I knew I was going to become homeless. I asked for help before it happened and prayed that I’d get enough help to avoid fate. That didn’t happen. What donations I have received helped me tremendously with vehicle repair and acquiring things like a roof bin for my vehicle. They also helped with medical assistance when my jaw needed surgery last year and many other things I’ve needed.
Knowing back in 2014 that I would indeed become homeless, I immediately started to prepare. I tried to sell unwanted things on eBay, cleaned out, and reorganized my storage unit to accommodate things I’d need to move from my home. I began hoarding things like medical supplies (disposable gloves, chux, and more).
If you know you’re going to end up homeless, prepare ahead of time. Don’t just sit around thinking this could never happen to you. You never know if it will work out – yes, you might be rescued but you can also end up homeless. Like the expression goes, “prepare for the worst, hope for the best.”
I am a very clean person.
I take hygiene very seriously. People are always telling me, “You don’t ‘look’ homeless.” One of the most frequently asked questions I get is, “How do you stay clean if you’re homeless?”. For this reason, I’ve decided to share some tips with readers to help stay clean while homeless. I can’t say these tips will help everyone who is homeless because living in a tent or on the street is very different from living in a van and having access to a storage area. But I hope to help as many people as possible.
Note: I hope to create a website this year to have articles and information beyond just my column here on Invisible People.
As a caregiver to the elderly, I was always very good at keeping non-ambulatory patients clean in a bed. It wasn’t difficult to apply the same general rules to be clean in a van. First off, cover your vehicle windows while bathing. I have some simple and essential supplies on hand and set up before I begin:
- Hot water
- Chux, absorbent pads
- Dr. Brommer’s Liquid Soap
- Spray bottle
- Baby wipes
- Washcloth or small towel
In the winter, you should preheat your vehicle to avoid getting a draft and lowering your immune system.
Use a disposable bed pad known as a “chux” and sit on it. These pads absorb a lot of water and are typically placed under a patient who is likely to wet the bed.
In the winter, obtain hot water either by using a car kettle that plugs into the DC lighter outlet of the vehicle or going into a gas station store and getting a large cup of boiling water. Add the hot water to a misting spray bottle to have warm water for your skin. I add a few drops of Dr. Brommer’s liquid soap to a fragrance-free baby wipe. Then I spray it with warm water to soap it up and begin washing.
Once finished, I use another baby wipe to wipe off the soap. Finally, I spray the mist bottle as a shower to rinse off. The water rolls down and gets absorbed by the chux. I then use a small towel or washcloth to dry off.
It’s that simple. I also have pans to soak my feet and scrub brushes to scrub my legs or arms, etc. I have everything one needs to stay clean daily when showers and bathtubs are not available.
My dental routine takes about 20 minutes.
I have a rechargeable dental irrigator to clean my teeth thoroughly and use various tools to clean between my teeth, then I brush. I also use a mouthwash with all-natural ingredients. All these steps are necessary to keep the best oral hygiene possible.
I use a bucket and a pump bottle of water as my sink. I soak my dental tools in peroxide and wash them whenever possible or rinse them with boiling water to kill germs.
If a shower isn’t possible, I take a travel shampoo, a small towel, and some alcohol wipes with me into stores with singular bathrooms with locks. I wipe the sink area thoroughly and then wash my hair quickly in the sink, rinse, blot dry and then put a hat on and leave the store. The wet towel goes into a plastic bag, and I stick it in my purse and then casually leave the store.
In winter, I put my hoodie up over my head and use a scarf to catch a draft if my hair is wet. When I have access to a bathtub, I soak for long periods in Epsom salts and hydrate my skin.
I know I make it all sound so easy. Sure, I have a system, and it works, but make no mistake, it sucks. It’s like going camping … permanently! The novelty wears off fast.
If I can give any advice to anyone facing homelessness, do yourself a favor and trade in your sedan or hatchback for a van.
A van will at least let you lie down in the back once you take the seats out. It will give you a small “room” of your own. Think of it as a metal tent, if you will. A van will give you more options. You can work on converting it to become a camper van.
Yes, I know some people live this life on purpose. They use the hashtag “van life” on social media. For young, healthy people, it can be a fun, exciting way to live. They travel the country and work from remote locations. However, when you are a disabled, destitute homeless woman on the autism spectrum with no money and no help, it’s far less glamorous.
Those who become homeless without preparing often find themselves trying to live in a small vehicle with the inability to lie down. This not only means probably never sleeping well, but it also means that you increase the risk of blood clots in the legs due to being in a seated position in the driver seat all the time.
As homelessness continues to rise sharply with no viable solutions in sight, I urge anyone at risk to prepare. I hope no one reading this becomes homeless. I also hope anyone homeless who is reading this will find a suitable housing solution soon.