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Gutter 101: Ten Rules to Survive On The Streets

by Crowbar (writer), Los Angeles, March 12, 2007


"Socks! Socks! Socks!" The old man screams as he pushes his shopping cart down the street. He is crazy, he is homeless, but he is right.

Welcome to the first rule of the streets: Socks!

Most people today live paycheck to paycheck, surviving month after month on borrowed money and borrowed time, and we are all aware of how close the streets are away from the tender thread we live on. But are any of us prepared for urban survival? Are we ready for the challenges that face over 100,000 structurally deficient Los Angeles citizens everyday?

If you find yourself heading face first in the gutter, here are a couple of hard fast rules to surviving the streets of Los Angeles.

The first rule is socks. Gotta have them! There is nothing worse than having your toes curl up in a pair of ripped smelly socks that you have had on for a week. Not to mention foot fungus, jungle rot, and the blisters that go along with ill used socks. Out of all the dangers and challenges of life outdoors, any homeless person can tell you that clean socks are better than a hot meal any day. With clean socks, you can maintain clean smelling shoes which can can lead to clean smelling places to sleep. Nobody will ever invite you back into their house if when you take off your shoes, it smells like week old garbage. Also, never store your dirty socks in your backpack. It's like letting a skunk lose inside your belongings as the smell never goes away. Downtown L.A. has plenty of places to buy dozens of socks for below five dollars. Buy them, use them, and toss them out.

Second comes the rule, "Don't look homeless!" There is nothing worse than looking like the stereotypical street vagrant. Extra bags, shopping carts, tents, sleeping bags, your expensive can collection, all these things scream of the streets. Also not bathing and not washing your clothes can be signs of living in an alley. You can't get off the streets if you allow yourself to look like the streets. If you must have extra stuff, there are drop in centers and storage places to put your property in so you don't have to look homeless and most of these places have free laundry facilities and showers. Use them!

Location, location, location! This is important for the third and forth rules. It is very important to find an area that you can feel safe and secure while living on the streets. This area should provide you with temporary or safe shelter, places to get food, drop-in centers for mail, phone, showers, and laundry, and it should also be a place where you can be around some positive people. The next part, rule four, says that while this place becomes your comfort zone, it is only an illusion of comfort. Don't fall into the trap of staying there too long, because days turn into months, months to years, and pretty soon, you own a shopping cart with your name on it and the back alley is your permanent address. Try not to stay in any area for more than three to six months, unless you have a job or are in a program that is helping you get off the streets. If you ain't workin' then that street's not workin'!

Now, we come to rule five: Bags! Most homeless people seem to have an obsession with bags. Shopping bags, backpacks, suitcases, garbage bags, and tote bags. They carry so much unnecessary stuff that they look like pack mules. When it comes to bags, try to carry only what is needed for that day. A messenger bag and a backpack, both looking clean, should be the most you should want to carry during the day. These items make you look like a student or a traveler. They are common n our society, so it won't look like you are homeless. If you must have other possessions, keep them at a drop-in center during the day or if you can afford it, rent a storage space and use it as your personal wardrobe. As the Yaqui indians believe, attachment to the material weighs down your soul. On the streets, attachment to useless items just plain weighs you down.

Rule six and seven piggy back rule five. After you have gone through your essentials, brought yourself down to the basics, the next step is to stay clean and keep clean. All over Los Angeles, there are drop-in centers that offer free showers and laundry. Also, there are public beaches with showers and if you have to cheat, most community colleges have gyms with showers that you can sneak into during the day. That is if you don't look homeless. Keeping clean and staying clean is not just about hygiene, but about self-esteem and having pride in yourself. Lose the ability to care for yourself, and you lose the ability to care. The second part of this, number seven, is to wear layers. Wearing two to three layers of clothes eliminates the need to carry them, which gives more room in your limitless bag. The tricky part is keeping the layers clean. Always machine wash the bottom layer, rotate it for the top and if you need to, go to the beach, wet down, and sun dry yourself.

Eight and nine ride together, too. Stay away from infectious people! I'm not talking about diseases, which are also important, but those in life that are truly unlucky and doomed to bring anyone they know down to their realm, down to the heart of the gutter. Avoid them like the plague! They seem interesting and draw you into their web of drama and need, confuse you with their tales of woe and their fables of nobody gets off the streets, and they will heap their burdens onto your already heaping shoulders. Learn to recognize these people. They live only for the grand drama that the streets provide and don't mind adding you to the cast of characters. While avoid the infectious, learn to hang with those that are positive and willing to get out of their situation. Start connecting with the bottom-level go getters who always have appointments and places to be. Tap these ambitious people for information, for they will know of better shelters, places to do temp work, and the hard to find resources of the streets. When mining humanity, always strike for gold!

Now, we come to the last rule. Never fall in love with the streets! Once you have sunk to the bottom, once you have mastered your daily needs and once you have settled into your comfort zone, it slowly dawns on you that the streets on so bad. You have no bills, no worries, food is dropped in your lap, and always someone is willing to share a story and a bottle with you. You realize how easy it is too forget about a job, an apartment, about family, and friends. Every day becomes an adventure. Life is so simple!

Yes, there is an allure to the streets, especially places filled with counter culture like San Francisco and Venice Beach. It becomes easy, and even trendy, to live on the beach, in the park, even passed out drunk on cardboard. There is a great sense of freedom to no longer caring about society. But the longer you stay attached to the streets, the harder it becomes to return. I have lived as one of the professional homeless elite for six years, and I am just now returning to a world that is almost alien to me. Every time I pass a trash can, I want to stop and look inside for goodies. But I don't, I just keep walking and save that treasure for someone else. I'll look elsewhere, among society, for my rewards.

About the Writer

Crowbar is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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8 comments on Gutter 101: Ten Rules to Survive On The Streets

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By Steven Lane on March 12, 2007 at 11:08 pm
Nice article, but, I don't think I will make a copy. There are some places that I just don't want to go to and the "streets" are high on that list. I have a lot of contact with "street people" on the beach in Ventura. Some are my friends, some are just scumbags, some are trying to get out, and some just land there. What they all have in common is a life without much purpose. Alcohol and drugs play a big role, but so does untreated mental illness-----people just floundering around. Some people I know personally, CHOOSE to live homeless, because as you said, "you have no bills and no worries". Economics and job stuff has so many people just a few dollars away from getting their "E" ticket street ride, it has to be a very scary thought for some. I'll pass, but one day I want to jump a train, that still has some cache.
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By Kay C on March 12, 2007 at 11:31 pm
Very interesting article.
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By V on March 13, 2007 at 03:07 am
I'm glad you found your way back! Really interesting article.
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By Tumerica on March 13, 2007 at 11:56 am
Brilliant article. I have often wondered about these things--the simple necessities of survival. I've thought to myself, if I were a gazillionaire, I'd start a charity that provided sneakers for homeless people. Also, I worked for a time as a manager of a homeless shelter for families. I spent a lot of time hanging out with people who found themselves being kicked out of their living situations because of rising rents or other reasons. Mostly, they were working wounded who had been living on the edge. Darned expensive place to live, here in southern California--seemed to me that it could happen to almost anyone. The people I worked with were by and large not crazy or addicted--just economically bruised. But it may be different in L.A. than it is in Santa Barbara. Guess what I'm trying to say is, folks deserve our sympathy and the chance to help themselves. For they are us and we are them.
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By Crowbar on March 14, 2007 at 08:17 pm
warm thinderbid?? yuck!! Give me some stone cold MD 20/20!1
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By Sherlynn Hicks on March 17, 2007 at 06:18 pm
There but for the grace of God... I think your article is well written. By enumerating the rules, reading it flows. And frankly, these things are good to know. I'd be interested in seeing specific information about the drop in centers.
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By GrimCreeperX on October 30, 2011 at 08:00 am

To be completely honest, i don't believe there's anything wrong with living on the streets. A friend and i considered moving to europe with just touring bikes and not a dollar on us and staying there for atleast 3 years just wandering the lands... maybe bike from france to germany and then to spain, who knows? The stories would be endless and i would be satisfied with my life when i am laying on my death bed. The thought of perhaps persuing the "wandering samurai" lifestyle as a nameless and elusive vigilante roaming the streets and never settling in one place protecting the innocent civilians of New York or Detroit is not a thought that has escaped my desire. In-fact that's what has lead me to this article. I'm a former marine and i don't believe that the world is where it should be, especially America/Americans. People forget what it's like to fight for a cause, whether wrong or right. The majority of Americans are lost and don't come close to understanding what it feels like to be willing to give your life for something or someone. This feeling/thought process has left the mass of America and i for one choose never to forget. As sadistic as it may sound to you, i pray for a zombie apocalypse or a nuclear war similiar to a fallout situation to occur. The weak perish and the strong survive and mankind as a whole once again know's what it feels like to cherish surviving just one more day. People are becoming lazy, fat, selfish and mindless robots working their 9-5 every day. Is that a real life or would you rather feel truly accomplished and like you've done something in your day. Meals aren't meant to be had so easily, it's not normal and it's not nature. Once you start defying the laws of nature, you begin your slow descent into the darkness of the blackhole resulted from your implosion and you never come back.

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By topdigger on June 11, 2012 at 10:21 pm

Would love to see a follow up....or is there one?

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