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The Dos and Don’ts of Homelessness

Updated on March 27, 2015


  • Find an area that you feel is safe

Whether one is outside, in a shelter, or staying with someone, it is important that that person feels safe.

When outside, one must find a spot that is out of the eye of the police. An officer told me that anywhere that a person sleeps outside is trespassing; he said, "it’s all about not getting caught." There are a group of homeless men and women who have their spots where they will not get caught. I like to call it urban camping. Finding a perfect spot to hideaway in some woods is not too difficult in Madison and the surrounding Dane county, if one is willing to take the time to search for it.

If sleeping in more of a concrete place, other factors come into play. Can possible predators as well as police see the spot chosen? Human predators are usually going to be fellow homeless peers. Animal predators can be kept at bay by following common sense rules from regular camping. In Wisconsin, environmental predators are also important to consider. Please take the fluctuations in the whether seriously and get yourself to a safe place when needed. Most shelters have what are called "Cold Weather Nights," where homeless residents are allowed to bunk even if they do not have anymore time to be at that shelter, or they have had a previous infraction that resulted in their removal or being banned.


When living in a shelter it is important for the homeless resident to know their rights at that facility. Knowing the chain of command, and how the organization handles grievances plays into knowing one’s rights when living in a shelter. There are people I know of that find living on the streets to be more safe for them than living in such close quarters as a homeless shelter.

It can be hard for certain homeless people to deal with the demands of a shelter. Chores, shared bathing areas, waiting in line for meals, and close sleeping quarters are just some of the issues that make shelter living difficult for the those who need extra medical attention. Depending on the individual shelter, the staff may require that the resident be fully able to take care of themselves and the demands that staff may place on them.

It is important that the homeless person remember these people are there for them. Without us, a shelter worker would not have a job. Being respected as a human being is not something that is high up on the list of priorities when it comes to the lives of the homeless, but it is my opinion that every person deserves fair treatment.

Of course if one is lucky to live in someone’s home, whether it’s family, friends, or well-meaning strangers, this can be the safest option. However if one is being subjected to any kind of abuse, they should know that regardless of their contribution to that household, mistreatment should not be tolerable.

Open communication is important for a homeless person to feel safe while living with someone or in a shelter. However this can backfire if that communication is not respectful. Letting someone know your boundaries and expecting that person to respect that should never feel wrong. Unless one is suffering from serious health issues, it may be best for the homeless person to make their way by sleeping outside.

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  • Trespass on other’s property

But this can be a tricky one. When sleeping outside I was told I was trespassing no matter what. The officer emphasized that I just shouldn't get caught. I can’t fathom sleeping on someone’s personal property, however government and commercial property is up for grabs to me. Especially if the spot I have chosen is out of the reach of authorities.

Because of my back/sciatic nerve problems I haven’t put much energy into finding a place to sleep outside that wasn't the County building or Wingra Park. Other homeless people I have spoken with assure me that the places they find are out of the watchful eyes of authorities.


I considered making a proposal to pitch a tent in someone’s backyard, however homeless rights advocate, Occupy Madison, has made it clear that the City of Madison has outlawed that for everyone. Yet again, it is doable if one will not get caught.

I want to make it clear that I do not want to encourage someone to blatantly disregard authority. On the contrary, I have the utmost respect for our men and women in uniform, regardless of the uniform.

When living with someone, the homeless person needs to have clear boundaries on where they are allowed and at what times. This also pertains to homeless shelters. Being on shelter property before the scheduled time can lead to the resident being barred from services.


This concludes “The Dos and Don'ts of Homelessness.” I would like to reiterate that all of these tips are contrived from my opinion and one should make decisions based on their common sense pertaining to their individual situation. It is imperative that, if in a homeless situation, one would do their own research on how best to handle their situation. Please make safety a top priority.


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    • Sherry Hewins profile image

      Sherry Hewins 

      3 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

      In Sacramento, if a shabby looking person is seen carrying a tent, sleeping bag or bedding, it will be confiscated because of the law against camping in the city. Of course, if you're just spending the night in front of Best Buy so you can get that new iPhone, it's OK.

    • techygran profile image

      Cynthia Zirkwitz 

      5 years ago from Vancouver Island, Canada

      This is a very well-written article with real wisdom offered for people who are unfortunate enough to find themselves in a homeless situation. You provide insights into how powerless one must feel when there is, seemingly, 'no way out' if you are told that anywhere you are you are trespassing. I am sharing this, and pinning, tweeting, voting up, useful and interesting. I am also going to read your other articles and share them as well. God bless you! I hope you are faring well! ~Cynthia


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