People Who Experienced Homelessness Share What Their First Night Without A Home Was Like
It’s hard to imagine what it’d be like to not have a home to go to at the end of the day. Homelessness is an issue in pretty much any major city, but most of us aren’t aware of just how serious it is because we haven’t experienced it ourselves. We often take all of the luxuries we have in our lives for granted–the roofs over our heads, the food on our tables, the warmth of our beds… The moment those basic necessities are taken out of the picture, we are hit with the harsh reality that we aren’t really entitled to anything in this life. People from around the world who have experienced homelessness took to the internet to share what it was like living without a home. As dark and depressing as some of these stories are, they all have some sort of silver lining to them. Perhaps these stories can teach us the importance of being resilient in the face of adversity:
Don’t forget to check the comment section below the article for more interesting stories!
#1 Just Keep Going
I slept in my vehicle, couch surfed at a friend’s place and squatted in an unused trailer… all while still working at a Walmart. I saved enough to get a basic apartment and just kept going from there.
#2 Go Ahead, Try Me
I slept in the school parking garage. The security guard tried to mess with me once—I asked him whether he would rather me park on the street (in a not nice part of LA), or sleep in there where I was at least safe. He never bugged me again. None of them did.
#3 Why Not?
I worked at a gas station with a pretty big parking lot over the summer. When I’d work the night shift, I’d usually get one or two people to request if they could sleep in their car in the parking lot. I always said sure, just park around on the side at the back. I didn’t understand why people were so thankful until today. The kicker is that those people would almost always come in the morning to buy a coffee and a donut.
Small coffee and a donut together only ran $2, but every morning, we got fresh donuts that I’d put out and in doing so, I’d have three or so to throw away. I would always smuggle one out to a guy that was there almost every night. I get that catering to the homeless can seem kind of icky to businesses, but it honestly cut down on waste. So why not? My manager eventually found out and decided to turn a blind eye when I explained everything to her.
#4 Worst Case Scenario
I didn’t really realize what was going on, I was about six years old at the time. My dad said we were going to go for a drive. He instructed me to pack my backpack with all the clothes I could fit and one toy. My mom was just crying. I sat with my brother in the backseat—he was a little older and he was holding our Sega Genesis and looking scared.
We drove for a little while (it was already getting dark) and we parked in front of a Walmart because my dad said he had to rest for a while. It was the first of many, many nights that we slept in the car. I remember one of my parents was always awake, with their hand in their coat pocket. Looking back, it was obvious they had something for protection, and they were definitely sleeping in shifts.
#5 Woodland Retreat
I was homeless for a couple of months a year or two ago. I had a car and a low paying job, so I lived in the woods in a tent for a bit. The first night was miserable. I ended up sleeping really uncomfortably in the passenger seat of my car and it was a really cold night. After that, I got a tent and slept on an old climbing pad I had.
The first night was hell but the next several weeks were actually not so bad. I had a spot in the woods where I was well hidden and would cook over a fire. I really didn’t have it that bad but it gave me quite a bit of sympathy for people who really do end up on the streets in a much more desperate situation. It is not easy.
#6 A Different Walk Of Shame
I kept waking up in the middle of the night and would start walking “home.” I’d get a few steps out, then stop and realize I had nowhere to go. I’d turn and walk back over, then just lay on the ground. The ground was always very cold and I felt a lot of shame.
#7 The Cold Concrete
When I was about 16, I went to homecoming with a bunch of kids and we had all planned to have a slumber party afterward—I can’t remember where. I was in a town about 20 minutes away from home and had no cell phone. It was around 9:30 p.m. when everyone started to drop off and go home, and eventually, I was by myself.
I was about a 15-minute walk from a park I knew that had bathrooms which locked. I went there and curled up on the floor, trying to make myself as small as possible in my homecoming dress to keep warm. Some kids came in the middle of the night and banged on the door. It scared me half to death they would find me in there sleeping.
The next morning, I woke up and walked to a friend’s house where they were all surprised to see me. Nobody commented that I was still wearing my homecoming dress. In hindsight, it may have looked like I spent the night with a guy. I preferred that to them knowing I spent the night on a bathroom floor.
Homelessness is rough. No matter what you do, concrete won’t ever get warm, so the best thing to so do is get cardboard to put underneath you. It’s true. I’ve been homeless several times but I always had somewhere to go. That was the only time I ever slept outside like a homeless person and I wasn’t even homeless. I’ll never forget how afraid I was.
#8 Mountain Dwellers
On the first night, my wife and I ended up sleeping outside in a local park that I knew. We had come down from the countryside with a few rands (enough for one meal maybe) and had hoped to stay with a friend. He was unable to give us a place to stay, so we had to sleep outside. After the insecurity of that first night, I told my wife that we have to find a safer place to sleep.
So we climbed up the slopes of Table Mountain (about a one-hour walk) and found quite an obscured spot amongst some bushes and trees. We cleared it out of sticks and rocks, made it a bit more habitable and then went into the city looking for work. We’d spend the day going from one place to the next looking for work until it started growing dark. Then we’d head up the mountain to our little spot for the night.
We did that daily for a month until we were able to secure a small shack room in the townships, where we stayed for another few months until I got a job offer. My wife’s temp jobs kept us fed whilst I was looking for work. The biggest challenge was mental—keeping focused, clean, looking presentable and just making my job looking for a job.
#9 Comfort In An Odd Place
When I was a teenager, I had several problems with my mom. I pretty much chose to be homeless. I slept at a Catholic Church across from my high school so I could still make it to school and graduate early. I remember feeling really sad because I slept where they put people’s ashes, and I remember being so sad that those people could comfort me in death more than anybody alive. I used to talk to them and everything. I never realized how alone I was in the world until I was homeless. And I never realized how cold concrete can be—it chills you right to your bones and it’s really painful.
#10 A New Perspective
Alone and cold. I used a concrete step in a blizzard as a pillow my first night homeless. I’m lucky to be alive, and glad to have made it. Made me a stronger person. Starting from rock bottom gives you perspective. It opened up my entire mindset on possibilities in life.
#11 Invisible Homeless
My sister spent her adolescence at a neighbor’s house because she had been “daddy’s little girl.” Mom got the kids in the divorce, and she really took it out on her. I was away at college by then. It never occurred to me before just now that she was essentially homeless. There’s a term for it, like hidden or invisible homeless, which includes those who are couch surfing because they don’t have a permanent residence. I believe it makes up half or more of the actual homeless population.
#12 My Scary Summer
Sleeping in my car wasn’t that bad. It was summer, so it was pretty warm which was my biggest issue. I showered at the gym and spent most of my day at the library before going to work. For the first few nights, it wasn’t bad. However, one night, the police found me sleeping in my car and escorted me to the local homeless shelter, which was one of the most terrifying nights of my life. I slept there on a top bunk and at some point, a huge argument broke out because one guy wouldn’t share something with another guy. Then, a third got angry and started screaming at them to be quiet because he needed to sleep.
#13 Gym Hero
I ran a gym a while back and got a few customer complaints about a guy who would be in the bathroom at 2 a.m. for three hours a couple of times a week. He was a paying member and when I reviewed the cams he never did anything wrong or spoke to anyone, plus there were two additional bathrooms with showers which were plenty for the night crowd.
I refused to do anything about it or boot the guy because he wasn’t a security threat; he wasn’t badgering females, and he left no mess. I continued to get complaints and threats of two particular folks leaving who I’ll assume just lacked basic empathy.
#14 Terrible Twenties
I started being homeless at 19. A previous foster parent put me out for coming home from college one night, and I called up a friend last minute. When I started to realize I wouldn’t be able to crash or stay anywhere, I started to dread and spiral into a constant, underlying depressive state. All I could think about was: “Am I going to die like this? Do I matter? Will no one help me? I’m sad, I’m scared. I don’t want to feel like I have to beg. What if I’m stuck like this? Is this really my life right now?” My twenties were a very challenging time…
#15 Steep Learning Curve
It was terrifying. I was cold and hungry. I didn’t sleep a wink. I adapted over time. The extremely steep learning curve to surviving homelessness. Nothing really prepares you for it.
#16 In Progress…
My fiancé and I are approaching the point where we might lose our house. We do a ton of camping and exploring in our free time so we’re hoping that if it comes to that point, we’ll sort of be in our element. I’m personally terrified but she doesn’t seem to mind.
#17 Complete Loneliness
I was kicked out by my mother at 16 and spent two months homeless before the local authority placed me in foster care. I think what hit me first was how my own mother could make one of her own children homeless. I felt like the least favorite of her children—it all came out of nowhere, I wracked my brain for years after, trying to think of what I might have done in particular.
Also the crippling loneliness you feel when you are trying to get hold of people to ask for a place to sleep for the night. I could not feel more alone in the world when someone would either not answer my message or tell me they were busy. I’m pretty sure I camped out in the park that night. Didn’t sleep at all.
#18 Full Survival Mode
After two weeks, I went into full survival mode, getting food and shelter where I could. It was only for the summer. I even got food-aggressive when schools opened back up. It took me a week or two to realize these other students were not going to try and fight me for my small square pizza at lunch. It really changes how you operate, at least in the short term.
#19 “Camping Trip”
I was about 9 years old, and my mom said we were going on a camping trip. I didn’t really suspect anything, as it was summertime and we went camping a lot when I was younger. Although, I did wonder why we were packing so much stuff. After a few weeks of “camping,” I started to complain, but my mom kept insisting that it was good for us to get in touch with nature, etc. Then school started, and we were still camping. And we kept camping for another six months. When we finally got a house, my mom cried with joy. And we don’t camp anymore.
#20 Family Is Forever
I was getting tipsy, so it really didn’t truly sink in until I was broke and sick. Then, the desperation started. Going to gas stations, jumping car to car asking for money, stealing what I had to. It was a miserable existence. There are so many things you don’t think about when you’re not homeless… Taking a shower, washing your clothes, and boredom. Hours upon hours of nothing to do. And the constant noise. There was nowhere to go where it was truly quiet. Fortunately, I eventually got arrested for shoplifting reached out to my family who helped me get back on my feet.
#21 Survival Scams
When you’re a teenager it seems kind of cool to sleep in the car, on the couch or floor of a friend or acquaintance, or for your dad to scam a rented apartment for a month or two without paying for it. Moving around every few months and carrying everything that you can in an old Honda Civic seems like an adventure. We once moved a couch across town in it. We must have looked like a couple of idiots.
Once after a few months of staying in a place where we had no furniture, were sleeping on the floor, the carpet of which was so flea-infested that you could literally see the fleas hopping around, the landlord got so frustrated with us basically squatting in his property (my dad promised to pay and never did) that he removed the front door. So we went out to scam some food from somewhere and came back to find no front door. Which in retrospect is a pretty awesome way to get someone out of your property.
One of the ways we scammed food would be to go to the breakfast buffet of a fancy hotel, tell the server that we had a room there, eat a ton of food and just walk out. This was also kind of fun but looking back it is a kind of messed up way for a dad to treat his teenage kid.
#22 Hungry And Delirious
I remember being really hungry and acting weird because of the low blood sugar. I was almost delirious. This was when I made a futile attempt to run away from an abusive home with no money. I ended up going back because of that.
#23 Rolling With The Punches
I was 13 when my parents kicked me out and told me they no longer wanted anything to do with me. I was terrified to visit a shelter because I’d known some foster kids and the whole system scared me. Plus, I wanted to continue going to the same school. I didn’t want to lose my friends too. The scariest part at that age was really finding out what I was hoping to eat. There had been a dilapidated trailer just minutes down the road from my dad’s place, so I stayed in that.
I don’t think it all really hit me until I had to choose one night between food and blankets because the temperature was expected to drop down to the mid-30s and I had only one somewhat thin blanket at that point. The next day, I put on my best attire which was nothing impressive and asked for a job at Long John Silvers. I lied and told them I was 15. I worked 5 days a week rushing over after school.
I ate unhealthily to save money for some form of shelter which came in the form of a 91 Toyota Camry that I purchased out of the Thrifty Nickel for $300. I loved that clunker. Plus heating myself became much easier.
From there, it was mostly uphill. I found an older lady willing to rent me her garage without any sort of credit check. I took a couch off the side of the road to sleep on. I even had internet in there where I mostly read scary stories all night (I wish video streaming services were really a thing back then). I just kind of… Learned to roll with the punches. My childhood wasn’t normal. It was downright terrifying a good chunk of the time, but it is what made me who I am today.
#24 The Gravity Of Mental Illness
I was only homeless for about six weeks, at 36 years of age. After several years of depression and anxiety slowly eroding my resources, relationships and the general will to try anymore, I ended up having a final blowout with my girlfriend, who reasonably couldn’t handle me anymore. I started sleeping at work, which wasn’t even a full-time job.
The delicacy involved in not getting caught, and the freedom from the extremely unhealthy state my relationship had been in, kept my mind away from the absolute, abject terror that was hiding beneath the surface; the scary part of homelessness for me was the growing sense that if I fell any further I’d probably never get back up. It takes resources to be clean, fed and rested, and if you aren’t those things it’s very hard to get resources, let alone find the will to try. But that first night was all triage, all focused on being sure the second night wasn’t going to be on the street.
I pulled it off for six weeks, and that time, actually, saved my life. I was away from conflict, intimately connected to how dire my circumstances had become, forced into a very regular schedule (routine is really good for me but nigh-impossible in a depressive state), and, without bills, was able to save enough for damage-deposit and rent.
I still struggle with depression in a pretty serious way but the animal terror of having nowhere and no one really seared itself into me. A better motivation would be the-future-i-want than the-future-i-fear, but as it stands I at least have a motivator strong enough to escape the incredible gravity of mental illnesses.
#25 Fear Into Strength
I was only 13. The first night, I had to just turn the fear into strength. It got easier and easier every day—I figured out how to get clean, where to sleep, where to eat. It was easier to get used to than when I got a house again and had to get used to staying in one.
#26 On My Own
I don’t recall my very first time exactly. I do remember looking for a friend that was homeless and his friends ended up watching over me. Everyone was tipsy except me. I didn’t sleep. More recently. Less than a month ago I lost my housing and everything I own. I’m alone this time. I sleep during the day and browse the internet at night. I was homeless for 10 years the first time. And I am terrified now.
#27 Born Into Homelessness
I was actually born homeless. My mom put newborn me into a small laundry basket filled with blankets she’d been gifted. I spent the first year of my life living out of a car with my family. My mom had my five-year-old brother and four-year-old sister with her, too. All living out of a grand caravan in the early ’90s. She’d taken us to Wyoming to hide in the Rocky mountains, so, at least I got to sleep under the stars at night.
#28 An Insightful Perspective
The extremes most people here are describing are actually only the pointed end of homelessness. Far more people lack their own personal private safe space but do have places to crash. Maybe it’s on a family member or friend’s couch. Not “roughing it”, but not necessarily super secure or their own. This applies to massive numbers of people. And it’s good when we have such charity and support networks, but it helps to mask the scope of the issue, which is far larger than it usually appears.
#29 The Disconnect
I ended up couch surfing for a couple of months. It’s hard to describe the disconnect with wanting to “go home” only to realize you don’t really have one. The first night wasn’t really a big event for me because I knew I’d be couch surfing for a month or two. It was really the little realizations that I had no home to go back to, that all my stuff was locked up in s0me storage space and that everything I owned was in a single backpack. That got to me sometimes.
#30 The Karma Is Real
My ex-wife made up a bunch of lies to get a restraining order. I got served at work while she simultaneously shut off my phone service and locked me out of our shared bank account. This was sometime in January. I had a t-shirt and slacks to wear for clothes, and nowhere to sleep. My car didn’t have working heat.
Thank God for my parents who got me a hotel, a new phone, and some money for clothes. I ended up living in an extended stay hotel for two months while I looked for an apartment and got my affairs in order. The restraining order was dismissed, the divorce went to trial, and I got the house and the kids.
#31 The Lifesaving Beetle
I slept in the backseat of my friend’s broken down Volkswagen beetle. I used the light from the streetlight to study and get my homework done on time. Later on, that same friend would sneak me into his dad’s camper at night so I could actually lay out flat and get a good night’s sleep. That worked for a while until I got caught and his dad kicked us both out. I went back to the bug. I got by using old airline toiletries and washing up in the public restrooms by the beach and nearby Burger King. I still made the Dean’s List though.
#32 Pack Your Things
I think people have this idea in their head that homeless means you’re out on the street under a bridge or in a tent but there are many facets of it. We were homeless for about 10 days after my mom left my dad. I was younger and it didn’t click with me until I got older. Mom called me and my sisters and told us to pack up our stuff. We then just did what we needed to get those 10 days until she could secure some housing for us. I remember eating corn and rice for a meal but that’s the only real thing that sticks out to me from that time.
#33 Totally Clueless
I had no clue I was homeless. I went to stay the night at a friend’s house on a weekday and after not feeling hated for existing I just didn’t go back. I ended up couch surfing for two years until college hit.
#34 Home Is Where The Homeless Are
I grew up busking and begging because my parents couldn’t remember to take care of me. I knew most of the homeless in my area because of that, so when I ran away, I knew things like who to talk to and where to bunker down. It was quiet compared to the constant outbursts of crazy and violence with my parents. I felt safer because most of the more respected homeless people had known me for close to a decade.
#35 Waving The White Flag
I lived in a minivan for half a year while I worked full time at an airport. The trick was not to actually leave when the shift ended. Or if I left, I wouldn’t go super far. I could afford to eat a couple of times a day and I had a cheap gym membership so that I could shower. The boredom was mind-numbing but if it got too bad I would just go back to the airport and people watch or pretend like I was about to fly somewhere. I never missed my family so much. Eventually gave up and moved back home.
#36 Twice And No More
I’ve been homeless twice, but both times I managed to secure a temporary place to sleep after a couple of days. Those days, though, were among the worst I’ve ever experienced. It’s just a sense of panic and feeling exposed and unsafe, and every time you go inside you tell yourself to enjoy it for as long as they’ll let you because it’s raining and windy outside and you know you’ll soon be back out in it. I have no doubt that if I had to do it for longer in either instance I probably wouldn’t have survived it, one way or the other.
#37 Good To Know
It sucked. It was freezing. I learned how to start a fire with very little supplies though. Tortilla chips and Doritos are GREAT fire starters. Once I acquired a tent it was much more tolerable.
#38 The 6-Month Couch Surf
The closest I got to being homeless was when I was 19. I was kicked out by my old landlord because he wanted to do renovations to be able to justify raising the rent to other, more well off tenants. The first night I slept in my car, then after that, a friend of mine let me crash at his place. I spent six months sleeping on his couch.
#39 Sunshine After The Rain
When I was in ninth grade, my mom had finally gotten out of an abusive relationship. Her friend from work let us stay at there house for about a month, then we had to move into a battered women’s shelter for about six months. We had a big room with four beds in each room and a pin pad to get into the room. Being 14 years old, I definitely knew what was going on and was pretty embarrassed by it. I didn’t tell anyone what we were going through. My mom, sister and I were still all together though, so it could have been a lot worse. In the end, we bought a house. We are all in good places now.
#40 The Corvette Conundrum
I was 17. I hit a car with my dad’s Corvette. It wasn’t that big of a deal, it was just a little damage to the front. Well, the guy I hit called my dad before I got home and told him a bunch of dumb stuff. Said his bumper fell off of his car and read my dad the riot act. When I got home I walked through the front door, my dad hit me in the chest and knocked me back through the doorway. He screamed at me and told me to get out of his life.
I went to the Redondo Beach pier where I hung out and stared sleeping under the pier. The first night and most nights after that were a series of moments of having no idea what to do. I was lost. After 7 months I called my maternal grandparents and asked them for help. They moved me back to Arizona and got me into college.
#41 Help Is Here
It didn’t really occur to me that I was “homeless” for a couple of weeks. I was 16, and my mom and I were in a domestic abuse situation. She fled to a friend’s house, and I fled to my friend’s house, and then from there, I couch surfed for a few weeks until my boyfriend’s mom caught on that something wasn’t quite right.
I had spent random nights at their house prior to the spare room, but during that two weeks I had stayed three times with them, and at dinner, she gently put down her fork to say, “Sara, something is going on. Tell me about it.”
It wasn’t a question. So I started bawling at the dinner table and realized I didn’t have a home, and in the next five minutes, me, her, my boyfriend, and his dad all had our shoes on and in the car, on our way to my the abusive house to grab my things. Then they made the spare room my real room for a year before I could go to university and get an apartment.
#42 Day-To-Day Scrambling
I wasn’t on the streets but my mother kicked me out the second I turned 18. It was a desperate scramble each day trying to find somewhere to stay. I felt like an inconvenience. I panicked anytime my phone was about to die or whenever I hadn’t arranged somewhere to stay for the night. Ugh. Luckily I was semi-intelligent—I worked my butt off through college and enrolled in university. Loads of debt, but I had a room at least.
#43 Living At A Train Station
I was 15. Northern England. I was sitting in the train station waiting room, not knowing where to go. There was an attendant who locked me in there so that I’d be safe. He said he had a daughter my age. There were padded benches and a toilet so it was invaluable as a ‘home’ until I was able to find a job and room to rent as soon as I was 16. I wouldn’t have been able to keep going to school or get a job if I hadn’t had somewhere to get kind of a good night’s sleep and wash in the sink.
#44 I’d Rather Be Homeless
I lived in my friend’s car for a while, if that counts. It pretty much felt like camping or sleeping after a tailgate party. And honestly, I was just stoked to not have to go “home.” I was 15, working at McDonald’s, and my stepmom made home life literally so unbearable I’d rather be homeless. Even after I got a place, no one in my family knew where I was until my brother just so happened to drive by and recognize my car parked outside two years later.
#45 Dumpster Diving
It’s really hard to find a place to sleep because you’ve always got to keep one eye open and watch out for your safety. I learned the hard way don’t sleep behind the dumpster because the truck that empties the dumpsters won’t see you and will set the dumpster back down on you. After the dumpster incident, I found a nice fallen tree to sleep on that kept me up off the ground even though the tree had carpenter ants. Luckily, I kept my job the whole time and was able to move into another student’s apartment within a few months of becoming homeless.