How to sleep rough, or, where to sleep if you’re homeless

How to sleep if you get made homeless

First of all, if you are in the UK, make sure you declare homelessness to your local council so that you are on a waiting list for some council housing. They might be able to find you some emergency accommodation but it’s unlikely.

Once you’ve got that box ticking exercise out of the way, and you’re probably still without a place to stay, let’s look at how to find a good place to stay and how to make it sleepable.

They call it “sleeping rough” if you sleep on a park bench etc. That’s the face of homelessness that we see on the streets in every city around the world. People sitting on the pavement, often begging. Living homeless doesn’t have to be like that (and generally beggars aren’t homeless, as I surprisingly found out from being homeless in two different cities). If you are in a city, your best bet is to get out of the city and find some open land such as forest or beach where you can stay without drawing attention to yourself. You will need to move on regularly.

1. Live in your car. If it’s cold or rainy, and if you have a car, this is by far the best place to stay while you are sorting yourself out. Don’t park in one area for too long, I would recommend moving about half a mile to twenty miles every night, and sleeping in lay-bys is less likely to draw attention from police or other officials. Keep a window open so the air circulates and air it out during the day because cars go mouldy inside if you stay in them for too long! Park outside someone’s house and they’ll probably call the conformity brigade on you to find out why you’re not living in a house like everyone else. This is a crime in some places. If you’re in Denmark, move down into Germany because they have Parkplatz and it’s legal to sleep in your car (Denmark is the only place I know where it’s not legal). If you have a particularly nice car and managed to bring your V5c (ownership document) with you, you could sell your car and use the money to put down a deposit on a rented flat or house, but find somewhere you could afford to pay for every month! Keep reading if this is not an option for you.

2. Buy a cheap tent. You can pick up a cheap 2 man tent for under £20 in places such as ASDA, Poundstretcher and Home Bargains. It won’t keep you very warm but it will keep the rain off and people won’t be staring at you. I’ll discuss picking somewhere to pitch the tent further down in this article. Even one of those beach shelters or a large umbrella is better than nothing. If you get wet through and cold you might end up with bigger problems than having nowhere to live, such as trench foot or frostbite.

3. Make your own shelter. There are a gazillion ways to do this and all of the ones you can do in a day can be made more waterproof with the addition of some cheap umbrellas under the roof.

Finding a place to pitch a tent or make a shelter:

1. Choose somewhere that you won’t be obviously visible from the road or footpaths. This might include covering your tent with grass or branches to camouflage it, since cheap tents tend to come in bright colours.

2. Any type of woodland is best from a shelter point of view because you will need sticks to build a shelter. The absolute jackpot is a strip of mixed woodland near a field full of long grass, hidden from view by being down a slope or thick enough woodland that no-one outside it can see in at a glance. Bonus points if it’s by a lake e.g. in the Highlands, because you can catch fish to eat and have some water to wash yourself in (try not to drink lake water though – usually there’s some streams nearby which are safer although technically you still shouldn’t).

3. Choose somewhere where the ground is as level as possible. A slight slope is fine.

4. If you have to choose between lower and higher ground, go for higher to avoid boggy water build up, but remember you still need your tent to be hidden from the main view.

5. CHECK FOR DOG SHIT. Or that of other animals. They can make many problems with cleaning your tent and you REALLY don’t want to get worms.

6. Try to choose somewhere that isn’t obviously owned by someone. Someone’s front garden or a grass verge by the road is a less good option than the wasteland near a beach or off the track in a wood. Big clumps of trees near farmland is contentious.  Avoid construction sites, they may look empty but homeless people have died from sleeping in abandoned buildings that got demolished while they were inside.  Abandoned buildings in general are an excellent choice, though, as long as they’re not on a construction site.

7. You will need to move on regularly, you get two or three nights maximum in most places before the police will come and move you on for the crime of having nowhere to live. If they ask what you’re doing, tell them you’re hiking and give them an address that’s out of their area so they don’t drive you back to where you left. Hikers don’t generally get prosecuted by vagrancy laws because they have “home privilege” – the privilege of being given the benefit of the doubt because they have somewhere to live. The police might tell you to go to a campsite instead of arresting you if they think you’re a hiker not a vagrant.

Building a very basic shelter:

If you have any money at all and can get to some shops, some simple tools will help. If you can stretch to a tarpaulin, a small trowel and a saw, a ball of string and a hammer and nails, you can make a fantastic shelter. I’m assuming you don’t have these items. If it’s winter and there’s a lot of snow coverage, build an igloo instead. It doesn’t have to be picture perfect. If you don’t have a sleeping bag, stuff it with grass and other bits of plant; you need to try to keep as warm and dry as possible.

An igloo, probably needs another layer of blocks on top and a cap-block, but definitely better than nothing and you could balance an umbrella over the top to keep rain/snow out.
An igloo, probably needs another layer of blocks on top and a cap-block, but definitely better than nothing and you could balance an umbrella over the top to keep rain/snow out.

Assuming you can’t build an igloo, here’s how to build a non-snowy shelter:

1. Find some junk:

If there’s some large-ish solid flat objects such as panels of fencing, corrugated metal or discarded plastic table tops in the area, you’ve hit jackpot. Dig them into the ground a bit and make them meet at the top like a triangle. If there’s only one, work it into your sticks (see below) or if you can’t find any junk, just start with the sticks (see below).

2. Find some sticks:

Next find some sticks (there should be loads on the ground, or snap them off trees), and dig them into the ground around any of the objects you found above. You want as many sticks as possible to hold your objects and stop the wind blowing. At a right angle to the sticks in the ground (so, flat sideways), get some more sticks and weave them between the upright ones if you can, it doesn’t have to be perfect.

3. Find some long plants:

Next, find some plants or long grass. Stuff as much of that stuff between all the gaps in the wooden sticks for insulation. Get more long grass and put it inside the shelter (you left an opening to get in and out, right??), this will keep you warm for sleeping. Don’t touch nettles, you will sting yourself.

Sleeping in a shelter:

1. Block up the entrance with a branch or something, because wild animals will come and hang out with you if they can get in.

2. Try not to worry about weird noises. It’s probably just nature.

3. The night time temperature will probably be colder than you are used to. The only way around this is more grass, bracken or whatever else you’re sleeping on. I recommend long grass if there’s any nearby as it’s the cleanest. If it’s winter, literally stuff your shelter with grass and bury yourself in it. If it’s getting too cold, you need to prevent hypothermia from setting in by building a fire (OUTSIDE YOUR SHELTER AND AWAY FROM THE ENTRANCE), or if it’s just too cold full stop, go to the nearest hospital to A and E (ER) and sleep in the waiting room. There’s always a crowd in the hospital emergency room so they might not even notice that you’re not waiting to be seen if you leave before too much time has passed and don’t do it regularly. Look at it this way – you’re saving them money by not being admitted to hospital with hypothermia.

Obviously this is all covering a worst case scenario where your survival is at stake, not a “hey I want a free ride” kind of situation.

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Author: MsAdventure

I am a twentysomething travel, photography and beauty blogger who occasionally writes about other topics. Within travel, I tend to write mostly about Europe because all the other travel bloggers seem to write about South East Asia. As a writer, I have written articles that are published in Offbeat Bride and on Buzzfeed, and as a photographer, I have taken photographs that are published in local and national news outlets in the UK. I have a blog at www.delightandinspire.com

3 thoughts on “How to sleep rough, or, where to sleep if you’re homeless”

  1. That’s really cool that you can declare homelessness to a council and they put you on a waiting list…here in the US it’s like “oh your homeless? That sucks” and keep on walking. Good tips though!! Hopefully I never have to be homeless to use these XD

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I thought trailer parks and “projects” were the same sort of thing? It’s exactly the same as this (which is the same thing but in the USA): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_housing_in_the_United_States
      And it comes with all the exact same problems such as that you still need to pay rent, you’re in an area you probably don’t want to live in, etc. Over here you can be waiting 15 or 20 years for a council house, if you don’t meet the right criteria. If you’re a single female unemployed parent with kids you’ll get one in 1-3 years though usually. It’s a basic human right and governments the world over continue to flout it.

      Liked by 1 person

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