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Homeless Survival Guide
This page collects general information, AskMe threads, and links to online resources that can be searched by location.
- 1 Food
- 2 Health
- 3 Housing
- 4 Identification
- 5 Information Management
- 6 Internet Access / Telephone
- 7 Legal Help
- 8 Money / Public Benefits
- 9 Veterans
- 10 Youth
- 11 Collected AskMes
- 12 Disclaimer
Food Not Bombs offers a Hunger Hotline: 1-800-884-1136
A directory of state information, hotline and ombudsman numbers is available for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which offers nutrition assistance to low-income individuals and families in the United States, Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands.
FoodPantries.org offers a directory of food banks and subsidized groceries that can be searched by location.
Mental Health Care
The NAMI HelpLine is a free service that can be reached at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or firstname.lastname@example.org for information, referrals and support for people living with a mental health condition, family members and caregivers, mental health providers and the public.
The SAMHSA National Helpline (also known as the Treatment Referral Routing Service) can be reached at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) and is a confidential and free service, available 24/7 in English and Spanish, for individuals and family members facing mental health and/or substance use disorders. This service offers referrals to free and low-cost treatment facilities, support groups and community-based organizations. SAMHSA also offers a searchable mental health treatment locator and links to other helplines and treatment locators.
The MeFi Wiki ThereIsHelp page offers information and links for a wide variety of mental health support resources, including services based outside of the United States.
Health and Hygiene
It is important to stay on top of oral health and general health while on the street. Homeless populations are vulnerable to tuberculosis outbreaks and other serious health consequences from poor hygiene. There are things you can do to protect your health, and eating clean can be a part of that.
Instead of eating out of trash cans or dumpsters, you can try to find food closets and soup kitchens. You can also try to carry plastic cups at all times, because disposable cups and utensils can help improve hygiene when opportunities to wash dishes are limited. When sharing a drink, you can pour it into two cups so you are not also sharing germs.
Staying hydrated is not just about getting enough water. You also need enough minerals. Try to eat oranges or bananas or drink orange juice or gatorade every day.
See if you can find a homeless services center that offers free showers. Look for truck stops that offer a shower for a few dollars. Get your hair cut as short as possible. When you are grimy, instead of doing laundry and the like, you can find a new t-shirt on a clearance rack or at a dollar store and spend $1 or so on a new shirt and throw the old one out.
The Homeless Shelter Directory offers a directory of homeless shelters and service organizations that can be searched by state.
The Salvation Army offers a searchable directory of group homes, emergency shelters, and transitional living centers that may provide housing, food, and overnight lodging.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or TTY 1-800-787-3224 to provide confidential crisis intervention, safety planning, information and referrals to agencies in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Hotline operators may be able to help with finding shelter and other resources.
The United Way offers a free and confidential referral service to help find local resources that can be reached by dialing 211 or visiting https://www.211.org/. Call 2-1-1 to speak with a "live, highly trained service professional in your area. All calls are confidential." Accessible 24/7/365 in 180 languages.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) offers a variety of rental assistance programs, and a directory of local public housing agencies. In addition to federal rental assistance, there may be programs sponsored by state or local government or other organizations.
In rural communities, the U.S. Department of Agriculture offers rental and other housing assistance programs for eligible low income individuals and families. To apply, contact your local Rural Development office. Rural areas are also served by Community Action agencies; the Community Action Partnership offers a searchable directory of Community Action agencies, which may offer a range of services, including housing and utility assistance.
Related: Disaster Planning & Recovery
Apply for government disaster relief benefits online at disasterassistance.gov, by phone at 1-800-621-3362, by Smart Phone at m.fema.gov or by TTY at 1-800-462-7585. A disaster assistance process overview guide is available here.
National Disaster Legal Aid offers general information helpful to disaster relief on housing, insurance claims, insurance, employment, and other vital issues.
For camping, look for little patches of trees at off ramps, around shopping centers, and below power lines. Under bridges can be damp and moldy, so try to find a nice patch of trees somewhere. Go in after dark, leave in the morning, stay away during the day. Be quiet. Try to go unnoticed as you come and go. Tell NO ONE where you sleep. If you choose well and are careful, you may be able to stay in the same spot for weeks or months without being bothered.
Don't camp too close to residential areas. People will call the cops on you if you sleep too close to their houses. While you are at a library, you can use google maps (satellite view) to check out possible camp sites (overpasses, areas with enough vegetation for visual cover). It will save you a lot of walking to have a general idea of what direction to head in.
Local organizations may offer assistance with obtaining or replacing identification.
Birth Certificate: The Center for Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics website provides addresses and information about obtaining birth certificates. There is often a cost associated with ordering a copy of a birth certificate.
Social Security Card: To obtain or replace a Social Security card, you can apply at the nearest Social Security Office (for locations, you can call 1-800-772-1213). You need a Social Security number to get a job, collect Social Security benefits and get some other government services, but you don't often need to show your Social Security card. There is no cost to obtain or replace a Social Security number and card from the Social Security Administration.
Locating and connecting to all of the benefits and resources you may qualify for can take a lot of time, and there are many "tips and tricks."
- The United Way offers a free and confidential referral service to help find local resources that can be reached by dialing 211 or visiting https://www.211.org/.
- The National Coalition for the Homeless offers a searchable directory of programs, as well as links to national, state and city directories of organizations.
- Social workers at hospitals, libraries and human services agencies may be able to help you find community resources.
You can start your own website to keep track of information you need in a format superior to the paper handouts you will be given by local organizations, which may have inaccurate information and are a huge nuisance to keep track of on the street. Having your own website with a list of stuff important to you might help you cope as well.
If you have a gmail account, you can set up a free BlogSpot account. After you set up a blog (coming up with a unique name that has not yet been taken is sometimes a minor challenge), you can scroll down to the very bottom of the Admin page and click on "Settings." The first thing that opens should be "Basic" settings. The last item at the bottom of that list should say "Readers" and the default setting is "Public." You can click the "edit" button next to the word "Public" and set it to "Private."
For your birth certificate, ID cards, debit card, etc., get some small Ziploc bags and put your phone and any papers and anything you would put in a wallet into Ziploc bags. Keeping your papers and electronics dry is a big deal on the street.
Internet Access / Telephone
Libraries often have free wifi, computers and outlets to charge electronics. The Internet Public Library offers links to several library locators, including a WorldCat directory that can be searched by library name and location, including international locations and several languages.
US - Information about free and low-cost legal resources is available at the MeFi Wiki Get a lawyer page. Local legal aid organizations may offer clinics or representation for a variety of legal issues, including obtaining or replacing identification, public benefits and access to health care.
UK - You may be able to get free and confidential advice from Civil Legal Advice (CLA), which offers an online intake service to determine eligibility for services. Additional information and links to UK and Scotland resources are available from Shelter, a housing and homelessness charity.
Money / Public Benefits
The Community Action Partnership offers a searchable directory of Community Action agencies in the United States. Community Action agencies may offer a range of services and public assistance depending on your location, including housing and utility assistance.
The United Way offers assistance with finding help with essential needs, including food, housing, and health care. Call 2-1-1 to speak with a "live, highly trained service professional in your area. All calls are confidential." Accessible 24/7/365 in 180 languages.
For people experiencing or at risk of homelessness and considering an application for SSI or SSDI, there is a fast-track application process through the SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access, and Recovery (SOAR) program. A local legal aid organization may make a referral, or you can review the contact list for your state to find organizations with SOAR advocates. Further reading: Key Strategies for Connecting People Experiencing Homelessness to Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) Benefits (SAMHSA).
See Also: Disaster Assistance for links to public benefits that may be available after natural disasters.
In areas that pay cash for recyclables, start collecting recyclables. It is something you can do even if you are tiny and ill. It is something you can do whenever YOU feel like it, though there are some restrictions in terms of when you can turn it in for money, you can collect stuff any time of the day or night. Over time, you get good at figuring out where to look, how often to check that area, best practices and so on. You may average $1 to $3 a day most of the time.
The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program offers free tax help to people who generally make $53,000 or less, persons with disabilities, the elderly and limited English speaking taxpayers who need assistance in preparing their own tax returns. IRS-certified volunteers provide free basic income tax return preparation with electronic filing to qualified individuals. To find a local VITA site, use the VITA Locator Tool or call 800-906-9887.
Unclaimed property may be available. Further reading: Claim what's yours [MeFi]
The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans offers directories of services, programs, and other help that is available, including immediate help and hotline numbers. If you experience difficulties getting results or locating services in your local area, you can call the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans at 1-800-VET-HELP.
The Veterans Health Administration operates a National Call Center for Homeless Veterans (NCCHV): Veterans and others in the community can call the NCCHV at 877-4AID VET or 877-424-3838 to be connected to a trained VA clinical staff member 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The e-VETS Resource Advisor assists Veterans, Service Members, and those who support them to navigate information and resources, including Benefits and Compensation, Education and Training, Employment, Family and Caregiver Support, Health, Homeless Assistance, Housing, Transportation and Travel, Other Services and Resources, and State-Specific Information and Resources. This online service integrates with the National Resource Directory (NRD), a web-based directory of more than 11,000 national, state and local services and resources for Veterans, Service Members, and their families and caregivers.
The National Runaway Safeline (NRS) offers confidential support 24 hours a day, 365 days a year by telephone at 1-800-RUNAWAY and through online services. According to the National Network for Youth, the NRS offers crisis intervention and referrals to local resources such as shelter, counseling, food, medical and legal assistance.
Further reading: Rural Queer Resources
Housing / Shelter / Camping
Money / Public Benefits
What kind of financial help do I need? - Medicare, free tax help
The listing of an organization on this website does not constitute an endorsement of that group. This website and its contributors cannot guarantee the accuracy of information posted here or on any other website. This website and its contributors are not responsible for any advice, information, or assistance that you may obtain by using any of the organizations or websites listed or linked here. This website is for general information purposes only and for use at your own risk.