Guide to Surviving Homelessness by Jack Knoxville

If you’re reading this, I’m going to assume it’s because you’ve found yourself with nowhere to go and need some help. 

First, let me tell you: your present is not your future, and right now, you have to focus on surviving. I’ve been there, and I’m smart enough to know that any day I could be there again. No matter what’s going on, please understand that this does not have to be your destiny, and YOU CAN DO THIS!

So, let’s start with getting you somewhere safe. 

Whatever has landed you here is not nearly as important as how we’re going to get you out of here. So this is what we need to do.

Here are some vital questions to ask yourself:

What resources do you currently have access to? 

  • Do you have money? How will you spend it? Make a plan and make your money count.
  • Do you have a working phone? Who can you call that can help put food in your belly, money in your pocket, or a roof over your head tonight? Call them.
  • Do you have access to the internet? Throw out a GoFundMe. Share it with your networks and ask others to do the same. Are there any groups you’re a part of, or online friends even, that might be willing to share your fundraiser, Cashapp, or Venmo info?
  • Prioritize your expenses. If you have money, try not to spend it on anything unless it will feed, hydrate, or house you. If you owe money, and someone is trying to collect, avoiding those calls is the worst thing to do. Be honest, talk with debtors, and many of them will work with you (if they won’t, they can wait!) You have to take care of yourself right now at this very moment. You can deal with your bills and finances once you have a safe place to rest.
  • Get some essentials– Socks, underwear, and a can-opener are a few things I wish I would’ve had when I was homeless! Typically I had a spiral notebook, pens, a chessboard, a couple of books, and a walkman (those ancient relics that played music before MP3 players and cellphones)
  • So, tell me, do you have food or a way to eat? Are there friends, neighbors, churches, community food pantries, or groups that offer free food? While you’re looking for work, you may be able to gain some new skills by volunteering with them in exchange for their help. When I was 17 or so, I made a friend who worked passing out condoms for a non-profit. Often, he needed an extra set of hands at conferences and would buy me lunch for going with him.  If you are QTPOC and need food, please visit transempowerment.org and use our application for assistance. If you are not someone who identifies as QTPOC, please use https://www.feedingamerica.org/ to find a food bank in your area. 
    • Have a few bucks and trying to figure out what food you should buy? If you aren’t informed about nutrition, let me warn you that sugary junk foods may be cheap but won’t keep you satisfied for very long. If you don’t have an allergy preventing you from doing so, one suggestion I have is to pick up the packs of 2/$1 peanuts and crackers in convenience stores. It’s not much, but you have carbs and proteins. If you’re not down with eating meat but need to eat on a budget, beans and tofu (bean curd) are pretty affordable. I also relied on a lot of Chef Boyardee kinds of foods and cheap microwave meals when I was fortunate enough to have a way to cook. Peanut butter & jelly and ramen can be a feast. Grab a bag of $1 veggies and throw it in that ramen. If you can access vitamins, get a multivitamin. Ration them if you’re looking at being on the road long term. 
  • Do you have water? 
    • You need clean water. If you have to limit it to a couple of water bottles, keep yourself hydrated. Soda might make you feel the rush and false fullness from the sugar and carbonation, but it will wreck your kidneys, bladder, and pancreas. Many people end up with bladder infections and UTI’s from excessive sugar. (You will also feel a “crash” later as your body processes the high level of sugar in these beverages) If you have even a small amount of funding, I highly recommend a Brita bottle or something similar that you can refill for months at a time, from any fountain you visit. 
  • Do you have access to safe shelter, even if it’s only for today? 
    • Talk to supportive family members, friends, neighbors, community members, anyone who has shown you they are safe may be worth reaching out to. I know it’s scary, and there may be many times you hear no. That’s okay. It’s normal and there is NOTHING wrong with you when that happens. You deserve help and at the very least, this guide will get you connected with someone that will give you that help.
    • If you don’t have anyone that can help you, please know that I know what that feels like, and I’m truly sorry. YOU FUCKING DESERVE BETTER THAN THAT. If you’re reading this, please know that you are not alone. There are, unfortunately, a tremendous amount of us who have been where you are, are there now, or will be in the future. We can’t focus on that right now though, because we have to get you to safety!
    • Look into local shelters. Start with affirming shelters for whichever communities you feel safest with. As someone who is on the autism spectrum, it wasn’t always obvious for me to look for LGBT shelters when I was struggling through this on my own.
  • Do you have a car? Or access to reliable transportation?
    • In some of my best/worst-case scenarios, I slept in my car in the parking lots of well-trafficked locations, like Wal-mart. Their parking lots are covered with cameras and lighting, and they (at least pre-covid) were largely 24-hour centers. Other places that you may be able to park safely would be friends’ driveways or backyards. Sometimes, I parked in apartment complex parking lots or hotel parking lots that were busy/well-lit or rest stops where there were a lot of truckers parked overnight. I’ve also spent many unsafe nights on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, which I DO NOT recommend. Please do not isolate yourself or put yourself anywhere that will be less safe than you are now; if you can avoid it.
  • If you don’t have a vehicle, do you have a tent? Know of a safe place where you can camp temporarily? 

When I was 16 years old, I came home from school to an empty house; as in, no furniture, no electricity, no note, just an empty house. I crashed with friends while I could but ultimately moved into a treehouse in the woods near my neighborhood. When my racist white principal found out, she smiled like the Cheshire cat and told me she was kicking me out of school because it was supposedly illegal for me to attend school if I wasn’t living at home with my parents. 

I had a friend whose parents were willing to take me in, but the principal went behind my back and convinced them that I was “violent, dangerous, and a liar” and had lied about why I wasn’t living with my family. 

Yet, she trapped me in the hallway (the last day that I saw my friend or her family) and told me they were kicking me out because they felt that they couldn’t trust me and that I had been lying to them about my family. (I didn’t find out her involvement in why they kicked me out until I was in my 30’s!)

Because of this woman, I ended up homeless in a town where it was illegal to be homeless. (Myrtle Beach, SC has stringent vagrancy laws, and they will throw you in jail and trash your stuff in an instant.) So, I ended up finding an all-night coffee shop where I would sit and drink coffee with my headphones on, and write until the sun came up. As soon as the sun started to rise, I’d hit the beach with my backpack as my pillow and my flannel shirt to block the light, because they couldn’t kick me off of the beach for sleeping.

Unfortunately, in extreme situations, you may have to change your sleep schedule. I’ve done that too and had to run on a handful of 15-20 minute naps across a week; it’s hell, and I do NOT recommend it. Sleep and rest are essential; get them as often as you safely can. 

I’m going to be honest with you, the road ahead is not going to be easy, but you CAN do this. I believe in you. Remember that right now, you may have to be a little flexible in what your expectations are, but you should never compromise your body or your mind for anyone else. You are a human being who matters. Please focus on getting safe and getting help. Remember, whatever you are dealing with right now truly is temporary.

One of the best ways to claim some power in this situation, even though it may not feel like you have any, is to find ways to make money. (Notice, I didn’t just say “get a job”) Jobs can be difficult to come by, especially in this post-COVID world. They can come with their own set of problems and expenses that you may not have access to right now. If you CAN get a job, go for it. But, don’t let that become an obstacle or an excuse for yourself to fail. We don’t have that kind of time. Even if you’re crashing with friends or relatives, people will, reasonably, get burnt out having to carry the extra weight of an additional human in their home; it happens. So, let’s be proactive. 

Make a plan to get your ID if you don’t have one already. You will likely need a legal and certified copy of your birth certificate (a photocopy will not work). You’ll also need your social security card. If you don’t have either of these two things, start there. Find the vital records department in whichever city or town you were born in and find out what they need to send your birth certificate. There will be a charge and a waiting period. Find someone you know that is reliable and stable, who would be willing to collect your mail for you until you get back on your feet. SAVE THE ENVELOPES (at least two are usually required to do things like getting a library card, getting a photo ID, and sometimes even getting a bank account). Once your paperwork arrives, take it to the DMV and, at the very least, get a state-issued photo-id ASAP!

If you need to make money today, you won’t have time to wait for all of those steps I just mentioned, so you will need to be creative. Do you have a skill or service you can offer? For instance, if you’re an artist, you may find luck selling artwork online. Take it a step further and use a site like Redbubble or Cafepress, where you can build your own virtual store for little to no upfront cost. Wash cars, babysit, house-sit, cut grass, collect cans, do some busking. I get that whatever you have to do for work likely won’t be your dream job, but you have to push past your pride so that you can eat. 

If you need help finding resources, reach out to my team at Trans Empowerment Project, and we’ll do our best to help you find food, clothing, and safe shelter (or transportation to a safe shelter). 

Wherever you land, use that time to charge your batteries, literally and figuratively, you have a whole future left to create.