Previously homeless people share the unknown true details of what they went through and how it actually is living on the street. Whether they were displaced or chose to leave an unsafe environment, they explain what they had to do to get by and the worst parts of having no home.
"I learned just how little you matter to anyone.
There are two kinds of people I learned to avoid very quickly-groups of young men/teenagers and fellow homeless men. If someone's going to mess with you, they'll fall in one of these groups, and people may watch disapprovingly, but they won't do anything to help you.
It's less important to most people that you be somewhere safe or with a bit of shelter from the weather than it is that you be where they don't have to see you. Most of your interactions with people such as the police, who in normal life you consider to be concerned primarily with your safety, when you're homeless are more about making you less inconvenient to others."
"I was only homeless for a short stint but hands down the hardest thing was the constant fear my dog would get taken from me or that he would be hurt. I have a small white dog who weighs a little under 10 lbs and I was always terrified someone would try to take him, either homeless people or people who thought they deserved him more than my homeless self.
Thankfully I had a crappy car at the time so I had a place to sleep. At night I'd do my best to park at 24-hour gyms or with a 'for sale' sign in the windshield because I was less likely to be asked to move along that way.
I was working part-time and my friend worked with animals so quite often she would bring my dog to work with her since it was allowed. Other days I spent what little money I had on doggy daycare Groupons.
We made it through and my dog is still mine, as soon as I had money in the bank I took him to a vet and got him all taken care of and I am typing this from my very own bed with him next to me."
"I moved out at 15 and lived near Muskegon, Michigan. Tried to avoid it, but that's where possible jobs and rides were so I went there to better myself. Was homeless for about a year and just couch surfed, stayed with random people or just slept in abandoned buildings or parks. Scariest part was knowing that once the sun started going down, I HAD to lay low and find a place to crash for the night. Walking the streets of Muskegon after dark is awful, especially when you're young. People tried to rob me, take advantage of me, sell me drugs (which I took) then follow my whereabouts, chase me just for fun; it was awful. I wouldn't even have anything on me except my clothes and someone would come up with a gun or knife and tell me to give them everything I had. One time when I couldn't give a guy anything, he beat the crap out of me just for fun and cut my arm up bad. Worst time of my life.
I did sleep in the Kmart that was there in Muskegon a couple times. They never knew I was there, but I got to know some of the workers and one security guard there because I spent a lot of nights there. Before I got my 'essentials' bag, which was just one of those small stringed backpacks, I would use deodorant and mouthwash/toothbrushes from the hygiene aisle to clean myself up until one day some random stranger bought me some toiletries. After that, a friend let me have a bag. My 'essentials' bag contained said toiletries, my knife, my most current school ID and my wallet. That bag was kept on my person at all times.
I'm so thankful for all who have helped me when I needed it and the people who helped shaped me into the man I am today. Now I am 21 and for the first time in my life, live a stable, comfortable life in my own apartment. I've got 2 jobs, food in my fridge, a car, 401k and am happy with my life. It's truly been a journey and it's only up from here."
"My mom kicked me out in January 2016 after we argued and I stood up for myself instead of letting her belittle me in front of my siblings. I was in the midst of my first year of law school. I was forced to sleep in my car for five months. I had no job when she kicked me out because I was a full-time law student and I was supposed to be able to live off of the tuition refund they give us every year for living expenses, especially since I put down that I was living at home on my FAFSA. I got a day job so I could afford to feed myself and pay my bills, but I started slipping in school. I went from doing amazing to barely understanding any of my course materials. Pretty soon, my professors caught on to the fact that I was sleeping in my car and the Dean ultimately asked me to withdraw temporarily until I could stabilize my situation.
The scariest part was having to sleep in public parking lots with my car in a dangerous city. My school is in the heart of a city that was once known as one of the most dangerous cities for violent crimes in America, but I always had to try to sleep close by to avoid being late to class (classes were at like 7 AM, it was awful). I have heard horror stories from friends. A friend of mine fell asleep in his car after a long night at the library, thinking it would be safer to rest before driving home. He ended up waking up to a guy banging on the window with a gun. He was carjacked and shot in the leg twice. I was always terrified that this would happen to me. There are a ton of other homeless people and drug addicts, psychopaths, etc. just roaming the streets of this city.
Once I temporarily withdrew from school to figure things out, I started sleeping in areas that I knew were safer, since I didn't have to commit to making school work while being homeless anymore.
Another scary thing about being out in the streets is the police. I was literally pulled from my vehicle, tested for alcohol and drugs, handcuffed and thrown into the back of a patrol car, and had my entire car torn apart with searches NINE TIMES IN FIVE MONTHS just because I was sleeping in my car and the cops had a quota to meet. I refused to have my car searched every time and demanded probable cause. Sometimes the cops were legit like 'It's just kind of weird that you look presentable but you're sleeping in your Dodge Charger claiming to be homeless. Are you under the influence?' WHICH I UNDERSTOOD. Okay, cool. I'll comply to prove my innocence. But then there were a few times where the officers would claim some stupid crap like 'This place (that you know for a fact isn't connected with any break-ins whatsoever) is known for break-ins. The fact that you're out here is suspicious.' I was always afraid a cop would abuse his authority and arrest me and take my car - which was also my home at the time.
I'm happy to report that everything is wonderful for me now! I'm back in law school and have a great job that pays the bills and works around my school schedule. I currently go half on rent at a beautiful apartment with my boyfriend. As for my mom and I, we are on great terms! I visit her and my siblings frequently and still do stuff with them. I secretly hope she's ashamed of herself for what she did to me, but I'm not holding any grudges. I know it sounds cliche, but this experience has only made me stronger."
"I have lived in Barcelona, Spain on the streets for quite some time. The creepiest part in my opinion is how fast you accept your homelessness and how fast you get used to it. You learn to be homeless, you learn to survive on your own.
I remember the moment I got inside my sleeping bag and felt embraced and comfortable. I had forgotten what it was to have a bed and sheets. But your brain keeps you on survival mode and you just adjust. After little more than a month, you become so used to it that you stop looking for ways to get out of there."
"Spent 2007-2012 homeless. Most of that was my teenage years spent with my father (also homeless). The scariest thing is spending the evening in some homeless shelters, or out of them in this case. I was in one in Portland, Maine. My dad was assigned a 'spot' to sleep on the floor because they were overcrowded that day. They didn't have a spot for me so I slept across the street in the garden of the local Catholic church since the priests don't kick people out. It was a popular place to sleep when the shelter was 'overbooked.' I remember sleeping in the grass near a couple whom I overheard talking about robbing me for well over 20 minutes. I didn't let go of my knife all night.
The most surreal moment was a short stint in 2010 when I walked into the 400-square-foot studio apartment my dad had finally been able to afford for a short while and asking him,
'This is all ours?'
We lived like kings those few months."
"I used to sell 'services' to random guys which helped me get out of being homeless after a few months. I'm not gay but I was desperate to get out of my predicament and did what I had to. I'm a pretty feminine looking man when I had long hair and that attracted a lot of old men, lonely men, just randoms. Never really had problems with other homeless people because I stayed in a local city shelter at night and had to leave during day time. Hanging around convenience stores and parking lots where they have game rooms (slot machine rooms) is where I got most of my clients. Most of them were chill. Get what they want and leave. Some were crazy. One guy, in particular, wanted me to stay at his place overnight and spend the next day with him for a $1000. I decided cool and we went to his house. The guy had what I can describe is like a torture sex dungeon in his garage. He had some type of black filament with egg cartons all over the walls and BDSM type stuff lying around. I decided it wasn't a good idea and said I changed my mind but he wouldn't let me leave. We were yelling back and forth and he punched me in the collar bone. It didn't hurt probably because of adrenaline. I used to do Kyokushin Karate as a kid/teenager so after he hit me, I kicked him as hard as I could in the balls and kneed him in the temple and ran out the house. I ran from block to block hiding because I was afraid he would try to kidnap me or call the cops. I never saw the guy again even after going back to the spots I always hang out at. I eventually made enough money to get an apartment and eventually a logistics job for a supply chain."
"The pain of carrying your life with you everywhere you go.
My experience is not the 'regular' homeless experience as I quickly got the chance to live in a shelter for the homeless.
I was also lucky to have a suitcase to carry my stuff around, but imagine how heavy and tiring it is to constantly have to carry every single thing you own all day, every day. And the terror of being robbed of it was crushing. It also makes everything much slower and more difficult; imagine having to walk back and forth to many administrations, to the charity to eat, then to a place to sleep, while carrying what amounts to a dead horse. It sucks the life out of you."
"When I was 17 I was homeless. There was a gazebo in the park that had a trap door in it. Under the gazebo was a room filled with chairs for when performances were put on. I used to sleep down there. I always feared someone would come along and put a lock on the trap door while I was sleeping. I ended up meeting some people by chance that had been friends of my older brother's years prior. They offered me a room and I moved in there. Unfortunately, as these stories go, it didn't go well as they were drug dealers. My family wasn't aware of my situation as I lived in a different city. My father came and picked me up to go to my parent's new place for Christmas and I was offered to move back in with them. I returned home after Christmas to someone doing cocaine in my room and about a month later I accepted his offer. I'm 5'11 and was 120 lbs when I moved back home. I survived by asking people for quarters to make a phone call and using that to buy Mr. Noodles (Canadian Ramen) and I took advantage of my high school having 1 free oatmeal packet per student that wanted one every morning. Most people don't get as lucky as I did. You don't know how cold a Canadian Winter can get until you spend it sleeping on benches, empty ice shacks, under gazebos and one I don't admit to people in person: I spent most nights curled up inside a doghouse of a family that didn't have a dog anymore. It had a door that closed and I could wedge it to stay closed at night and it was insulated. I could fit my entire body curled up inside my jacket."
"While I was briefly homeless I spent my nights in graveyards for obvious reasons and I was thankfully never bothered.
Funny enough, while being a car bum in my late teens, I felt even less safe. I was bothered on 3 separate occasions where I had random people knock on my windows, write 'Clamped' on the side of my car in the dust and the worst was a night when I woke up to see someone just staring at me from the driver side window. It was only for maybe 10-15 seconds but it felt like an eternity, I just froze and eventually, they went away. It doesn't really need to be said but just leave people alone, they already have things bad enough as it is."
"I was homeless short term (about two months) and was fortunate enough to have a vehicle and a minimum wage job, so my experience wasn't nearly as bad as some. The scariest part for me was being an 18-year-old who didn't know her way around too well and trying to find a semi safe place to park for the night. I'd wake up every few hours to go move my car to another place to try to avoid suspicious vehicle reports. The scariest moment was about 2 am in a Lowe's parking lot. I woke up to someone parked in front of me with their brights shining right into my windshield. I didn't know what to do, so I just huddled further down and pulled a blanket over my head and hoped for the best. Thankfully nothing came of it. Since then I've realized that a lot of the places I stayed were in really bad areas. I'm extremely lucky nothing happened to me. I'd say next to that, the scariest part was trying to stay clean enough to work/go to school. I was always fearful someone would come into one of the public restrooms while I was washing my hair in the sink. It happened once - I was cornered by a couple of women who came in and wanted to know why I was washing my hair, if I was alone, etc. I had to literally duck between them to get out. Ran like mad with my head full of hand soap. I don't know if they were well intentioned or not, but it was terrifying. Not good times."
"My family was homeless for about 3 months when I was 14, so I only have a kid's perspective.
Long story short: My crackhead sister fooled my parents into moving into her crack hut with her and her family and things just plummeted immediately from there. My sister somehow managed to get access to my parents' bank account and drained their checking and savings account. My parents had absolutely no money. Stuff went down and my sister and her husband kicked us out of the house. My parents weren't on the lease so we had to leave.
Hardly any money, we didn't know anyone else, so we went to a motel and that was where we were for 3 months. It's not necessarily on the streets, but there's still that sense of unknown and fear you won't get out of your current situation. And it was hard because motels cost money as well, so my parents were probably paying about $400 a week to stay in a motel which was probably a third of their weekly income combined. All the while struggling to save up for the down payment on a house, feed me (and eventually 4 kids - my sister's kids), and more. Being a kid and having no control over my situation and the unknown was the scariest part. I was worried my parents would be at risk of having me taken away because they weren't providing enough for me (I didn't resent them by the way, they were doing what they could). Or worse, I was worried eventually we wouldn't be able to afford to stay in a motel.
It was also embarrassing. Our old apartment wasn't too far from the motel we were staying in, so I went back to taking my usual bus home from school. The bus stopped right in front of the motel, so I'd awkwardly stand around and wait for the other kids to walk home before turning around and going into the motel."
"The thought that someone would find your camp and ruin your stuff was a real concern. Also just finding somewhere to sleep that is secure. One morning, early, I was sleeping in an abandoned warehouse up a set of stairs nearly in the rafters and was woken by 4 raccoons like 4 feet from me eating my bag. Having to crap in the middle of the night is also awful.
Being homeless is only scary for a couple of days. There's depression and boredom that are your real enemies. Your body and mind go into a sort of hyper survival mode and there is no room for fear."
"Was homeless for just over three months. I basically spent years taking advantage of family and friend's love and generosity in various ways. Finally went into a period of self-loathing and depression that spiraled into suicidal thoughts. My family had me committed to a mental hospital thankfully but were not comfortable with having me living with them again. They made sure I was set up with a place to stay in the shelter and stayed in contact but did not give me any chance to go back to my old ways.
Most homeless in my experience are very good people. Good people with problems like drug addiction and mental disorders that have gone untreated. However, there were a few exceptions.
The shelter I stayed in required that you worked to help maintain the building and grounds as well as assisting in meal preparation and clean up in the evening. Breakfast and lunch were provided at a charity diner just down the street and the regulars at the shelter took turns working there as well.
It was at this separate diner that I met most of the really dangerous homeless who had either worn out their welcome at the shelter or simply didn't want to follow anyone else's rules. These people are always working an angle, always trying to get one over on someone else. They are also very easily insulted to the point of rage and should be avoided at all cost.
I did my best to avoid them, and those three months totally changed me from the selfish person I was to the person I am today. "
"I had really bad PTSD after Vietnam, and I spent about 4 years basically homeless. The thing that got to me the most was the total lack of any kind of privacy. I looked for places to hide, but I never felt really safe. The constant vulnerability just seemed to build and build it was really hard to maintain any sense of feeling or acting like a normal human being."
"The thing is, being a girl (I was 15/16) made it more likely that a guy would be willing to give me his couch for the night. Unfortunately, that generosity came with a statistical likelihood that some rapey stuff was probably going to happen. So the choice of 'Do I risk putting myself in a potentially rapey situation, or just go out in the woods and find a secluded place to lay my head for 5 hours' wasn't really as cut and dry as my homeless male counterparts used to think. 9 times out of 10, I'd just choose the woods."
"One of the times I was homeless my girl didn't want me sleeping outside that night so I slept with her in her car at Walmart. Some jerk parked next to us at like 2 or 3 am and started talking on the phone very, very loudly. He was making fun of us non-stop to whoever he was talking to and bragging about how he had his life together and we clearly didn't. That's the PG version. I was too embarrassed and since we were in a lit parking lot I just bit my tongue and more or less cried myself to sleep."
"No real safe place. When you have no home, you have nowhere to hide or run to when you're in trouble.
I lived in a mix of cars, a van, and on the streets themselves for around a year in my teens. One night when I was sleeping in the back of my van (which had a broken door so it couldn't lock) one of the other street workers ripped open my door and started threatening me and demanding I give her the money I'd made that night. I said I hadn't worked that night so had no money and that got her to go away long enough for me to leave my van unnoticed.
But then there was nowhere to go. It was the middle of the night, there was someone who wanted to beat me up and rob me (she'd already given me a smack and taken money off me before 'cause I'm not a fighter at all and she was much bigger and tougher), and there was no one who cared or could help. It's a pretty tough thing to deal with. You really feel alone, completely separate from society, like you're not on the same level as other people.
I eventually ended up finding a 24-hour internet cafe and the workers let me hang out in there all night.
And the next day, I still had to go back to my van."