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Surviving Homelessness in Savannah Georgia-Part One: The Basics

The wave of the future, homeless people building their own houses!

Life without money? What a concept!

My Adventure In The Woods

As I stated in my Hub entitled "Hope For The Homeless In Savannah GA", I planned to publish yet another hub that would go into more detail about my return to homelessness However, this hub will be much more than just my account of becoming homeless.

It will be done in a three Hub format; with the first hub covering my personal experiences and the basics of homeless survival. The second hub will contain such things as finding wild eatable plants, and campfire recipes. It will cover the basics of being self sufficient while being homeless.Then the third hub will cover returning to society, and overcoming all of the challenges that a person may face while being homeless.

This will eventually turn into a survival guide that will be like no other that you can find on the internet or anywhere else... I say this, because I have researched many of the guides available on the internet, and I feel that I can bring a different prospective than these other guides. This is because my prospective will be based on Christian principles and the experiences of others who have found themselves in this situation.

But first, I want to share my story that I have shared impart in another hub, Fear of Homelessness. However, my situation that I went through during my last experience with homelessness is much different than my current set of circumstances. This time around I chose not to use a shelter supplied by a church or other organization. This time, I chose to live in the woods.

In Savannah Georgia, there is a great deal of wetlands, especially in the downtown area close to the Savannah River. In these undeveloped or deserted areas, “the woods” have returned with a vengeance. These "swampy woods" are filled with many dangers, be them human, animal, or Mother Nature.

When I first moved to Savannah, I was promised from the friend that invited me, that I would find work easily. However, one job after another fell through, and I was not making enough money though my online efforts to cover all my needs. I soon fell behind in my rent to the point I was evicted from the place I was living. After I was evicted, I knew I had to make a choice. to either live in a conventional shelter, or fend for myself "on the streets".

Another friend of mine, (who refuses to call himself homeless for he lives in a tent) offered me a tent located right smack dab in the "swamps of hell." (This is his term for this camp, not mine).

The reason that I made the decision to live in a tent instead of a "traditional" shelter, is that I had come to the conclusion that it was the better choice, for me anyway. One of the reasons for this decision is that I get claustrophobic when I am in crowded conditions, which one might face in most missions or other shelters. Also, the shelters in Savannah are very short-term. Some of them only allow a person to stay one week or so.

I soon found myself in a world that was quite foreign to me. It is true that I have experienced homelessness before, for short periods of time. I even "squatted" in a tent in the few remaining woods in Myrtle Beach South Carolina, and I also lived in a campground for about month or so. However, none of these situations prepared me for the "hardcore" experiences I would face in the homeless communities of Savannah.

I would now come face to face with the severely mentally ill, people running from the law, alcoholics and drug addicts. I have also had several close encounters with alligators and poisonous snakes (such as water Mohicans or "Cotton Mouths" as they are sometimes called).

I have now moved from the "swamps of Hell" to a camp known as "The Sleeping Village" or "Camp Two", (which is the police's official name for it). This camp has many advantages over the old camp, (such as a canal filled with fish, some quite large and a "cooking facility" that can be used as barbeque or oven). It also has local church that brings us food and watch over us.

Even so, it still has its set of problems; such as violent neighbors that live across the channel from us, alligators and poison snakes, ants and “varmints” such as raccoons. I come to realize that some of the experiences I have had, which has taught me valuable lessons from "trial and error" are lessons that are worth passing on to others that also may be faced with similar situations.

In the next section of this article, I will take a look at the types of lifestyles one may want to avoid, if you want to have reasonable healthy life while living outdoors.

Living On The Edge-A Fragile Life Style

In just the time I have been homeless in Savannah, which has been less than a year, we have lost many people in our homeless community. Even the camp that I now live in has had four people die there or close by, in just the span of a couple of years!

I was a witness to the last one to die, who became a close friend of mine. He had just been diagnosed with lung cancer, and was given six months to live. Another close friend of his did everything he could to get him help, even trying to get him into a Hospice. In spite of his best efforts, this man died while the ambulance was taking him to the hospital.

This leads me to ask the question, if one is homeless, what are the activities that can lead to a premature death? From my own observation of people I know of who die why they are homeless; it is primarily because of the life choices they make.

The reason I have reached this conclusion, is that most of people who have died recently, have had serious substance abuse problems. In fact, the main substance that these people abuse is mouthwash. This seems to be the one substance that is more abused than any other I have personally witnessed. I have watched with my own eyes, as it slowly kills the people that abuse it. This life can be hard enough, why make it any worse by abusing the things that are known killers?

The sad thing about those who drink mouthwash and other legal "over the counter" sources for alcohol (like cooking sherry, or hand sanitizers) they are not even aware of how truly dangerous this can be.

Not only this, I have come to realize how overlooked this problem is by the general public. This is why I am committed to using this hub as a tool in alerting the public myself!

Besides the fact that mouthwash can have as much as 26.9% alcohol, which would make it about 54 proof, there are many other ingredients that have a strong potential to be harmful.

I have supplied a few links bellow that speaks of the dangers of drinking mouthwash, because of the added ingredients, like formaldehyde, for example. This is why I will use these sites for more information, will aid me in keeping this Hub from becoming too cumbersome or wordy.

Drinking and using drugs can and will lower ones immune system, and greatly affect the focus and clarity that is needed to prosper while one is faced with being homeless. Being intoxicated can also lead to violent situations that one may become exposed to. It could also lead to one "breaking out in handcuffs." When one is homeless, one is already a target for law enforcement. Keeping sober will help keep the bulls-eye off of one’s back!

The Basics... Camp setup

The first thing we will look at is camp selection, choosing the best location to put ones tent or other form of makeshift shelter. Finding the right spot to set up your camp is highly important, especially in areas that are likely to flood. Savannah is a city that is mainly below sea level, and to make matters worse, this last summer produced an excessive amount of rainfall.

It is because of these reasons, that flooding became a real issue, and even caught those who have spent considerable time in the woods of guard. Most of the problems results from the person selecting a camp that was not on the highest ground available. This leads me to rule number one in camp selection:

1 .Always chooses highest ground available, such as on a hill. However, it is imperative that this location also meets the other requirements for a good campground (see below; 4-9).

2. Dig a trench around the tent, with an exit leading downhill and away from the general camping area.

3. Keep away from obvious swamp areas, even if they are dry at the time.

4. Carefully check out the area that shows potential, for ant beds, snake holes, poison ivy or in some places, poison oak.

5. Chose as level area as available to you

6. Do not set tent up on roots or rocky area whenever you can. (Sometimes this cannot be helped).

7. Chose site clear of brush and anything else that may burn.

8. if you can, select a site that at least somewhat concealed from easy view.

9. Do not make your camp easily assailable to others. (More on this later).

10. Another issue that can be a real problem, is the threat of high winds blowing ones tent over. This is why it is wise to build wind breaks, with tarps or other types of material that is durable and water or fire resistance.

Personally, I avoid what is known as "tent cities" for these can be very dangerous locations. Some People may choose to live in these areas, for they feel safer around others than by themselves or with smaller camps. However, after observing these "cities" I came to realize that potential for disaster out ways any of what some people may see as pluses.

So let us say, that you have decided to either camp alone or in a smaller camp, what are some of the safety concerns and other challenges you might face in one of these situations?

Number one would have to be, doing the best you could to secure your camp. Of course you cannot set up a normal "alarm system" and you cannot lock your tent, and yet there are things you can do. Many of my "camp buddies" have designed their camp in such a way that a stranger would have a tough time reaching the tent without alerting others.

Some people do things like having fish line strung just high enough to be hit by some one of average height, attached to wind-chimes or other forms of noise makers.

Other techniques may be to use flattened plastic bottles that would make a noise when stepped on. Also, creating gates and other barriers have proven to be effective. Some "professional campers" resort to more drastic tactics....such as booby-traps. And yet, this is an approach that can prove problematic, and is not the route I would recommend.

The next thing to look at is securing valuables within your campsite. This can be quite tricky and not always effective. Even so, there are things you can do does work....most of time anyway!

The most foolproof method is to have an actual safe that one can use to protect valuables, and yet many homeless people are not going to have the funds needed to obtain such a safe. If you can afford this option, it is important to also find a way to secure the safe so it won't become stolen.

one option would be to chain it to something like a tree-one large enough that it would prove too much of a hassle to cut it down so the thief can take the safe. The other choice would be to bare the safe in the grown, and then conceal that location the best one could by camouflaging it to look as natural as possible.

Once you have figured out how to protect your camp and your valuables, it is important to think about self protection, for after all, when one is living out of doors, (what many refer to as squatting), you are vulnerable to the potential of being attacked.

This is why I say not to make your site to easily accessible to anyone who might mean to do you harm. This can be done by using natural surroundings, like allowing brush and trees to grow in such a way that it will camouflage or help detour unwanted guest from reaching your tent. Of course, one should make sure that these tree and brush area does not create any fire danger.

I have one friend that has put up several tarps around his camp, along with a "gate" made from a large wooden plate. The whole concept is to make it harder for one to reach camp quickly or undetected. He has live at this campground for almost eight years, and these methods have help keep him safe.

Many people, who live in the woods, also keep themselves armed with knives and makeshift spears. However, just like keeping a loaded gun in ones house, this approach can go wrong. Innocent people can get hurt if they are mistaken for the "bad guy." This is why it is important to identify one’s self when coming into a camp site.

From here we will go into a section on self defense basics, identifying dangerous snakes, plants and insects.

The most common poisonous snakes in Georgia.

Here an image guide that will help identify if a snake is poisonous or not

Here an image guide that will help identify if a snake is poisonous or not

Homelessness Safety Tips

For me, it all begins with a awareness of what is going on around you. The more you can be aware of your environment the better it will be for you. The tips I already given on setting up "alarm systems" will go a long way in aiding you in knowing if there is an intruder, and yet, it is out on "the street" that one should show concern.

I have a camp mate that considers himself a very aware person. Most of this awareness comes from his military training that actually began way before he himself was in the military, for he was raised on a military base and his father was a Green Berra. Even though he has all this training, he claims that he almost became a victim to a drive-by shooting in broad daylight!

This goes to show that danger can happen anywhere and at any time! In situation like this, one has few choices. One can try to doge the bullets and then contact the police. Personally, I depend on even a better solution, the protection of Jesus Christ. Even though I depend on projection from God, and have received this protection many times in the past, I also believe in taking as many precautions as necessary to protect oneself. It is important to at least have some basic knowledge of self-defense methods, if it comes down to having to fight somebody. After all, many of the people who live on the streets are extremely skilled in fighting.

One thing I do not want to over look in this segment is the important of fire safety when it comes to living outdoors. Especially in the winter months when you might get a little careless with fire in the attempt of keep warm. The reason that I find that it is important for me to address this subject, is that I recently had a close call while using a candle in my tent. By the way, I am a person who considers himself very cautious when it comes to using candles. Be that as it may, I still almost lost my tent due to a candle falling over. This is why I plan to never again use a candle in my tent.

Just in case you do decide to use a candle inside your tent, here are some pointer that may seem rather obvious, and yet this is one of those times I feel it is important to state the obvious in the name of safety. These three simple precautions may just save your life.

  1. Make sure the candle is secure or covered by a fireproof container
  2. Do not go to sleep while candle is burning
  3. Do not leave the tent while the candle is burning

In the time that I have been homeless, I have heard of two tragic deaths because of fire, Both of these deaths involved alcohol, and one occurred only a few feet away from the location of my tent! This fact has proved to be a great motivator in my fire awareness. Never leave any fire unattended, always make sure your fire is out, or soon on the way to being out. It is better to be safe than sorry!

From here I want to focus on avoiding and dealing with potentially dangerous animals. Like I stated before, I have had some unwanted encounters with both snakes and alligators this past summer. I have been around poisonous snakes most of my life, and have learned different things that I will pass on in this writing, for it may just save your life.

  1. Just because a snake is dead, does not mean it is safe. Snakes have the ability to bite you even though they are dead. This is because of its nervous system that, just like a in chicken with it's head cut off, can still move around, the same is true with snakes and other reptiles.
  2. It is generally true that a snake can strike half it's body link, and yet, there are exceptions to this rule. An example of this would be with a Water Mohican, which has been none to "throw" itself at whatever it is attacking. This snake is without a doubt the most aggressive poisonous snake in America.
  3. If you are bitten by a poisonous snake, DO NOT try to suck the poison out, apply a tourniquet above the bite location to help prevent the poison in reaching your heart. Stay calm and get to the hospital as soon as you can!

One of the most dangerous animals that one can encounter in Savannah is also one of the smallest, and this is the fire ant which can be deadly especially if one is allergic This is why it is important not to keep any food in your tent especially during the summer months. In all my research, I have not much information on how to avoid fire ant bites except the obvious; cover your skin and keep away from ant mounds. However, I will supply links to sites that do have some helpful information in them. This hub is just a taste of what will be included in the guide I plan to write.Be sure to watch for Part Two in this series; "Being Self-Sufficient". Until my next installment, may God bless you!

For more information check out these sites.


Christine Bellville on September 02, 2018:

I too, have found myself homeless, many times since 2011. On and off, at this time I decided to buy a tent, and try to make it in the wild. I moved to Savannah in June 2018, everything went wrong.

Linda tilley on May 01, 2017:

Very interesting

SKy on September 27, 2016:

Ive been homeless on and off in savannah. Just did the concrete surfing option. Never felt comfortable around others when im that on guard.

William Benner (author) from Savannah GA. on April 30, 2014:

Thank you for stopping by Crafty! I am glad I could enlighten you the whole mouth wash problem!

CraftytotheCore on April 30, 2014:

You've really opened my eyes here with this Hub. I've been an advocate for people who are homeless for many years. At one time, going back about 20 years, there was one homeless person in this whole town. But in the city, there is a homeless shelter which helps mostly families with children.

I never thought about the mouthwash epidemic. In fact, most homeless shelters and social services request mouthwash from donors.

William Benner (author) from Savannah GA. on January 07, 2014:

So openheart59, I sent a email to you but it came back saying it was not a real email address.

William Benner (author) from Savannah GA. on January 02, 2014:

Hello open heart, I check around some and see what I can come up with...Are you willing to go into a shelter, or a group home?

openheart59 on December 31, 2013:

Im looking for a safe site to go off the grid (so to speak). i am drug free drama free honest, but had a double bypass then lost everything. Looking at garden city. anyone can e-mail me @ andersonricky22@yahoo.com.

William Benner (author) from Savannah GA. on December 17, 2013:

Thanks trelesstraveler for reading! In fact many homeless people have the same view, which goes to show denial is not just river in Egypt! :)

Judy Specht from California on December 13, 2013:

Thank you for a thoughtful and informative hub. A hundred and fifty years ago this would have been common knowledge. Love the guy who refuses to call himself homeless because he lives in a tene.

William Benner (author) from Savannah GA. on December 13, 2013:

You are right billybuc, it does not hit home until you experience going through it! My new mission in life is to raise awareness not only in the plight of the homeless, but how to thrive in that condition and then find your way out!

Hello Curiad, thank for reading! Stay tune for there is much more to come. The plan is to design a guide that will incorporate the information that is presented in these Hubs and give much more details.

In the next segment DBQ , I will go into many more aspects of living off the land. This will include hunting and gathering food, cooking over an open fire, recipes for wild game, and of course survival fishing!

Thank you Barbra Kay for your input, unfortunately I see a time coming when these skills will be most needed!

Barbara Badder from USA on December 12, 2013:

Interesting. Your photos are great and you include a lot of good advice that I hope I never need to know.

Drive By Quipper from Wrong Side of Town on December 12, 2013:

Been there, done that. Good advice. Doesn't hurt to have some fishing gear along.

Curiad on December 12, 2013:

Interesting Hub. These are good basic ideas but I would love to see you break this down and write on each section in depth!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on December 12, 2013:

A fascinating account of homelessness from one who knows. Remarkable writing; thank you for raising awareness about this situation. I have written on several occasions about the plight of the homeless; unfortunately, it really doesn't hit home unless one experiences it themselves. Bless you my friend and best wishes to you.