It’s easy in my part of the world, with my lifestyle and activities. I’m in South-East England, which has a mild, temperate Winter with temperatures ranging from -5 to +15Â°C. Perhaps more depressing are the short Winter days only seven hours long, leaving seventeen hours of cold darkness. So what made it so easy for me? I’ll give you three tips…
Spring is definitely here – time to reflect on my first Winter of homelessness
1. Working full time. By far the most important. This filled the dark days with interest and new people to meet. It also meant I was indoors for most of the day. I got many perks such as an unlimited supply of hot tea and coffee, a place to charge my smartphone, occasionally food, sometimes even the kind offer of a hot shower or a place to sleep for the night.
Working is also a free ticket to making new friends, meeting new girls, and generally creating a social life out of nothing to fill up any spare time and keep me sane. Most of my friends have been made by either going to work or attending a course. They’re good friends.
What if I can’t find work? Well I’m homeless so my expenses are really, really small – just food basically. So any job, however poorly paid, is enough. It’s important to note that the money is not always as important as the other benefits. What?! Going to work, but not for money? Capitalism would have you believe otherwise. If you’re homeless you don’t need much money at all, half a day’s work per week is enough to survive, so why work any more? Any more money just seems meaningless. Not so. Think about all the benefits I’ve just mentioned. And what’s wrong with working just to help people? And how about making some savings? Every little helps.
What if I can’t find any job, not even a rubbish one? The answer is even easier: I head south. A long way south, until it’s warm all Winter. Malta? Sicily? Why not? I can get from Dover to Calais for a tenner, then cycle the rest of the way for free, passing endless scenic countryside on the way. The only thing that kept me here this Winter was my work, and that’s a choice that I made.
Many people who complain about being homeless in the Winter know this, but they choose to stay anyway even though they’re unemployed. Why? The government gives them financial benefits, and in this country people give them money when they beg.
The Greater London Authority’s Combined Homelessness and Information Network catalogues rough sleepers and tries to help them improve their situation. According to their data 53% of London’s rough sleepers are alcohol abusers, and 49% drug abusers. That leaves only 8% of rough sleepers who actually spend their money on more useful things. So many homeless people spend their state benefits to buy drugs that they’re addicted too, and don’t travel because they wouldn’t know where else to buy them.
Others are just not brave enough to go abroad. Still others are lazy and don’t want to work in any job, in any country. They are selfish and would rather rely on innocent, hard-working tax payers.
I know, I have met these people and they told me so.
But you and I, dear reader, know better, so when Winter grips Britannia and good work is not forthcoming, we shall betray our fair Isle for a hot sunny beach somewhere, until the Springtime. Who would pay for accommodation somewhere where the minimum temperature at night is plus twenty degrees Celsius? Not me – I’ll take the beach and the stars thanks.
2. Living in towns and cities ensures that there will always be shelter from the worst of the Winter weather. By shelter I mean bridges, porches, covered car parks, or quite often just a wall facing the same way that the wind is blowing. There can also be other perks like free hot showers, drinking water, and public conveniences if you know where to look. And of course paid conveniences like gyms and swimming pools or boat clubs. If you’re working and earning money, why not invest a small fraction of it in your health and fitness, have fun, and get another hot shower as a reward? I move around too much so I use these facilities on a pay-as-you-go basis, but if you’re homeless and always staying in the same area then getting a gym membership would make your life really easy. Just walk in and have a hot shower any time you want.
If you’re a student, I envy you with erm.. great envy. Super-discounted gym memberships… sports clubs with free showers… so many cool bars and libraries to hang out in until late… if only I had realised that homelessness was so easy when I was a student, I wouldn’t have walked away from university with such a mountain of debt.
3. Waterproofs and insulation. Modern technology has made this easy with ultralight, waterproof and breathable fabrics. I would go as far as to say that the easiest part of Winter homelessness is sleeping outside. If it’s colder, use more insulation. I slept comfortably down to -5, but I’m sure with better insulation I’d be ok in even lower temperatures. I saw one expedition sleeping bag rated comfortable down to -32Â°C! It was very puffy.
You must trust your logic. If you eat well your body will give off heat constantly at somewhere around 100 watts when you’re resting. If you’re naked when the temperature is freezing you’ll loose your body heat at a rate much higher than 100 watts, and after many hours you will die. Logic says that if you can trap your body heat with insulation so well that you loose less than 100 watts, you’ll get warmer and warmer by the minute. Of course this is just common sense to you my smart readers, but you know I was lacking in faith. Because having been brought up in centrally heated homes where warmth is constantly applied from outside the body, I had never had to trust in my body’s heat generating capabilities before I became homeless. It was a step of faith, but faith in logic.
It seems that most people who are homeless that complain about cold just haven’t done their research. For example you’ll see many with a sleeping bag, but no mattress to insulate them from the ground, which is often more important. More often they do know this but would rather spend their money on drugs and alcohol. Alcohol will numb you to the cold for one night; a good sleeping mat will keep you warm all Winter. Therefore it is worth more than a month’s supply of alcohol.
No doubt there are more options to make Winter homelessness more pleasant. This Winter I chose to work full time, buy insulation and just rough it here in England. But I’ve a cheeky plan for next Winter..
I’m flying to Buenos Aires before Christmas and staying there until March. It’ll be mid-Summer there. I’m against flying for environmental reasons, but I haven’t been there for more than ten years and this could be my last chance to see my relatives again. My Grandma’s 96 years old, and my uncles and auntie in their seventies and in ill health. I will have to offset my carbon emissions and make one last exception.. well I’ve already bought the ticket so I’m going. At least it’s a direct flight, which is not quite so polluting. In any case, although I do think jetting around the world is a selfish activity, I actually really enjoy the whole experience – from the remarkable feat of engineering, to the surreal airport atmosphere, to looking out the window at 30,000 feet. This could be my last ever flight so I intend to enjoy it.
Now apart from travelling to a warmer country, or gritting one’s teeth and just roughing it, what other options are there? Before the Winter I had just hoped that I could sleep rough until the end of Autumn, then pay rent or hostel it for the three coldest months. That is a great option – only pay for what you need, then in the Spring you’re free again!
Here’s another idea: go somewhere colder! Spend the whole Winter season in a ski resort, in paid accommodation with a nice warm fire and hot showers. Many young Brits do this and work part time while they’re there. Still others just save during the other months to ensure that their Winter season is just one long party. It seems so obvious – be homeless for the three warmer seasons in England and work and save everything, then have a great time all Winter in the Alps somewhere. In fact I know a place where doing this could work out cheaper than renting a room in London:
Top of Les Arcs, France – Mont Blanc is that craggy hill in the background. Check out chaletarc.co.uk for heaps of fun and very reasonable prices.
The last option that springs to mind for a single young man like me is to find a lovely young lady who has a flat to herself and just wants a giant teddy-bear to keep her warm in the Winter. If the relationship is approached with all honesty, a mutually beneficial arrangement can result. Many girls are quite mature in this respect, I have met them. And I give off a lot of body heat.
There’s absolutely no way I could have planned the last year, and yet somehow, I’m still homeless, and still absolutely fine. I’m learning to take each day as it comes, and not think too much about where I’ll sleep until I actually feel like sleeping, then having a quick look around.
Something always crops up. In fact right now I’ve got a lovely house all to myself in central Oxford. A very generous Green Party candidate sympathised with my lifestyle and gave me her keys while she went abroad for a month. Fancy that!
There are those who go on camping trips for several days in the wilderness in sub-zero temperatures and claim to really enjoy it. I have a long way to go to reach, if I ever reach, that level of experience (or madness). But for the time being, I’m over the moon, because having enjoyed my first Winter of homelessness, I’m now confident that I will never need to pay rent ever again for the rest of my life.