Unwritten Rules for Being Homeless

There but for the grace of…

Imagine that during the pandemic you lost your slightly better than minimum wage job; what little savings you had were soon used up trying to pay the rent and feed yourself. You lack local family support. Spokane property values skyrocketed, your landlord raised the rent by twenty percent, you couldn’t keep up and were evicted from your one-room apartment (or you simply saw no alternative but to leave). You have some basic camping equipment you can put in your car (which barely runs and you cannot afford to fix). You have a sleeping bag, some extra clothing, a few canned goods—and no place to sleep except your car—which stands out as an eyesore on any residential street. You are homeless, but you’ve still got some of the basics of life, stuff to which you understandably cling, stuff you don’t know how you would replace if it were taken from you—and you have no place to safely store any of it. 

You dare not view the police as being on your side. You cannot expect help from them if your stuff is stolen or you’re beaten or injured by someone else on the street. 

If you still have or can find employment life how will you manage? Can you afford a cell phone? If not, how does anyone contact you to offer you an extra work shift? You have no postal address to receive official mail, like a W-2. All those routine things of life that were fairly simple when you had a little money and your small apartment—those things are difficult and time consuming: personal hygiene, washing and drying clothes, obtaining and preparing food. If you have a job where do you store the stuff on which you feel your life depends? 

In this scenario you certainly wouldn’t find yourself “too comfortable”—as Mayor Woodward seems to think you might be. After all, “too comfortable” must be avoided so as not to “enable” you to continue to enjoy(?) this lifestyle. 

What are your alternatives to trying to hold on by parking your dilapidated vehicle or pitching your tent in some out-of-the-way place? There you might be able to guard or at least hide your stuff for a while before you’re told to move on—or your car is towed or your tent and belongings thrown in a dumpster by the city while you’re out trying to find a job or something to eat. 

Now let’s say the city is offering you a cot at the new Trent shelter side by side with a throng of homeless folks, people who might be mentally unstable, people who might steal what few belongings you’ve been allowed to retain, people with whom you feel you must be on your guard at all times. 

You may have to abandon much of what little you still have upon entering a one-size-fits-all shelter space with people you neither know nor trust, all in the hope of being connected with “services” that might get you on a three year waiting list for “affordable” housing. Or you could struggle to live and keep guarding your stuff on the street. Or you could seek both a place and a social network at Camp Hope, the current, relatively stable camp of over 400 souls in tents, campers, and RVs on Department of Transportation land near Freya and I-90 in Spokane. 

Here is a question I’ve not heard anyone else express: Imagine the Trent shelter is up and running and offering “low barrier” beds that many of the currently homeless are, for many and varied reasons, still unwilling to occupy—except in the worst weather. Once those cots are available and not occupied (regardless of the number of beds being wholly insufficient to house everyone currently homeless), will Mayor Woodward and her allies in parts of the business community use that lack of occupancy as an excuse to dismantle and, thereby, disperse Camp Hope? Is that the unspoken plan? Is that the reason the Mayor Woodward seems resistant to considering multiple alternatives like pallet shelters (aggregated, single room, lockable shelters), camp sites, car and RV parks, and the like that might serve the broader and diverse needs of the diverse community rendered homeless by circumstance?

Below is an article from Buzzfeed that re-opened a window for me on some of the heart-rending and unsettling challenges homeless people face. 

Some of my readers may be tempted (as I have been—at times) to dismiss homeless people for having made “poor choices” in life, implying that they deserve to be punished and made more uncomfortable—as the supposed necessary motivation to better themselves. Homelessness may be complicated in any number of ways: add an ill or disabled family member or friend, or a beloved pet to the story, for example, and life becomes even more complicated and challenging. 

This one-size-fits-all shelter of Mayor Woodward’s may be a worthwhile start. Declaring the problem solved and dispersing the residents of Camp Hope throughout the city, if that’s where we are headed, is not a solution.

Keep to the high ground,


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

by Stephen LaConte, BuzzFeed Staff Mar 13, 2022

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.

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.

So here are 26 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.”


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.”


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.”


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.”


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.”


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.”


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.”


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.”


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.”


You can read the full thread of responses on Reddit.

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