Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
It’s hard not to look down on homeless people. Even if you’re a compassionate person who gives to charity, you probably feel uncomfortable when a homeless person approaches you and asks for change. In the back of your mind, you can’t help but wonder, what is wrong with this person that made him or her end up without a place to live?
Of course, that’s very unfair. Yes, some homeless people are just plain lazy, but there are many who simply had a long string of bad luck and no one to help them out. And ironically, in a major disaster such as an economic collapse, they would actually fare better than the average person.
If you find yourself in an urban survival scenario that forces you onto the streets, you might find yourself turning to other homeless people for advice. After all, they’ve been doing it for years. They must have learned a thing or two about how to survive.
But instead of waiting until you’re on the streets to learn from the homeless, why not start learning now? Here are some urban survival tips we can learn from them.
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1. Dress In Layers
Homeless people know a thing or two about staying warm, as many of them have to sleep outside when it’s incredibly cold and snowing outside. A common strategy they use, which is very applicable to survival situations, is to dress in layers.
The first layer is the layer in direct contact with your skin, the second layer is the insulation layer (or the layer designed to keep you warm), and the third layer is the shell layer, or the layer designed to protect you from the wind and the rain and snow.
If you don’t have enough clothes for three layers, use plastic, cardboard, and especially newspapers, which brings me to the next tip…
2. Use Newspapers
In addition to insulation, newspapers have a wide variety of important survival uses. For example, you can use newspapers as shelter, as a sheet, as a pillow, as toilet paper, and most importantly, as fuel for a fire.
Unfortunately, there aren’t as many newspapers out there as there used to be, but you could also use junk mail, circulars, and old phone books for these purposes.
3. Use Water Bottles
Another tactic that the homeless may use to stay warm is to place hot water bottles into their clothes as they walk, or to surround themselves with hot water before they go to sleep.
Now obviously, as a homeless person, you won’t have access to tap water and a water heater. However, you could still heat water in a tin pot over a small fire or trash can fire, then pour that water into your bottles. As a last resort, you could urinate in a bottle and keep it in your pocket until it’s not warm anymore.
4. Sleep Near Other Homeless People
It might seem dangerous to encroach on the territory of other homeless people, and there is some risk involved, but it could be even more dangerous to sleep completely alone. Bad guys are less likely to rob or attack you when there are witnesses around. But if you’re by yourself, who knows what might happen?
That’s why you’re better off sleeping in an area where other homeless people sleep. If a lot of them sleep in a particular park, alley, or abandoned lot or building, it’s probably because it’s a fairly safe area that the police ignore.
But don’t wait until the last minute to go to this area and sleep. Instead, go there during the daytime and chat up a few homeless people. Share your story, and listen to theirs. If you can make a friend or two, you’re more likely to be left alone.
5. Be Ready To Leave
Homeless people are also constantly on the go and rarely stay in one place for long. They may be forced to leave if a homeless group or law enforcement kicks them out of the area where they are staying.
In an urban survival situation, chances are very good that you’ll be constantly on the move as well, and you may not get to stay in one location for more than a few days. Besides being forced to leave by the cops, you may also be forced to leave by an angry mob if a major crisis is unfolding.
So don’t leave your things all spread out. Unless you’re using something, it should be in your bag, and your bag should always be on your back, even when you’re sleeping. This will ensure that you can stand up and leave right away. That’s why you also need to…
6. Pack Wisely
In order to keep everything you have in your pockets and your bag, you’ll have to pack light. Don’t carry anything you don’t actually use on a regular basis. That’s why I recommend carrying multipurpose items such as bandanas, plastic bags, paperclips, and so forth. All of these can be used for many different things, which means you won’t have to carry as many items.
7. Don’t Fight Anyone
Are self-defense skills something that you should be learning? Absolutely. But the most valuable self-defense tip is really to learn how to avoid a conflict to begin with.
Take note that even the smallest of injuries will need to be treated with the strictest of attention in a survival situation. A simple cut or scrape may seem like something minor, but if an infection sets in, it could result in serious complications.
Another problem with getting in a fight in a densely urbanized area is it’s almost certain to attract unwanted attention. Specifically, you could attract attention that is not on your side, in which case you are likely to end up with more than just a few cuts and bruises.
8. Consider A Dog
It’s not an uncommon sight to see homeless people with canine friends. But the truth is that dogs have many legitimate uses not only for homeless people but also in an urban survival disaster.
Besides offering you badly needed companionship, dogs are also good for protecting you against those who would seek to harm you. Also, they can help keep you warm when you’re sleeping.
9. Carry First Aid Supplies
As I said, a cut or scrape could lead to an infection. So in case you do get hurt, carry some Bandaids antibiotic ointment with you. It doesn’t cost much, and it could literally save your life.
Another tip is to wear sunscreen if you know you’re going to be in the sun all day. A sunburn could also lead to open wounds that get infected. Make sure that doesn’t happen.
10. Blend In With The Crowd
It’s not exactly a well-known fact, but homeless people tend to be very skilled at blending in with their surroundings. There’s a reason why they are often referred to as the Invisible Population here in the United States.
They dress just like most people in the crowd, they move in the direction of the crowd and never against it, and they avoid making eye contact with people. Being a gray man is not exactly easy, but it can go a long way to help you avoid detection by criminals and law enforcement.
One of the best ways to blend in is to keep a clean look. Use public bathrooms to shave and clean yourself up as much as possible. People are also likely to treat you better if you look more presentable. One way to keep clean is to…
11. Use Baking Soda
Personal hygiene and sanitation is perhaps one of the most overlooked subjects when it comes to survival. Sanitation standards are not going to be good out on the streets, to say the least, and you’re going to need to take action to keep yourself clean so you don’t get sick.
One of the most important personal hygiene items of all time is baking soda. When mixed with water, it can be used for anything from soap to deodorant to shampoo to toothpaste and so on. What’s more, it’s incredibly cheap, and can be bought for less than one dollar at most stores.
12. Don’t Eat Just Anything
If you’re hungry enough, it might be tempting to eat food out of the trash, but you risk getting food poisoning if you do that. If you’re forced to either eat discarded food or starve, choose things that don’t go bad as easily. That means foods that don’t have meat or dairy in them and are mostly made up of sugar and carbs. For example, leftover candy or chips will probably safe to eat.
But on that note, you don’t want to just live on candy and chips. They are empty calories that will leave you feeling hungry, and they don’t have the nutrients your body needs to function properly. Living on junk food like that will cause your health to decline rapidly, making it even harder to survive.
If you can gather some change, buy foods like beef jerky, trail mix, granola bars, and other foods that have plenty of fat and protein in addition to carbohydrates.
13. Control Your Emotions
Last but not least, another hugely overlooked aspect of survival is controlling your emotions. You’re going to be desperate, and hope is going to be in short supply.
Homeless people are confronted with the exact same thing every day. They don’t know where they’re going to eat, where they are going to sleep, or even where they’re going to go the very next day. And yet they don’t let their emotions get the better of them. If they did, they wouldn’t stay alive for as long as they have.
Instead, what you need to do is to control your emotions and use your head. Replace anger, depression, hopelessness, and desperation with logic, reasoning, and hope. Positive thinking never hurts either, no matter how bad the situation may seem to you.
Every time a negative thought enters your mind, stop it in its tracks and replace it with an optimistic thought or focus on the task at hand. As the author of the blog, Guide2Homelessness wrote, “There is nothing so bad that it will not pass.”
As you can see, there are many important tips for urban survival that you can learn from those who are homeless. In any grid-down urbanized disaster that strikes your city, these tips will be to your benefit.
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