Surviving the streets – by those who've done it

Staff, December 6th 2016

You should not have to be on the streets this winter. The Pavement believes that that rough sleeping is harmful to your physical and mental health. Housing is a fundamental human right and you by law, you should have somewhere safe to stay.

But we also know that the system lets people down.

So we asked some of our readers and volunteers – all of whom have spent time sleeping on the streets – for their thoughts on how to get by. This is not official advice but what they told us helped them.


Stay dry and warm

“Use cardboard or something similar to insulate your sleeping bag from the concrete, soften your pitch and keep the frost at bay.”
“Try to track down waterproof boots, spare socks, rubbish bags.”
“Wear layers, but try and take them off when you go somewhere warm because they keep in the cold as well.”
“Look for a warm coat in charity shops.” NB: Some day centres and drop-ins will also provide warm clothes.
“If you are about to become homeless, get advice – but also get prepared.
Get the right tools, plastic bags, a pocketknife all-in-one screwdriver, learn how to build a simple bivouac, get a small, easy to put up tent. A decent sleeping bag is everything.”
“Libraries, places like the Ace of Clubs and other day centres, big transport hubs, bookies; they can all be good places to stay warm. Weatherspoon’s pubs didn’t mind me falling asleep in there as long as I was clean.”


Ask for help

“Use the internet in the library to find out what you are entitled to or ask to see a support worker.” Make sure you get the answers you need.
“If you phone an outreach team, you often get forgotten. They often can’t keep up with demand. But polite but insistent when you need help. Keep phoning back every few days.”
“If you are in an assessment centre and you don’t want to live in a certain area because you don’t feel safe, tell them there is a reason. Maybe you owe someone money and your life is at risk, or you won’t be able to stay clean with bad influences around.”
“You may be asked if there is anywhere you can stay. Be careful how you answer. Do you really want to have to ring a doorbell of someone you haven’t seen for months, or who threw you out last time, just because you were too embarrassed to say you had nowhere to go?”
“See if you can volunteer anywhere – depending on the organisation, they may feed you, and you could be lucky enough to find somewhere that helps with your housing and benefits."



"Go to cafes and ask if they have spare food to save it. If you’re polite, people will help." Some places offer “suspended coffees” paid in advance for homeless people. Others, like Social Bite in Glasgow and Edinburgh offer free sandwiches for homeless people at certain times [see Pavement listings].
Check the Pavement for details of soup runs and free meals.
“Find places where you can wash. Staying clean makes you feel human and you don’t sink into a sub-human malaise...”
“Be aware that some people will exploit you when you’re down. But don’t always be suspicious if someone offers you a place to stay – there are good people out there.”
“Find a friendly place to leave your stuff – it takes the sting out of it.”
“Sheltered buildings in the park after midnight are good to find some peace."


Beware of bureaucracy

“If you are signing on and are newly homeless, tell your job search coach.” They have the power to judge you to be facing “a domestic emergency”, which means they will understand if you aren’t able to look for a job and won’t sanction you for up to four weeks. Note that this is only if your circumstances have changed.
“Be careful of presenting yourself as too clean  – and healthier than you feel – when you go for ESA interview. You don’t want to give the impression you are coping better than you are!"
“Keep all your paperwork so you can prove a connection to your local
area - without it some councils wont help you."


Stay safe

“Don’t carry weapons.” [There is a two-year statutory sentence for carrying knives.] “And stash any drugs incase you are searched.”
“Beware of those who throw bottles.”
“Make sure you are not trapped in your sleeping bag. Keep it slightly unzipped at the top so you can make a quick getaway.”
Be careful about taking heavy-duty knock-out pills. If you take them, “make sure you are warm."


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Jan/Feb 2018


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