter pound of deli roast beef, sliced thin, and maybe one of those single string cheeses for another thirty five cents. Later in the day I may get a snack at an ethnic store. Which one? It matters little. Every ethnic group serves up a great deal on food most enjoyed by its clientelle. At a Persian store I'll buy sweets or dates, olive oil or pastry. At a Mexican market, in season fruit, beautiful tamales, pan (bread), and maybe chocolates. An Asian store will likely serve up a nice veggie handroll of sweet rice and cucumber and pickled something wrapped in seaweed. There's so much food in Los Angeles you don't need to eat the same thing twice in a month, and you can still live on ten bucks a day.

Drop by the dry cleaner's and pick up a few shirts. Stop at Goodwill to see if there are some dressy shoes for a couple of bucks.

Now over to the fitness club to shave and shower and get presentable. I'll drop by my temp agencies a little later. Always good to glad hand. By noon I am in shirt and tie, and I am making the rounds for some work.

Sound impossible? Or does it sound as simple to you as it seemed to me?

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Cold First Aid

If you are soaked, and it is cold, remove your clothes. It is better to be dry, cold, and naked than to be wet, cold, and clothed. You can die very rapidly from hypothermia, and one of the first symptoms is stupidity. You forget how to treat hypothermia. That means you must act fast and prevent it. Do not stubbornly wear cold, wet clothes for social reasons. Remove clothes, find shelter, and find dry coverings.

You can warm yourself by eating fats. A stick of butter or margarine is fuel to burn.

Learn CPR. The American Heart Association believes that between 100,000 and 200,000 people could be saved each year if CPR were performed early enough in the crisis.

Never assume that a cold person is dead. Continue CPR until a doctor or paramedic takes over. People have survived drowning in cold water for more than an hour. Even paramedics will not assume that a person without a heartbeat or respiration is dead unless he is warm and dead.


Hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, volcanoes, tidal waves, asteroid strikes, famines, terrorist attacks, war, oppressive regimes, internal civil strife, union walkouts, management lockouts, layoffs, blackouts, riots, your basic massive system meltdowns all result in one reaction. People move, in huge numbers to the nearest hope of aid. In some cases there is nothing else to do, as appears to be the case in many of the countries affected by the unimaginable tsunami in Asia. When the whole country is affected, you may be out of luck, and you, too, may wait for aid workers to bring food and water and dry clothing.

Most cases are not so severe, and even in such cases there is probably a great deal you can do for yourself. Most causes of devastation are localized. You can free yourself from the madding croud of help seekers.

There are two types of people in the world. There are the survivalists who keep a year's supply (or more) of food, perhaps a cache of weapons and equipment, gasoline, medical supplies, and gear of a thousand sorts, and then there are the rest of us. We don't care to eat reheatable army surplus MRE's. We don't want to think about the earth shattering quake that is supposed to separate California from the continent. If it happens, it happens, and we cope or die.

I'd like to argue for a new strategy. Setting aside the not-so-paranoid survivalist way that is just a little too much for many of us to commit to, there is a calmer preparation. If you have your pack ready, just with the essentials, and if you've thought about how to live homeless, then you can abandon a devastated area without feeling you need to rely on FEMA or Red Cross or the World Bank or any non-governmental aid organization. You can maintain your dignity, your personal security, your health.

Your health. Let's pause a moment on that. As devastating as the tsunami was, as many people as were killed by the water, or more, are likely to die from disease caused by exposure, contaminated food and water, and overcrowding. Tragedies compound themselves by disease. Cholera, dysentery, colds and flu, tuberculosis, all thrive on overcrowding, lack of sanitation, and sewage contamination of water sources. Don't worry about the dead bodies, it's the live ones that spread contagion. In the times of death, your best plan is escape.

It's hard even to talk about this. It seems so callous, but remember you cannot assist the victims of a crisis if you are a victim yourself. You must save yourself first. That is the position of the hero. He is among the saved. Then, from that strength, he reenters the fray to save others. So with great sympathy for those suffering now, I offer this word of advice to those who will face these trials in the future.

Get your pack ready. Here's the list:

1. A car. You've just got to have a car. We've talked about this before.
2. A spare tire and essential maintenance tools. Flares and a battery booster pack or jumper cables are a good idea, too.
3. A car cover. An essential.
4. A small propane stove and two 16 oz propane canisters to fuel it. You can cook for weeks on 32 ounces of propane.
5. A pot with a lid (for rice and such), a frying pan, a wooden spoon, a good kitchen knife, a can opener, an unbreakable cup, and a couple of forks and spoons. It's nice to have a very small cutting board too. You can get plastic sheet cutting boards that will do just fine.
6. A collapsible five gallon water jug
7. A five gallon solar shower
8. A first aid kit with plenty of sterile bandages of varying types, iodine, rubbing alcohol, and hydrogen peroxide. An Ace bandage. A suturing kit is a nice touch, though pricey. Lacking other antiseptics and antibiotics, keep in mind that honey is a natural topical antibiotic. You can slap it on a wound to keep it from becoming infected.
9. Any small, pocket-sized, survival guide. I keep the SAS Survival Guide handy at all times because it is small, fairly complete, and reader friendly. Any guide you like will do. Just be sure it is easy to get at.
10. For women, a female urinal available at medical supply houses and pharmacies, or for men, an empty sports drink bottle with a wide mouth and resealable cap. Pricey, but a good idea for emergencies is to have a Restop 2 bag for solid waste. I wouldn't use these on a regular basis, but I would recommend having one or two available. Improvise the seating arrangement. You don't want to be carrying around all the gear for a proper toilet.
11. Blankets
12. At least two full changes of clothes, and a week's worth of socks and underwear
13. A small gym bag with hygiene equipment, to include trial size shampoo (remember you can refill these containers as you use up the contents), toothbrush, toothpaste, cotton swabs, shave gel, sex lube gel, razors, antiperspirant, tweezers, brush or comb, scissors, a small padlock and key or combination, and a small towel. (Note: the towel needs to be big enough to dry you off. It does not need to be big enough to wrap around you.) Add mineral oil and lotion to that list if you want to be able to make the adult wipes mix. (see Hygiene on the Road)
14. A can of Ensure and a couple of energy bars are good to have too. You never want to have to eat them, of course, because they are foul, but it is better to have than to starve.

That's it. That is all you need to be a refugee. By coincidence, it is what you need to be comfortable houseless in times of calm, as well. You can get by on less, but this list will allow you to remain civilized, healthy, clean, and mobile. You can leave the disaster zone, assuming there is an unaffected place to go. Get moving. Don't linger around emergencies. Pack your friends in the car and leave.