This piece was written in 2007 to help people understand some of the things homeless people go through. It also speaks of things I actually did. I'm not sure much of it is a great idea but there have been requests for me to re-post it after the website it was hosted on until July 31, 2014 ceased to be. Please note my writing voice has changed a great deal and the tone of bitterness is really a thing of the past for me. If you'd like some real advice about rough sleeping, you can find some at the website linked to this sentence.
The homeless shelters are full, you got beat up there too many times, or whatever. Now you need to find somewhere else to sleep. I'm not saying these places are legal to sleep or even that they are safe. They are just some of the places I slept when I was homeless where few people harassed or harmed me.
Depending on the lighting situation it is sometimes possible to find a relatively safe, if somewhat odoriferous crash space in a public bathroom. Only try this where there is a separate, exterior access door for the restroom. Businesses and such don't care for nappers in their johns so the key here is unseen access. After a string of beatings I actually crashed in a port-a-potty for a few nights. It stunk to high heaven but it gave my ribs a chance to heal. It's amazing what a locking door can contribute to a good night's rest, even in the most disgusting of accommodations.
Dumpster surrounds can be decent havens under the right circumstances if you follow a few rules. Never, ever sleep there in the daytime, dusk, or early dawn hours when garbage pickup often occurs. Never sleep inside the dumpster. Always check for security cameras before choosing your nap zone. Remember, even with these precautions you could still be surprised by the garbage truck and get squashed by a dumpster. However, safety is always relative.
Those large patches of wild brush and trees that tend to crop up between big box stores like Barnes & Nobles and Wal-Mart and in the drainage areas can provide excellent rustic camping areas. You can sometimes even find a secluded or unlikely to be observed area in mall landscaping. At night, the degree of concealment necessary depends on the lighting and the potential for foot or automobile traffic.
You'll want some kind of tarp or plastic to sleep on as these spots tend to be rather dirty and can be very moist. You'll need to be very tidy when playing urban Thoreau both for environmental reasons and for reasons of concealment. Nothing attracts unwanted attention like dirty little dens and loose trash. Keep your bedroll portable, never leave anything lying around. Remember, you are homeless so you don't have storage space. Anything you stash somewhere might wander off or draw attention.
If you have a few dollars you can spring for an all day bus pass. Take short naps and make fairly frequent bus changes.
If you keep yourself very clean and presentable and you are young enough, local colleges and universities can be great for daytime napping. You can easily lay out for a snooze where you see students reading or chatting on the lawns. A book or notebook can be used as a prop if necessary. Move around the campus and stop your napping before the dinner hour. I've even walked right into a few campus gymnasiums to shower though I was turned away a few times. As long as you are under 30 and presentable likely no one will suspect you're homeless if anyone notices you at all.
Regardless of where you sleep while homeless you must be neat and tidy. Don't draw unwanted attention to yourself through littering or other bad behavior. The less you are noticed, the less potential there is for unsafe situations to occur.