Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Storage and Stuff

let's talk about our stuff and where to keep it. i've briefly mentioned storage in a couple of other posts, but it definitely deserves it's own heading.

closets, storage lockers, sheds etc.

i managed to make it most of the year without paying a cent for storage, i'm lucky to have understanding friends and family to lend up some space. free storage is good storage, as long as you can trust whoever is storing it for you. if you can find a space where you are allowed to apply your own lock and key, even better.

if you have a friend with a garage, you may be able to keep some rubbermaid totes stored there, and possibly get a key to the garage for easy access. totes are tough, cheap, and tidy. even extra space in a friend's shed could hold your sleeping gear while you're working or wandering. some jobs may have lockers, or even sheds that you could use if you're boss is cool with it [and you're not trying to hide the fact that you're homeless]. ask friends and family if you can use a hall closet or extra space in their storage closet.. some apartments have access to storage units elsewhere in the building, you could offer someone to pitch on storage or pay/trade to use theirs.

finding a place to lock is rarely free, but storage can be found for cheap. depending on how much space you need, you can find small lockers that are only 3x5 feet, or large ones that can fit an entire house worth of things. assuming that you have as little stuff as i, the smaller lockers are sufficient. i like the smallish 5x7 lockers, you can fit the equivalent of a small couch, a bicycle, and totes of gear with enough room to access it.

the smallest lockers in my local u-haul are 5x7 for $50 a month, but i have found other non-chain self storage places with slightly smaller lockers for as cheap as $30 a month. the no-name monthly storage in my town has 24hour access included in the price, but for places like u-haul the smaller lockers have an additional fee per month for an extra key to get in the gate after hours. you will likely need an 'address' to get a storage locker, for how to have an address see my Jobs and Moneymaking post.

traveling and schools

most storage places are on weekly or monthly rates, but if you are on the move and have less stuff you can take advantage of public lockers. most bus and train stations have lockers with 24 hour access for a few bucks a day.

most colleges don't have assigned lockers. you choose one that's convenient for you, and you put your lock on it to claim it as yours. if you're young enough or at least look it, you could get away with using college lockers to keep backpack worthy loads in. of course you don't want to be seen carrying huge packs or loads of gear into a school, so this option is more for the streamline vagabonds that don't make it apparent that they live outside.


keeping stuff outside can be risky, but still possible. there's a chance that it will be found by people, or animals.. it's open to the elements of nature and any given weather.. and if you're not careful about where you store your stuff you could face a trespassing ticket.

one great idea that i borrowed from a friend is to bury a large cooler in the ground in the woods. this can be used to stash small gear, food and water for when you're camping out, if you have a somewhat permanent spot out there. dig a square hole big enough to set it in lid flush with the ground, cover with brush/leaves and a top with a rock to remember the spot and keep animals out.

some people in the city use things like shopping carts to carry around their stuff. i do have a small wheeled cart myself, but i couldn't imagine dragging it around everywhere. for the longest time i kept it stored in a friend's garage until i needed something from it.. the problem with using carts is where to keep them. there's a young man downtown that has two large overflowing shopping carts full. the police hassle him often, constantly making him move his carts. he was posted up behind a small church for a couple weeks, but i've lost track of him again.

speaking of stuff...

if you're about to be homeless for the first time, you may find it a good opportunity to go through all of your possessions and decide what of your things are 'needs'. it may be hard to let go of things, like your favourite love seat or a bookshelf you built in shop class, but once you try to find a place to keep it all, you will find your priorities change quickly.

in 2008, i had an apartment with my brother. i had all new furniture, a king-size pillow top water bed, a perfectly good couch that had been in my family for decades.. basically, a whole bunch of stuff. i made a decision that i was finished working hard long days just to pay for a place to keep all this stuff, so i sold it, gave it away, and took off on an epic backpacking journey across the country.

sometimes i miss some of that stuff, sometimes i think it's silly that i got rid of it all. but at the end of the day, it's just stuff. easy come, easy go. every time i settle i find what i need, usually for cheap or for free, and i pass it along when i'm finished with it.

i have just recently taken up residence with a friend for the winter. i pulled all of my things out of storage from a few different places so that i could go through it yet again.. to see what i have that i can make use of, and things i didn't miss that i could get rid of. i found clothes that haven't seen the light of day in a few years, good stuff i forgot i had. i kept the bulk of my things that didn't get everyday use in a storage closet that i could access weekly, and kept the most used gear in a different place closer by where it would be used, ex. tent and sleeping gear, a weeks worth of clothing, my laptop, a few books and and a couple changes of footwear.

often you will find that less is more. keep only what you need, and things you feel your heart cannot do without. as time passes, some things may become easier to let go of, and the value of others may grow significantly. things are just things.. keepsakes are nice to have, there's still a few that i carry. just remember, the essence of the person or place you are keeping it for live forever in your heart, no matter what things you carry.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Homeless in Winter

the past few years i have invested effort in making sure that i am not homeless during the winter. in some places winter is too cold to sleep outside without a sturdy well insulated shelter, or top of the line winter gear, which many of us cannot afford.

my first homeless winter was certainly a wake-up call. the challenge increases in late autumn when the rain season comes, one must do their best to stay dry in order to avoid hypothermia. here's a basic outline of how to be homeless in winter.


in most bigger towns and cities that experience winter, there is a shelter and meal program set up for the homeless, usually running from the month of November until March. there is a program in my town called Out of the Cold. seven churches host the Out of the Cold program, a different location each night. doors open at 6pm when dinner is served, each location having it's own regular meal. at one place it's always chili, at another bow-tie pasta and alfredo sauce, and one of the catholic churches always has roast beef and soup.

in recent years the Out of the Cold program has become crowded, especially for the overnight beds and mats. for the most part i would show up at dinnertime for the meal, stay long enough to get warmed up, and then head back out to the streets to find shelter for the evening. it's hard to sleep in a room full of sketchy people, always wondering when it's my turn to get ripped off.

it is absolutely crucial to find shelter from rain, snow and wind in the winter months. though i would dodge the free beds most nights, on the coldest nights i would stay wherever was warm, even if it meant a full night in a shelter.


if you are homeless and employed, taking the midnight shift during the winter is most beneficial. you can earn cash during the coldest hours of the day, and sleep during sunlight hours when the cold is not so deadly.

regardless, i ended up flipping my sleep schedule to sleep after the sun comes up, so that i was awake and wandering between 2 and 6 am, the coldest hours of the night. bank lobbies were decent in these hours, warm and dry and no people around to tell me to move along. i would hit the free coffee and breakfast at yet another church, then find somewhere cozy to take a nap all bundled up where no one could find me, like the seldom used stairwell at the north side of the parking garage downtown. finding an abandoned house or shed or hallway is a much better option than sleeping out in the open.

if you choose to sleep outside for most of the winter, you must stay warm and dry. once you become too cold to feel a limb or move yourself along, it's hard to recover. sleeping on the ground is guaranteed to suck all of your body heat away. it's best to find a foam mat or even cardboard to put down before you lay. find a place without any wind and where there is no snow drift accumulating or moisture.

if you have a tent for shelter, you can still camp in the winter if you play it safe. google winter camping for your area to find the best method. in places with lots of snow, you can dig a tent spot to help insulate from the wind, using the snow as a natural wind block. also tarps can be handy to create your own wind block when a natural one can't be found. you can even make a tent out of tarps and some rope hung between trees. a friend of mine set up a 3 season tent on a balcony, building a nest inside. it was his shelter all winter, aside from the nights when it would reach forty below.


dressing in layers is the best way to cope with the cold. it is not only important to keep your body heat, but also to know when to ventilate extra warmth to avoid sweating. sweat can turn to a chill very quickly, which can trigger hypothermia. if you dress in layers you can always adjust accordingly by simply removing a scarf or a coat when it gets warm.

there are three main layers to consider. your base layer closest to your skin, your insulating layer, and then your shell layer. long johns, thin synthetic materials or even pyjamas make a good base layer, but try to avoid cotton at all costs. most clothes are synthetic these days anyways, which wicks moisture much better than cotton.

for best results on the base layer, i always make sure to tuck the bottoms into the socks, the top into the pants and pull my sleeves into my gloves when i'm wearing them. this avoids cold drafts up your back or pant legs.

your insulation layer is best to be anything lofty, like fleece or knitted wool. this layer keeps your body heat against you in pockets, and helps with air circulation to spread your warmth evenly over your whole body. you do not want to dress in clothing too tight, where there is no space to hold your warmth. not too loose either so that your heat can easily escape.

your top layer, or shell layer is best to be waterproof and/or windproof. i had found a long rain trench coat one year that worked perfect as an outer layer, with some splash pants that i would pull the bottom cuffs over the tops of my boots. also very important, is a hat or head cover. having your head covered will make an enormous difference when trying to stay warm. i like to use a long scarf which wraps around my head and face, then tuck it down the front of my coat.

it is important for your gloves and boots not to be too tight. this will restrict the blood flow to your extremities and keep them cold. do not wear too many pairs of socks or gloves at once as this will create the same problem.

be resourceful

if you're in the position to do so, migration is always a good option to avoid the winter chill. besides, being a broke backpacker is much more eventful than being a street kid. having no ties could be your chance to get out and experience all that the world has to offer. now is a good time to check out resources like CouchSurfers or WWOOFing [as listed in my links], or any opportunity trading labour for shelter and food.

keep warm and stay safe!