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How to Survive Being Homeless While Living in Your Car

Sam is certified in optimal nutrition from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and enjoys writing about health and healing.

It's Not Hard to Become Homeless

The phrase homeless conjures up all sorts of thoughts and opinions. Many think that the homeless are homeless just because they are alcoholics or drug addicts and that is not true. Ever since the Great Recession started in 2008, more Americans have become worried about losing their jobs and homes and becoming homeless.

Many of the homeless today are couples or families that have lost their jobs and their homes. How many Americans are actually homeless is hard to count since there are different definitions. Most cities count only those that stay in shelters and transitional housing as being homeless.

But there are hundreds of thousands of Americans that are homeless staying with friends, living in motels or living in their car. Since the recession started, 3.5 million Americans per year were homeless at some point, and 35% of those were families.

With low wage jobs and skyrocketing rental prices, it is hard to save money let alone pay all of your bills. Problems like a job loss, losing unemployment benefits or your landlord having financial trouble can cause people to become homeless. For many Americans, there is a fine line between having a roof over their head and becoming homeless.

This situation happened to me several years ago due to the landlord getting into financial trouble with his rental houses and him being unable to give our deposit back. With few rental houses available and those few costing too much, it was a dismal situation.

We did end up living in the car for 6 weeks and during this time we learned many tips that can help anyone in this situation survive being homeless until you find a new home.

Before Becoming Homeless

If your situation involves a landlord and an eviction, explore all legal possibilities. You can call free legal aid in your community or talk to a lawyer that offers a free consultation. This way, you will know exactly where you stand and what your legal rights are as far as getting your deposit back right away.

If you think you are in danger of becoming homeless, there are some things you can do to prepare. Call government agencies in your city to find out exactly how they can help before you need help. Government agencies will usually help those with children first.

Most if not all shelters are for women only or men only, so if you need a shelter, you will most likely be split up for the night. And there are very few shelters that can take dogs, so consider living in your car for awhile.

Call your neighborhood churches and see if they can help. I found that some of the churches in the area were extremely friendly and helpful. It doesn’t matter what your faith is, they never asked and they never expected anything in return.

If you think you are about to become homeless, make a list of helpful phone numbers of government agencies, friends and neighborhood churches and keep this list handy at all times. Before you are actually homeless, call everyone on this list to find places you might be able to stay, including motels, their prices and if they take pets.

Homeless Survival Tools

If it does look like you will have to move from your home and be homeless for a short time, there are a few things that can help you get by easier.

  • Warm blankets that are not overly big since you will need to fold them and store them every day. If this happens during the winter, you should get thermal underwear and several Mylar blankets in addition to warm blankets.
  • A good can opener is a must, because a cheap bad can opener is miserable to use. If you buy canned soups and food to eat while living in the car, buy the cans with the pull tops.
  • Plastic containers to eat food out of and plastic silverware. You will most likely not buy fast food to eat while living in the car. Most churches have food pantries, and you will be able to get all types of canned foods and soups.
  • Bottled water is helpful and you can always refill the water bottles in any bathroom or at any drinking fountain.
  • Put the clothes you will need the most in separate bags, it makes it easier to change and do laundry.
  • Don’t forget small but important items like the cell phone chargers.


How to Survive Being Homeless Tips

If you become homeless and have to live in your car, the following tips can help you survive.

  • Your car will become your home for awhile and the first thing you should do is find a place to park overnight. Many cities do not allow overnight street parking. Call the churches in your area and tell them of your situation. Many churches will let you park in their parking lots overnight. No one should bother you there.
  • Get to know the people at local churches, they can be very supportive.
  • If you are in need of food, most churches have a food pantry and some churches have weekly dinners.
  • You can use the internet at your local library and charge your cell phone at the same time.
  • You can take showers at a YMCA and or a fitness center. You might have to buy a day pass.
  • If you need to heat food, many convenience stores and grocery stores have microwaves you can use.
  • You can continue to work even while living in your car and save your paychecks until you find a new home.
  • Try to not get wet, especially during colder months.
  • If you need to use the car heater, remember to crack a window open.
  • Try not to appear homeless. Never drink alcohol because others will smell it and be less likely to help you. Stay as neat and clean as possible.
  • Avoid places where homeless hang out. Many of them will be drug addicts or alcoholics and the police are very aware of these places. The last thing you need is to get involved with the wrong type of people.

Working While Homeless

If you have a job during this time, it is imperative that you continue to work while living in your car. Saving money is important since most likely, you are homeless due to a financial problem at the time. It is amazing how much money you can save while living in the car and the more you save, the quicker you can find a new home.


If you find yourself in the terrible situation of being homeless and living in your car, you will be amazed at how many people will help you. With a little faith, being prepared and using common sense, you can survive being homeless while living in your car until you find a new home.

© 2014 Sam Montana


Catherine Giordano from Orlando Florida on May 14, 2018:

Great advice. I hoe to never have to use it. You provide a good understanding of what homelessness is.

I have never actually thought of myself as being "homeless", but when I was young I spent some time with no physical address. I usually relied upon the kindness of "strangers." It was the hippie days, it was easy to make new friends, and they would let me and my friends sleep on their couch or floor. It would usually only be for a short time because we were traveling. Sometimes, we would do a little "temp" work to get a little money before moving on.

Shyron E Shenko from Texas on August 20, 2016:

Sam, great tips you have provided. I was a kid when my family had no home and we lived in a tent on Seal Beach in California, we moved to a rental house (Have you ever experienced the paranormal?) after dad found a job.

I think there will be more people homeless as landlords get greedier.

Sam Montana (author) from Colorado on October 01, 2015:

Hi Nate, I am hearing more and more stories that is not only paycheck to paycheck, but in some cities with hot housing markets, landlords are raising rents to the point their tenants have to leave.

Nathan Bernardo from California, United States of America on October 01, 2015:

Very good, practical information. And good information to have, because, as you pointed out, you never know if something like this can happen. Many of us are a paycheck away, as they say.

Sam Montana (author) from Colorado on July 11, 2015:

Hi Mel, I don't really think we will pull out of the 2008 recession, something has changed. Wages are not changing much, but the cost of houses and rent is increasing at a scary rate.

Mel Carriere from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on July 11, 2015:

I hope this never happens to me, but one never knows. Thanks for these useful tips you have learned from your unfortunate experiences. Hope things are more stable now for you, but I don't think we have quite pulled out of the recession yet, and this could happen to any of us. Great hub.

Ali on February 22, 2015:

I appreciate your kind and geueorns advice a lot!. I have been trying it hardly and did not get those amazing results!. It is nice to see that you got my comment in a good way!God bless you!VA:F [1.9.10_1130]please wait VA:F [1.9.10_1130](from 0 votes)

Sam Montana (author) from Colorado on February 02, 2015:

Hi Alicia, you're right it is a scary time. Too much happened in 2008 to the job market, and too many people are actually one paycheck away from becoming homeless. High rents are the other problem. Where I live, rents are up another 14% as compared to a year ago. And of course wages are not up 14% if at all.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on January 31, 2015:

Thank you for this useful hub and for sharing your experience. I can certainly understand why people could become homeless in today's economic environment. It's definitely a scary time.

Sam Montana (author) from Colorado on November 14, 2014:

There is a stereotype of the homeless that they are all drug addicts or alcoholics and much of it is substance abuse. But the problem with very high rents in many cities is making it hard for people with jobs to pay rents. I am hearing stories where I live of rents going up 5% or more each year since 2010 and no ones wages are going up like that. Something has gone wrong since the recession started in 2008.

ologsinquito from USA on November 14, 2014:

I do seem to be seeing more and more homeless people around, but I know this is probably just the tip of the iceberg. Others are living in cars, mortels or, perhaps, in very tenuous situations, such as with family members who have given them a deadline. It's good to bring attention to this problem.

Sam Montana (author) from Colorado on October 20, 2014:

Thank you for your comments Teaches. It was an interesting but scary time, especially since it was November and December and it did snow. Even after the first month, there were no places to move to, not even the cheaper motels had rooms. There was a complete lack of housing. But, we sure met a lot of amazing people that were very helpful and that is the key to surviving it all.

Dianna Mendez on October 18, 2014:

I admire how you survived being homeless. Your experience is an example of what many people are going through today. Loss of jobs has increased those without homes. Your tips are so wise and will help people to make it through to the next stage of their life. God bless you.

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