I feel disturbed that I even need to write this post. However, just like we have earthquake preparedness and disaster preparedness, I also think we need to add homelessness preparedness to the roster.
The reason I say that is it has not been since the Great Depression that so many Americans and even worldwide citizens have found themselves living rough on the streets, in tents, or in cars. 2008 was another bumper crop year of homelessness, but the problem was never resolved and has only expanded from cities into smaller towns.
Personally, I have had to live off the charity of others since my line of work isn’t in demand at the moment. I have lived in-between homes and thankfully, not on the streets which I wouldn’t survive. I have learned a few important lessons and practices along the way that if you find yourself homeless for whatever reason, it would save you some anguish.
First, start renting a storage unit now. It’s nearly impossible to find one that is available during an emergency situation. There has been a greater demand for the storage facilities because of people downsizing or ending up living in cars, hotels, or on the street. When I relocated from Bellingham to Port Townsend (or made the attempt), I found the last 5 x 10 available unit in Chimacum (outside of PT) after searching in several communities. And that was over two years ago. I since moved my belongings to a better facility.
The last thing you want to do is to be searching frantically for somewhere to store your belongings if your landlord evicts you or if you are forced to move for whatever reason. A storage unit probably won’t help you if you are faced with fires, floods, or other natural disasters unless the storage facility is outside the danger zone. There is no guarantee but it’s nice to have a storage unit to fall back on.
Second, start downsizing now. Give away or sell items you no longer need because living lightly is the wave of the future. This is especially true for someone who knows that their preparedness plan is to live in a car or a van or a tent. Even if you are going to shack up with friends or couch surf, the fewer belongings you have, the better your chance of finding a friend to stay with. Trust me on this one.
Third, find safe havens for your pets so that you won’t have to give them away or worst, traumatize them by having them live in cars or on the streets. Granted, some homeless people use dogs for protection which is understandable but is it in the highest interest of the animal? When I say safe haven, talk to friends and colleagues ahead of time for what-if scenarios and offer the same respite for their pets in your home if they end up homeless.
Fourth, purchase a sturdy backpack, sleeping bag, and camping clothing. Even if you choose to live in a car, buy a tent. You don’t have to buy high-end goods at a sporting good store. Try thrift stores and community boards. Someone might be selling their camping gear on FaceBook.
Fifth, stock up on travel-size toiletries and anything you will need daily. These are lighter to carry in your pack.
You’ll also need to locate the nearest places to charge your batteries for your computer, tablet, or phone. If you won’t be able to continue paying for your phone service, buy a Tracfone and purchase minutes. The other thing I did was to get a voicemail only service with a phone company. This was not easy to do and it involved talking to a few customer service people before I was able to save the number from my landline as a voicemail number. Social service agencies such as DSHS offer free cell phones. And you will require a phone if you are homeless.
Get a list together of your local charities so you’ll know who your go-to people are ahead of time. This cuts down on panic attacks (which you will experience when you’re without a home). I experienced total meltdowns and even suicidal thoughts the first time I realized I was homeless and I was staying in hotels that depleted my bank account within two weeks.
Everyone needs a support team of mental health counselors, medical doctors, and even supportive friends while enduring bouts with homelessness. Many people get into transitional or permanent housing quickly while others languish on the streets for months, if not years.
Anyone can find themselves unsheltered. Even millionaires have lost money and ended up on the street. The fact is most people are overburdened financially and physically in our current era. Jobs are being replaced by artificial intelligence technologies or rent and mortgages are shooting through the roof. Utilities and pretty much everything is increasing while wages are not. If you do end up homeless, for whatever reason, know that it is most likely from circumstances outside of your control.
Get your plan together ahead of time. Chances are you’ll never need it. But if you do, you will navigate the pitfalls more smoothly than if you jumped in with two feet without a plan. We all have horror stories of living between homes or in inadequate housing or with domestic violence.
Don’t judge people who are homeless. Instead, befriend them because they know the ropes. Ironically, if you find yourself suddenly living on the streets or in a car, the other homeless people could save your life. Even so, use discernment more that you would otherwise. When people are suffering they’ll either act out negatively in desperation or out of compassion based on their level of humanity.
May you always be blessed with a roof over your head, but get prepared anyway.