When you’re homeless for the first time, figuring out where to sleep is one of the most stressful problems that you will most likely deal with. When I first became homeless, it was bad enough trying to figure out what I was going to do to get on my feet. Trying to find a place to sleep before the sun went down made things even worse and it took me a few weeks before I finally found somewhere that I felt comfortable staying for a while.
Some people prefer to stay in homeless communities where they feel safer around others who are in the same predicament, but there’s others like me who would rather be alone and in a secluded area because they don’t trust sleeping around others who could harm them in the middle of the night. But unfortunately, sometimes you have to settle with the few options you’re given and I eventually ended up sleeping around others. But if you do become homeless or are already in that dilemma, here’s some of the choices you’ll most likely have when it comes to where you can sleep at night (assuming you don’t have any friends or family that you can stay with).
Shelters are the first and most obvious choice when it comes down to where you can stay the night. They have their pros and cons, which is why you still see lots of people camping out on the streets instead of staying inside their local shelters. Most places are only free for a limited amount of time, and then they charge a fee. It could be a week or a month later when your “free time” runs out. So not everybody can afford to stay in them, while others live like nomads and travel from shelter to shelter, staying only until they use up all their free time. So when you first end up on the streets, this can give you a little time to find more of a long-term setup during the day while you scout areas that you think may be suitable.
Shelters also usually have curfews or certain times you need to check-in. This can take many hours out of the day that you could be using more efficiently to get back on your feet. Once you check-in, you usually can’t leave. They won’t force you to stay there, but they may have rules in place that prevent you from coming back and staying again if you do leave. There’s people who prefer the security of staying in these types of places compared to the street, while others feel trapped like they are in jail.
Bed bugs can also be a very common problem at certain shelters. Homeless people don’t always have the best hygiene and will often stay in motel rooms or other places on and off and then in shelters, which can help spread bed bugs. Another thing to keep in mind is that many organizations require that you attend certain services or participate in some type of program in order to stay with them. So while shelters can definitely be a safe option, it’s not always the cheapest, the most hygienic, or the best option for those who want to feel free.
Most homeless people sleep on the streets because it’s usually free and there’s so many different places you can go. However, this can be difficult and dangerous, regardless of whether you’re in a small town or big city. In bigger cities, the areas may be so built up with businesses and no woods or anything, to the point that it becomes very difficult to find somewhere to sleep where the police won’t harass you. In small towns you’ll be more noticeable and the same situation could happen, where it gets hard to find places to sleep without people telling you that you can’t be there.
At the time when I first became homeless, I would just sleep out in the open under benches on streets with not many people or cars. This was dangerous and it was also very hard to sleep there since I was trying to blend in somewhat and not stand out. So I couldn’t set up a tent or pull out a sleeping bag or anything, as I was hoping to just sleep under the bench without anyone noticing me there at night. Eventually I found more secluded areas, like under bridges and overpasses, but this also made me uncomfortable since I was alone and anybody could have attacked me in my sleep in these spots. So I eventually found a parking lot outside a closed business to set up a tent at night. I would break it down every morning and the business owners didn’t seem to mind as long as I left before they arrived each morning.
In Las Vegas, Nevada, many homeless people stay in an underground sewer system that has many dry areas, which runs beneath the entire city. Had I not done an internet search while in Vegas, I never would have known that, which is why you should always learn your city well before picking a permanent or long-term spot to sleep. You’ll always want to know where the best areas are so you can make sure you get your rest so you can look for work or get back on your feet quickly and while still healthy.
Alleys and hidden parking lots to closed-down businesses can also be ideal turf for you when you need to sleep without anyone bothering you, but they can also be illegal. The police may ask you to leave if they see you there, or they may arrest you or ticket you for trespassing. So you’ll always want to take these things into consideration when you’re on the streets, because not everybody out there is compassionate and understanding when it comes to the struggles of other people.
If you’ve ever seen the movie Into the Wild and remember the ending, don’t let it scare you off from giving camping a try. That’s definitely an extreme version of camping, as most people who camp don’t have as hardcore of an ideology as Chris McCandless. When homeless, it’s hard to find woods or anywhere to camp in a large city. So this may not be the best option for someone on foot who needs the types of resources that most homeless people in big cities depend on (food stamps, libraries, shelters, churches etc.).
But if you can find a woodsy area in a city or just on the outskirts, or if you think you can make it without all those amenities, then camping out could really be to your benefit. Most state parks and other places that are most suitable for camping charge fees nowadays just to camp there, and it’s illegal to camp in many other places that don’t charge. However, if you’re really unable to find a place, you may want to think about staying on BLM land (assuming you’re in the United States, though other countries do have similar programs just under different names). It’s basically land throughout the United States that is free to camp on for certain durations (such as 15 days at a time).
BLM land is more common in the western states, but can be found in the majority of states in certain areas. One thing to keep in mind though is that this type of land is usually very far from any forms of civilization or big cities and the land itself may even be in desert or places that are hard to camp at without any food preparations or water sources.
Couchsurfing is a term with two different meanings. The first meaning is the actual act of “couchsurfing”, which means sleeping on the couches of others while traveling or temporarily. The second meaning refers to the website couchsurfing.org, which the word is sometimes synonymous with. Either way, couchsurfing is one of the best ways to find a place to sleep at night if you’re not worried about staying in a stranger’s home.
Basically, people will open up their doors and allow you to sleep on their couch or a spare bed completely free. Why they do it? It’s anybody’s guess. But many of them probably just want to have some excitement in life and meet new people and this is as close as they can get to that. Finding fellow couchsurfers who will allow you to stay in their homes is as easy as visiting the original couchsurfing website or any other website centered around it. Sometimes you can even find a place to stay by checking the “housing wanted” section on Craigslist for your city or area. Just keep in mind that to many of the people who have couches available, it’s not just a chance to let someone sleep in their home. A lot of them really want to socialize and make a friend, if even for one night.
So if you’re anti-social or come off as intimidating or unfriendly to people, this may not be the best option for you. As far as safety, it’s considerably safe and much safer than sleeping on the streets, according to statistics. Out of the millions of people who have couchsurfed in the past, there’s only been about one or two major incidents that have happened over the years (most notable is the incident where a woman was raped in England when staying at a man’s house that she met on the original couchsurfing website).
Another thing to keep in mind is that most people who permit others to stay in their homes are not expecting their guest to stay longer than maybe one night. Some people do stay a few nights or even as long as a week or two, but you should never overextend your welcome and make a person uncomfortable in their own home. This is why it’s better to travel to a major city where there are many couchsurfing spots available nearby. This way you can alternate where you stay and build up friendships with some of the people you stay with so you can return there a few nights each month when you need to.
In a Car
If you have a car, there’s literally thousands of places for you to park it at night in order to sleep and you won’t have to worry about rain, cold weather, people attacking you in your sleep, and the whole plethora of other things that come with sleeping outside. While some people park in parking lots, like at Walmart, the best place to actually do it is on a random street somewhere. If you can drive around and find a street where there is mostly businesses and not a lot of houses, and the type of street where cars park out on the street, this is probably your best option. You just need to remember to change where you park every month, because if business owners or the police see you parked in the same spot every night, they’ll become suspicious of you and you could run into some problems.
As far as the legal aspect of it, it really depends on the street and what type of parking or loitering laws or regulations are in place. Many big cities will only allow you to park somewhere in public for a certain amount of time before you have to move, and they put meters there to make you pay just to park somewhere. The street itself that you do decide to park on can either be a very busy street or one with little traffic, because they can both work out well depending on the situation. You can also park your car in isolated areas, like in the woods or in large parks, but this may be dangerous or even illegal in many cases.
Someone Else’s Property
I mentioned camping already, but that was mostly related to deep woods camping. There’s also another option that you may not have thought of yet, and that’s camping on someone else’s property. For example, if you’re in a car or have a tent, there may be homeowners or people who own property that will be willing to let you camp on their land or outside their home, for free or for a fee. Most people will be leery or cautious about having a vagrant stay on their land or near their home, because they’ll worry about being attacked or robbed. But there’s other people out there who may just want to do a good thing and help another human being out.
There’s also those who are going through hard times, who could do with some extra cash each month. If you’re receiving any type of financial assistance or income, there’s plenty of people out there who would allow you to camp on their property or park your car in their driveway at night in exchange for some form of rent. What you pay them would obviously be much cheaper than what it would cost you to rent a room in someone’s home, so it may be worth it. You may even benefit by asking if you can sleep in their car or vehicle at night, in exchange for some type of monthly fee, that way you can stay warm and safe.
Sometimes, business owners will even allow homeless people to sleep in their shops or outside in exchange for doing some type of work around the place, such as sweeping and mopping or even acting as a night time security guard and keeping an eye on the place. The best way to find the types of people who would let you do these types of things would be to post ads on Craigslist or find ads already posted by those who are looking to rent out rooms. It’s completely free to post on websites like that and it wouldn’t hurt if you could include a picture of yourself, since some people feel more comfortable knowing who they’re talking to and what they look like before making any agreements.