Where Do the Homeless Get Tents

Many tents are set up in a city homeless encampment

Having a tent when you’re homeless and sleeping on the streets is almost a necessity. It can provide protection from the elements and other people, as well as a feeling of seclusion that many humans need in order to feel comfortable and relieve some of the stress that being homeless causes.

When I was homeless a few years ago, I started out with just a sleeping bag and a small travel pillow and eventually graduated up to a sleeping bag with a comforter when the blanket was donated to me by some very generous strangers. About three months in, I finally bought a small tent and moving up from being under the stars to having an enclosure to sleep in felt like one of the greatest feelings one could feel when experiencing such a terrible hardship.

So I personally purchased my tent but you may be wondering how some people can afford to do this or what other ways they somehow seem to find tents to sleep in. The following ways should shed some light on where and how most homeless people get their tents when living on the streets with next to nothing.


Buy Them
As I had already mentioned, many people on the streets actually just buy their tents themselves with money they have. In my case, I ended up purchasing a tent from a local Big 5 Sporting Goods Store for about $40. I had been sleeping on a sleeping bag with a comforter and with a foam yoga mat beneath it to keep it warm on the cold asphalt for about three months.

The weather started to change and it rained a few days which caused me to have to sleep on a bus at night which all the street people in the area referred to as Hotel 22. It was called this because it was the #22 bus and many homeless people in Santa Clara County used it to stay warm at night or to get out of the rain and to get some sleep. Sleeping on this bus was horrible and we had to routinely get off at the end of the line and wait in the rain or the cold for the next one to start-up and to reboard it again.

I decided enough was enough and it was time to spend some of the little money that I had on a sleeping bag. I was actually working on the internet during the day and making very little, but enough to afford the sleeping bag and still have money left over for other things such as public transportation when needed to get around.

However, other people around me, who did not know much about the internet or who were not as tech-savvy, had to resort to other ways to make money. Most of them collected EBT from their local county for their food and General Relief for other purchases. General Relief is basically a small amount of cash (usually less than $300) that is given to the homeless people in the area where I was staying after they’ve been assessed by someone from the local social services department and can show that they don’t have much income from other sources.

Other people collected cans and bottles in the morning, worked odd jobs, or panhandled for money. So many homeless people have ways to make money or find money in one form or another and just buy their tents themselves from local stores.


Charities and Organizations
Many charities and organizations which are set up to aid homeless people donate tents to people who need them. In most cases, the tents are donated to these organizations by other people who either have used tents they no longer need or who purchase the tents brand new and then donate them to help people who are homeless.

Sometimes private citizens will donate cash to these organizations and then the cash is used to buy tents, which are then dispersed in the local area. These organizations will either go out and find homeless encampments and identify people who are not sleeping in tents and simply give them the tents as donations, or they will advertise their resources through the local social services department, online, or at local shelters and allow homeless people to come in and apply for the tents which might include some type of interview to assess their situation so that only the people who truly need them receive them.

One project that helps to provide tents to homeless people is known as Tents-4-Homeless. It’s based out of Los Angeles and was created by The Center for Human Rights & Constitutional Law (CHRCL) there, a non-profit organization. This is just one example of the types of groups that provide services related to tents for the homeless as there are many groups like this all over the world, though they may be rare in certain areas or states.


Private Citizens
Sometimes, tents are donated directly to homeless people by private citizens. As I had said earlier, I was sleeping with a comforter for some of my time on the streets which I received from private citizens.

One night, when I was already fast asleep inside my sleeping bag which still did not feel warm enough for the elements, I woke up to the sight of an Asian family walking up to me and other people sleeping around me to offer us blankets and comforters which they purchased. They looked like a wealthy family as they had arrived in a $70,000 vehicle, but it’s possible they were part of a local church or charity group. I had no idea who they were and they didn’t explain but they greeted me with smiles and handed me a comforter still in it’s packaging. They did the same with everybody around me and then they simply said goodbye and left. This was one of the nicest things anybody has ever done for me in my life and people like this do exist in the world and do sometimes donate tents as well.

One of the people I was sleeping near eventually, a Mexican man named Estefan, slept in a very large tent that could house as many as five or six people. It was given to him by a local family that he sometimes talked with when he would visit their neighborhood to collect cans early in the morning. So situations like this are not uncommon and do happen every now and then, although most tents donated by private citizens probably would only house one or two people at most.

In 2017 it was reported by multiple media outlets that a Belgium man named Xavier Van den Stappen was creating temporary tents out of cardboard which could be folded and unfolded, similar to origami designs. The makeshift tents allowed homeless people to quickly set them up for the night, sleep in them, and then fold them up in the morning when needed. These ready-to-go tents were distributed to many homeless people in Brussels by a charity group named L’Appel du Coeur.


For some people, churches can be a godsend in that they sometimes will provide tents to homeless people as well and this can happen in a number of different circumstances. Some churches may provide them through homeless charity events that they advertise in the local neighborhood or area while other churches might provide them directly to individuals when they specifically ask for help.

I witnessed the latter scenario when I was homeless when a person named Mark who slept near me had converted to the Mormon religion recently and started seeking assistance from the local Mormon churches. He visited the sermons at these churches and after the sermon he specifically spoke to the pastor there and explained his situation. After asking for help directly from the church, they purchased a tent for him which he picked up a few days later and they also provided some cash to him.

However, don’t be surprised if many churches tell you “no” if you yourself are seeking this type of assistance. Not all religions or churches are willing to help someone and Mark may have just become lucky or was awarded in the end by remaining persistent, ,because he did visit many different churches and sermons before he finally found the place that finally helped him directly in this way. Many others referred him to charity organizations or other groups in the area that might be able to help, which may be understandable in some cases as they were unable to verify his story.


Not all people on the streets are saints and angels, as you may already know, and many will actually steal their tents from others or from local stores. I personally knew one person who had his tent stolen one day when he was not around to watch over it.

During the day, many people where I slept would pack up their tents and hide them behind a small brick wall that was standing next to one of the local businesses and the owner of that business allowed everyone to store their things there.

Well one day, somebody actually had stolen a person’s tent from behind that wall and when we all began setting up in the area to go to sleep that night, he started yelling out that someone had stolen it and asking people if they saw who did it. It was most likely another homeless person who took it as I doubt any workers from the company would be interested in a tent and there were many there that could have been stolen along with it. Someone else who possibly needed it to sleep in at night took it upon themselves to snatch it and this does seem to happen a lot as I’ve heard reports from others about it happening to them as well.

In addition to this, many people living on the streets will simply steal their tents from local stores such as Walmart and Sears. One specific Target store at the Metreon shopping plaza in San Francisco has to keep their tents locked behind glass the way many stores do with their guns to prevent theft. Many people have assumed that this is because the local homeless people in the area have been stealing them on a regular basis, which would make a lot of sense. Consider that San Francisco has one of the largest homeless populations in the United States, and much of that group is centered around the exact area that this particular Target store is located in which is not too far from the Tenderloin district.