The first moment you realize you've become homeless is a terrifying experience. However, nothing compares to the fright that comes from witnessing events unfold on the streets. Here are the scariest things people who became homeless saw while living on the streets:
#1 Genuinely Good People
I was homeless back when I was 19. After a few weeks of sleepless nights, I was approached one evening by a man dressed as a priest. At this point I had no idea if he was a priest or someone out to deceive me. Being wary of the priest outfit, I straight away told him I had no interest in talking about God. What he said next has stuck with me ever since: "I am not here to talk about God, I'm here to make sure you are safe."
We talked for quite a while until it was dark and that's when he offered me a bed for the night. Alarm bells were going off in my head but he had seemed genuine so I went with him. He drove me to a house in the suburbs and asked me to wait in his car whilst he spoke to someone. A few minutes later he returned with another man who offered to let me sleep in his garage for the night. Everything inside me was saying this was a bad idea but I accepted as I had nothing left to lose.
The garage was pretty standard: tools, workbench, etc., except in the corner there was a box spring and some blankets. There was a connecting door to the main house that the man told me he would have to keep locked during the night. He apologized but said he had kids in the house and couldn't take the risk. The priest asked if he could come by in the morning and speak to me, then went into the house the man.
I don't think I slept at all that night, I was terrified. I had no reason to be afraid of either man as they had been nothing but nice to me, however, after living on the streets for a while, you come to learn that nothing comes for free and you shouldn't trust anyone.
The morning rolled around and the most amazing thing happened—the man knocked on his own garage door to ask me if he could come in. This might not sound amazing but when you've been living rough with zero privacy, someone asking if they can enter your space (which is actually his space) gives you a sense of being human again, someone actually respects you enough to ask your permission.
I spoke with both him and the priest every day for the 7 weeks. I slept in his garage. Between them, they managed to get me into a subsidized efficiency apartment (think studio apartment but a lot smaller). They also helped me get a job and essentially, my life back on track. That was over 20 years ago and I will also be indebted to both of them. I still send Christmas cards to the man whose garage was my home and I visited him two years ago for Thanksgiving. Sadly, the priest passed a way a few years back but I guarantee that if there is a heaven, he got fast-tracked in.
#2 Cold Weather
This was the scariest thing for me. I ended up sleeping in buses and burning Sterno (it's like jellied rubbing alcohol that burns for a good while). I would try to constantly be walking because if I stopped, I'd probably fall asleep and die. I also sometimes rested under a bridge from time to time. One time, I fell asleep under the bridge and I woke up finally feeling warm and cozy. I thought it was nice to finally be able to rest... Then I realized that it was way too cold for and I couldn't move without that frozen fingers pain everywhere. I struggled real hard to get my Sterno out and could barely bend my fingers enough to light it. Like, my hands were nearly useless. I'm really glad I woke up.
#3 Squatter Wars
There is a drainage ditch in my area that the local homeless people tend to bed down in. A few years ago, when I found myself destitute, I spent one night down there. That night I witnessed a Molotov get thrown into another dude's spot which led to a huge fire that ran rampant through the area. Yeah, I bought a tent the next day and started camping in the local mountains.
#4 Outdid My Crazy
My brother was homeless for several years. He told me some of the other homeless are criminal and dangerous, and the best thing you can do is stay away from them. That was the lesson he learned that first night. He's not easily scared, so he was all "I can handle their nonsense, they ain't never dealt with my brand of crazy." Then they started hurling flaming bottles around. They outdid my crazy before I even had a chance to display mine.
#5 Just Drowning
I was fully expecting to read several downing due to a flash flood. I saw a lot of homeless deaths including those from violence, but the saddest was the six people bedding inside a concrete ditch that never rose more than a few inches even on heavy rain days. Unfortunately, one night, it just came down so fast that, by the time we got there to warn them, it was already too late.
#6 Never A Dull Moment
My buddy is a public defender... only for 10 years until the state pays his loans. The stories he tells will never stop surprising you. Every time we eat dinner together, I always have to be reminded to close my mouth because my jaw is always on the table in disbelief of how messed up society is out there. The bottom line is, get a public defender in your circle of friends. Your dinner parties will never be lame again.
#7 Evil On Earth
I was staying in a homeless shelter that had a men's side and a woman's side. Most of the men were convicted offenders. In the 8 months that I spent in that horrible place, I was friends with three women who were taken advantage of by some of these men. The truly scary thing? The women were actively discouraged from telling anyone what had happened, especially the police. If they filed a report with the police, they were permanently barred from the shelter. That place (one of the most celebrated in my state, regularly has the mayor and governor drop by) is the evilest place on earth.
#8 The Worst Kind
People who had been homeless way longer than me. Trust me. There is nothing scarier on the streets than the one couple who have been out of their minds day in and day out for thousands of days. People make jokes, but unless you've been around chronic users, you don't understand how truly scary it makes people become. It's a whole new level of animalistic, impulsive, not-right-in -the-head people. I hate those people.
#9 The Value Of Warmth
Snow! I'm a big, scary dude so I never had trouble with people picking on me or whatever. In that sense, the streets were safe to me, but seeing snow for the first time that year just made me cry and panic. It was too early for snow, I wasn't ready for that type of cold and was hoping to be on my feet again before the winter came. A beautiful thing like snow just messed me up in so many ways.
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#10 The Struggling Artist
This was seven years ago. I was making art from trash and selling it in markets and posting it on the streets, I became pretty known for it, I've traveled the world for exhibitions and worked with very famous artists. I'm still struggling with money and I work non-stop now with the virus, but I rent a house with a big garden for my dog and own a car. I'm far away from that life and I don't think I'll ever be in that position.
#11 Constant Fear
Lots of violence. I was stalked by a gang one night on my way "home" from work. I still have no idea how I wasn't victimized. Once, I woke up suddenly to a not man holding a huge sharp object and staring at me inside an abandoned building's basement that I was sleeping in. Once he noticed I was awake, he asked if I was Russian. I said no and he said he was looking for a different girl. He gave me 20 dollars and left.
#12 The Good Farmer
Waking up to a pistol being pointed directly at my head. I wasn't truly homeless but had no money or bank card and I was trying to get back to my parents following nearly being strangled to death by my ex. The actual fight happened whilst we were out, so I had no spare clothes. I'd left my wallet at his place and only had a dying phone on me.
I tried getting money for a train but only really managed enough for a bus fare to the next town, so I decided to try hitchhiking. Late into the night, I gave up and managed to sneak into a barn where I was able to get comfortable enough to sleep. Turns out, I didn't close the door enough and the farmer found me in the morning after taking his gun to investigate.
He woke me up (I think he coughed loudly) with the pistol pointed at me. He asked me what I thought I was doing in his barn and quizzed me on how I got in. He asked to see my arms before he lowered the pistol and then he started chatting. He was quite nice though and after talking to him for a while he took me back to his house. He fed me and let me have a shower.
#13 The Ultimate Betrayal
I had been homeless for a couple of weeks and I had made friends with this couple. They seemed pretty chill but they had a bit of a drinking problem. Anyway, one night I was sleeping and woke up to some commotion going on. I couldn't make out who it was or what was going on, until my buddy came by and sat on my sleeping bag, blood pumping out of his neck, like full-on every time his heart would beat.
I asked him what happened and he said he thinks his partner had done it while he was tipsy, so he was not aware of how bad his injury was. He insisted I not call an ambulance. So I called the police and they called the ambulance. I saw the dude a couple of days later, still homeless, with a scar on his neck. He was ever so grateful as the nurse had told him how lucky he was. He was literally a couple of millimeters away from dying that night.
#14 A Sad Reality
When I was 17, I worked at a little pizzeria. Some nights we had leftover pizzas that were meant to sell by the slice. This particular night I had a full supreme and I decided to bring it home instead of throwing it away. It was raining that night and while driving home I saw a homeless person under an overpass. I decided to give him this whole pizza. I pulled back around explained to him that I worked at a place and I wanted to give him this whole pizza. He refused to accept it and said that I’d probably baked cockroaches into it or something. I was pretty upset by this and it kind of ruined my desire to give for a while... but hearing about people giving this guy tampered food made me feel like he had every reason to be suspicious of me.
#15 Greedy And Wasteful
When I worked at a pizza place (named after a short emperor), we had a dumpster out back where we threw out the pizzas we hadn’t sold at the end of the day. This was often ten or so pizzas. The local homeless population knew to go diving for these pizzas and there were times we would see them waiting and just hand them over. Top management wanted us to pour bleach on the pizzas before putting them in the dumpster, but the manager refused to actually do it because he wasn’t a terrible person. I left within a month of that directive.
#16 Creepy Cul-De-Sac
I’m a woman in my early twenties. Not my brightest decision, but I slept in my car for several weeks when I was completely out of money. Every night, I parked in a small cul-de-sac. As far as I knew, the area was office-only, so I didn’t take anybody’s parking lot and in the morning I left. I worked a lot, so usually, I slept like a log.
One night though, I woke up, feeling anxious for some reason. I looked up and saw a softly illuminated window right above me. It was a nice, warm light as if from a bedside lamp. I freaked out a bit and fumbled for my keys — I thought I'd better sit the rest of the night out at McDonald's or something. Then I noticed a silhouette not far away. A man was standing still and watching me. He didn’t knock on my window glass, didn’t try to talk or anything. He was just watching.
I booked it out of that cul-de-sac real quick. You know, the thing that freaks me out the most is not even the fact that he could assault or rob me then, but the realization that he may have watched me every other night, but I was too tired to notice that earlier.
#17 Park Happenings
I don’t know if it counts but I lived in a van for a month or so when I was in college and would sleep at the park. I didn’t necessarily see it but I heard it and it is burned into my mind forever. A group of the local hobos beat up a guy near to death. The guy was just going on a nightly walk. I found a new park after that.
#18 It Could Be Anyone
I lived in my car. I remember seeing this woman and talking to her outside a store when I was just chilling eating some food. She told me she had been homeless literally her entire life and had never sleep on a proper bed in her life. I asked how old she was and she told me she was 53. It was scary to me because I realized that that could have easily been me. I think about that woman every single day.
#19 Friends And Enemies
I found a few friends on the street but I never went to shelters or near groups. I kept to myself on the outside of the city and walked in every day. I met a few people that did the same thing, and they were all reasonably nice people. We would meet up usually on walks back out and trade and share what we got that day. But after I type that, you're right, don't make close friends, and don't let them know where you sleep.
#20 Losing His Mind
I was homeless in Seattle for many years. I've seen some horrible things ranging from bum fights that ended in death, to people next to the downtown Macy's stepping over bodies they thought was just people sleeping. But the worst thing was probably seeing this tweaked-out guy who, at the time, had a bad reputation already on the Hill. He did some unspeakable things as a result of his lost mind.
#21 Unnecessary Violence
Kids beating the heck out of a homeless man. It started with them spitting on him. He got up and ran after them, then a couple of them hit him from behind with some Ikea-looking wood (you know, the one that snaps easy). He got mad and they ran off. He came back to the bench and fell asleep again. Ten minutes later and they were back. They just started beating the heck out of him. I had to jump in and stop them.
#22 Mountain Monsters
I was working in a mountain town and couldn’t afford rent, even with two jobs. One night, I was wasted after work. A work friend and I were always there by ourselves until closing so the bar was free game. I left work at 2 a.m., then walked the hour and a half back to my tent outside of town. While being stalked by a mountain lion, I assume I looked injured and could be an easy meal. It was terrifying. I had a digital camera with me so I just kept pointing it in the area of the ridge where I could hear it walking and flashed repeatedly. Made it home safe.
#23 Bear Encounter
I must’ve smelled like a huge gyro after working a double at Pitas In Paradise. I got into my sleeping bag in my tent. I was just about to doze off when I heard big crunches of a black bear sniffing me out. I was frozen with terror. The bear put its head about against the nylon inches above my head. Hot steam on my face. I had pulled the sleeping bag up to my cheeks petrified when I slapped the bear's nose above my forehead. It was an involuntary reaction and I felt stupid but I spooked the bear and it took off. I got an apartment with some friends soon after.
#24 Trashbag Jesus
My father lives on Maui and the first time I went to visit him, I was shocked at the number of homeless people there. I specifically remember this one elder homeless dude who the locals dubbed "Trashbag Jesus" because he wore NOTHING except a black lawn bag as basically a dress. This guy walks around the entire Kihei area all day long with no shoes just talking to himself. According to my father, the locals try to give him clothes and food all the time but he refuses due to being paranoid schizophrenic. He never bothers anyone, he's just in his own world.
#25 Dangerous Cats
All sorts of the usual stuff; dicey situations with dicey people. But the one where I was spine chilling terrified... I had found a seemingly nice quiet cut in the woods... there was shade, privacy. I was set. I woke up to a guttural yowl at 2 a.m. A pack of feral cats that the adjacent 50-year-old Rainman had lured to his property with cans of wet food. They stood on the fence yowling, eyes reflecting as we stared the other down.
#26 Seagull Snack
Neighbors caught a homeless dude shooting seagulls out of the sky and hanging them on a clothesline. They called the gaming warden. The dude said it was his only means of feeding his family. The warden realized this was true and that he was not just doing it for sport. He let him off with a warning. Seagulls are a protected animal in these parts. When leaving, he asked with curiosity what a seagull tasted like. The dude said a mix between a spotted owl and a California condor.
#27 Sketchy Motel
This isn't remotely scary, it's more just messed up. After we lost our home, we stayed in a motel for a while but due to occupancy rules, I slept in the car in the parking lot. One night, a woman parked next to me in the lot and the security guard showed up. They literally spent the next three hours getting tipsy, talking, and then getting frisky in the car. The entire time I was in the next parking space trying to ignore them and look at my phone.
#28 Get Away From Me
Not scary but disturbing. I was walking trying to get downtown for some reason at night when this guy started to walk beside me. He followed me for three miles while making inappropriate gestures at me. Even when I made it downtown, he still followed me. I thought he was going to corner me and probably try to take advantage of me. But he didn't notice I was walking us to a nearby building that had security until I yelled for help. He ran off immediately afterwards.
#29 Homeless Professional
I made a dumb mistake once. I went to a concert in a faraway town with no ride or place to stay. I spent the night in the bed of a truck. I woke up around 5 a.m. to people doing illicit substances about 10 feet away. They were unaware of my presence. When the sun finally rose, a homeless professional found me and took me to the donut shop that was open. She was such a boss.
#30 People Suck
I’ve never been homeless but I work in a homelessness service. One of my colleagues had been homeless and was telling me about it. He said he had a sleeping bag and a small tent in the woods that he used to sleep in. I said I would be too scared to do that. He then told me that when he was sleeping in a city center, he was trashed on multiple times. Once, he was even set on fire. He would rather take the very slim chance of bumping into a killer looking for people in a forest at night.
#31 Playing On Desperation
I remember seeing three guys just basically playing with this poor girl a few years younger than me, trying to see what she'd do for illicit substances. She was homeless too and VERY uninterested in them or what they had to offer. It wasn't scary like spooky or something, it was just that humans will resort to this insane base level of craziness. I did step in and they backed off but that was one time I was able to step in as opposed to the many I wasn't.
#32 Invasion Of Privacy
When I'd get ready to sleep, I'd roll my windows up on some sheets to block out everything except part of the driver's side window. I had a dog, and while he was small, he was also mighty, and a very good boy. I'd sleep on my side in the backseat and he'd sleep in the nook of my arm. One night he started growling and it woke me up. As soon as I opened my eyes I was looking directly into the eyes of someone else standing outside my car while they peered through the crack in the sheets. I asked "What do you want?" and he bolted.
#33 Hoping For A Prank
I was in my car at a gym parking lot. I heard a scream so bloodcurdling at 2 a.m. that I was equally scared and worried for the person. It went on for a good minute. I looked out and saw a car driving slowly by the business front that the scream seemed to be coming from. I called the cops because if someone was in that much pain, it must have been a mixture of stimulants and being hurt. Or just a prank by kids.
#34 A Tough Realization
Not on the streets but behind some garages in the apartment complexes where I had a place. What felt scary to me was the realization that I didn’t have a place to go. Usually, after a long day, you can kick back and relax at home. The dread of knowing I still had to find a “safe” place to sleep where I wouldn’t be found was such a daunting task at the time.
#35 By The Ocean
My mom and I were homeless when I was around eight years old. I remember the first night we slept on a beach when we still had our car. My mom parked us kinda close to the water. She took a handful of bars and passed out in the front seat. I stayed awake the whole night in terror thinking that the ocean would just swallow us whole. I tried to wake her up several times with no success.
#36 Nomad By Choice
My brother was homeless by choice. He would just hitchhike or hop trains and travel around the U.S. He was normally smart about it but when Colorado legalized the green, he stopped off there. In the middle of winter, he called me and asked for a bus ticket. He had two guys freeze to death in this little camp he was in. He stuck to Florida in the winters after that.
#37 A Different Life
A guy grabbed me by my hood when I wouldn’t give him money. I ended up beating him down pretty badly and broke my pinky. I should specify that we were both homeless, and I tried walking away from the situation. He then grabbed the back of my hood while following me. Which I then retaliated in a bad way. Different life entirely... crazy to think about it now.
#38 The Nightmares
I was homeless for a year with my mom. There were plenty of unsettling nights but we had each other and a car so I always felt we were better off. I found an opportunity to get a place with some friends my age but I couldn't take her with me. The scariest things were the nightmares and worry I had for her every day. She moved to the same town as me so I could see her, give her money, and text her constantly but the thought of me not being there if something happened still gives me nightmares.
#39 Desensitized To Violence
I was homeless in a major MI city. It isn't necessarily the violence that scared me, but how quickly everyone became desensitized to it and how little the general public cared. I slept by the river and every couple of days the dredge line patrol boats would go by and pull out body parts so they didn't get caught in the fish ladder. I would find myself talking to other homeless people saying, "Yep, they pulled three out this morning, and a few extra arms." Inevitability, if they said so and so was missing, one of them was probably him. All of it was just as casual as you can be... like I was giving a weather report.
#40 To Serve And Protect
The cops. And rattlesnakes, especially the pygmy rattlesnakes... so small, so camouflaged. And the cops, even without their brutality, could destroy everything I was working for. They could take my job, my money, my bicycle, and my other possessions any time they wanted. I was homeless after 9-11. Sarasota did this to me twice. One of the two times I caught Tuberculosis in their jail and almost died. They were the single biggest threat to my survival.
#41 Three-Year Stalker
I got stalked and harassed for three months while living in a homeless shelter. It started with me helping out another person who got moved in. I found out they lied to me about the reason they needed help and called them out on it, which in hindsight, was a mistake. From that point, they'd try breaking into my room, sending their friends to intimidate me and wait outside the property by my window for all hours of the day. It was one of the scariest things I've had to go through but there was so much going on in those projects that made the situation unsafe on top of that. I'm so fortunate to not be in that position anymore.
#42 Trying To Survive
Being herded into a van because this guy was running through the camp and attacking people in the tents. Then, the guy got in the van and we saw that it was mostly young kids inside. We were trafficked up and down the coast for months before they ticked off some cartel guys and got beat up. The van was set on fire. We crossed the border back towards home with this nice couple and worked on a farm with them for a while.
#43 A Pack Of Dogs
Not homeless but in the mid-'90s in south Dallas, I saw a pack of stray dogs attack a homeless guy. He had just gotten some food when the dogs circled in and attacked him in a way where one of the dogs could grab the food. By the time I circled back, the workers at a convenience store chased off the dogs and called an ambulance. We made sure he had some food before the paramedics got there.
#44 Simply Grateful
I was only homeless for a little bit and I also live in New Zealand which is generally pretty safe, but I was living and my car and man, SO many people crash into your car on a daily basis and you have no idea unless you're in it sleeping. I had to make sure no one could see me in the car or that I was in a populated area where people will be curious if they hear something off. I'm a lucky person in that nothing bad happened to me while I was forced to live in my car. It could have but it didn't and I am grateful every day.
#45 Rooftop Havens
I was homeless in Arizona, Mesa. There was this other homeless kid I met. I didn't really know anyone there. He told me I shouldn't sleep out in the open anymore and that he slept on the roofs of gas stations. He also showed me how to easily get up on on most of them. I thought this was genius and you can leave your stuff because no one goes up there. After him telling me this, he said that people had been going around lighting plastic bags on fire and throwing the bags onto sleeping homeless people. A few had accelerants poured on them before the molten plastic.
#46 Spider Scare
My dad used to be homeless, he told me this story. He was living in his car in Colorado. He went to sleep one night with the windows down, and apparently this was when those big Colorado spiders were migrating or whatever they do, running all over the place in packs. Anyway, they got into my dad's car and he woke up with his car, essentially, covered in giant spiders. He never slept with the windows down again.
#47 Treated Like Scum
The scariest thing I experienced when I was homeless was how quickly you go from being a regular law abiding citizen to suddenly being treated like the scum of the earth all because you lost your place to sleep. Homeless people are people too. You have no idea how unfairly homeless people are treated. It’s no wonder a lot of them are insane.
#48 Getting Lost
When I was about seven years old, my family had been evicted from our apartment and we didn’t have any other choice but to live in a tent in the woods. I rode the bus to school one morning and rode it back, but the bus driver couldn’t find my parents. He couldn’t remember where he picked me up and my parents didn’t have a cell phone. I don’t remember how they found me but it was still scary because I was so young. Nothing compared to most of these though.
#49 Just Stay Inside
I got evicted almost a month ago. I still have a job and a car so I've been sleeping in my car at my work parking lot. The scariest thing I have seen the few times I've been homeless is this pandemic. I am normally free of fear but anytime I hear anyone cough it scares me because I will have to be stuck in my car while I recover, if I happen to get infected.
#50 In An Instant
I saw a man falling asleep in the recessed doorway of a clothing store. A few hours later, I walked by that spot on break to see him flanked by two police officers who were then awaiting a coroner to pick up his body. This happened in San Francisco, and I've hated going into that city ever since. when you're homeless, you can lose your life at any time.