What Do Homeless People Do All Day?

homeless person on street

If you've ever seen a homeless person walking down the street or sitting on a corner somewhere during the day, you may wonder what most of them do with their time all day. Some people may assume that they just sit around all day waiting for their luck to change or for money to fall from the sky and instantly change their situation. Truth is, all homeless people are different and they all have different lives, different brains, and different ambitions.


Some may have no ambitions at all while others may have bigger goals and plans than your average person. I was once homeless myself and lived on the streets for six months so I learned the lifestyle and how day to day living out there can be. I personally worked on building my business from my scratch and spent most of my time focused on that because I had given up on looking for jobs after lots of disappointing results. But what I did is not what your average homeless individual does all day.


Some may choose to be a bum, and fit a perfect match of your typical hobo stereotype. But many of those I knew were very depressed about their situation and embarrassed by it, and so they did everything they possibly could to get back on their feet and back into normal society. So if you're still curious about what they do all day, here's a brief rundown of the most common day to day routines and scenarios I saw amongst the homeless people I knew on the streets.


Look For Work
Believe it or not, lots of homeless people look for work during the day, though in a recession it's difficult for many of them to actually find a job. Many people who are homeless have criminal records which greatly narrows down their options of where to find work. For others, like myself, it's been so long since they've had a job that the gap in employment can hurt their chances of finding employment. This is because employers usually wonder how an adult would have a huge unexplainable gap in their employment, and if it's because they weren't working that entire time, then it makes them look irresponsible. If they try to say that they were self-employed, like I did, then employers will often worry about hiring someone who can make their own money because then they are less dependent on the job and may quit at any time.


So when you combine all these scenarios with the fact that homeless people usually have to be back to their shelters early to get a bed for the night, it can make the job searching that much more difficult. But just because you see a few homeless people in the streets doing nothing all day, that doesn't mean they represent all the others out there. The ones who are looking for work obviously aren't as visible as the ones you see out on the sidewalks because these others are walking around and trying to get jobs by dressing better and making sure they shave or look clean for job interviews. Almost all shelters have showers, sinks, and mirrors so anybody staying in them can clean themselves up.


When I was sleeping on the streets I would go into these places early in the morning when possible or would find those private bathrooms that are sometimes outside gas stations and would clean myself up this way. Most cities also have at least one organization that gives relief packets out for free which contain small travel sized things such as shaving cream, razors, soap, and shampoo. As far as clothes, there's also usually at least a few places where these people can get second-hand clothing that is in pretty good shape. The nicest sweater I've ever owned was one that I got from the clothes racks at a local shelter for free. This place would allow us to pick out about four shirts or tops and three pairs of pants each month. So there are many people who are living in shelters or on the streets who actually are looking for work every day, though they blend in so well with the rest of the population that you wouldn't know the difference between them and other job seekers.


Work a Job
There's also plenty of people living on the streets or sleeping in shelters at night who go and work regular jobs during the day. Some of your coworkers could be hobos and you wouldn't even know it. As already mentioned, majority of homeless people have access to showers, sinks, and decent clothes so they could freshen up and look as neat and professional as anyone else at work. But the majority of them probably aren't working office or white collar jobs. This is because they'd usually be making enough with this type of work to where they could probably afford their own place or home. Most of the guys I knew who did work jobs worked temporary positions such as through Labor Ready or Labor Finders.


Many of them would get up very early in the morning and go down to these types of places in hopes of getting daily work. Some guys worked as signature gatherers for various companies, and they would spend all day downtown trying to get registered voters to sign petitions for different types of political things. They were usually paid .75 cents to $1.50 for each signature they gathered. One guy I knew would hold an advertisement sign on the corner for a pizza shop and wave it around for passing cars to see. I'm sure you've seen people working these types of jobs out there. He only did this about 4 hours a day for around minimum wage, but he was paid cash under the table on a daily basis. So it wasn't long before he combined those earnings with some of his welfare and was able to get a van which he eventually started sleeping in.


A lot of the guys I knew would also deliver newspapers door to door for this one man who owned a delivery service that was somehow contracted by a local newspaper company. This was also paid under the table and the average pay these guys received from him each day was lower than minimum wage. The tricky thing about this situation is that it's obviously wrong for him to be paying them that little, but if someone were to get him in trouble for this then he would just stop hiring homeless people and would pay minimum wage to other people who probably don't need the money quite as badly. So sometimes when people are on the streets they are also taken advantage of in a way but left with little options to do anything about it unlike people in better situations. So there are definitely some hobos that look for work, even if you don't always recognize them.


Slack Off
You would think that anybody who is homeless would want to better their life and would be determined to find work and get their own place. But many homeless people are in the situation they're in because they are lazy and simply don't know how to be responsible or how to be motivated. I spent much of my time at the library trying to get my life in order and using the resources there to help me get out of my situation. But majority of the people who slept near me outside at night would be sitting right next to me in the library doing nothing but watching movies online all day or reading fictional books that would not educate them on anything. Lots of them would sit around talking all day on the streets, such as at parks or at the tables outside the local Safeway grocery store.


Others would just stay in their tents all day or go under bridges and take naps periodically or just sit around doing nothing. I knew one man who would ask for money from people after making friends with them at the local bus stop, but would then spend the money they gave him on toys at the local dollar store. He would try to make things out of the toys such as taking a helicopter apart and gluing it the back of an action figure to make it appear like the action figure could fly. He claimed that he was going to sell these projects of his to make money, but it was obvious that he was just doing it to waste time and entertain himself during the day.


For many of those who are homeless, they don't view access to the library and computers as opportunities to improve their lives. They view these things as ways to waste time during the day and have fun, and this is why many of these people will never get out of the situations they're in without some type of assistance from someone else or the state government.


Get Benefits
Because welfare, assistance, meals and other beneficial things for homeless people can be spread out across a city or even across many surrounding towns or areas, many hobos spend all their time trying to access these resources. For instance, most shelters do not serve three meals a day. So sometimes a person who is homeless may spend hours traveling from one shelter to the next so they can eat breakfast and make sure they get lunch or dinner. They may also spend this time traveling to other places like the library, as mentioned before.


So you may see them walking around on the street but that doesn't mean they're walking aimlessly In the beginning, when a person first ends up on the streets, they will usually spend more time walking places as they are first becoming familiar where everything is. When I was homeless I had no idea where to go to apply for food stamps (EBT card), where to get food, where to find shelter, where to use computers and such. It took me a few weeks before I had most things figured out, and even then I was still learning where other places and resources were as the months went by.


I spent 45 minutes each morning to walk from the local shelter to the library, then a half hour to and from the shelter where I would eat lunch sometimes, and then another 45 minutes to return back to the shelter. If I had other things to do like visit my storage unit or go to the social security office or other places, this would take even more time out of my day and most of my day would be shot if I were to do these other things. If somebody were looking for a job this would easily fill up the other half of their day after all the walking to and from locations with resources.


Panhandle
Panhandling is probably the most common activity that you'll notice homeless people doing during the day. This is because they're out in the open and stand out more when they're doing this. The average person who does this won't usually be out there doing it all day though. From what I've seen they will usually go to a spot or highway exit at a certain time, like when people are going to work or just getting off and on their way home. They don't normally spend the entire day doing this and will usually camp out or post up in as spot nearby and hang out there until the amount of people passing by is at it's peak. Some may spend all day doing this but your average panhandler doesn't.


They may even walk around and do other things all day and only panhandle once a day. Many of the people that I knew who did this would panhandle for an average of about 1 to 3 hours per day and spend the rest of the time at the library watching movies or in their tents drinking, doing drugs, listening to music or all three. Some panhandlers live in homes as well and I knew one woman who would panhandle and hang out with homeless people, but she actually lived in a house down the street from where the homeless shelter was at.


Every now and then some of the hobos from our area would go to her house and party, but she would always be out there panhandling every morning and afternoon to support her drug habit, in addition to collecting disability (she had some form of mental problem which she claimed was a form of schizophrenia). So just because you see somebody out there panhandling at 9am or 5pm, that doesn't mean they're really struggling or desperate for food, and it also doesn't mean that they're out there all day long while you're at work. Some of them may even work side jobs in addition to panhandling or have income from other places, like the woman who I just described with her disability checks.


Look for Shelter
The first week that I was homeless I spent most of my days looking for shelter or a place to sleep outside. I didn't want to stay in the homeless shelters for a few reasons. The main reason was that you had to leave your belongings in a room which is supposed to be locked but pretty much anybody could go in there and claim a bag that's not really theirs. I didn't like that because I'm paranoid when it comes to my belongings, especially since I had a laptop at the time. Even though it wasn't worth much since it barely worked, it was still crucial for me to use each day to maintain the little bit of income that I did have coming in from customers online.


So I would spend a lot of my time looking for local woodsy areas or somewhere that would be safe to sleep at night without fear of bugs or other people attacking me in my sleep. I tried a few different locations but I just couldn't do it and didn't feel safe most of the time. Lots of people who are living on the streets, especially in urban areas, are constantly looking for new places to sleep. This could be because the police keep running them out of their current areas, or because they don't feel safe or feel exposed and want to find somewhere that has more privacy. I knew a couple who slept on the streets together and they would sleep behind a business which was closed on the weekends, but during the weekdays they were constantly having to change locations and they had a lot of trouble finding anywhere they could stay longer than a few days. They chose not to stay outside the shelter where I was sleeping because they didn't feel safe around all the other homeless people in the encampment.


Drugs
Sadly, it should come as no surprise when I say that there are still lots of homeless individuals who choose to do drugs or drink alcohol all day instead of looking for work or trying to better their lives. Many of them do it all day, every day, and their only ambition from the time they wake up until the time they go to sleep is to get high or do drugs. For many of them, they've lost hope because of how bleak their situation is, and doing drugs is the only way they know how to feel happy and get their minds off of all the problems in their life.


It's hard for them to stop because here they are in a very bad situation, drugs offer a temporary way to forget about that, and on top of all of this they have people all around them doing the same thing so it's very easy to access these drugs or feel pressured to do them. But on the other hand, there's also many opportunities around homeless shelters for people to get back on their feed, such as free food, free clothing, shelter, and sometimes even job assistance programs or workshops to help them get on their feet. So those who are using drugs when they should be looking for work are usually not very ambitious or become depressed and demotivated very easily when the going gets rough.


Others are just so addicted that they may be doing other things for money and instead of saving that money they are spending it on drugs as soon as they earn it. Many of them know that employers drug test and they don't care about this because they either aren't looking for a job, or simply don't think that any employer will ever hire them. Some of these people are on disability or welfare so they already have money coming in and aren't even worried about looking for work because of this and would rather sit around doing drugs all day instead of other things.




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