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How to Live in Your Car – from wikiHow

November 9, 2008

Please review the recent update to this article at –  Living In Your Car, A New Twist

How to Live in Your Car

from wikiHow – The How to Manual That You Can Edit

Living in a car isn’t something that anyone would recommend. However, when you get laid off, your emergency fund runs out, your home is foreclosed (or you get an eviction notice) and there’s nobody to help, living in your car might be the only choice, especially if you don’t feel safe at a local shelter. Unfortunately, in many places, sleeping in your car is not only frowned upon, but also illegal. Here’s how to get by until something better comes along.
Remember, you are not alone and you have a vehicle.

Steps

  1. Find a safe and inconspicuous place to park. First, check to see if there are any organizations in your area (or a nearby area) that designates parking lots specifically for people in situations like yours; it’s not only legal, but the organization might screen the people who use the lot, or even designate a women-only lot.[1] If there are no such lots available, and you live in a city, look for streets with no sidewalks, no overlooking windows, and adjacent to woods; the area should be sparse enough to avoid nosy onlookers but populated enough that the car does not stand out.[2] Parking lots of big-box retailers (especially those that are open 24 car_7hours and have restrooms, such as Wal-mart) are great to clean up in and have security. As long as you spend a couple of dollars there and don’t park in one place too often.
    • Camp sites are another option, although they usually have time limits and are almost as expensive as a hotel room. Some offer a shower for a nominal fee.
  2. National Forests have some free camping with a limit of 14 days.
  3. Five gallon bucket with a lid and lye in for odor.
    • Once you find a spot, try to arrive late at night, and leave before 7am. This will draw as little attention as possible to yourself.
    • If you can establish rapport with the manager of a retail store or restaurant, they may not give you problems about staying overnight, especially if they see your presence as a form of overnight security.[3]
    • A free hospital parking lot is another option. If approached by a guard, you can say that you’re waiting to visit a sick relative.[4]
  4. Find a place to shower. The most logical place is a gym. This will help you keep your sanity and give you a purpose to your morning. Don’t settle for the first gym you find. If you look around, you may find nearly deserted gyms in which you can showerand fully clean yourself without embarrassment.
    • The next best choice is to check into a cheap motel or hostel once or twice a week and clean up thoroughly there (if you can afford it).
    • Public pools tend to have showers, depending on whether they have private stalls or are set up gang style, they may provide a discrete place to shower.
    • At a truck stop, you can ask around for a shower coupon, if you feel safe allowing people to know that you’re without a place to stay. Truck stops are good to sleep at too.
    • Some toll roads, especially state turnpikes, have large rest areas with free showers for truckers. Since these are usually open 24 hours, these plazas are also good places to sleep.
  5. Rest areas on National highways are good for a few hours and most have security.
    • Keep an eye out for community college athletic field houses– they don’t always check IDs, and can be a good free shower option.
  6. Be discreet. Keeping your situation under wraps minimizes the embarrassment and helps avoid becoming a target for police officers and criminals alike. carlarge
    • Rotate among several parking locations to avoid getting noticed.
    • When you move around in the parked car, move slowly to avoid rocking the car.
    • Consider using a car cover. Not only will it maintain privacy (especially since condensation on the windows will otherwise make it obvious that you’re in there) but it will also keep the car warmer during winter. This is not a viable option, however, when it’s hot outside.
    • When it’s sunny in the daytime, use a sunshade for the windshield.
    • Keep the windows cracked open while you sleep, not wide enough for someone to reach in, but enough to allow fresh air and reduce condensation on the windows.
  7. Get the things you’ll need. The basic essentials for living in a car are a blanket, a pillow, and a mattress or some other padding. Due to the angles involved in the seating setup, you may develop dull back pain from the cramped quarters. Should this happen, be sure to have pain medication on hand. Once you have your sleeping gear, you’ll want a blanket to place over the back seat, and draped over the two front seats. This will block light and people’s views.
  8. Find alternate ways of generating electricity. A cigarette lighter converter is one option. These are useful for powering low consuming devices (100 watts), but if you plan on using your vehicle for cooking, then you’ll need to draw power more directly from your battery or you’ll blow the fuse. You will also need a much more expensive converter, and need to idle the vehicle while drawing this power. An alternative is to use gas, but do not use this inside the vehicle for safety reasons.
  9. Have a place to store items that is portable. Get bags you can fill with your soaps, clothes, cell phone, etc. Keeping things in order will save you a lot of hassle. A vehicle may seem like a small space, but losing things can be extremely easy. Also, keeping things neat inside the car will draw less attention from people passing by who happen to look in the windows. Hiding your bedding might be a good idea (consider the trunk). There’s not a lot of extra room in a vehicle for a week’s worth of clothes, so consider finding a hiding place to keep them. The laundromat is great, but don’t waste a load by throwing in too much, or not diluting the soap first. When you’re not in the car, leave windows cracked and dryer sheets scattered about to keep the interior smelling decent. Wash your sheets once a month, or else you risk smelling like a homeless person, which will blow your cover and get you treated like a homeless person.
  10. Keep dirty clothes separate in plastic bags so they do not smell up all your clothing.
  11. Evaluate your food options. Peanut butter, tuna and crackers are great staples. Have a box for food so it does not get smashed. Gallons of water are a necessity for a lot of things.They will be limited by the lack of refrigeration. Fast food is expensive when you’re living off of it. With old fashioned (large flake) rolled oats, powdered milk, bottled water, plastic cups, and chocolate protein powder, you can ensure that you always have a nutritious snack to fall back on.[5]
  12. Before you start living in your car, use your permanent addressto:
    • Rent a P.O. Box or a Private Mail Box (PMB). Although PMBs tend to be more expensive, you can receive packages at them and some services will let you use a address format which makes it appear to be an apartment, which is useful for when someone requires a physical address.
    • Sign up for a gym membership. (This however, can be expensive, and if your resources are limited, you may find it to be a drain.)
    • Renew any paperwork that will require an address to process soon.
    • Put valuables in a safe deposit box at a bank.

    If you have friends or family who can’t (or refuse to) help you with your living situation (or you refuse to ask them for help) think about at least asking them if you can use their address.

  13. Stay positive. Keep reminding yourself that the situation is only temporary. Spend each day hitting the pavement and looking for jobs. Use the local library and bookstore not only to search for jobs, but also to become more knowledgeable in ways that will help you get through this and find a job. Most importantly, talk to people like social workers and religious organization workers who will sympathize and understand, and try to help.

Tips

  • If your car has the capacity, install a hanging bar. This will provide a bit more storage space as well as keep clothes wrinkle-free for job interviews, etc.
  • Tint your windows for privacy; tinting works better than using barriers (blankets etc.) because it enables you to see out while others cannot see in. This could be helpful when trying to leave unnoticed. Barriers also attract attention and advertise what you are doing, while tinted windows are very common on many cars.
  • If you wear contact lenses you will need a disinfectant for your hands. Better yet, wear glasses.
  • Sleeping will likely be a challenge at first because there is a good chance that your vehicle is not large enough for you to fully stretch out your body. Find a position where you can comfortably sleep with your legs bent or against your chest. Alternatively, you can try sitting up in the back seat and propping a pillow against the wall of the car.
  • Get an automobile association membership. This will help you if you drain your battery, or break down.
  • Make sure you have vehicle documentation and insurance. Without them, your problems will increase.
  • Personal safety should always be your number-one priority. Knives used for food preparation and tire irons can be used as weapons. You may want to learn your state’s gun laws and purchase a handgun or other firearm if you do not already own one. Criminals seek out people who appear vulnerable, or travel alone. Sometimes the sound of a cocked gun will be sufficient enough to deter a potential mugger.
  • If you are spending the night in your car and you have been drinking alcohol, do not have the keys in the ignition, If it is winter and you need to run the car for heat, move over to the passenger or back seat. Otherwise, you could get a DUI/DWI just for being in your car.
  • The garbage truck or other neighborhood noises can wake you up. Consider earplugs.
  • Pay attention to your instincts. If a parking spot feels weird for any reason, find yourself a new one.
  • If you are on food stamps, and can’t afford deodorant or car deodorizer, baking soda is really good substitute that food stamps can buy. Also cheap dollar store hydrogen peroxide along with baking soda, are a phenomenal toothpaste. If for some reason you cannot bath for a day or two, baking soda will make your hair clean and grease free.
  • Apply for HUD Housing in remote areas of the country where there is no waiting list.

Warnings

  • Never sleep in the driver seat if you can avoid it. Your body will quickly associate that seat with sleeping, creating risks when you are driving – especially when you’re tired. Recline the passenger seat or lie down in the back if there is room.
  • If you are sleeping in the car on a regular basis, do as few other things in the car as possible. Don’t eat, read, or anything else that will cause you to spend more time than necessary in the car. The more time you spend in it, the more smells will accumulate.
  • If you use a car cover, never run the car or smoke while it is on. You could easily suffocate or get carbon monoxide poisoning. Also, do not use it on a warm day without adequate ventilation.
  • Be careful who you tell about your living in a car. If they’re not likely to provide assistance, then don’t bother, because you might end up endangering yourself.
  • Be aware that having a gun in the car carries its risks. If you are startled awake and point the gun at the wrong person (i.e. a cop tapping on the window), you can wind up being shot yourself.
  • Don’t drink alcohol. Don’t even bring any alcohol into your car. If cops find you with alcohol in your blood or in your car, you could get in serious trouble, even if you’re not driving at the time.

Things You’ll Need

  • Car with insurance and license
  • Blankets and pillows
  • Towels and wash cloths
  • Water
  • Gas
  • Food
  • Gym membership (you will stay clean and work off stress)
  • Automobile association membership (if your car insurance doesn’t include Roadside Assistance)

Related wikiHows

Sources and Citations

  1. http://www.cnn.com/2008/LIVING/wayoflife/05/19/homeless.mom/index.html
  2. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/02/us/02cars.html
  3. http://www.pitch.com/2008-09-04/news/joco-s-hobos-when-a-working-man-doesn-t-have-a-home-in-johnson-county-a-wal-mart-parking-lot-is-the-next-best-thing/2
  4. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/02/us/02cars.html
  5. live-frugal.blogspot.com/2008/02/stealth-living.html

Article provided by wikiHow, a collaborative writing project to build the world’s largest, highest quality how-to manual. Please edit this article and find author credits at the original wikiHow article on How to Live in Your Car. All content on wikiHow can be shared under a Creative Commons license.

9e56ced7d4e0ea22079459_largeHere are several web pages that address this condition, you might find them helpful:

Help me live out of my car

Extreme Frugality: Living Out of Your Car

Live Out of Your Car With Dignity

How to Live in a Car

Credit crunch turns cars into homes

Women Living In Cars Get Parking Lot Refuge

UPDATE:

10 Things You Need to Know to Live on the Streets

By Walter Mosley and Rae Gomes, The Nation. Posted July 28, 2009.

Picture the Homeless, a social justice organization founded and led by homeless people in New York City, has joined The Nation to come up with a list of things you need to know to live on the street–and ways we can all build movements to challenge the stigma of homelessness and put forward an alternative vision of community.

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