Homelessness is arguably one of the most challenging and heartbreaking experiences one can face in modern-day society. Homeless people have to go through a lot - staying outdoors during challenging weather conditions, food shortages, even harassment, and these are just some of the few things that make being homeless a scary situation no one deserves to be in. However, people end up homeless all the time, and for numerous reasons, which sometimes don’t even fit the stereotypes like alcoholism or drug abuse.
According to the US department of housing and urban development, more than 326,000 people experienced sheltered homelessness in the United States on a single night in 2021. That might not seem like a lot, but these are very real people going through the unknown every single day. On the r/AskReddit subforum, a user asked people who were formerly homeless to share unwritten rules or codes towards other homeless people that most people would likely not be aware of. A heartbreaking number of people responded to the question with their insights and stories. The post collected 2.8k upvotes and prompted 5.6k comments. Scroll down to find out more and consider leaving a comment!
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#1I've been technically homeless about 3 times before the age of 15, but you would not be able to tell just by looking at me or conversing briefly. Average looking white, 20yr male college student. Without explaining a ton of other stuff and including many sad stories, I'll get to the meat of the question. For my family, I remembered that we would go to the library everyday for several hours at a time. It's a place where extended stays aren't particularly unusual. Additionally, you have ac/heat, internet/computer access, water fountains, bathrooms, lounge chairs, and nearly endless educating vessels surrounding you in the form of books. TL;DR If you're ever homeless, go to the library
Image credits: ReadHomeless
#2If you're trying to run away from good parents, and are underage, we will make sure the police find you.
Kid was 15, and after talking with his friends, we heard no reason for him to be running away. (teenage angst) Made sure the police took him home, and left my cell phone number in case he ran away again.
Just because I was homeless, that didn't mean I didn't work 2 jobs. Would work about 56 hours a week at a gas station between 2 stores, and then did the usual selling papers on the streets in the morning.
Image credits: Kishandreth
#3When dumpster diving, if you find a pair of shoes and they are not your size or clothes then leave them neatly by the side of the dumpster for the next diver.
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#4I was homeless for about 4 months in Las Vegas. Rules I learned in the area: (I'm a girl BTW :))
Don't walk around without some sort of knife, because drunk, stupid people like to pick on homeless people.
Search each machine you can for loose change and vouchers. Also, if you spend a dollar at the penny slots and need a drink, you can get free ones on Fremont Street, which is also a great source of free entertainment when you're bored.
If you find a friend, make sure one watches while one sleeps.
Make use of shelter money. In Vegas, there is a social service run by a church outfit that provides you with housing vouchers if you are one of the first 10 people in line in the morning. You can find a friend, double up on the vouchers in some places and get a weekly rental for an entire month. This is awesome during the summer when it's 120 degrees outside and you need AC and a shower. This is also cool if you find a job with a telemarketing company or something that requires you to shower daily.
If you get involved in drugs, or have a gambling problem, and you're already homeless, you're pretty much destined to remain homeless in Vegas.
If you have food stamps, share. I once had a homeless man buy me a sandwich, and it was the most humbling experience in my entire life
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#5never had a problem with food like someone else said.
find a group of people you can trust (not easy to do) and stick with them.
don't be the guy with the sign asking for money...ever Edit: if you must ask for money, state the reason why and if someone says "instead of giving you the money I'll just pay for it myself and give it to you", don't turn that down! F*****g ever!
people think all homeless people are on drugs because that's the stereotype they are presented with, do your best to not blend in with those people. You will be amazed at what people are willing to do if your making an honest attempt at getting on your feet and you do your best to present yourself that way.
don't do anything stupid to get money (sex, crime), you will regret it 4.1) also, don't be a f*****g rat, that s**t will get you killed. Remember, a lot of
the people in your world are "off the grid"
if you are getting nowhere in the city you are in, get out of there. There is always someone "headed your way"
never ever turn down a chance to do some work. Never. That may be an opportunity to get you started again.
even if your not religious, if a religious family offered you a place to stay (sometimes "if you go to church with us" but not always), don't turn it down. 7.1) don't do anything to them such as steal or rob them. That's how reputation get started.
you never to good for anything, if you think you are that may be why your out there to begins with.
yea, those cloths may stink but at least you have some.
Americans - if your young enough, the military may be your best option. Money, food, bed and job and all you have to do is show up.
stay off drugs, that again may be why your there and could very well cost you a chance to get off the streets
I'm sure that's not what you were asking but it's been over 20 years since I got back on my feet and those are the things that have stuck with me.
Source: Homeless for 2 years
Image credits: NicoHam
#6Respect your elders aka don't f**k with the old timers.
Image credits: CrackheadHamster
#7A few things, most of which have already been said:
Contrary to what some others have said, carrying a weapon is bad news; you think it will protect you, but it will only invite trouble. The police and citizens will harass you. Unless you can keep it well concealed, don't pack.
Don't carry drugs around. There is a reason homeless people buy and shoot up quickly, and though it's often just for convenience, you also don't want to be wandering around with a lot of drugs on you.
If you aren't on drugs, stay off them. It was the only reason I made it out of that life.
Help each other out. Be friendly, it goes a long way. Share info on where to get food, dive, sleep, etc.
On a related note, share what you can, don't be obviously greedy.
Cops hate the homeless, stay away. Mental health agencies are a gamble; if you actually have issues, they may report you to police. If you don't, they still might report you to police. Most homeless take advantage of the free resources offered by these agencies, so they go to them, but they are often bad news. Just take the resources and run.
You will find may new uses for condoms (non-sexual uses, that is). They are free and very useful; a survivalists best friend.
Protect your identity. Don't sell your ID. Seriously, some people want it.
Drunks who pick fights are "top heavy". This goes for anyone confronting an intoxicated person. Don't try to block their blows; get out of the way and push them or take them out below the waist. They'll fall over. Get away as quickly as possible after that.
Thank god for public libraries.
If another person vomits or bleeds (a lot of them punch walls due to mental illness, I never figured out why that was so common), don't touch them, just get help. One word; AIDS, which will severely restrict your access to community health care.
If you are native, a youth, a victim of abuse or have any outstanding aspects, they probably give you a better chance at getting a shelter bed or a place in transitional housing. Use these to your advantage.
As already posted, check out anything you receive. There are lots of spiteful people.
Kind of taboo, and I'm sure I'll get downvoted, but a lot of social workers with charities or the city are stupid; people who couldn't figure out what they wanted to do with their lives after high school, so they decided "oh, I'll be a martyr and help the homeless". They look down on you and have lots of preconceived notions that all homeless are schizophrenic, otherwise delusional or just plain dumb. This can be used to your advantage to get extra food, quicker processing into housing applications and access to other public services like health care, transit passes or hair cuts.
I'll add more as I think of them.
EDIT: - If you are in a transitional housing unit, always close the door behind you and make sure no one who you don't recognize makes it into the building. Most shelters are unmarked for a reason; if anybody asks what the building is used for, say it's a "condominium", a "friend's place" or something similar.
Be amicable with other homeless. If you see each other in public, a simple nod of acknowledge is fine, but don't "out" them as homeless.
Guys from men's shelters try to pick up girls from women's shelters. I'm serious. This is risky business; if you really want to "stick your d**k in a crazy", this is how you do it.
Don't identify yourself to others other than your first name. Inform shelter workers as little as possible about your personal history; yes, they are there to help you, but they also want to protect themselves. If you, for any reason, make them feel uncomfortable, they may try and get you out of their shelter. It's amazing how many emotionally unstable, sensitive, bleeding heart short ladies work at shelters that are scared s**tless of the homeless they are employed to protect.
Never mention someone you knew from the streets or in a shelter. Just common courtesy.
Someone mentioned grabbing trains to get
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#8If you're female and it's late fall/winter/early spring. Wear a mans padded jacket, sneakers, sweat pants, and a woolen hat. Make yourself as masculine as possible. Don't sleep on roadsides or alleyways, find a rooftop with somewhat of a difficult entrance to navigate.
Always give the illusion that you're a small man or young boy. You'll be left alone more.
For personal hygiene use showers at a local swimming centre, gym, or make an arrangement with a few friends to use their shower once or twice a week.
For somewhere warm I bought a note book and a pen to the library and spent the day 'studying' and 'taking notes' from literature. It's easy access to bathrooms and drinking water fountains too.
For food, I figured out the times bakeries threw away the days sandwiches. 30mins after they had thrown a trash bag full of still fresh sandwiches and cakes in the dumpster I was unsealing the bag and having a feast on a rooftop somewhere.
Source : spent December homeless when I was 17, my grandmother was in hospital and my nMom didn't want me.
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#9Be wary of items given to you by other people. My cousin counseled homeless youth for a few years, and one of his favorites got sent to jail for accepting a "gift" of a cell phone. The phone ended up being stolen out of the owner's car, and had GPS attached to it. The police found him with the phone, and arrested him on the spot. My cousin was called in as a character witness to testify on his behalf. Not sure what happened after that though.
Image credits: Phishmcz
#10Don't beg on someone's corner if they are already there.
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#11Don't steal each others food, be friendly to one another, and only steal from those who have to much. That was the code back when I was homeless.
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#12Share what you have with your group. What goes around comes around. If there are a group of you, each person can stand on a different corner to beg and make far more than you would by yourself.
Image credits: theriddler41
#13Look out for each other and be good to each other. We're all struggling, so let's make it as good as we can for each other.
When I was homeless we paid for each other's food, clothes, and any other essentials if one was truly in need.
Image credits: PatchesJHollin
#14I was a traveler kid around the Pacific Northwest for a while, many years ago. The culture I was a part of is hard to describe to people that have never been involved in it, but I'll try to list a few things.
There are different cultures of homeless people, and they don't all overlap. I was a traveling punk (a kind of derogatory term is 'crusty punk', and we tended to keep to groups, crash at punk houses or in parks, hitchhike, hop trains, and have a radical political bent (anarchism mainly). We made fun of 'oogles', who were more like juggalo types. We called older travelers hobos and city homeless homebums, and we respected them but didn't really hang out with them.
We had quite a few rules of conduct. Stealing from stores was expected but stealing from friends/other homeless was not ok. If you're crashing at somebody's house, do some dishes or dumpster-dive some food for them to pay them back for their hospitality. Share your booze. Keep the dumpster areas you take food from as clean or cleaner than you found them. Don't ever hop a train alone. If you are hopping trains, look out for the number of engines on the train. A train with four engines is usually going a long way; trains with two engines are usually local. Don't just look for boxcars; grainers (grain transport cars) have a "porch" on either end and cubby holes that you can hide in to not be seen by the bulls (train cops). There was a photocopied homemade magazine (zine) called the crew change guide that you wanted to snag a copy of that would give you directions to train yards all over the country and tell you where the freight trains were going! When someone gave me one for the first time, I felt like I had been given the keys to every city in the whole world.
That's all I can think of for now, but there's plenty more.
Image credits: unifactor
#15This was London in the mid 90's. I was a teenage girl. I stayed out of the 'homeless scene' and only rough slept for 3 weeks, the rest of the time was squatting so I don't know if I can speak with any authority but...
Try not to be attractive.
Avoid other homeless people of the male gender.
Avoid other homeless people full-stop
Avoid squats and drop-ins
Do not go into the shelters.
Shower every day (pools, gyms)
Learn how to shop-lift well so you're not beholden to anyone for food or clothing.
Keep changing your clothes
Don't hang about looking useless. If you are walking somewhere walk with purpose. Sit down in places where normal people sit down i.e. benches not the floor.
Carry a book. It's what normal people do
People see what they perceive to be a homeless young female and they think drugs and mental illness. They also think victim and sexually exploitable. For this reason you must do all you can to not appear homeless.
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#16I apologize for wall o' text, I have to tell my story for context. I bolded the important things.
I did some jungling for about 3 1/2-4 years when I aged out of foster care. I faced the reality of many youths that don't get adopted by their 18 birthday. Initially I floated around in men's shelters but learned extremely quickly how unsafe they can be.
Despite being a bit of a safe place, you gotta realize local cops generally tend to throw mentally ill and other off people in these shelters to keep them off the streets. A lot of shelters have hierarchies that seem like something out of a gang or prison. I had tons of s**t I had with me stolen from shelter people who threatened me with crude shivs and clubs if I took back what they stole from me. It can be difficult at times to find a very safe shelter.
Deciding that I didn't want to deal with the bulls**t from shelters and a**hole bully cops, I set out to leave the town I was staying in and head westward(as the weather is more forgiving there).
I became a hobo as I migrated all over the country working jobs and laid my head anywhere safe and dry. Don't ever forget that a hobo is someone who is homeless and migrates for work; bums don't work or travel, and tramps travel but hardly work.
I've worked all sorts of jobs like cattle ranch hand, paper delivery, vegetable/fruit picker, groundskeeper, grave digger, small game hunter(I kept coyotes, woodchucks and other critters off farm properties), and tons of more jobs.
I've traveled all over the country, met fellow hobos and learned endless amounts of things through adventures.
I will say one of the biggest rules people and myself swear by is "always keep yourself busy and looking clean as possible". A drunk homeless guy running around the popular town park naked screaming about Jesus is absolute poison for other homeless people. He's allowing people of the town to stigmatize all homeless people as drunk maniacs and only feeding the flames for cops to show unnecessary force. Never let yourself get to that point, moderate your alcohol intake, never get involved with serious drugs and do not prey on people.
Keeping up your appearance separates you from the low life scum and allows you to be more approachable to people. Even if it's a job as basic as digging graves and trimmin bushes at a bone yard, nobody wants to hire the guy reeking of malt liquor and piss.
It's important to utilize skills you have and always be willing to work. It allows you to win favor in the eyes of people, get some food in your mouth, allow you to have a job you can return to in the future or keep an opportunity open for a fellow homeless person.
A very crucial rule many people on the streets live by is never exhaust handouts in a town". There will always be someone in worse shape than you are that will need that hand out to survive, you do not want that person to come to a town that completely ignores and spits on homeless people.
My last rule is "don't cause any trouble when riding trains, never freeload and always be willing to lend a helping hand to the operators of the train". Trains are a crucial way of travel but not knowing how to catch one can have fatal results. Tying in with the keeping up busy rule, always be willing to help out on a train if any of the crew members encounter you. If they happen to kick you off despite explaining how you can help, just get off and continue your trek by other means or get to an area where you'll be able to get on a different train. It ain't worth getting beat up by some bubba train worker with an attitude problem and the brain of a peanut.
Generally rail workers will be less likely to get authorities involved if you're able to help them lighten their work duty loads.
Image credits: klatnor
#17im seeing a lot of if your homeles advice, not so much code between homeless. here are some rules in the homeless community that most don't know about.
Spanging (Flying a sign asking for change) : Maintain a distance between other people spanging, don't encroach on others "territory" and its a first come basis, also if your spanging in a good spot that is frequented by spangers don't camp out all day.
Trading: Trading is huge. Don't be a d**k when it comes to trading.
Squats: A squat is an abandoned property that has been broken into and is is semi livable, if you have one, and its bad weather, invite somone for the night, if your spending the night, be respectful, quiet, treat it as if it was actually their house, you don't want to ruin it for them.
Being homeless sucks, but generally you use the golden rule, don't let people walk all over you though.
Image credits: dRshackleford
#18Save every penny. Buy a tent. Put your tent next to a river. Go to the library every single day. Spend as much time as you can applying for jobs. Take the first job you can get. Keep bathing in the river, and working until winter. Do not spend a dime on booze. Once winter comes get an apartment, and keep working. Apply to your local technical college, and get a job in IT. Stop being homeless. Worked for me.
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#19You get what you give. If you act like an a**hole to the people around you, they'll treat you like one...especially when you're in tent city. Just because a crew is homeless doesn't mean they don't have a community. You can either be part of it or not, but if you treat people harshly...expect it back at you.
Don't f**k with street families / street kids.
Most people don't want to acknowledge you exist. I'd say don't get frustrated with that, but it gets old really fast. Just find a way to make your day a little brighter. And be careful with what people give you. There's a lot of a**holes out there.
Regardless of what the police say, no, you're not going to get your things back. Oh, and don't argue with them. They'll beat the c**p out of you for no reason in a lot of cases because you don't have anybody standing up for you politically. So expect to be woken up really early, randomly, and be searched and then told to move.
Unless you have a crew watching your stuff, don't leave it out in the open. Someone else will take it. Some of them are people who need it just as bad as you do. Others are just j***s.
Image credits: RemiMedic
#20I was homeless, only for about a month, during my teenage years- left my parents, moved in with d**khead boyfriend, got evicted by d**khead boyfriend. I learned not to accept "favours" without knowing what was expected in return as payment... painful reminder of the old saying "nothing is free".
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#21Homeless for 5 years here(since I was 18). heres a few I noticed
Prison and jail culture bleeds into the homeless community. Watch your words. Words normal people get to say can have serious meanings on the streets, one example? saying "B***h" to someone might get you assaulted. Watch your mouth, or you won't last long.
No one's pressing charges or calling the cops, If you get into a fight with someone, it's all he said she said bulls**t. Everyone takes it and conflicts resolve themselves. Everyone you're around is homeless, you gotta stay in that shelter with them every night, you'll share the same public spaces that everyone whos homeless has to. You don't have a choice. Keep to yourself, don't mouth off, dont fk with anyone else, or you'll get f****d with.
You cigs are everyone elses cigs. Everyone on the street smokes, if you got em, you're probably going to end up sharing them.
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#22I lived on the streets in Seattle in 2000, and lived in shelters and transitional houses for many years after that. I was 15 at the time, and there is a pretty big homeless population here. We had some weird rules. I mostly lived on broadway, and each homeless group really had their own rules. There were also the ave rats, who lived up by the university. They had a whole political system.. people were at the top, and people were at the bottom. You could also get kicked off the ave, and most those kids would end up on broadway. Almost everyone on broadway was a junkie, or gay. And there were the downtown kids, mostly young foster run aways or kids with mental issues.. lots of juggalos down there. So, I guess we were sort of the crazy group.
The big one I remember is that you always take off your shoes when you sleep. And if you sleep outside, sleep on top of your bag and tuck your shoes under it. Sometimes my bag was way too packed to pull that off comfortably, but people would take your shoes. Just to f**k with you. They would call the annoying or new kids oogles, but they wouldn't ever kick someone out of the neighborhood like ave rats. Just too much heroin going around really to have that type of control.
Probably the most offensive thing you can do, is finding out where someone who's homeless lives. If you follow them they will stop and talk to you, and if you just enter a squat uninvited.. well, it's really dangerous. It was respectful to pretend like you didn't care where your friends went at night. At any point you can get uninvited too, and you'll just be locked out that night. They do not give a s**t about where you are staying, this isn't a pity party.
Broadway is pretty small too, just about 7 blocks long.. so people would panhandle right next to you all the time. If they weren't at least 2 shops away, they were probably doing it to piss you off.. or it's just their normal spot. Like I always camped out in front of this mexican place, because they had awesome leftovers. But, it was absolutely uncool to sit or lie down around other homeless kids. Or stand on the side of the sidewalk that the stores are on. It's illegal on broadway, and doing that just attracts the cops. I remember asking other homeless kids to stand all the time, just because I was sick of getting picked up by the cops.
Lots of theft too, no real like idea of a moral code at all there. Although, people would share their drugs with you all the time. That way they had someone to bug about sharing back when they didn't have any cash. Later on I lived at tent city, and still got stuff stolen from me quite often even though they have a decent community too.
Heh I think that's about all that I can think of right now. :P
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#23Sleep with your phone by your bal*s so if someone tries to rob you whilst you sleep they can't find your phone
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#24If you walk around and eat food and drink from Walmart that is under 30 bucks, they don't call the police, they just kick you out.
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#25I was homeless (at age 17), but lived in a shelter and not on the street. My experiences may vary from yours.
Don't f*****g trust anyone. The women in my shelter would befriend you and back stab you just to laugh at you when you get kicked out.
Is there general prostitution in the area? Chances are some of the women in the shelter are a part of that problem.
Mental illness. Mental illness everywhere. Doesn't have to be severe, but there are a lot of messed up people. Be careful who you confront, especially if you're unsure of their mental capacity.
Do you own things of any value? Welp, better keep them to yourself, because some a**hole will try to steal them and resell them.
Do not f**k with people's children. Seriously. You don't know who is "friends" with who, and might f**k your s**t up. Also don't make comments about their baby daddies if it's very obvious they have several. Touchy subject usually.
Don't steal each others food. If you do, they will hunt you down and find you. I once saw a woman have drugs planted on her so that she'd get kicked out once they found out she was stealing food.
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#26Former homeless person here. Don't trust a single word any homeless person says to you. They figured out a long time ago that empathy is the most efficient way to get money out of you.
Don't give money to homeless people at all. Its not helping. Its enabling!
Edit I made another comment but it won't be seen as much as the following....
As much as people despise religion online, religious people are by far the most compassionate about the homeless. A good church will do everything it can to help you, without trying to force its faith down your throat.
Edit 2: If you want to help the homeless give them your time not your money. Volunteer at a shelter. Donate clothing to goodwill or whatever the second hand store in your area is called. Donate money to the salvation army. They are by far the largest advocates for the homeless population. Here's an idea instead of just passing them by and going on your daily routine, stop and ask them their name. You have no idea how this small token will be appreciated by someone that is passed by thousands of times a day without so much a look in their direction. Offer your phone number, say if you want to talk call me. You don't need to be a psychologist to show compassion. Start a group activity that welcomes homeless. Recreational sports league? Invite him/her to come play.
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Make friends. It's not like you have anything better to do, and ultimately this is what will get you off the streets.
Don't look like a hobo. Go to goodwill and get some nice looking clothes. A button up shirt and some slacks makes a huge difference, even if they're a little dirty.
Cops are not your friends. The closest thing there is to a hobo code is that you Do. Not. Cooperate. With. Pigs.
Sometimes a dog is a good idea. Make sure it's a cute one, and keep it well trained. Road dogs are actually treated much better than most house dogs, and are far better behaved. Never f**k with a man's dog is one of the other hobo rules. Kick someone's dog and you can bet you'll be in a ditch by morning.
Get some good gear. Military gear is best, because it's cheap, durable, and camouflaged well enough that you can camp near cities. A good USGI sleep system will keep you warm down to -40, collapses down to a cubic foot, and costs about $80-100. No tent required, comes with a camo bivy sack that you could use to camp unnoticed on the side of the road. A comparable system would cost you upwards of $600 at REI, and it would be flimsy and colored neon orange.
Be friendly with other hobos but don't turn your back on them. Many of them are awesome people, many more are addicts or criminally insane.
Watch your pack. It is valuable and if someone steals it you're f****d.
And at least once in your life, drink a hobo slam.
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#28avoid the cart-toters
a little booze goes a long way toward making a new friend
chipping in a few cents here or there when someone is short for some alcohol also helps
the older guys are usually the more mellow of the bunch and can help point you toward a safe place to sleep or a shelter
if someone is an a**hole, ignore them and move on.
Always Be Cool, Dog. be the nicest person you can be but don't be a chump; some people will appreciate having someone who will just listen
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#29This applies to groups, especially those with addicts: don't trust anyone. Be civil, nobody likes a d**k. Be helpful, nobody likes an a**hole. But don't trust anyone. Somebody will take advantage of you.
Most homeless just want to get by. They got where they are through s**tty circumstances, and all they want is peace, a roof, and food. Unfortunately, as with any group, there's a minority that ruins it all. They see the other homeless as tools to their next meal or fix.
Most common was jail; they go in for a small crime, and leave with nowhere to go. One guy had mental problems, but I never learned the specifics. He talked to himself a lot, and got angry really easily. He hit some lady one day, and the cops/judge didn't care if he was mentally ill or not; off to jail, then back to the streets.
Turbo edit - I was "only" homeless for about 6 months, so I almost only experienced the leeches that flock to the newbies to exploit them in one way or another.
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#30Find a popular area and claim it. Make sure no one else can claim it and you should be able to live well off in terms of food.
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