Homelessness is not for the lazy. It's a full time job. It requires organization, planning, survival skills. Everything you need--your papers, your clothes, your drinking water, cleaning and grooming products-- has to fit in that suitcase on wheels or backpack you drag around. Your whole world, in a backpack. You'd better know who you can trust. One mistake can cost you everything. Even your life. Where will you sleep tonight--in your car? Do you have safe place to park where you won't be noticed by the wrong people; where you won't be arrested, ticketed, or robbed?
Maybe you don't have a car, but you do have friends who will let you crash on their couch for a week or two, and use their shower. That's something. If not, there are drop in shelters in some cities where you can sleep in chairs, and get in line for the shower. Your back will hurt after a night sleeping on those plastic chairs. Keep your belongings close to you. Some people can be trusted; others not so much.
What's for dinner when you have no refrigerator, no place to cook? Street food, grocery store take out, fast food, health food deli? In some cities, a group of civic minded activists known as Food Not Bombs will share delicious, nutritious and free vegan meals with the homeless and the hungry--when they're not getting arrested, that is. Wherever you spend your food dollars, choose wisely, and watch your expenses. How do you brush your teeth before you go to sleep? Keep a toothbrush is in a plastic tube or baggie in your backpack. Rinse your mouth with bottled water, rinse tooth brush with it too. Don't use too much. You'll need more of that bottled water for drinking. Gallons are too heavy to carry around. You can refill your bottle at the water cooler in the drop in shelter--if you're in the city. Or at Whole Foods, when the store is open.
You have to know these things: where to get clean water,which stores have open bathrooms, shortest lines.
After a few nights sleeping with one eye open, your health begins to slide. Fatigue is constant, so is stress. Maybe you look for work on the Internet, or fill out applications in person. Maybe you manage to get a shower and put on clean clothes and hide the fact that you have no permanent home from others. If you don't have work or an unemployment check or a disability check or savings you're blowing through...you have to get money somehow, someway. Sell newspapers on the street? Panhandle? Play music for donations? Factory day labor?
The Urban coffee cup hustle. You find a piece of public sidewalk, set a plastic crate or a blanket down on the spot and make it your own. Sometimes you hold a cardboard sign saying; "Homeless hungry--please help" or words to that effect. In the South, these signs often end with the words "God bless..."
Some homeless persons sell things they make--like small paintings, or objects woven from palm leaves. At the end of the homeless person's day, you might eat, you might rent a hotel room for the night, but you will most likely never earn enough from the coffee cup hustle to put a deposit on an apartment. And so the cycle continues. Every day. Find money, stay alive, find bathrooms, get food, find safe place to sleep and get clean.
If there are "free clinics" you will find out about them from other homeless people. If you're a homeless woman, you will sooner or later team up with a partner for protection. If you're a homeless woman, you will probably dress more like a man, wear baggy clothes, for camouflage and for safety reasons.
Lockers-- like rooming houses, aren't easy to find, and they're not cheap anymore. You can rent a small storage unit for $40-50 per month. Gym lockers are usually temporary--when you leave the gym, you take your stuff with you. But there are some gyms that will rent you a permanent locker for a monthly fee, although these are quite small. Still, if you can handle, it a gym membership is a good investment for a homeless person. There you have access to a shower, clean towels, and a way to strengthen your muscles for all the stuff you carry around all day.
There is much more to this, and I'll continue to add to this post. What it comes down to is this: the homeless life is not for creampuffs. To survive, you have to think on your feet, and outside the box. You have to create your own "safety net;" you have to throw away all the non essentials, and hold on to what really matters--and know the difference.
There have been a lot of end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it movies lately--2012, The Road, Book of Eli--are just a few. In these movies, Wall Street banksters, celebrities and corrupt politicians are not the heroes. They're not even minor characters.
There have also been a lot of real life disasters lately: Japan, Haiti, N.O. tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, blizzards, droughts, financial meltdowns, tsunamis, record high unemployment. They seem to happen more often, and closer together.
The people who are already used to living under disaster conditions every day will weather the "big one" when it comes. The people most likely to succeed? The homeless--many of them former soldiers.