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How to Deal with Expensive Gifts as a Homeless Person

Updated on January 2, 2016
Kylyssa profile image

Kylyssa Shay was homeless for over a year in her youth; it lead to her activism involving homelessness. She thinks, feels, and has opinions.

Illustration of a red ribbon across a square package
Illustration of a red ribbon across a square package | Source

But Gifts Are Good Things, Aren't They?

It is sometimes dangerous to accept expensive gifts when one is too poor in America. The danger of theft and the possible injuries caused during a mugging have probably always existed. Desperate people may do crazy things. But, increasingly, the bigger danger comes from homed people enraged because poor or homeless people have something nice.

One only need look online to see how angry many people are that homeless people are allowed to keep or accept as gifts things such as nice clothing, data phones, tablet PCs, and so on.

Dangers from both of those sources can be reduced by knowing how to deal with expensive gifts when one is homeless.

Be sure to express your thanks to the person or people who gave you the nice gift.

Never Look Homeless

Perhaps the best overall strategy for staying safe while homeless is to conceal your status the best you possibly can.

This means staying clean and tidy and never being seen sleeping in public and absolutely never, ever being seen panhandling. If you can take nothing else away from this page, remember to never look homeless if you can possibly avoid it.

While homed people who will harm or harass a poor person for owning something they think he should not are extremely rare, they seem to go looking for trouble. It only takes encountering one to ruin your day, hurt you, or destroy something you value.

Make Nice Things Look Old And Scruffy Or Cover Them Up

This tip will be controversial but I’ve seen I don’t know how many homeless people get expensive coats, shoes, or boots stolen. I've also heard of people getting harassed for owning something that looked too nice.

Boots or Shoes:

If someone gives you a $100 pair of boots and you can’t avoid looking homeless or interacting with people you know who are, get them dirty or camouflage them with some plastic bags or rags tied around the outside of them, particularly if you are sleeping outside in the rough. If people comment on it, you can tell them it’s to prevent leaks.


If you are given a nice backpack, find a garbage bag to cover it up unless you can pull off looking like a college student. If it looks funny to people, you can always tell them you do it to keep your stuff dry. Wrapping a garbage bag over your nice backpack also has the practical effect of protecting your possessions from bedbugs should you use an emergency shelter or sleep in a questionable hotel.

Modern laptop
Modern laptop | Source

Use Laptops, Ebooks, And Tablet PCs Where Others Do

Unstable homed people really seem to be triggered by laptop or tablet PC ownership among homeless people. To avoid being targeted because someone gave you a nice used laptop or because you were smart enough to hang onto your tablet PC when things went south, only use it either where absolutely no one can see you or in places others use them.

Usually safe places to use your laptop include coffee shops, libraries, book stores, and college campuses. If you are clean and neat, most people will assume you are not homeless if you use a laptop in any of these places. However, I suggest you avoid using laptops in all night coffee shops after midnight to avoid folks sobering up after going to the bar. Unstable people tend to be more volatile after an alcohol binge and post-bar coffee shop users tend to be of a somewhat different demographic from the usual coffee shop crowd.

Data phone styled cell phones seem to be the most complained about by those who think poor people ought not to have them even when given as gifts
Data phone styled cell phones seem to be the most complained about by those who think poor people ought not to have them even when given as gifts | Source

Use Cell Phones Discreetly

Unless you are sure you don’t look homeless, use your cell phone or data phone as discreetly as possible. Try to stay out of sight or hearing of the people around you unless using your cell phone is unavoidable.

Data phones seem to be a hot button for some people. If you are confronted by someone about your phone, don't try to explain or argue, just leave the area as quickly as possible. The type of person who gets angry about other people owning things "above their social class" isn't going to listen to reason or care if a charity gave you the phone or if you've owned it since you were a member of a higher social class. Engaging with people that unbalanced is dangerous.

Don't Show Off Your Nice New Gifts

This is important. I know you're proud of your nice new things and you want whoever gave them to you to feel good about it but you're just setting yourself up for grief. If people don't know you have something nice, they won't steal it or harass you about it.

Some people feel homeless people ought not to own anything nice. That seems pretty darned nasty to me. Why shouldn't a homeless person be able to accept a nice gift?

Is Any of This Really Necessary?

It depends on where a homeless person lives and who they may encounter but expensive gifts can cause homeless people problems. It’s always a good idea to maintain a low profile when homeless because one does not have the protection of a locking door in that situation and negative feelings against poor people are running high in some parts of the American population.

I get threats simply for writing about homeless people without condemning them so these things seem like reasonable precautions to me.

How Do You Feel About Homeless People Owning Expensive Things?

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