Survival Guide to Homelessness

No matter where you go, there you are.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005


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.


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