I lived outside on and of for 12 years between 1991 and 2003...
And, I learned a LOT of things, but it wasn't until after the first couple years that the shock, the hope it would just be a temporary situation wore off and I really started to evaluate and really think about homelessness.
At one time I had a great job in electronics as a repair tech, did bio-medical, aerospace in the Air Force and finally industrial automation, robotics.
Our company went from 240 employees to 45 in less than 2 years, this a company that started in 1948 and made parts for IBM, HP, Digital Equipment corp, even had a couple parts on the Space Shuttle...
This was in So. California... I tried to hold onto my house as long as I could, I struggled to find work, eventually any kind, but eventually I ended up outside in El Monte California, a depressed area where a lot of homeless dwell.
Anyway, here are a few of the things I learned:
1. The cheapest and most direct and most expedient way to change and hopefully improve your situation is to MOVE!
We see folks clustered in San Diego and San Francisco etc... disperse!
One of the worst problems homeless people face are other homeless... often newbies who don't know what to do and are of no use to anyone including themselves... they trash out any possible "bivvyy" spot, they pee in the alleyway, they do their best to stay filthy, or so it seems... keeping yourself reasonably clean is EASY and there is really no excuse for it.
One wants to practice "LNT," "Leave No Trace."
For instance, I pick a gas station bathroom where I can lock the door behind me, I strip down partway and "bird bath" it and wash my hair in the sink... use the hand soap for shampoo, and maybe even dry my hair under the hand dryer, you look like you got out of a salon...
Aaaaannnd, during this process water is splashed across the sink and all over the floor, what a mess. So I take some paper towels or just TP and wipe down the sink and the floor and my aim is to leave it better than I found it... I am "paying" my way as I go by doing them a small service in return.
2. "Location, location, location..."
After awhile it dawned on me that one actually wants to camp in the rich neighborhoods... counter-intuitive as it seems, it is your best bet. As long as you don't look "trampy:" and have all your worldly possessions slung across your back in an overstuffed frame pack: DITCH that stuff in the bushes as soon as possible, I used to keep 3 stash camps around town.
You want to pick a medium-sized town, not so small that it has no services, but not so large it has full-blown missions; you want a place with a hot meal program, a clothing/food bank a city park and a nice library, and maybe even a community swimming pool... say about 10 to 20 thousand in population, roughly speaking.
3. Practically every situation has it's advantages and drawbacks, it is no different for the homeless... what do the rich people do when they go on vacation? Some go camping...
Who is actually "richer" here, a person sitting on their Italian leather sofa (they are still paying for) in their McMansion which is way bigger than what they need, watching their big screen, watching WWF or "The Simpsons" or something...
Or, the person snug as a bug at the edge of town, curled up in a tent reading David Copperfield by candle light?
4. Most of it is in the mind, it really is.
I know people who struggled for years to get a stable roof over their head, others who prefer the "hobo" lifestyle and I can't say one is necessarily better than another.
I like to reminisce and go on Google Earth and revisiting my old neighborhoods and schools etc, and very often I go to places where I was homeless, So Cal when I was a newbie and it was hard, one might think a person would just want to forget it, but I often look back and smile.
(I live in the Seattle area btw, moved up here in 1991 after about 6 months homeless in So. Cal.)
I finally found an apartment I could afford 15 years ago in 2003...
There is a LOT more to it, but those are the points that stand out most to me, the things and advice I would and do give to newbie homeless, if you like I can elaborate further.
Oh, and nice to be here at my first post!