So, you are ready to settle in. Maybe you are just coming off a stint of urban survivalism or maybe you are a young kid ready to get out and start out but have no idea where to begin or what options there are. We here at STW have your back with all the ways to set up in an urban environment whether it be starting with a few grand in cash or arriving with lint in your pocket and a few bucks and the clothes on your back.
- 1 Legal, Leases, and Landlords
- 2 Starting Out Cheap
- 3 Free Naps
- 4 Creative Methods
- 5 Suburban Living
Legal, Leases, and Landlords
The term Landlord has it's origins in fuedal times where serfs would work the fields and lands and give all of the fruits of thier labors to one person or family in return for a right to live there and keep a modest amount of food not to starve. In modern times, it basically works the same way. Landlords, along with the Employer, the Banker, and some say Cops are forces that can cause real inconvieneince if things turn nasty. Do not get us wrong. Some landlords are actually very good in thier role as long as the rent is paid, and have a reputation of charging a fair price and fixing what needs to be fixed. However, many are cut-throat slumlords choking every last penny they can eek out of a tenant while fixing nothing, invading privacy, and placing folks they do not like on quasi-legal databases they share with others of thier kind. Even the kindest little old lady landlord will lose no sleep at night charging you extortion late fees and have maintainence gleefully tossing all your picked-through stuff on the curb if you are more than a week or two behind (sometimes more sometimes much less)! She will have another tenent in a few weeks, while you will be looking at The Street or Squatting if you have no emergency funds or back-up.
Be sure to read the contract carefully. A favorite legal trick of ours is to line out and initial anything unfavorable or prejudicial to our renters rights in the contract you sign, if you can get away with it. Just draw a single line over the words in black ink, no X-es or scribbles; it must still be readable under the line out, You can also box and X paragraphs and sections, again initialing them. If they even read the contract and object to your changes, move on to another place. They do not need to countersign these edits because this is the document they will use to attempt to evict or sue you. The judge will laugh them out of court.
Know the laws about reasonable inspection and notice for eviction and repairs. Many states have minimum statutory punishments paid in months of free rent if the owner walks on your rights. Be brutal if the landlord is a big slumlord.
Be sure to document any damage and keep the photos so you will not be charged for the damages. A big scam with slumlords is keeping deposits for even the tiniest scrape on the wall or smudge in the carpet. In some areas, it is so common that half the landlords practice this.
Do not cosign leases with folks you do not trust. Stories have been told of folks cosigning for thier buddies to get an apartment and in roomate deals, only to get screwed when the rent has been skipped on and the place has been damaged.
The laws vary state to state and even city to city. Know these laws. Even in the most landlord friendly places, they are at least going to have to file and give you a court date before the 'notice to vacate' notice is given (which in some states is 30 days, others 24 hours!) While most judges deal with landlords on a monthly basis, it may be in your interest to go to the court. The biased court system always awards an eviction by default if the tenant does not show, but delays the decision if the landlord does not.Be sure to bring all reciepts to the court as some slumlords will 'lose' payment records. If you can prove that you are sincerely trying to pay what you owe, but are going through hard times, some (but not all) judges may give you a bit more time to pay - or secretly plan to screw the landlord, get another pad, and your stuff to safety!
In some cities, there are churches that may pay all or some of your rent one time only. Folks have reported varying success with this, but that may be worth checking into.
Rooms for rent, hostels, bunkhouses, and boarding houses usually go by the more landlord friendly laws governing hotels and motels. Most places that have weekly or daily rent operate like this. The landlord can kick you out on spot for little reason and do not need a court order or eviction procedure. Worse is some even refuse to give you reciepts so they can rake in rent without paying taxes. This can screw you in two ways. First, since there is no record of renting, you are under the rules cpncerning house guests rather than a renter. This means they can call the pigs to escort you put at any time even for petty disagreements as a tresspasser- even if rent is paid way ahead with NO need to reimburse you. Second, you have no proof of address unless you have a utility bill or statement coming there if you need to show this to enroll in programs like food stamps, welfare, or disability.
NOTE If your eviction is due to your landlord not paying his mortgage AND you have a lease, you may be eligible for relocation assistance from the bank. Unfortunately, most landlords and tenants do not know about this. When you receive the notice from the bank, contact them and ask for the paperwork to relocate. The bank does not want to be in the landlord business, they want cash and will pay you not to have to deal with you or fight you. The settlement is usually 10k to 30k To get it, you have to move and clean the place immaculately within reason like it is ready to show to potential buyers. The bank officials or real estate agent on behalf the bank will then inspect it and issue a check. Be quick about it. These offers and dollar amounts reduce as time goes on.
Starting Out Cheap
Of course, if you are independently wealthy and have the resources to buy or have inherited a place, you are golden. For the majority of us, either renting something that someone else owns or using creative methods are in order. Free Land has information on actually owning a piece of property inexpensively.
This is perhaps the most optimal starting out arrangement short of acquiring a rural or urban homestead through inheritance or one of our other free or inexpensive legal methods. You will have to be 18 or older with a valid ID or emancipated and declared legally adult by a judge. You will also most likely have to sign a lease saying you will be there for a period of time ranging from a year to 6 months. What keeps some folks out of this is the enormous amount it takes to set up. Most landlords are going to want a deposit equal to the first months rent plus the rent itself. Many even tack on an application or processing fee of 20 USD to 100 USD on top of that. Some may even want the last month's rent as well. Some go further and want to see proof of income like a pay stub indicating you make double or even triple the rent. Bear in mind, this is before hooking up utilities. That said, if you look around, deals can be found on deposits and reasonable rent can be located as well. In college towns, the best times to look is during the summer or right when semesters are ending as students tend to take up all the reasonable housing. It is even possible to get utilities paid apartments, but be careful because many of these get skimpy with heating or air because they pay it.
An apartment can be cheaper than motels, hostels, or rooms for rent if you take into account security of stuff, privacy, and piece of mind if the initial start up can be met.
Once again: do not cosign a lease with anyone you do not COMPLETELY trust. The authors of this project know many who got screwed like this.
Weekly Rate Motels
This is the most expensive way to go. However, it bears mentioning because it has the one advantage of not needing a sizable deposit. Unlike hostels or rooming houses, they will tolerate kids. Even the crappiest motels offer a TV for entertainment, a clean bed, hot shower, and privacy. This is much preferable to the street as long as money is available and you have immediate plans to move to a more economical housing solution. However, the cash to maintain one of these can be higher than nice apartment rent, even if reduced weekly rates are used. Be sure to load up on the free towels and soap when you depart to make up for paying high rates. Be sure to get any stuff out before checkout or you may lose your stuff. This is only to be used in temporary situations and more income is on the way. Unlike some hotels which may charge a nice sized deposit if you are not using a debit card, only a valid ID and maybe a small key deposit and room rate is needed. Be also aware, that during certain peak season events in places, motels have been known to jack up rates with little notice.
The cheaper motels that cater to the transients and thrifts do not advertise much. You will not find them on Yelp or any travel website. These hotels are usually located on the outskirts of downtown areas, on old highways made irrelevant because of the interstate, and in dilapidated commercial districts in poorer neighborhoods.
Be aware that these Hotels can be traps for the working poor. Eating out all the time combined with rents that take up most of the paycheck has many trapped in situations where they cannot save to move out without 2 throwaway jobs or one really good paying job.
This only works if you are not currently in default for a student loan, have high school diploma or GED, and if you are willing to take out a grant or a loan to attend university full-time.
If you are going to go with this, there are only certain times of the year to get the process rolling and there may be wait lists and documents to hunt for. Also, many colleges - two year community colleges in particular - are not going to offer dorms unless they are way in the boondocks in a rural city (some exceptions exist). That said, this is a very popular way for younger (and older folks as well) to avoid the whole wage slave and landlord tribute game for a bit (with major drawbacks) for at least as long as grades are kept up and college lasts. The huge advantage is that you usually need no money up front except maybe a small deposit. You still may have to get unless you need to get computers, dorm fridges, bedding, or other stuff in there. You also will get to socialize and meet folks quite a bit more than being isolated in an apartment, shelter, or stealth camping. Of course, if you are not on scholarship or grant, you WILL be chased to pay for this six months after school ends! Free College Life has more on student loans.
Dorm living is vastly different depending on the university. Read closely the rules for living there.
Some dorms, like those working on master's degrees, doctorates, or expensive undergraduate colleges rival a private room at the best hostels and can be like expensive apartments for a discounted price. Some even let you have visitation with your kids or let a partner sleep over. A rare few even may have actual apartments for those who are married or have kids that work just like normal housing except that a student loan pays for it (Of course, with LONG wait lists). Others are holes in the wall with a ratty years old desk, 1970s era bunks, and cramped in on top of another person.
While many dorms are on par with the cost for rooming houses out in the real world, many dorms may have VERY strict rules. To enforce these rules and settle disputes, they usually have students called Resident Advisers (RAs) they give a free ride to selected for being as clean cut and square as possible AND usually an adult who lives there called a Resident Manager. Random inspections are sometimes the norm. Being caught with pot or other drugs can earn you a swift eviction, possible jail time, kicked from classes, and barred from entering other schools for a time. Most college campuses have their own police department. These guys are not just glorified security guards. They can carry firearms and have full powers to arrest and do investigations, of course reporting to the deans. That said, lay low and do not be stupid and you should be okay. If you smoke pot, use a one hitter and smoke out a window and use freebreeze and smoke very sparingly as to not tip off RAs or possible unsympathetic zealots (or even YOUR OWN ROOMMATE if he/she is uncool!) in the hall or suite. If you drink, hard liquor is much easier to conceal than cans of beer as long as you don't call attention to yourself by getting violent drunk or puking everywhere or have tons of folks in and out of your dorm room getting drunk and high and making noise. Think stealth and limit the uncool from your space.
If you meet someone you want to have fun, sexy time with, many will not let you use the dorm to get laid. A few (particularly in religious private colleges) even go Nazi and issue out curfews and even have the resident advisers cruise through the parking lots of local bars to scan for folks out having a cocktail.
In places with shared rooms and bunks, you may not be able to select your roommate, which means you may be stuck in the same 8 by 8 room with a person you hate. Many places do have a program where you can select a buddy if they are attending as a roommate if you know someone enrolling at the same time. Be mindful also that many dorms close for holidays and breaks. So, if you have no place to go in these times, you need to have arrangements.
The disadvantages of dorms are why many trust fund babies get apartments off campus. However, for someone broke who wants a (possibly) worthwhile degree without having to tolerate living with relatives, working abusive low paying jobs and crappy rentals, or the street this can be an attractive option.
Hostels are located in many adventure tourist destinations worldwide. Most are going to require an out-of-state ID to get in, though, to keep out the local homeless and transients. Research the rules and clientele that hostel is aimed at. Most hostels are for college age travelers, but long term housing for low income people or migrant workers exist as well. It is a good idea to get an idea of the social scene and find out how much a stay is. Many hostels are dorm type arrangements where you may be rooming with a dozen or more people. Also don't be surprised by people engaging in sex hidden only by their sheets, loud snoring, and questionable hygiene. Keep a close eye on your gear and never let anyone see anything of value. Before taking a room at a hostel check for hotel discounts and coupons especially in the off season that may be actually be cheaper than a hostel dorm room - and more privacy..
You can find ads for these in the newspaper or occasionally craigslist, though most traditional rooming houses advertise by newspaper. Like hostels, rooming houses may consist of a private room where a bathroom is shared or sometimes just bunks. Still, this can be much cheaper than motels and less picky than Hostels. Most of the time the management is going to want a week's deposit plus one weeks rent to move in, but this varies widely. Utilities are usually paid, so no need to contact the power company. Be sure to be cautious with your stuff for theft. One of the big disadvantages of rooming houses is that anyone who shows up with the deposit and first week's rent in hand gets the room barring putting off the owner/manager. This means you may be running into real jack asses in the common areas or a social trying to go to the bathroom. Also realize when the pigs bust rooming houses (often because some are in high crime areas), they may knock in every door, leaving your stuff exposed.
Sometimes, it can be practical to move in with someone who has already set up a pad. There are numerous ways to find these people ranging from your circle of friends, coffee house bulletin boards, craigslist, and the newspaper. The amount of cash needed to get into a roomie deal varies greatly from more than to get a nice apartment (from many folks trying to pay for huge house that they can not afford) to less than a rooming house.
Potential roomies can be picky, so it's not like you can just go up with money and get a room in a lot of cases. Some are college students and only want other college students. Some only want a certain gender, sexual orientation, social class, or race. You may have to interview with several.
Most roommate situations are very temporary things. The more roommates there are, the more volatile this situation can be as eventually some will move off, some may come up with some excuse about the rent money, or person disagreements about living styles can get out of hand. Be sure to interview to make sure your potential roomie is going to be compatible with you. Also be cautious of rooming with friends because if bad things happen, some friendships can be lost.
The advise we give under leases and landlords applies double in this situation, even above renting apartments. Bad roommate deals can end up with someone being caught with the lease. Do not sign this unless you truly trust the folks you are rooming with and have known them for some time.
If you know several sympathetic friends, you can ask to sleep on their floor or couch. With the right network of friends, you may be able to bounce from place to place for a certain length of time. Bear in mind, however, this can get old very quickly. Welcomes can be worn out. How old and how quickly depends on the size of the place and number of people living and visiting there. Also, friends that are coupled or find a new boy/girlfriend are going to be less likely to agree with this than single friends. Do not get complacent and stop looking for ways to get your own place just because you found a temporary couch. Misunderstandings or bad scenes concerning sex occasionally happen if you are crashing with both gay and straight apartment owners even if they are already in a relationship. Unless you are down with it, be frank. Don't be clueless and carefully analyze both your intuition and the advice of friends, be wary of engaging in survival sex.
The advice to travel light and watch your stuff applies double in this situation. Few people want to have their pad stacked with tons of someone else's stuff. Always be packed up and ready to leave forever on short notice. Never leave anything unattended unless you have known who you are crashing with for a long time and they are very trusted. Avoid pissing off those who lend you their hospitality by leeching their food, smokes, or other supplies unless offered. Respect their personal rules of the house and do not bring anyone or anything over without approval. Try to spend the day out (even though being out may cost more money) so they don't get sick of your face. Come home at a reasonable hour so they don't have to wake up or get their door in pajamas to let you in. Stay clean, shower every day, shave and use deodorant, take your shoes off by the door and keep the place clean. Making the place smell from you or your wet dog is their easy excuse to kick you out. If friends are giving you crash space because you are a hard luck case (especially if you have also borrowed money from them or eat from their supply) NEVER NEVER come around flashing cash, a new gadget, or expensive unshared food! This inducement to jealousy is easily the last straw for many couch crashers we have known.
Intended for travelers and adventurers, conservative use of the couchsurfing website for "in town" crashing is discouraged and might hurt your couchsurfing reputation and scare people out of hosting, but it is a good tool for emergencies if you can make yourself seem on vacation.
CouchSurfing - resource for sharing short term, free living space. Just keep in mind that couchsurfing is largely about community and forging friendships, so someone who just wants a crash pad and nothing else might have a tough time. Every couchsurfer has an online ID and people who you stay with will rate you. This is to weed out the creepy types, so be somebody who people would enjoy to have over, token gifts and good stories are a nice touch. For the greatest success, contact a number of people weeks before you're planning to visit and aim to stay in less popular cities and/or travel during less popular times.
Hospitality Club - free accommodation community with 437,042 members.
Global Freeloaders - free accommodation community with 56,961 members.
BeWelcome - free accommodation community with 7,236 members.
Tripping - global community of travelers offering free accommodation.
BeLodged - more confidential system of free accommodation networking.
Warm Showers - community of touring cyclists offering free accommodation.
Stay4Free - Members make their spare room available to visitors for free in return for accommodation when they travel themselves
Place2Stay - Provides a network of people who need and offer free accommodation worldwide for travelers.
The Yahoo Lodging Directory - The lodging directory on yahoo. go stay with a family, rent a room, share an apartment, stay on a farm....
Halfway Houses and Detox
In many cities, there are places where those coming off of drugs can get into rooms for rent in a nice house or sometimes efficiency apartments. You usually have to have been to a lock down detox for at least a week and be referred by a sponsor or social worker to get in. You also must either Get a Job or be close to getting one and have the ability to pass a cheap SAMSHA 5 panel urine drug test.
If you are not coming off some addiction, the rules are really a bummer and not recommended. Mandatory AA meetings (which in some places are so many, anytime you are not at work or sleeping you MUST attend), house meetings, reality show "vote to kick" drama, inspections, and drug testing at a whim are the order of the day here. Plus, AA and such can be very cult like. As such a cult, they have their own language and mannerisms and can make life really shitty if you are not one of them and accept their help.
The price they charge is not much cheaper than a ghetto rooming house, but the neighborhood is usually cleaner and better. You can also get an ad hoc network of help for rides, information, etc from others here who are at minimum at least trying to come clean. If you need it, it is a great temporary place to bide time to get yourself out of a hole. If you do not have addiction issues, you will have a very rough time. Don't even think about being disruptive, sneaking pot, or a cold beer in this place. Many can kick you on spot with five minutes to get off the property and place your picked through possessions on a curb. You have no legal protections.
DO NOT GO TO ANY PLACE THAT "HELPS" BY LOCKING DOWN (unless it is a psychiatric emergency), TAKING ALL OF MONEY (making you save is fine), FORCED LABOR (other than chores), BRAINWASHING, ETC.
The last resort after all of the above, Homeless Shelters do offer a bed and bath. Most even offer meals or laundry. However, most shelters require you show up in the afternoon to secure a bed and kick you out in the early morning. A few go a step further and may require a letter from a church or social worker and may require you to enroll in certain drug rehab or job training programs. You may not hang around there or store your stuff. The time you have to be there actually hurts people getting jobs as night work leaves you back on the street during daytime and many daytime jobs may let off too late to claim a bed. Day beds are very rare. A few may allow you to come in later if you a have a note from an employer. Be careful if you do this, because some employers may make unfair assumptions about you as a person due to homelessness if they find out. Do not even think about coming there highly intoxicated as some may refuse to let you stay. Shelters are popular places for cops to raid looking for fugitives.
Many cities are forcing anyone who wants to stay in a homeless shelter to get tested for TB before even being allowed to stay (except during inclement weather conditions). Most only give these on certain days and it takes two days for them to read the test, so you may still be outside anyways. Once it is read, many facilities give you a card to show when you show up again.
Some only take men and some only take women. Women's shelters tend to have better funding and less waits for beds, but this can vary according to area. A few will take kids (either runaway or rarely homeless families), but expect social services to be nosing around asking questions pushing for foster care or being shipped back to a relative if a minor is involved. Sometimes during inclement weather, they have been known to open up more beds.
You may have to put up with the facility's religion if the facility is part of a religious organization. This means forced sermons, prayer meetings, or AA even if you do not need or want it. Even if the facility is not religious, perception among the staff tends to look down upon those who are in situations where there is no alternative. You are automatically assumed to be irresponsible, a drug head, or criminal. While caring people exist, most are jaded from years of dealing with the mentally ill, addicts, and lairs. Expect indifferent treatment at best and outright contempt at worst.
Homeless shelters are also big business 501 (c) nonprofits. The focus of any charity are on donors, any religion, any municipal contracts, and payroll of the administrators and staff. People getting "helped" does happen, but is only a side effect of making money. Many Salvation Army shelters and a few others even charge 5 USD to 10 USD a day past the first few days while maintaining strict curfews and even stricter rules!The "Sally", for example, spends a portion of donations earmarked for homeless services on lobbying for anti-gay agendas in legislatures. We have even heard of a few quasi homeless/half way houses forcing people to apply for food stamps, then taking the EBT card. Be careful.
Because of all these limitations and hassles that can many times hinder more than help, we suggest you use one of the above methods or grab a cheap tent and try your hand at stealth camping if the city you are in has stretches of unpopulated wooded areas if worse comes to worse.
Anywhere you find seats you can usually catch some ZZZs. Often just a fitful nap not the peaceful sleep you really needed, expect to be awoken by security after a time.
- Airports are the best for this and can often get a whole nights sleep in. See Sleeping In Airports
- Hospital - Try crashing at the Waiting Room of the local hospital. Tell the nurses that you're waiting for your sister/friend/whoever to have a baby, then lay down on the floor and catch some ZZZs. Might not be too comfy, but definitely safer than sleeping under a bridge. Eventually, the hospital staff will get wise to you but hopefully by then you'll have gotten some rest.
- Library - Find a book or newspaper to hold, which is quite easy at the library, and doze off, since it appears you were legit and just reading they will likely not throw you out unless it is a security guard or cop and your skin is the wrong hue of brown.
- Bus and train stations.
- Malls - Most are open from about 10am to 9pm, and have assorted seating areas indoors and out. If you can stand the noise, sleeping in a mall is fairly safe as far as unwanted attacks go. When was the last time you saw someone raped in the middle of a mall? Not that rent-a-cops are the most attentive personnel, but to avoid being woken up sunglasses, headphones, and a book are helpful when you want to be left alone. Make sure to use your pack as a pillow, lying directly on top of it, or tie the straps to your arm and keep it in between your body and whatever you are sleeping on.
- Big furniture shops.
- If you're in a college town, simply go figure out where the frat party is, make friends there and find a couch to stay (or pass out late at the frat house). Only works if you are around the age of a typical college student. They will not want some 40 year old showing up.
- Under a tree (not fern), in a doorway or bus shelter.
Good for you if you find a good place to stay in the city without having to use creative methods. But if not below are some ideas for those who might think they are out of options. You will sometimes even find yourself with access to an abandoned building, open unused room, and maybe even a bed in a house but for social, security, or other reasons no access to a normal kitchen, laundry, or bathroom. Many of your needs will be met using your regular camping gear like sleeping bag, ground mat, and stove but often you can take advantage of the utilities and environmental control offered. See Low Impact Crashing for furnishings, basic utilities, and services. Be smart about using really expensive camping gear if you are walking the very gray line of creative urban living, this stuff has a great resale value on ebay, and it would be a shame to either wear it out or have a property owner or even fellow camp dweller lift your gear to sell for a few bucks. It is possible to have 'too good' gear on the street with high theft potential, even a suspicious cop may rob you thinking it is already stolen, maybe you should consider selling the big stuff for good cash and getting street worthy gear. Keep your gear packed and organized at all times so you can pick up and run if the heat comes down on you. Don't overload yourself with gear, if you cant wear your pack everywhere and keep it safe while sleeping there is no reason to expect it to stay around for long, some crackhead who says he is your friend and bums your smokes will rip you off and sell your stuff just as readily as he will give blowjobs for another fix.
Many buildings have a flat roof and parapet to keep people from falling off. If you don't want to challenge a fire escape you could set up on businesses with flat parapet roofs like one story strip malls and mini marts, climb the dumpster or something else in back, just remember if you make too much racket running around the roof they will probably come up and find your squat. If the rooftop has both a real drain (most do) and a hose faucet if you are lucky you are set. There are even some rooftops with unprotected electrical outlets in range of wireless Internet! If it was not for blazing hot temperatures in the summer daytime sometimes in excess of 120 degrees F or vulnerabilities to strong winds knocking your tent off the roof or lightning dangers, all the comforts of home are here if you can keep quiet.
On larger buildings it gets trickier but the payoff is your "yard" can be quite large. You will either have to attach a ladder to the roof from the fire escape or pick or break the inside lock to the roof access. Even then you need to assure regular access to the roof from outside while keeping random people from noticing your squat. We have seen people try to bicycle lock a ladder nearby to get up on the fire escape, and rope it up once on the roof, but this is a real workout to raise and lower it every day, it is suspicious activity to any witness, and the ladder is easily stolen. Once you have access to the roof you can build a shack to live in or just camp out in your tent or hammock. Take advantage of electricity and water connections running to air conditioners and lights, but be careful these are live deadly electrical wires and there is no way to turn them off unless you can access the fuse or breaker box inside. In addition to a squat your rooftop might have enough space to start a rooftop garden like we discuss in Farm It. If you are a legit renter, get tight with the building manager or borrow and copy the roof keys. If you know someone living in such a building ask them to help you get access, the rub is they have to trust you to not rat them out if you get busted.
You might also try to access attic space to survive in winter but again be sure to use extra stealth when entering or exiting the building, some attics are also safely accessible from the roof through vents. If camping in an attic you may have to lay down plywood or boards to keep from stepping through a sheet rock, plaster, or other weak ceiling. You must try to keep your activity to places over a hallway where people will not be too suspicious of your occasional sounds. This is a difficult to keep secret squat and often requires lots of work and resources. Consider a different idea unless you have a friend in the building who can help you out. But, like roofs, attics get dangerously hot during warm summers with temps going even above the rooftop itself!
We all have seen campers under bridges. Bridges offer protection from sun and rain and, if located in a nonresidential area, there are often longer times between camp breakups by cops compared to more exposed camping spots. If trash starts to visibly build up the city will often kick everyone out and come in with a prison work crew to throw everything away including your camping gear. Some bridge campers will tap lighting and irrigation systems to provide basic electricity and water needs, there are dangers of contaminated or untreated water and obvious electrical dangers involved with these activities as many bridges have the same 440 voltage or higher lines as streetlights do..
Spaces between and behind buildings
Think about the narrow space between buildings, Some boxes or a dumpster blocking the entrance give you some privacy. If you keep it clean and move out during the day the owners may not brick or fence over your camping spot, but remember that it is first come first serve every night.
Most urban parks have overgrown areas large enough to allow real camping. Try to find a place hidden by thorns and vines that will discourage city workers. A regularly used trail will lead other homeless or even park services to your hideout. To avoid making a trail use rocks as stepping stones if possible. Steep forested hillsides are great to hang a hammock for a few days. Hammocks can be regular blankets or drapes with both ends tied into a knot and tied to the tree with strong rope. Never make a mess, as this will attract the attention of park services and force them to evict you. Leave packaging in the dumpster where you found its contents. Leave no trace! Urinate away from the wind or you might have your little set-up smelling. Do your other business away from your camp and bury it.
Treehouses are also a real option short term. Without too much trouble a little platform can be created by a crafty houseless person. Add an army poncho for camouflage and shelter from rain and you have one of the most ideal places to sleep. You sleep well hidden and away from animals, both human and not. The difficulty is the obvious damage to the tree from repeated climbing by an adult human.
Storage Space Rental
What freak has not dreamed of renting a storage unit for a home? Unfortunately, the on site management is almost always against this. One inspection by the fire marshal, and the site manager is canned and the owner is in big trouble. It might be possible to bribe a manager but the trouble of modifying the unit, lack of water or bathrooms, and the locking of the buildings are all problems that make it almost not worth the trouble. Most of the time, merely asking about this will prevent you from renting in the first place. Or it could earn you a stern 'get the hell out and take your stuff with you' if you already are.
The good news is that a small storage unit can be very useful to a person without a regular home. Just be sure the overall cost of storage and moving does not exceed the value of the stuff. Sometimes it is cheaper to just start over and build up anew than hold onto stuff. Storage facilities, depending on area, run for fairly cheap and provide a great haven for valuable items that are not realistic to carry with you or may need when a better living situation comes around. Be sure to have a friends mailing address, valid phone number, and ID as well. As always, when conducting business, dress as cleanly as possible when opening the unit.
Day use policy of a storage unit varies from one place to another. Stories are told of some homeless people using a rented unit to catch a daytime nap on a cot with the door open and the permission of the manager. Some managers won't mind you using a light bulb electrical outlet adapter to run or charge electronics, but this all depends on the attitude of the manager. If you want to try any of these day use tricks do it in a storage site different than where you are keeping your stuff.
No matter the scam, do not jeopardize your stuff's storage by trying to camp out there! Being homeless and getting kicked out of your storage is not pretty. At best, you may have to move your stuff on very short notice to somewhere else. At worst, you could be arrested and upon return find your stuff picked though and in the dumpster.
Some say that rented city and college bike lockers can be converted for personal use by modifying the lock. Even if not such a realistic place to urban camp, this is one of the few 24 hour accessible lockers that a homeless person can safely stash some gear in. Check rules about city inspection of contents.
Many cities have an informal or well organized homeless movement which often with local assistance is working for the right of homeless groups to establish transitory or permanent settlements in or near urban areas where there are many services and sources of sustenance available to the homeless person. Examples are Dignity Village in Portland Oregon, or Tent City Three and Four in the Seattle area although there are usually car parks and small tent enclaves hidden in most cities near older industrial zones, electrical sub stations, railroad easements, and parks. Occasionally unauthorized or contested tent camps will be raided, the cops have been know to slash their way through camps with razor blades to destroy tents and packs hoping to drive the homeless away. Acquire shelter materials or a larger tent locally for long stays and use this for your shelter, try to keep your nice tent packed away for emergency moves or in safe storage elsewhere once you get settled. Always keep your gear neat, organized, packed, and ready to go . Many tent city campers will leave a cheap tent, ground pad, and sleeping bag in camp during the day, it just depends on how safe the camp is and with sleeping bags how bedbug free it is, you will find only the naive or foolish leaving anything of value in camp when they are out.
This is simple, don't sleep in dumpsters. The reason for this advice is that while you are having a stinky but restful night of sleep safely hidden from the cops and security who want to arrest or molest the homeless you might easily oversleep and wake to find yourself being dumped and compacted in an automatic dumpster unloader garbage truck. So while it may be one of the easier places in a downtown area to catch a sticky nap, don't do it, try stealth camping in an industrial area or under a bridge.
Many cities have old established tunnel, utility, or unused subway networks that might be opened for our use. Be sure to explore large drainage tunnels during the dry months of the year and if safely possible active train tunnels although this may entail serious risk unless there is a maintenance walkway wide enough to prevent a fall onto the tracks when a high speed train passes. Just check any interesting holes, tunnels, access panels, or doors that appear to lead into walls, sidewalks, or hillsides. In New York and London lost subway stations have been turned into meccas for street punks and the homeless. In rural areas re-purposed military nuclear war bunkers and missile silos can be found although most are on farmers land, made into historical sites, or destroyed by the DOD, a famous example was a group producing the majority of Amerikan LSD operating out of an abandoned underground nuclear missile launch silo.
Abandoned or Unused Structures
You can see many ideas on Squatting in that chapter. Remember that even if there is a bad draft or leaks a building is a great way to conceal your regular camping tent and living activities. If you are traveling light a hammock suspended from lag bolts anchored into the wall studs beats sleeping on cardboard or newspaper, tarp or plastic sheet suspended above your hammock or mat will protect you from leaky roofs. Remember to restrict indoor cooking to cement floors or fireplaces because of the fire hazard, also ensure adequate ventilation of your cooking area because of the real danger of carbon monoxide poisoning, best practice if possible is to cook outdoors in a concealed location.
When you run out of options, you are stuck out on The Street. It can be so bad that some people turn to survival sex exchanges or commit petty crimes just to get a nights stay in jail.
Suburban areas are likely the most difficult to improvise housing. Short of renting a basement or garage for a very small amount, it will be difficult. The suburban sprawl was designed with a petroleum powered vehicle in mind, so most services are a highway drive away. Radically-dressed and -minded outsiders will likely be harassed by the local police
In older neighborhoods with large lots adjoining park or wetland areas there are sometimes disused sheds or old garages. Look for unkempt yards or long grass without foot trample around the out building this may indicate an elderly homeowner or uninterested renter who has no use for the building. Choose and use a path of approach that does not leave a trail visible from the house or easily noticed from other homes. Whatever the plan light and smoke discipline are absolutely essential for most of these ideas, bored neighbors are either totally oblivious or constantly snooping for any excitement.
Garden Shed Kit
A mini-barn or garden shed can be purchased at most North American hardware stores. All that is really needed is a concrete platform or four stone corner pedestals to start. These quick shelters have two benefits in a suburban area they may not be noticed by neighbors if built quickly during the work week, they are also a quick way to get shelter on a piece of land you plan to build a larger alternative home. These were proposed as a third world emergency prefab home after disasters. A good idea is to build on property of a friend who you will share utilities with. Contact a manufacturer with your plans, most will have at least one design with a normal size door and windows, some will custom cut the wood to include windows and doors where you want them as well as the overall height and size to your liking. If a move is required most quality sheds in good shape can be transported on a flat bed pickup truck and only require a new cement platform to be poured at the new location.
If you want mail delivery addressed directly to your shed home be sure to inquire with the local area postmaster. Once you have a mailing address established you can arrange to get service attached for telephone and other services if you are unable for whatever reason to connect via the main address on the property. If for whatever reason you do not wish to have direct delivery inquire about a post office box in town.
Useful upgrades to a quick build shed home include the following features:
- Normal size house door with proper lock (as opposed to double barn doors).
- Windows angled to catch summer and winter sun.
- Overhang roof and extended length cement platform or gravel porch.
- Garden hose plumbing or buried pipe for regular water utility.
- Drainage into a gravel/sand pit or garden next to your shed-house if soil drainage allows.
- Rain gutters and storage barrel for washing water.
- Electricity, include a circuit breaker of a lower value than the circuit you are connecting to so your breaker will flip first.
- Solar electricity and LED lighting is a viable option for charging a few electronic devices and batteries.
- Dry wall, paint and insulation make this shed house more livable.
- Shower curtain rail around porch for showering in summer.
- Fold away bed and table saves room in your shed house.
- Freight pallets cut to size and plywood make a good floor above the cold cement, tile or carpet over.
- Propane gas for heating and cooking can be plumbed in using camping components.
- Fireplace or wood stove for heating and cooking makes sense in some areas.
- A directional WiFi antenna mounted on the roof can let you connect to a house even hundreds of feet away.
- Toilet plumbing can be a challenge to include on a low budget; an outhouse or chamber pot would be easier.
- Tall bushes, garden trellises, and shrubberies around your shelter will obscure the view by neighbors giving you privacy.
- Solar water heating system can be made and insulated hot water storage can use LP gas or kerosene to heat water in winter.
- Telephone service only requires stringing or burying a two conductor wire from a nearby building.
- Rigging a 12 volt DC system for lighting and small appliances (available at RV stores and truck stops).
How to camp comfortably in your Cars
The practice of finding and squatting a random unlocked car can be quite dangerous, as angry auto owners have been known to attack and even shoot homeless people sleeping in their vehicles. Use this tactic as a real last resort, and try to only use clearly abandoned or unused vehicles with dust on the windshield or flat tires if you must.
Squat a House
At the edge of the suburban rural boundary, in badly planned cul-du-sacks, greenspaces, or wetlands, and near parks there are often pockets of older neighborhoods where a house may sit for years unoccupied waiting for inheritors to sue each others asses off until the lawyers take the house and divide the spoils among themselves. Look near large construction projects for houses slated for destruction or partially finished structures with a good roof abandoned by bankrupt contractors. An old weathered for sale sign might be a house open to squat, but could also mean somewhat regular visitors depending on the housing market, take down the realtor's sign. Even better finding an incomplete subdivision with some nearly finished homes.
Deciding to squat a house takes some good detective work. Find a place where it is apparent that the yard work is not being taken care of, peek in the windows has anyone been home in a few months. Does it appear that the house has been squatted or burglarized without any cleanup? All of these are good cause to stake the place out. Put a padlock on the front door and see if it is removed, camp out in the back yard if you can do so discreetly just to be sure. Try before you pry, an open door or window might remove the charges of breaking and entering if you get busted.
Squat the place. While you are squatting light up your devices you use and go outside to see what is visible at night, pull the shades and check again, light and motion will give you away most easily. Keep your travel in and out infrequent, at night only if possible, no music or noise. Cooking fires, cigarettes, and grilling might be noticed from the smoke and smell. If you kept clean you will be hard to spot. To the average WASP the homeless are dirty and distant, the suburban and rural townies and cops won't tolerate filthy bums, but will they even notice a clean one?
Always make your living space as near as possible to the back door on the ground floor, clean that room up first for occupation. Since this is not your house be ready to run if you hear someone trying to enter through the front, legit owners drive up and enter through the front door 99% of the time without doing a walk around, pile up junk in front of the front door to make noise and slow them down. Barricading the back door means that even if the owners or another squatter tries to take the place you will have the option of using the back door for escape when the give up and head to the front. Always have your bags packed for a quick escape, if confronted be apologetic but be sure to get away before anyone gets violent. It might help if you tell a story of your dead grandfathers house in this town that you thought you were squatting in, this is just a weak distraction to get out the door and prevent violence, be cool, smile, grab your pack, don't let anyone get their hands on you, know your escape routes have at least two. Expect the cops in the area soon so get away from the property and into a store or movie theater, lock your bike at a different store bike rack and stash your pack safely nearby, maybe do a covert tree stash, the pack really gives you away, retrieve everything after dark.
In many places oil heat is still in use or a partly filled tank remains. Most older systems are easy to tap but unless you can access the basement require a fuel transfer pump, just ask nicely for some fuel and fill up by pumping from the outdoor fill pipe. Camping stoves designed to burn diesel fuel and kerosene will burn furnace oil just fine.
See also Squatting.