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Homeless: How to Survive While Living in Your Car

Sam is certified in optimal nutrition from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and enjoys writing about health and healing.

Couples can help each other get through a homeless crisis.

Couples can help each other get through a homeless crisis.

It's Not Hard to Become Homeless

The term "homeless" conjures up all sorts of thoughts and opinions. Many think that people are homeless just because they are alcoholics or drug addicts, and that is not true. Ever since the Great Recession started in 2008, more Americans have become worried about losing their jobs and becoming homeless.

Many of the homeless today are couples or families that have lost their jobs and their homes. How many Americans are actually homeless is hard to count since there are different definitions. Most cities count only those that stay in shelters and transitional housing as being homeless.

But there are hundreds of thousands of Americans that are homeless staying with friends, living in motels or living in their car. Since the recession started, 3.5 million Americans per year were homeless at some point, and 35% of those were families.

With low-wage jobs and skyrocketing rental prices, it is hard to save money, let alone pay all of your bills. Problems like a job loss, losing unemployment benefits, or your landlord having financial trouble can cause people to become homeless. For many Americans, there is a fine line between having a roof over their head and becoming homeless.

This situation happened to me several years ago due to the landlord getting into financial trouble with his rental houses and being unable to give our deposit back. With few rental houses available and those few costing too much, it was a dismal situation.

We did end up living in the car for six weeks. During this time we learned many tips that can help anyone survive being homeless until you find a new home.

Your local church can be a great resource if you're struggling with homelessness.

Your local church can be a great resource if you're struggling with homelessness.

Before Becoming Homeless

If your situation involves a landlord and an eviction, explore all legal possibilities. You can call free legal aid in your community or talk to a lawyer that offers a free consultation. This way, you will know exactly where you stand and what your legal rights are as far as getting your deposit back right away.

If you think you are in danger of becoming homeless, there are some things you can do to prepare. Call government agencies in your city to find out exactly how they can help before you need help. These agencies will usually help those with children first.

Most if not all shelters are for women only or men only, so if you need a shelter, you will most likely be split up for the night. And there are very few shelters that can take dogs, so consider living in your car for awhile.

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Call your neighborhood churches and see if they can help. I found that some of the churches in the area were extremely friendly and helpful. It doesn’t matter what your faith is, they never asked and they never expected anything in return.

If you think you are about to become homeless, make a list of helpful phone numbers of government agencies, friends and neighborhood churches and keep this list handy at all times. Before you are actually homeless, call everyone on this list to find places you might be able to stay, including motels, their prices and if they take pets.

Try to buy canned goods with pull tops, but always have a good can opener handy.

Try to buy canned goods with pull tops, but always have a good can opener handy.

Homeless Survival Tools

If it does look like you will have to move from your home and be homeless for a short time, there are a few things that can help you get by easier.

  • Warm blankets that are not overly big since you will need to fold them and store them every day. If this happens during the winter, you should get thermal underwear and several Mylar blankets in addition to warm blankets.
  • A good can opener is a must, because a cheap bad can opener is miserable to use. If you buy canned soups and food to eat while living in the car, buy the cans with the pull tops.
  • Plastic containers to eat food out of and plastic silverware. You will most likely not buy fast food to eat while living in the car. Most churches have food pantries, and you will be able to get all types of canned foods and soups.
  • Bottled water is helpful and you can always refill the water bottles in a bathroom or at a drinking fountain.
  • Put the clothes you will need the most in separate bags, it makes it easier to change and do laundry.
  • Don’t forget small but important items like the cellphone chargers.
Try to find a safe, quiet place to park overnight.

Try to find a safe, quiet place to park overnight.

How to Survive Being Homeless Tips

If you become homeless and have to live in your car, the following tips can help you survive.

  • Your car will become your home for awhile and the first thing you should do is find a place to park overnight. Many cities do not allow overnight street parking. Call the churches in your area and tell them of your situation. Many churches will let you park in their parking lots overnight. No one should bother you there.
  • Get to know the people at local churches—they can be very supportive.
  • If you are in need of food, most churches have a food pantry, and some churches have weekly dinners.
  • You can use the internet at your local library and charge your cellphone at the same time.
  • You can take showers at a YMCA and or a fitness center. You might have to buy a day pass.
  • If you need to heat food, many convenience stores and grocery stores have microwaves you can use.
  • You can continue to work even while living in your car and save your paychecks until you find a new home.
  • Try to not get wet, especially during colder months.
  • If you need to use the car heater, remember to crack a window open.
  • Try not to appear homeless. Never drink alcohol because others will smell it and be less likely to help you. Stay as neat and clean as possible.
  • Avoid places where homeless hang out. Many of them will be drug addicts or alcoholics and the police are very aware of these places. The last thing you need is to get involved with the wrong type of people.
You can take showers at your local YMCA.

You can take showers at your local YMCA.

Working While Homeless

If you have a job during this time, it is imperative that you continue to work while living in your car. Saving money is important—most likely, you are homeless due to a financial problem, and it's amazing how much money you can save while living in your car. The more you save, the quicker you can find a new home.

Preparation and Common Sense

If you find yourself in the terrible situation of being homeless and living in your car, you will be amazed at how many people will help you. With a little faith, being prepared and using common sense, you can survive being homeless while living in your car until you find a new home.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2014 Sam Montana

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