How to Live on the Street

Three Parts:SleepingEatingMaintaining hygiene

What most people spend on living arrangements, whether "permanent" ones such as houses or apartments, or hotels when traveling, can enable a frugal nomad to enjoy the same bars and restaurants as those who turn up their noses at him when they see him in a sleeping bag in the entryway of a closed shop downtown. While not all areas are good prospects for this manner of living, wherever you see a substantial homeless population you can be fairly sure of being able to live nomadically.

Part 1

  1. Image titled Live on the Street Step 1
    Carry both a sleeping bag and sleeping pad suitable to the climate of the area in which you are living. A combination of poncho/tarp/bivy sack also comes in handy in rainy weather.
  2. Image titled Live on the Street Step 2
    Sleep in public places. Sleeping in public places keeps the risk factor low as you seem less suspicious and there is a low probability that police will harass you.
    • Sleep in a park during the day whenever possible; there is less chance of police harassment and mugging, it is generally warmer, and the grass makes a natural cushion. Large parks, such as the Boston Common and San Diego's Balboa Park, make it easy to find a place to lay out your tarp and sleep for a few hours.
    • Beaches are excellent places to sleep during the day, but keep above the high-tide line, unless you want to awake to the chill of an ocean wave, and wear sunscreen or keep your body covered..
  3. Image titled Live on the Street Step 3
    If you must sleep on the street at night, find an area where the homeless are already doing the same. You will be less conspicuous, and the police probably leave them alone in that area. Be wary that the other homeless people may try to intimidate you or even rob you.
    • If you can't find a spot where the homeless are sleeping, choose a place that's fairly well lit yet out of the pedestrian walkway. It's better to have the cops roust you than get mugged in a dark alley.
    • Another place to sleep relatively safely at night are rooftops of public buildings. People do not naturally look up, and chances are you won't get found. This may be classed as trespassing and illegal, however. But it is safer than sleeping on the streets themselves. Preferable rooftops are flat with alcoves or obstacles so you cannot roll off of the rooftop.
    • Abandoned buildings. It's a good place to sleep at night as you have a roof over your head in case it rains. However, it's not that safe as these buildings are sometimes abandoned because of their weakening structure, so caution is required. Plus, there are times when other homeless people are staying in the same building.
    • Small and dense bushy areas. You may have to look a little harder to find places like these and if you are looking in the right places you will find them. These are small bushy areas surrounded by trees and bushes, which give some privacy and generally is a good hiding spot.
    • Homeless shelters. These places are a decent place to sleep in the night. These are mostly religious places like church, monasteries, temples etc so. Just look in the Google maps or ask around for homeless shelters in the area. Be cautious as many other people sleep in the same room as you so there are chances of your stuff getting stolen and along with that people sleeping in the same room could be sick with some contagious disease.

Part 2

  1. Image titled Live on the Street Step 4
    Look for free samples in grocery stores. It's an easy way to find food, and you are more likely to find special offers and cheap food.
    • Some grocery stores will give you day old bread; ask them to save some for you next week too.
    • If you are in Florida, many public supermarkets give slightly more than most samples in their "Apron" stands. Be advised that they stop serving at 7 pm, and begin clearing up. Even walking in opens lines of communication for food later on.
  2. Image titled Live on the Street Step 5
    Go to a religious place or charity. You can go to places such as church, the YMCA , etc.and work a few hours in return for food donations. Such places tend to respond better to you and you can network.
  3. Image titled Live on the Street Step 6
    Dumpster dive. Many stores and food places throw away a lot of food in excellent condition in to dumpster. For more details, read How to dumpster dive.
    • Be careful, as there are other street persons that do rounds to each dumpster at different times and this can become rather territorial.
  4. Image titled Live on the Street Step 7
    Use street food nous.
    • Generic foods cheaper and are regulated the same as big label names.
    • Places like Taco Bell and McDonald's give out free condiments. You can mix them together on bread, as a sandwich. Barbecue sauce with mustard and mayonnaise is good together, potato chips with free packets of ketchup is good for breakfast. And the bathroom can be used for free.
    • Kool-Aid powder is about 10 cents a packet and makes a gallon of drink good without sugar. Get a reusable bottle to keep it in.
    • Sugar packets are free most places.
    • Visit farmers markets as they're closing. You may be able to get food items that they don't want to pack back in their trucks, especially blemished or squashed foods.
  5. Image titled Live on the Street Step 8
    Feed your pet. There are places that will help your furry friend (dog) too. For example, Bakersfield, CA has a food pantry for animals. Ask at animal welfare shelters for advice. You might even be able to work a little in return for dog food.

Part 3
Maintaining hygiene

  1. Image titled Live on the Street Step 9
    Try to keep a good appearance. It can be hard to be homeless and still be clean but keeping a clean appearance can help a lot to keep you under the radar. A few ways to keep a clean appearance include the following suggestions.
    • Use public restrooms. Public libraries are very good places to use public restrooms. You may occasional find other homeless people grooming up in there.
    • Visit university libraries. Restrooms in these are a good place to groom up and clean yourself. They are cleaner and student and staff are generally much more tolerant here than private businesses.
    • Gyms. This is a good place to take a shower but of course they ask for money so if you have a little bit of spare money then you can buy a gym membership and can always find a place to take a shower.
  2. 2
    Shower near a public beach. Wait till later at night, it's less conspicuous and people don't care. Use the surfer showers at the beach, making sure to follow laws governing nudity! Dry off by walking back to your vehicle or sleeping spot.
    • Spend some time with just a towel over you to continue to dry off, but watch out for police, that is embarrassing, to say the least.
    • Be aware of your surroundings. Act just as you are, a person who went into the ocean and is now cleaning up. If people ask about the soap, just tell them you are sensitive to salt water and have to wash it off asap.


  • Edges of towns have more vegetation as well as natural camping spaces.
  • Always make sure you look and smell good, especially if you enjoy the bar and restaurant scene. This can be difficult, but often just disappearing into a locking restroom (certain major coffee chains and most gas stations have them) for a couple of minutes and taking a sponge bath can work wonders. Baking soda is cheap and makes an excellent 24-hour deodorant and teeth cleaner. Another option for cleaning is pre-moistened baby wipes.
  • Sleep with your bags strapped to you, day or night. This makes it difficult for someone to walk off with them, since they would have to risk waking you and possibly have a fight on their hands. Unless you're in an area where the wolves are really hungry, and you'll probably feel the vibes when you enter such an area, this shouldn't happen.
  • Go to local churches. They usually have sympathy for the desperate and may provide shelter.
  • Travel lightly. You can stuff a down sleeping bag to a very small size, ditto for a poncho/tarp and an ultralight inflatable pad. A backpack can make you look more like a European tourist, but it might make you less welcome in American shops, bars and restaurants. Shoulder bags don't hold as much but look more mainstream, resulting in fewer glares.
  • A wide-brimmed hat keeps the sun's rays off your face, preventing sunburn and reducing the risk of skin cancer. You can also use it to cover your face when trying to nap during the day; it keeps the sunlight out and the flies and mosquitoes off too!
  • A large dumpster near a wall can often be moved so that flipping up the lids creates an angled shelter to stay dry, putting cardboard atop the lids keeps the space between from channeling water.
  • If you have a little more disposable income, you might want to consider buying membership in a nationwide gym. This gives you access to showers everywhere you go, and a locker where you might be able to temporarily store your gear.
  • Synthetic warm-up suits pack very small and can be worn while you launder your other clothes. Change in one of the aforementioned restrooms.
  • During particularly cool weather, a plastic trash bag used like a sleeping bag will keep you warm and sometimes two are particularly comfortable.
  • Collect loose change. When your pocket gets heavy, go to a store where they offer a Coinstar machine to exchange it for bills.
  • It's nice to have a home base where you can relax after traveling, and sleep 12 to 24 hours straight if you had rainy or otherwise unsuitable weather during your nomadic excursion. Apartments on the New Mexico border in Puerto Palomas (Chihuahua, Mexico), for example, can be had for about US$40 per month, and farther south probably even cheaper.
  • Keep post stamps on you [ask for 2 cent/per, and should do just fine], and receipts/certificates of your substantial property. On your receipts/certificates of your property [not blocking the view description of your property] write " To: [and put your signature there]". Then, put a stamp on the receipt and sign diagonally, from top left, in blue ink [mind that you should always keep at least a blue pen and paper on you at all times]. This will help you get your stuff back, if you are arrested for something that is not substantial physical harm to another human, so you can bring your receipt/certificate [when they let you go] and claim your stuff back. [It saves you headache if you head to library and learn about courts of record].
  • Never resort to gambling. You are on streets and you can't afford the risk.
  • When choosing a weapon, pick something inconspicuous such as a long walking stick with a heavy knot on top or something found near by. If police find you toting a baseball bat, bent pipe, or heavy chains you might get in trouble for being "armed"
  • If you have a do, don't let it poop on the streets. You do not want a cop seeing it. It might bring extra costs.


  • Living like this can make you a target for the middle-class and rich, who are likely to complain to the police about you wherever you go. You can also expect to be jeered at by younger people.
  • Watch out for dogs and other stray animals. They may be just as needy as you are and can become very aggressive. Obtain a heavy stick, a piece of iron pipe, or a few rocks (only if you can throw reasonably accurately!) and keep them by you when you sleep, in case they're needed.
  • This will probably not be feasible in the Pacific Northwest, or other areas with lots of cold, rainy weather. Camping there would most likely require a tent and would limit your mobility. Also you could rent a public storage.

Things You'll Need

  • Sleeping bag or blankets
  • Poncho and/or Tarpaulin
  • Weapon for self defense
  • Money (optional)
  • Blue pen, paper, postage stamps (optional, but highly recommended)
  • First aid kit
  • Water bottle
  • Backpack
  • Sunscreen
  • Newspapers to use to keep warm

Sources and Citations

  • This research was made possible, in part, by a land grant from the City of the Sun though the specifics of the research were not coordinated nor endorsed by COSF

Article Info

Categories: Lodging