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Safer Outdoor Sleeping While Homeless

Updated on November 8, 2015
Kylyssa profile image

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


Learn to Avoid Human Hazards for Greater Safety

Sleeping outside while homeless is not safe. However, sometimes there are no alternatives or the available alternatives are less safe than street sleeping. This article is not intended to encourage people to sleep outside but to give a little bit of survival advice for people forced into sleeping outside in urban or suburban areas while homeless.

Issues such as extreme weather and cold or hot temperatures are not covered. This article mainly deals with avoiding human hazards as people are often the biggest and most commonly encountered danger for those without housing.


Please read this first.

I am not any sort of special expert. I am just a middle-aged, high-functioning autistic woman who was homeless at one point in my life. I take no responsibility for the safety of anyone following this advice. As mentioned above, sleeping outside while homeless is not safe. To reiterate, sleeping outside is dangerous and becoming homeless should be avoided at all costs.


Section One: Stealth Method Street Sleeping

One philosophy of sleeping outdoors is the stealth method. It involves never being seen and never being recognized as homeless. Some homeless and formerly homeless people claim it is safest for individuals or extremely committed partners. They also claim that it cannot work when children are involved unless the homeless family owns a vehicle to sleep in. Children are incapable of keeping secrets and maintaining silence to the level required for long periods of time.

Tips for Living in the Rough

Rough Living: Tips and Tales of a Vagabond: Master Edition 2013
Rough Living: Tips and Tales of a Vagabond: Master Edition 2013
Tips for living in the rough written by Vago Damito.

If no one knows where you are, no one can hurt you

If no one knows where you are sleeping they can’t come and harass you. Think like a soldier behind enemy lines. Think of it as a game of hide-and-seek you are playing for your life. Avoid obvious places and places visible to passersby.

Tell no one where you sleep and allow no one to follow you

This requires being mindful of your surroundings. If you think you are being followed, keep walking into a populated area. Only go to your hidden sleeping place when you are sure no one can see you.

As mentioned above in the disclaimer, avoid homelessness at all costs. It is horribly dangerous and scarring. If you have any alternatives at all, use them, no matter what you have to do!

Use off-street entrances or indirect routes to your sleeping place

Don’t walk directly to your sleeping place from the street or sidewalk. However, don’t go creeping around in backyards if you can possibly avoid it because some homeowners get scared and may confront you with weapons or call the police.


Do not break cover in daylight

Wait until darkness falls before heading to your den and do not use a flashlight or other lighting source to find your way. Similarly, do not leave cover after sunrise. Be prepared with sanitary measures such as having something to go to the toilet in that you can dispose of in case you accidentally sleep in and get stuck in your hiding space in daylight. Also be sure to have a small supply of water and food on hand.

Avoid sleeping near homes with dogs. They'll know you are there and may make a noisy fuss about it.
Avoid sleeping near homes with dogs. They'll know you are there and may make a noisy fuss about it. | Source

Avoid sleeping in locations near people with animals

Dogs will become agitated by your nighttime comings and goings and will eventually alert someone to your presence. Don't choose anywhere to sleep near homes with livestock, either, as animals such as geese, chickens, goats, and even cows can set up a very loud ruckus if they are frightened.

Keep your sleeping area very, very clean

Leave absolutely no evidence of your presence behind. Adults and children often go places in the daytime they would not go at night so the evidence of your night time presence may be found by someone.

Food or food garbage will also attract animals and insects you don’t want to sleep with.


Check your hiding spot for animals before retiring each night

If a hiding place is great for you to sleep in, wild animals such as possums, raccoons, and snakes may think so, too. Shine a shielded flashlight quickly into your den or, at the very least use something other than your hand such as a rolled up newspaper or branch to brush the ground where you intend to sleep. You really don’t want to get bitten, scratched, or stung by anything.

If you sleep with your shoes off, don't forget to check them for insects, scorpions, snakes, or other critters before putting them back on. Better yet, keep them in a closed bag or on your feet.


Section Two: Chameleon Method Homeless Sleeping

The chameleon method is simply a method of blending in with homed people in places and situations it is normal for them to be seen relaxing or snoozing. This can be on the beach on sunny days, at college campuses on grassy bits where students are hanging out, on the bus or train, or at the park with a picnic.

Blend in with the locals

Wear what they wear, do what they do, and never call attention to yourself. Don't look homeless.

Chameleon Beach Sleeping

If you are at the beach, wear swimwear and snooze on a beach towel. Have a book or magazine with you like everyone else does. Take the charade as far as you feel you need to, even if that includes a bit of zinc for your nose and a beach bag. If there's a beach house with showers that's open to the public you can even snag a shower afterward. Try not to use the same stretch of beach more than two days in a row. Walk off towards the parking lot when you depart, as if you are a homed person with a car.

Park or Campus Sleeping

Only attempt campus sleeping if you are young enough to pass as a college student. A backpack will help you blend in, as will earbuds. Only attempt either if other people are relaxing on picnic blankets or laying or sitting around on the grass nearby.

Sleeping on Transportation

This one is pretty obvious. Who hasn't fallen asleep on the bus or train accidentally? Just try to only nap and get off somewhere you know is fairly safe such as at a shopping center in daylight or at an all-night coffee shop at night.

Section Three: Buddy Sleeping

To the best of my knowledge this is the safest method of outdoor sleeping in urban or suburban areas outside of a tent city. It can be combined with either chameleon sleeping or stealth sleeping for a higher possibility of being safe.

While this works best with a group of three or more, it can work with as few as two people. You take turns sleeping either hidden or while blending in with homed people while one of you is always awake and guarding the sleepers. This method has worked for people without shelter for at least thousands of years, although the types of dangers have changed somewhat.

Having three people to split the watch means that each person can sleep for a longer stretch of time uninterrupted. However, two people can easily alternate naps.

The catch is that you have to be able to absolutely trust your partner to stay alert, to wake you in case of danger and not just bolt, and to not themselves harm you as you sleep.


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