People Who’ve Been Homeless Are Sharing The Unwritten Rules They Followed To Survive, And It’s A Must-Read


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People who experience homelessness face countless obstacles just to get their basic needs met. Everyday necessities like food, hygiene, and sleep become much more complicated without housing.

someone sleeps under blankets and next to a shopping cart filled with items on a street
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Well, a viral Reddit thread from user u/hayz00s once asked people who’ve been homeless to share the unwritten rules they had to follow in order to get by. Their responses were eye-opening, heartbreaking, and a critical reminder to help the people who are unhoused in your city.

a row of tents line the sidewalk
Sycikimagery / Getty Images

So here are 27 unwritten rules of being homeless, according to people who’ve actually lived it:

1.”When dumpster diving, if you find a pair of shoes or clothes and they are not your size, then leave them neatly by the side of the dumpster for the next diver.”


2.”Don’t beg on someone’s corner if they are already there.”


3.”Find a group of people you can trust (not easy to do) and stick with them.”


someone looking through a dumpster
Mykola Churpita / Getty Images/iStockphoto

4.”Share what you have with your group. What goes around comes around. If there is a group of you, each person can stand on a different corner to beg and make far more than you would by yourself.”


5.”Look out for each other and be good to each other. We’re all struggling, so let’s make it as good as we can for each other. When I was homeless we paid for each other’s food, clothes, and any other essentials if one was truly in need.”


6.”The big one I remember is that you always take off your shoes when you sleep. And if you sleep outside, sleep on top of your bag and tuck your shoes under it. Sometimes my bag was way too packed to pull that off comfortably, but people would take your shoes. Just to fuck with you.”


a pair of worn shoes on the street
Natasha Jenkins / Getty Images/EyeEm

7.”Sleep with your valuables at your feet in your sleeping bag. If you don’t have a sleeping bag, put them in your backpack, and use your backpack as a pillow if possible, with one arm through one strap.”


8.”Sleep with your phone by your balls so if someone tries to rob you whilst you sleep, they can’t find your phone.”


9.”If you find a friend, make sure one watches while one sleeps.”


someone sleeps outside on the street with cardboard and a cup next to them
Elvin Quinones / Getty Images

10.”Respect your elders, aka don’t fuck with the old-timers.”


11.”If you’re trying to run away from good parents, and are underage, we will make sure the police find you. Kid was 15, and after talking with his friends, we heard no reason for him to be running away (teenage angst). Made sure the police took him home, and left my cell phone number in case he ran away again.”


12.”Try and keep your socks clean. A fresh pair of socks go a loooooooooong way.”


pair of socks hanging from a clothes hanger
Fadyukhin / Getty Images

13.”On raining/snowy nights, a ticket for trespassing is better than being found dead in the morning.”


14.”Even if you’re not religious, if a religious family offers you a place to stay (sometimes ‘if you go to church with us,’ but not always), don’t turn it down.”


15.”Just because I was homeless, that didn’t mean I didn’t work two jobs. Would work about 56 hours a week at a gas station between 2 stores, and then did the usual selling papers on the streets in the morning.”


someone counting a handful of bills
Juanmonino / Getty Images

16.”No one’s pressing charges or calling the cops. If you get into a fight with someone, it’s all he said, she said bullshit. Everyone takes it, and conflicts resolve themselves. Everyone you’re around is homeless, you gotta stay in that shelter with them every night, you’ll share the same public spaces that everyone who’s homeless has to. You don’t have a choice. Keep to yourself, don’t mouth off, don’t fuck with anyone else, or you’ll get fucked with.”


17.”Hygiene!!!! Clean all of it. Clean. Clean. Find all shelters, soup kitchens, churches, mental health associations, and libraries. Most of those places hand out soap, toothbrushes, and hygienic shit. Use it. Wash your clothing any way you can.”


18.”For my family, I remember that we would go to the library every day for several hours at a time. It’s a place where extended stays aren’t particularly unusual. Additionally, you have AC/heat, internet/computer access, water fountains, bathrooms, lounge chairs, and nearly endless educating vessels surrounding you in the form of books. TL;DR: If you’re ever homeless, go to the library.”


someone hiding their face behind a book at a library
Shestock / Getty Images/Tetra images RF

19.”Most people don’t want to acknowledge you exist. I’d say don’t get frustrated with that, but it gets old really fast. Just find a way to make your day a little brighter. And be careful with what people give you. There’s a lot of assholes out there.”


20.”Cops hate the homeless, stay away. Mental health agencies are a gamble; if you actually have issues, they may report you to police. If you don’t, they still might report you to police. Most homeless take advantage of the free resources offered by these agencies, so they go to them, but they are often bad news. Just take the resources and run.”


21.”Regardless of what the police say, no, you’re not going to get your things back. Oh, and don’t argue with them. They’ll beat the crap out of you for no reason in a lot of cases because you don’t have anybody standing up for you politically. So expect to be woken up really early, randomly, and be searched and then told to move.”


a police car
Alessandro Giorgi Art Photograph / Getty Images

22.”Protect your identity. Don’t sell your ID. Seriously, some people want it.”


23.”If you’re female and it’s late fall/winter/early spring, wear a mens padded jacket, sneakers, sweat pants, and a woolen hat. Make yourself as masculine as possible. Don’t sleep on roadsides or alleyways; find a rooftop with somewhat of a difficult entrance to navigate. Always give the illusion that you’re a small man or young boy. You’ll be left alone more.”


24.”People see what they perceive to be a homeless young female, and they think drugs and mental illness. They also think victim and sexually exploitable. For this reason, you must do all you can to not appear homeless.”


someone sitting on stairs with their head behind their arms
Pixelfit / Getty Images

25.”Get a gym membership. Sounds nutty, but 24-hour available showers, exercise, and a place to charge your phone away from work is always welcome.”


And finally…

26.”For food, I figured out the times bakeries threw away the day’s sandwiches. Thirty minutes after they had thrown a trash bag full of still-fresh sandwiches and cakes in the dumpster, I was unsealing the bag and having a feast on a rooftop somewhere.”


dumpster full of trash bags
Wachira Wacharapathom / Getty Images/iStockphoto

You can read the full thread of responses on Reddit.

Note: Some responses have been edited for length and/or clarity.

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