Clothes dryer at East Hotel Hamburg, Germany. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
You are about to get your Phd in Hobology:
1) Doing Laundry. This can be a hassle, but the happy hobo is a clean hobo (well, as much as possible). If you can find cheap laundry facilities in your area, try to use them. Seventy-five cents for a wash and a dollar for a dryer load is not unheard of, you just have to know where to look. Some places are verboten for me to do a load on the premises, but at 75 cents, sometimes it is worth it to take a risk. There are cheap washers and dryers in retirement complexes and at hospital apartments for patient families that can be discretely used. If questioned, just mention doing laundry for a sick family member. If your clothes are confiscated, sheepishly ask for the soggy articles back and listen to their dire warnings against ever doing that again. Wait a few months before you lather, rinse and repeat, again. To do your laundry free in a sink is possible for a small load. (Don’t slosh water on the floor. The janitor will hate you.) If you can’t plug the sink, wash your few pieces of clothing in a plastic bag. Just dampen clothes with soapy water and massage the bag until the soap gets everywhere on the clothes. Rinse a few times and air dry your duds in a safe place for about half a day. If you have a dryer available, toss the damp clothes in and run it for 20 minutes or so. A dryer that takes a quarter for 10 or 20 minutes of drying time is ideal.
2) Keep your feet and legs in good condition. I know, you are not auditioning for the Rockettes. But, most homeless people develop nasty leg conditions for two reasons: They don’t lay down a few hours a day and they move around carrying or pushing a lot of stuff. If you have ever crossed the USA in a Greyhound bus, you would know about leg swelling (edema) because of sitting too long. That’s what happens when people are homeless. Sometimes, they are afraid of the big nasty security guard, so they sleep sitting up instead of laying down. Big mistake. The fluid that needs to be eliminated from your body pools in the extremities and causes swelling. Everyone needs to lay flat for a few hours a day, to get this fluid out of the blood stream and into the kidneys where it can be safely expelled as urine. If the fluid builds up for too long, nasty conditions can develop. Be smart and get some lay down time. Your body needs it.
Well, that’s it. Now you too can be a happy hobo.
Tips on how to keep the shirt on your back and getting past the HR department ogres:
1) Free or cheap clothes and stuff. Free clothes: Ask at charities (sometimes food pantry’s give out clothes too), dumpster diving (a good way to get cheap furniture too), relatives and friends cast off’s, and one of the perks of living in a shelter (maybe the only one) is that they give out free clothes. Careful though, the other freebie seekers can get nasty. Cheap clothes: Thrift shops, consignment stores. Hey, I don’t mind the smell, when I can get designer clothes for $3.50 a piece. After a while you’ll develop an eye for the good stuff. Make sure it is in good condition and that the fabric in washable (Dry clean? Not on my budget). Tip: Go at the end of the month or on weekdays, the crowds are thinner.
2) Having no physical address to put on an employment application can be a problem. You looked sharp at the interview and breezed through those tough questions. But now you are worried that the old physical address that you put on the application just won’t cut it. Nothing like having your grumpy ex-landlord’s scrawl over a piece of mail announcing “NO LONGER AT THIS ADDRESS.” You can handle this situation two ways: A) Use a friend’s or relative’s street address on your applications, until you get settled. Or B) Look below the street address line, there sometimes is a mailing address line. Use this for your P.O. Box address. Tell them that your mail delivery person is near retirement and keeps mis-throwing your mail, or that the mail thieves in the neighborhood are making off with your important mail (use this if you don’t care that they know you live in a high-crime area, or hell, you might drum up sympathy). Granted some lazy or mean administrative assistant may “out” you by using the first address on the application. But since you already warned them that your mail situation is dodgy, just breezily state the tiresome reasons for using the second address and leave it at that. To find out more, they would have to go to the street address themselves and check if you really live there. Most people don’t want to go to that trouble and, if they did, you probably wouldn’t want to work for them anyway. How anal.
1) Working to get off the streets. This has to be a constant in your life, or your future will be bleak. Get a P.O. Box and send in applications for low-cost housing and assistance. Can’t get a P.O. Box without a physical address? Oh, those bureaucrats do try to keep people down, don’t they? If you keep being persistent, you will get a mailing address. A few tips: Paying for the box over the internet at their USPS website (credit card required), or wandering in to an out of the way post office and being able to rent the box on the spot. Use your old address on your ID with a straight face. Not that I’m telling you to circumvent the law, but the rules should not inadvertently punish the innocent. If paying for a P.O. Box is out of your budgetary range. Get your mail delivered general delivery. Check your mail regularly, they will send things back after holding it for a week or so. Shelters and homeless agencies will also collect mail for you if it is sent to their address. I must advise you to be on good terms with the staff, one important piece of mail mishandled by a snarky shelter worker can undo months of work and effort.
2) Protecting your valuables. These might not be what you think. Your cell phone and charger, medications, important documents, ID cards, bus passes, and warm clothes. These all can really put a dent in your economic recovery, if they are stolen. Keep a vigilant eye on your things, and be wary of the friendly person who keeps watching you and if their eyes seem always to be on your things and where they are placed. I have a little test that may not seem fair, but I think makes sense. Open up your purse or wallet in a group and notice whose eyes seem to be attracted to what’s inside. Those people should be kept at arms length. Note: I would sanitize the wallet or purse of any obvious valuables (credit/debit cards, any bling, electronics, etc.) before this test; you don’t want to encourage them.
3) Should you keep a weapon? I can’t advise you on this, because I don’t know your situation. Some areas are really dangerous. But there are warnings that I must share if you do choose to keep a weapon handy: Is it legal? Registered, unregistered? Do you know how to use it? Is there any chance that a weapon could get you into some situation involving the law? Are you too hot tempered to keep it only for situations of clear self-defense? I have always followed the general principles of keeping away from trouble, confronting unavoidable trouble with a tough attitude (act like you have a gun), and being willing to call the police if necessary. This has worked for me 100% of the time.
On the next Happy Hobo: Clothes and getting past employment application headaches.
- Coffee Can Hobo Stove (survivalsherpa.wordpress.com)
More tips in the Happy Hobo series:
1) Finding enough food to eat. Anyone who is homeless is eligible for public assistance, if they don’t have A) valuable assets and B) a big monthly income. What they consider valuable and big ranges from state to state, I suppose, but if you are able to take advantage of this source of help, by all means do. Another way to get food is your local Food Bank or Food Pantry. They have much more flexible rules of eligibility and, generally, a friendlier attitude. Storing the food can be a problem, unless you have a storage unit. Try to get things that you can eat on the fly (The term “No cooking facilities” should come up in the conversation with the Food Pantry worker to get this point across) or you will be loaded down with useless cans of green beans and stewed tomatoes. Items I would search for/request: Cans of chili, fruit, snack bars, nuts. If it is in a can, choose something with low amounts of water in it. Lug around heavy cans of soup with tiny bits of noodles and meat in it? I don’t think so. Also, find places to microwave your food. Hospital dining rooms, collage cafeterias come to mind. That’s another reason to keep clean. Smelly bums get tossed out of those places fast. Be a part of the crowd.
2) A special note about dumpster diving and pan-handling. In a word: Distasteful. Get good at using the resources listed above. Pan-handling is an extreme measure that some people have turned into an art form. But for those of us with less personality and more spunk, I say don’t bother. If you do pan-handle, you’ll have to keep moving around to new territory, because your sources of spare change will start to avoid you. Also, dumpster diving for food could lead to sickness, which will make you weak. That’s not what you want to be on the streets.
3) Handling crazy people. Unless you have lived around the insane, you might not know how to deal with them. Fortunately (or unfortunately), some of us have had some crazy relatives and have the instinct about how to handle their peculiarities. First of all, if you can avoid it, don’t mess with someone who is off their rocker. Walk away from them, but don’t show fear. Some crazies like to intimidate people. Give them the impression that fooling around with you will be the sorriest day of their lives. Pull out the cell phone and announce your intentions of calling 911, and do so. They should disappear promptly.