When regular people in society think of homeless people, they picture the stereotypical homeless person who hasn’t showered in weeks, is wearing torn clothes and is unshaven.
This stereotype couldn’t be any further from the truth because the vast majority of people living on the streets do have access to showers, or at least some form of water where they can bathe themselves.
I was homeless for quite a bit of time and in multiple areas, so the way I kept clean would vary depending on the day and where I was located. So I’ve put together the following list of ways you can shower if you’re homeless based on how I personally did it and some of the methods that I knew others around me had used.
The most common place where homeless people take showers is at local homeless shelters. I’ve never personally heard of a shelter that does not have showers because most of them will not want you sleeping in their beds at night if you’re not somewhat clean before doing so.
However, the shower situation can vary from shelter to shelter because some of them have private stalls where you have to wait your turn in a line, while others have one large group shower room where everybody showers (similar to a gym or most YMCA’s).
They may also vary on how they go about allowing people to use their shower services. I’ve been to shelters that allow anybody to use their showers as long as you show up during a certain time frame (e.g. 9am – 1pm), but I’ve been to others where you can only show up at a specific time or you miss your opportunity (e.g. 5pm exactly).
Another important thing to know is that some homeless shelters will allow anybody to use their showers and leave, while others will require that you stay the night in their shelter in order to use their showers. I’ve encountered both scenarios but the former one is the most common I’ve experienced.
Also, because some shelters are very basic and don’t want to spend too much money on unnecessary facilities and bills, they may only have the option to take cold showers, but just remember that beggars can’t be choosers.
When I was homeless, I learned to take cold showers at some places and didn’t complain, but the majority of shelters I went to did have hot water, which was always a godsend after having to stay outside all day in cold weather on some days.
Those who are homeless in coastal areas or in states with beaches have one option that people more inland don’t have and that’s beaches. As you probably already know, most public beaches have showers for those who frequent the beach and there are no rules stating that you can’t use them if you’re homeless.
Just remember to be respectful when out in public and using these showers, and above all else, low-key. Don’t bring too much attention to yourself when using beach showers because unwanted attention could lead to a passerby overreacting and calling the police, which unfortunately sometimes can lead into harassment.
Obviously, you’ll want to keep your clothes on the entire time you’re using these types of showers, so if you plan on using them then it might be a good idea to buy a bathing suit, bikini, or swim trunks so you can look just like anybody else using the shower.
You could keep these in your backpack, go into the bathroom to change into your bathing clothing, and then maybe take quick swim in the ocean real quick or just use the shower immediately instead.
When you’re done, you can go back into the bathroom to change into your regular clothes, put all your swimming clothes into a plastic bag and when hang them up to dry somewhere where nobody will take them until you can get to them again.
I was living on the streets in Santa Cruz, California at one point and this is exactly how I showered when I was there. I never even bothered to look up local shelters because the beach was right there and it was a simple solution.
There are actually many campgrounds that have showers available for those that use them. So if you’re in a more rural area, you may want to see where the nearest campgrounds are to you because you don’t always necessarily have to rent a camping spot to use the showers.
This is particularly true in the case of state parks because, keep in mind, it’s your tax money that helps pay for the management of these.
Also, in addition to state parks and the usual campgrounds you might already know about, you may also want to search the internet for any BLM land that might be nearby if you’re in the United States. BLM land is basically public land where it’s free to camp for a certain duration and it’s all managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
These types of campgrounds are normally very raw and basic and do not have the same upkeep that serviced campgrounds or state parks have, plus it’s rare for them to actually have shower facilities.
But if you do happen to find one nearby that does, this can be perfect for you since you can even stay the night on these grounds after you shower and not have to worry about paying anything.
Just keep in mind that BLM land is normally located very far away from any civilization, so this may not be geographically accessible to you even if you do find some BLM land in whichever state you’re in.
Bathroom Sinks and Baby Wipes
When I first ended up homeless and on the streets, I had no idea where to go in my city to shower. I was so concerned with finding a place to camp out and safely sleep at night that I wasn’t worried about a shower or shaving because I was in extreme survival mode at that point.
After a few days I realized I was sweating a lot while wearing the same clothes so it became imperative that I somehow clean myself or find a shelter to shower at. Because I was very hesitant to visit a shower for the first time, I instead used bathroom sinks and even baby wipes (aka wet wipes) to stay clean.
This is probably the worst way to stay clean, but if you’re desperate and have no other means than I might as well tell you about my experience. I basically purchased a roll of paper towels each time I had to do this or would find a bathroom that had those brown napkins that are somewhat thick.
Then, I would find a public bathroom with a sink that was small enough to where only one person could go in the bathroom at a time. I would then basically get the paper towels wet, wipe my entire body down to get clean, then would throw away the large batch of towels and use another new batch and kept repeating this process until I was somewhat clean. I couldn’t use soap with this method, which is why it’s such a terrible way and unhygienic way to get clean.
But again, when you’re a beggar you have no choice. When I had a little more money, I’d spring for baby wipes at the local grocery sore which are basically moist towelettes soaked in water, antibacterial substances, and a few other ingredients. I would use these to clean myself in the same manner as I did with the wet napkins or paper towels, only I didn’t need to moisten them with water.
Just keep in mind that while most baby wipes and wet wipes do not contain alcohol, there are some that do. Alcohol can have a very drying effect on the skin and some people may have slight reactions by rubbing it all over their body.
Another tip is that I never used wet wipes on my face because I feared the other ingredients might rub off important sebum on the face, which is the oil your skin produces to protect itself from the sun. Because homeless people are in the sun a lot, you may want to take this into consideration.
Gyms and the YMCA
When I first realized that I might be homeless for awhile and I was living in the Bay Area, one of the first thoughts that came to mind in regards to showering was local gyms. I looked into several gyms which offered memberships, including one that was open 24 hours a day.
even considered moving to Nevada because I saw that there was BLM land available there that I could camp out on and there was a nearby gym that I could bicycle to each night from there to take showers.
After I started frequenting shelters and using other means to clean myself, I abandoned the idea of gyms simply because I didn’t want to pay too much for a monthly membership. I also decided to stay in the Bay Area for the time being as I was beginning to get my footing there as a homeless person while I figured out how to survive.
But if you’re a homeless person who has a decent amount of income coming in from general relief programs or other sources, a gym membership is always an option if you’re living in an urban area. When I became homeless for a brief stint in Los Angeles, many of the shelters were not open during summer time or were full already and had no vacancies.
So while I was alternating between sleeping in someone’s car (costing $70 per week) and sleeping in a tent in the San Fernando Valley, I used a local YMCA for their showers and the membership fee was much cheaper than any other gyms I had previously checked out.
I was paying somewhere around $40 per month, which is just a little over $1.30 per day. This worked out well for me because I was able to use their Wi-Fi internet when I needed it as well.
So a gym or even the YMCA may be worth a shot if there’s any in your area, and a membership might even come with some extras that make it worthwhile.
I didn’t have this option, but many homeless people use rivers to clean themselves. This is particularly common outside the USA in other parts of the world that are less developed where even people with homes use rivers to bathe themselves.
Before doing this, you’ll always want to make sure that the river is not a polluted one and definitely research the river by using a search engine such as Google or Yahoo and searching for the key phrase “pollution” with the name of the river. Do as much research as you can first, even if you have to visit a library to do so.
You never know what types of contaminants you might be bathing in in today’s rivers, but if it’s a fairly large well-known river than chances are it’s not that bad. You’ll also obviously want to make sure that it’s safe in terms of the creatures you’ll find in the river.
I shouldn’t even have to say this, but not everybody out there is functioning with all brain cells and some people may actually try to bathe themselves in crocodile or piranha-infested rivers without even thinking about this.
With all the latest technologies available in our day in age, portable camping showers have become one of the most useful inventions to camping enthusiasts and even some homeless people.
The way these showers work is that they are about the size of a 5 gallon jug of water and have a hose leading from a bucket or a bag which is attached to a plastic shower head.
Typically, you can fill the bucket with water, which stays on the ground, and then you hold the hose with the shower head above your body and it pulls water from the bucket which goes through the hose. With the bag set-up, it’s the same concept but you hang the bag from a tree or something else that you can attach it to and the water often naturally flows out of the hose at that point.
They are portable and you can fit many of them in a backpack, but it may be a bit heavy if they’re filled with water. You can’t exactly bathe with them like you would with a bath tub. They aren’t that luxurious and are as basic as they come. But if you’re just looking for a shower, and one that can even be heated water if you leave it out in the sun, this is a great option.
What most homeless people who have these do is they find a place where they can easily fill these devices up with water, such as a spigot or even by using those water refill machines near grocery stores where you pay a few coins or so to put a jug inside and fill them with water.
If you’re going to use a water refill station, try to be inconspicuous because most people use them to fill regular water jugs and you might raise some suspicion from people with nothing better to do than to worry about why you have a strange jug or bag with you.
These types of portable showers are often called camping showers and can be purchased in camping stores or even online on many different websites. The inexpensive ones should be in the price range of about $15-$30, and while this may be a lot when you’re homeless, it definitely pays for itself over time if you’re homeless for an extended period.
Portable showers obviously work best for homeless people who have more rural areas to camp out where they don’t have to worry about anybody watching them while they shower.