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10 Survival Tricks Learned from Homeless People

homeless person survival

Do you remember that movie from 2004 called The Day After Tomorrow? It is an end-of-the-world scenario and a group of people find themselves trapped in a library right as a storm plunges the world into a new ice age. How do they stay warm through the blizzard and freezing cold? Luckily for the group, one of them was a homeless man – and homeless people have all sorts of tricks about how to stay warm in the cold. He told them to stuff their jackets with wadded up paper. That extra layer of insulation saved their lives.

While we might dismiss them and put them at the fringes of society, there is actually a lot we can learn about survival from homeless people. After all, who would you trust more with survival tricks: someone who just fantasizes about disasters, or people who live through disaster-like situations every day?   Here are just some of the survival tricks that homeless people use that could one day save your life.

Control Your Desperation

A guy who goes by afrostyplease had a great blog called Guide2Homelessness. That is where I read some of the best survival advice I’ve ever heard. It is about controlling desperation in bad situations. Here is what he had to say:

“Where will you sleep tonight? What will you do tomorrow? Don’t focus on what you can’t do or haven’t got. You have a lot of resources, if only you will recognize them. Try to identify your most pressing problems individually, and find a straight line to a solution. You need a warm place out of the rain? How about a hotel lobby, or a hospital waiting room, or a laundromat, or a bus station, or a fast food restaurant? You need to clean up? That’s easy. You need some food? You can fill your belly on less than a dollar’s worth of rice… My point is that to begin surviving, you need to change your head. Abandon anger, desperation, depression, melancholy. Embrace confidence, strength, abilities, resources. Be positive, by all means.”

If You Fight, You Get Hurt

Anyone who has ever studied martial arts will tell you that it isn’t about fighting or even self defense. Martial arts teaches you not to fight.

The best way to win a fight is to not get into one in the first place.

This is something that homeless people have learned well. They know that engaging or responding to hostility isn’t going to help them achieve their goal (and the goal is survival).   Yes, it can shatter your ego when someone is hostile. It can seem weak to back down when someone comes at you. But if you fight when you don’t have to, then you are putting your survival at risk.

Will fighting serve your ultimate goal? Unless you are trying to prove yourself as some alpha-male, I highly doubt it (and that brings us back to ego being the main reason for fighting).

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ever fight. If someone is attacking you, fight until you can flee.

Blend In

You know how we are always being criticized for not noticing homeless people, and how they are called things like America’s “invisible population”? Part of the reason for this is because homeless people don’t want to be noticed.

When you are noticed, you could become a target for predators like thieves. When you are noticed, you might be kicked out of your location. When you are noticed, hostile people might come at you…

Keep this in mind when you are fleeing in a survival situation. For example: The grid goes out. You have a generator and turn it on. Now your home is the only one on the block with lights glowing out of the window. Guess where all the scared masses will come running to? You’d be better leaving the lights out rather than drawing attention to yourself!


Clothing has many uses, like as rope, bandages, napkins, shelter, collecting water…   Choose your clothing wisely! Everything must have a purpose.

Dress in layers so you can easily adjust to changes in weather. A big bulky winter jacket isn’t going to help you, especially once you start sweating and then freeze from being wet. You will be better off with multiple light jackets that you can add/remove as necessary. They will dry faster too.

Again, remember that you’ve got to blend in. You might have some great survival clothing – but don’t wear it if it is going to make you stand out from the crowd.

Staying Warm

Staying warm is very important for survival because so much of our energy goes to heating our body. More specifically, about 50 to 80 percent of your calories go to maintaining body temperature. If you get cold, then you are going to need more food, and that means using up your precious stockpiles.

In wilderness survival situations, you can make one of these survival shelters to help you stay warm. You can also use homeless tricks like:

  • Putting cardboard under you to create a layer of insulation between you and the cold ground
  • Get a mylar blanket. Put it between two blankets and it will help the blankets hold in much more heat. Wrap the blankets around you.
  • Fingers and toes will get frostbitten quickly! Buy some handwarmers from camping store. Or pour boiling water into water bottles (wrap the water bottle in a towel because it will leak!) and use these to warm your hands.

Staying Clean

In survival situations, cleanliness can quickly go out the window. But cleanliness is important for survival!

What if you get a cut on your dirty leg? It will get infected and then you’ve got a serious problem.
What if you get a rash or blisters from all that dirt rubbing on you? Good luck walking far!
What if you get sick from eating with dirty hands? There goes your chances of survival!!!

We notice the dirty, downtrodden homeless people but most are actually quite clean looking. This is because they use all sorts of tricks. Yes, they really have mastered the art of taking a shower with a water bottle.

One cool hygiene trick used by homeless people is wet wipes. Just rub yourself down with a wet wipe and you are as good as new! The ones with lotion on them will take off dirt really well. You can also make your own wet wipes.   Get a bottle and mix the following together:

  • 2 tbs baby oil
  • 2 tbs body lotion
  • 2 tbs shampoo
  • 1 cup water

Put a bit of this mixture on a napkin and use the napkin to clean yourself. It will take off all the grime and smell!

And another hygiene tip: use sunscreen. If you get burned, the burn can quickly turn into a sore and get infected.

You Need a Companion

You ever wonder why so many homeless people have dogs and will even buy dog food for the animals, even though they can barely feed themselves? It is because you need a companion to survive. If you don’t have a trusted human companion, then a canine one will do the trick.

The companions serve multiple purposes. They help protect you (safety in numbers). They keep you company so you don’t get overwhelmed by desperation. They help keep you warm by sleeping next to you on cold nights. They can serve as lookouts. And much more.

homeless vet with dog

Image credit: Iowa City by Alan Light Found on Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

Stay Where You Know

Why don’t some homeless people ever venture into subway tunnels, whereas other homeless people stay solely in the tunnels? It is because of the advice stay where you know. If you don’t know what is lurking somewhere, avoid it! It is much safer to stick to familiar terrain.

This is particularly good advice for all of those preppers who plan on bugging out into the wilderness somewhere when SHTF. I am all for bugging out in the wilderness – but only if you’ve taken time to scout out the terrain first. Otherwise, you are probably much better off hunkering down in the familiar location of your home and neighborhood.

Never Take Your Pack Off

Your survival pack is your life. Sleep with it strapped to you so no one can steal it.   Or, use it as a pillow but keep your arms hooked around it.   Not only will this help prevent theft, but it goes along with the next survival trick.  Not sure what to pack? Read this article about the 11 things you need in your survival pack.

Always Be Ready to Leave

You never know what to expect in survival situations. You have to be ready to flee at a moment’s notice. So, even if you’ve found the best bug out location and set up camp, don’t get too attached. Your disaster plan should always include a contingency in case you’ve got to go. And fast!

What you do you think – will you be ready to survive when SHTF? Let us know in the comments section or join the conversation on Facebook.