How to Survive in a Homeless Shelter

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If you were to ever find yourself homeless, you may be wondering how to survive in a homeless shelter. Those who are homeless feel fortunate to be in a shelter away from the elements. There is no judgment from me when someone finds themselves in a predicament like this one.

Since I’m all about prepping, I want to teach you how to prep for a scenario you hope you never have to face. 

Mark and I were driving in downtown St. George, Utah, and noticed what appeared to be a homeless man. It was about 8:00 A.M. and he was sleeping on a bench with a table at an ice cream restaurant.

He had a small backpack on his back and it was quite obvious he was not a student at the university in town or a hiker with his supplies. I drove by wondering what his life story may be. Karilyn, a reader mentioned everyone who goes to a homeless shelter must have an ID (Identification) on them. It makes sense. Great tip!

How to Survive in a Homeless Shelter

Surviving a Homeless Shelter

Keep in mind that there are at least four types of homelessness. It’s really hard to fathom what it’s like to be homeless, and I’m not going to pretend to. However, if you ever find yourself in a bind and need more info, I wanted to have the research ready for those who need it. Here is a list of the types of homelessness: 

  • Hidden homelessness: a lot of times, someone you know can be homeless and you have no idea. 
  • Transitional homelessness: when you are in-between places of living. Someone might be looking for a new place to live, while they start a new job. 
  • Chronic homelessness: this is when a homeless person may experience being without a home for more than a year. 
  • Episodic homelessness: Not everyone is homeless consecutively. This type of homelessness is when a person is homeless more than three times in one year. 

#1. Stay Focused on Yourself

When you are in a new place like a homeless shelter, it may be interesting to watch and focus on others. One of the best things you can do, when in a homeless shelter, is to stay focused on yourself.

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While you may have good intentions, not everyone in a homeless shelter does. As nice as it will be to try and make friends, this isn’t necessarily the place to do it. 

#2. Don’t Bring Your Nice Stuff With You

Try your hardest to leave all of your nice belongings with someone else. Anything you have that could be worth money has the potential to be stolen. I’m not being mean when I say this.

If you have something a stranger wants, they will take it if they can. It’s best to come to the homeless shelter with nothing valuable. If you don’t have a choice but to bring it with you, make sure you hide it or ask the shelter management if they have a safe place to store things. 

#3. Get In Touch with Family, If You Can

If you can get in touch with your friends and family, do it. Someone must know where you are at all times. If for some reason the homeless shelter does not have a way for you to communicate, then head to your local library for access to a computer.

Your library may be within walking distance. Figure out how to get there and get in touch with anyone you think may care. 

#4. Check For Local Resources

When you are in a homeless shelter, you most likely will have access to resources. As soon as you’re able, check for local resources and see what kind of help you can get.

Any kind of help you can get at this point is important. Try to be patient though because there are a lot of people who need help too. The Salvation Army is one of the largest places that tries to help the homeless. Homeless Shelter Resources

#5. Don’t Stay Too Long

I have talked to several people who have lived in homeless shelters. The best advice that they have is to not stay too long. If you can get out of the homeless shelter ASAP then do so. As soon as you can get out, do it. Work as hard as you can to move into a rented room, or possibly with family or friends and away from the homeless shelter.

Go from a rented room to an apartment, and so on. You can do this! Some people seem to think that the longer you stay in a homeless shelter, the harder it is to get out. I don’t know if this is true or not, but this seems like really good advice. 

How Long Can You Live in a Homeless Shelter?

While you may want to learn how to survive in a homeless shelter, you may be wondering how long you can live in one. This truly depends on the shelter and your situation.

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Some shelters will allow you to stay 3-5 days and other shelters will allow you to stay up to 30 days. Sometimes your case can be extended depending on your situation. 

What Items Do Homeless People Need Most?

How to Survive in a Homeless Shelter

As you pass a homeless person on the street, you may be wondering what they need most. Mark and I put several dozen of these together for the homeless in Southern Utah via a civic club.

Most people who are homeless must carry their belongings from place to place, which is why small items are important. Some of the most common items a homeless person needs most include:

  • Socks
  • Underwear
  • Shoes
  • Bottled water
  • Travel-sized shampoo and conditioner
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • A cloth washcloth
  • A cloth hand towel
  • Liquid soap
  • Hand Sanitizer
  • Deodorant
  • Razor
  • Lip Saver
  • Tiny First Aid Kit
  • Lotion
  • Bar of Soap

If you don’t want to donate directly to the homeless person, call your local shelter. They are probably going to take any donation you can give them. 

I remember seeing something on FaceBook stating “we don’t have any homeless people in Southern Utah.” The poor guy was a bit naive, yes indeed we have homeless people in every city, and it’s getting worse.

Where Can You Sleep If You Are Homeless?

What if you can’t get into a homeless shelter, where can you sleep? There are several places you can sleep in. These places are based on my research. However, please check local laws because I would hate for anyone to get into trouble. 

  • Streets – not very safe or comfortable
  • Parks – you may find a soft lawn or pine needle “mattress,” but parks are often frequented by others looking to take advantage of you.
  • Car: I know first hand in Utah this is against the law. My sister’s friend was homeless and she was arrested for sleeping in her car-she called me for bail money.
  • Motels, for those who can afford it.

Final Word

The aforementioned tips are my opinion only. You are free to do your research on the matter. If there ever comes a time when you need to know how to survive in a homeless shelter, I hope these tips come in handy. If there is anything you’d like to add to this list, please let me know. May God Bless this world, Linda. 

Copyright Images: Homeless Man Deposit photos_29876821_s-2019

14 thoughts on “How to Survive in a Homeless Shelter

  • October 10, 2020 at 9:24 am

    Homelessness is an epidemic! I have so much empathy for those with no home. But, based on what I was told in a seminar on local homelessness, many are homeless by choice. I know one guy personally who chooses to live in a tent. He is retired (or should I say on social security/medicare) and says he simply does not want to pay for electricity or other normal apartment/house things. He has a really nice tent and he contacted the land owner to get permission to camp on the property. Other homeless persons are homeless due to mental health issues, drugs and other circumstances. What I find most disturbing, however, is that my city has 2 areas where the homeless can shelter (other than the regular homeless shelters). My city built an apartment building that can house 200 people and the city set aside a large area for tenting. The apartment building is only 1/4 full and the tent area is not used at all. Two reasons for low usage are: 1) no drugs or alcohol allowed and 2) other rules apply. The guy I know personally said 99% of the homeless do not want nor will they live under the rules. So that was a bust when they opened them up. Now we have homeless encampments right along the freeway!

    So, if I am ever in a situation where I have no solid roof over my head, I do have a tent and other camping equipment. If I am able to take those things with me, I would not consider myself homeless. If I have to live on the street and use soup kitchens to eat, yes, I would be homeless.

    I have also made up bags to give to the homeless. I include several travel sized items: soap, shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, mouthwash, toothbrush, hand lotion, laundry soap (when I can find it) and shaving supplies – razor and shaving cream. I also include a bottle of water, water additive (like tang, koolaid etc.), sometimes when I can afford it – gift card to a local restaurant or store. Something else the guy I know who is homeless told me was that if one is going to give out larger items like blankets, it is important to package them in a manner that is easy to transport – a duffel bag or backpack or something similar.

    In these days of COVID-19, I would include a face mask or two and hand sanitizer – IF they can be had. Now I am seeing small bottles of hand sanitizer available in the stores so that is not much of a problem. I am reluctant, however, to give out disposable face masks as they are now being found all over the place – in the gutters, on the parking lot grounds, etc. And, cloth face masks really need to be washed after ever use so I am not sure what the solution is to the mask issue.

    I also think that if I had to go into a homeless shelter and had anything of value, I might fix a locking box in the bottom of my backpack or other carrying bag to keep my personal items safer. Mostly my valuables would likely just be papers not hard objects. If I am in a situation like this, I would likely have to sell anything of value.

    Just my thoughts.

    • October 10, 2020 at 9:53 am

      Hi Leanne, thank you for sharing what is going on in your city. I wonder if that’s why the parks are filled to brim in Salt Lake City with the homeless in tents, it’s bad, though. Trash is everywhere. Drugs are a staple there, so sad. Mental Health is a big issue. I have seen so many tents with the homeless along the freeway in Las Vegas, Nevada on my way to California. I’m talking miles and miles, wow, it’s so sad. But like you said, they may have to choose this life if they do not want to follow the rules. Wow, just wow. So sad, Linda

  • October 10, 2020 at 2:50 pm

    I almost started to tell myself that I didn’t need to read this post on navigating being homeless, and then I thought I’d be really stupid to bypass any info Linda has to offer in case there is that one in a million chance I did become homeless. As usual, you had some great info! I didn’t know it was illegal to sleep in your car in UT! Makes you realize that you need to know the laws and ordinances of the town or city you are in.

    Within the last year, I saw a documentary on YouTube about the homeless in the US. It was done by a film crew/company from Europe. One of the places they profiled was an empty lot In San Diego that the owner had put up cyclone fencing around. He was letting homeless people with vehicles stay there. They also had a covered area for eating and I believe there were also port-a-potties that were brought in. Several of the people had full time jobs, but had had some sort of financial hardship hit them. This was allowing them a safe place to stay until they could save up for an apartment. Sad to see people not in homes, but glad they had a safe place.

    Another thing to consider….. make sure you have ID with you if you should become homeless. I heard a homeless advocate one time say that many homeless want to work and get on with their lives, but do not have any ID so that they can apply for jobs, etc.

    Thanks Linda for all the great info you post!!

    • October 10, 2020 at 3:22 pm

      Hi Karilyn, thanks for your awesome comment! I love learning new things. I’m going to add have ID with you or anyone who becomes homeless. My heart aches for these people who are down on their luck. I only hope someone sees my post and donates where they can with any extra items they have. I am still shocked that a neighbor of mine thought we didn’t have any homeless here in Southern Utah. Sorry folks, they are everywhere. Thanks for the tip! Linda

  • October 10, 2020 at 2:59 pm

    A friend of mine started to hand out backpacks to the homeless in a city close to us. We would include everything we could think of. I went to a thrift store in a resort town close to me and they actually
    GAVE me a HUGE amount of items for free. I looked at the name on their name tags, it was a Christian thrift store. i had seen it but only by name until I got inside. I got hats, gloves, backpacks, scarfs,
    and I think a few blankets. I couldn’t believe how blessed I was with these people, I just happen to tell them what I was looking for and what I was going to do with the items. Not sure how many packs my friend handed out. At my church I am in charge of the food pantry and we are working on doing
    a day for people to come in and get free food and maybe other items. I have more ideas so I might be able to report on more later

    • October 10, 2020 at 3:26 pm

      Hi June, oh my gosh, talk about a blessing!! I must say whenever we do something good for others, God is watching down from Heaven smiling with thankfulness. It feels so good to help others less fortunate. Linda

    • October 10, 2020 at 4:54 pm

      I forgot to mention, we had a revival a few years back in our city park. A young gentleman came forward and we found out he was living in the park under the gazebo. He was helped out that night with a place to stay and a job. Haven’t had a update on him in a long time, hope he kept going with everything and doing good.

      • October 10, 2020 at 6:42 pm

        Hi June, it really is sad that we have people living in a gazebo. One thing I learned with my sister’s friend who ended up in jail and called me for bail money, she had some mental health issues. I remembered her going to college with my sister, getting married and she had a child. What none of us knew back in the 1970s was that she was struggling with Bi-polar and schizophrenia. We were in our early 20’s and had no idea that she had some health issues. One day she left her husband and child and took off leaving her life behind. The only reason we learned this was that I called her mother in Provo, Utah to see if I should give her daughter the bail money 15 years after she left her family. Sorry, long story short, her mother said not to give it to her. I had no idea so many homeless people had mental health issues and they are not interested in being around family. They want to live alone or on the streets. I’m not sure this is the case for all. But I look at some homeless people differently now. I used to wonder “where is their family”. Well, they are not wanted or do not want to be involved with family members. So sad. You never know what cards we are dealt. Linda

  • October 11, 2020 at 11:46 pm

    I’m 60 so I’ve seen many types of homelessness. From when my folks would take in kids for a day/week when I was a pre-teen. Most just needed a safe break from parental abuse …if just for a bit. My folks couldn’t really do much back in those days, but most all those young people came back as adults to thank my parents for just that little bit of comfort. I’ve seen homelessness from mental illness, substance abuse, and Also from just plain bad luck but with No family able to help. I’ve taken in people who are down on their luck. Not every one of these are particularly willing to even participate in household chores in thanks. There’s been a couple who just sit, stare off, for a few days. Yea, I allow a breakdown period but I’m a social worker by education, Not a psychologist. Forced physical activity to help seems to work for me and those I help. Now, I’ve recently had a couple teens who wouldn’t do this either. Sorry, but I ain’t running a flop house. These 2 guys were friends of my grandson’s. Each had parents who basically did their own thing, so they’d been sleeping in friends cars. In Winter. I tried working with each, but frankly, both of them just figured they didn’t have to do anything. I finally told them they had a week to find someplace else to stay. My youngest son (age 21) heard my grandson (age 19) say to ignore this. So he went in and told them He would put them out but gave them a few more days. And he told his nephew that if he didn’t like this, then he could go too. A couple days later, my grandson and his friends left. Moved down to my grandson’s mom’s place. Um,I think that lasted 3 mos. So, I guess for some of the young peoples ‘homelessness’, it’s by choice. My grandson now lives north of me, teensy town, and seems to be helping his friend he lives with…and he didn’t bring his 2 friends with him. He comes home, helps me, is sort of offended when I offer him a bit of cash. Hey, he fell for his friends sob stories too. I will continue to help those having problems because, like my parents, I still have people who call/text, thank me for my help. Oh, and I keep in touch with people who helped me in my life.

    • October 12, 2020 at 7:04 am

      Hi Wendy, wow, wow, wow. You are amazing in so many ways. The thing is we never know when we have been a good example to others. We give from our heart but we also must have some tough love in there somewhere. I love hearing the different scenarios you have seen from homelessness. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. I believe there are many more you have helped that have grown into better human beings because you cared about them. Good job, Wendy!! Linda

  • April 20, 2021 at 1:22 am

    Hi y’all I was reading your post a love the fact that you are seeking to help the homeless. I myself am currently homeless and have been so once before, and just wanted to point one thing that has been missed. Most likely it is due to lack of knowledge regarding the matter, and I’m hoping that this post will help it be known. Mind you I myself only ended up homeless due to a job falling thru, I have a clean record and valid driver’s license and obtained a job inside of a week making $19 per hour. With that said although some of the biggest issues are most definitely mental health issues and individuals simply making the choice to be homeless. Another big issue most don’t know about is that homeless shelters are poorly regulated. Although shelter rules and regulations vary from state to state few if any are actually enforced. Many complaints go unheard. Many individuals that call to register a complaint are hung up on before their complaint can be registered, and others seeking help are made to wait years. With the way shelters are set up they make more funds from have individuals in the shelter and as such a lot of them are driven by money, and would rather hinder individuals seeking help to avoid loss of profit. The system needs to be setup better by helping shelter funding based upon getting the homeless back on their feet rather than the number of bunks they fill. The fact of the matter is that if you can’t get yourself back on you feet without out their help your pretty much stuck. My last stint of homelessness only lasted 3 months and that was 10 years ago. I have just recently ended up homeless and as said inside of a week I have a job making $19 per hour. Non of which has been through the help of the shelter.

    • April 20, 2021 at 10:14 am

      Hi Chris, oh my gosh, I LOVE LOVE LOVE your comment! Why? Because you are telling/teaching us what’s really going on in the shelters. It’s really too bad that greed (money) runs the shelters, the government, and the prisons to name a few. I was not shocked at the number of bunks they need or want to fill, interesting but so true. And sad. It’s really sad that “they” hang up on people with complaints. We as taxpayers pay their salary. I sometimes wonder where compassion has gone. Life is interesting. Stay safe, Linda

      • April 21, 2021 at 10:16 pm

        Oh one last thing never give shelters high end clothing or items as donations. They will tell you that they will be used but the fact of the matter is that the homeless will never see them. Most high end clothing and items are illegally sold.

        • April 22, 2021 at 8:06 am

          Hi Chris, WOW! This is really sad to hear, but as I read it, it does not surprise me. Greed changes people, they must have zero compassion. Thank you for letting us know about this. It’s so sad. Linda


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