Sometimes finding a place to charge your phone, laptop or other electronic devices when you’re homeless can be a difficult task. As I found out for myself, this can even be true in large urban cities.
You’d think that a big city would have way more spots to charge than a smaller rural area, but in my experience this isn’t always true.
When I was homeless, it was sometimes a daunting task to try to find decent places to quickly charge my cell phone before the battery died. Although I was in a city, it felt like I was camping in the wilderness and struggling for survival because of how limited my options for charging were.
Since big cities often have large populations of homeless people, many restaurants and other locations try hard to keep homeless people from gathering nearby by restricting access to electrical outlets.
So I thought I’d compile a list of some of the best places I found to charge and where you’re less likely to run in any problems when doing so.
When it comes to locations to charge, Starbucks is really the pioneer in this industry.
As famous as they are for their coffee, their shops are often packed with people who are just there to simply take advantage of the multiple electrical outlets that many of their locations often provide.
In fact, it’s amazing that there hasn’t been many other companies who have taken note of this and created a similar business model with less coffee and more outlets. Starbucks is also leading the pack in charging options with their newest option: wireless charging.
In many of the Starbucks that I’ve come across, most of which are in California, you can now charge your devices wirelessly by plugging a USB or other similar piece into the device which then has to be positioned over a certain area on the table where you’re sitting.
If the piece is not positioned within that little area, the device won’t charge. This is one negative aspect about wireless charging because while you’re drinking coffee or sitting at a table it’s very easy for your phone to slightly become misaligned with that area where it has to be positioned.
This happened to me a few times while charging one day and I had to keep repositioning the phone back into the area where it needs to be in order to charge.
Another major downside of this is that if the device your charging is something like a phone and not a laptop, you can’t use that device much while it’s charging because you can’t lift it from the spot where it’s at or it won’t charge.
So you’ll have to find other ways to occupy your time while it’s charging like reading a newspaper or magazine.
As for popular chains other than Starbucks, Mcdonald’s (and other fast food places) can be hit or miss when it comes to electrical outlets. Some of them do everything they can do prevent people from charging while others have multiple outlets around the dining area.
I’ve found that Mcdonald’s in urban areas like in big cities usually try to prevent people from charging more often than those in rural areas, but I have seen some in major cities that are more generous with their electricity source than some of those I’ve been to in country towns.
So you really never know what to expect when trying to charge at a Mcdonalds. Many of them will put locked plates around their outlets while others have outlets located on the ceiling.
It’s ironic whenever you come across this because almost all of them offer Wi-Fi to customers, but I guess they just assume that you have somewhere to charge even though you don’t have internet access.
If it’s not a very busy restaurant, you can sometimes ask the staff behind the counter if they can plug your phone into an outlet in the back briefly.
I once worked in Wendy’s and we would do this for customers if they asked and it wasn’t very busy. We’d plug their phone into an outlet in the back while they waited in the dining area in the front of the restaurant.
After about 20 to 30 minutes of charging, we’d return their phone to them or whenever they were ready to leave.
Just about all libraries have outlets where you can charge your phone. Sometimes these outlets are set up in a hub where people sit and where library patrons are encouraged to charge their devices, but other times you may need to charge your phone at an inconspicuous outlet on the wall where the janitors would normally plug in their vacuums when cleaning up at night.
You may have to look for an outlet, but there it would be near impossible to find a library that doesn’t have some type of outlet for you to plug into. If you can’t find any outlets, look to see if they have computers for use.
Keep in mind that as long as a computer has a USB port on it, you should be able to plug your phone directly into the USB port if your charging cable allows you to use only the USB end of it to plug directly into a port.
If you don’t have the type of charging cable that allows this, you may have to ask other people at the library if they have a cord you can borrow for 10 to 20 minutes while you charge.
All shelters have electrical outlets you can use, but the rules on when and where to use them will differ. Some places may allow you to charge your devices directly on the wall in the area where everybody eats breakfast, lunch or dinner, while other shelters may only allow you to charge in certain rooms.
A specific type of room where most people would charge at a shelter would be their computer, but not all shelters have computers.
Majority of shelters have places where you can charge in the actual room where you’ll be sleeping at, so they might not allow people to charge who are not actually staying the night.
Also, there may be outlets on the outside of the building which staff will allow you to use to charge as well, even if you’re not visiting the shelter for any other reason.
Outlets Outside Buildings
Many commercial buildings such as gas stations, mini-marts, libraries and grocery stores have outlets or sockets on the outside of their buildings.
When I was homeless, there were many people around me at a nearby shelter who were recently released from prison and who had to charge ankle monitor bracelets which they wore as part of their parole or probation terms.
Most of them slept outside the shelter and wouldn’t actually go inside other than to shower or to eat, and most of the places to charge at the shelter were in the room where people slept.
Because they weren’t able to charge in the room where people slept, they would often charge their devices and their phones at a nearby abandoned building which still had outlets on the outside of it and which the electric company was still providing electricity to for whatever reason.
This was most likely illegal and is definitely a bad idea, because if you were caught, you’d most likely be charged with theft of electricity in addition to trespassing (even if you only used a few cents worth of the electricity).
But if you can find a building similar to this or a company that will allow you to charge outside their building, this could be ideal. Because many companies have to use electrical equipment outside their buildings every now and then, many of these buildings are equipped with electrical outlets on the sides of walls outside the buildings.
It’s best to simply ask permission from the owner by going into the company and asking for the owner, but sometimes even regular employees can give you the OK to do this if you ask them.
Public Bus Stops
This concept is only now starting to become popular in cities around the world, but in many large cities you can actually charge your cell phones at the public bus stops around the city.
In Los Angeles, for example, many of the city’s Metro bus stops that are located near colleges have electrical outlets which are free to use.
These types of outlets will often look like black boxes with panels on them, because they are powered by solar energy. This is a great way to charge because you can simply sit outside on a bench and charge your devices without anybody harassing or bothering you, as you can simply say that you are waiting for a bus.
Just keep in mind that these chargers aren’t always as fast at charging as regular outlets that you’ll find inside buildings.
But even in cities where these charge boxes are located, you may have a hard time actually finding one when checking different bus stops.
It’s best to check the ones located directly outside colleges, as these boxes are often purposely put outside colleges where the city or the schools think many students will benefit from using them.
Sometimes these boxes are even sponsored by the nearby schools themselves, which is why they’re more likely outside universities and colleges.