Homeless by Choice: How to Live for Free in America (2022)

"Our whole society is designed so that you have to have money," Daniel Suelo says. "You have to be a part of the capitalist system. It's illegal to live outside of it."

Suelo has defied these laws. His primary residence is the canyons near Arches National Park, where he has lived in a dozen caves tucked into sandstone nooks. In the fall of 2002, two years after quitting money, he homesteaded a majestic alcove high on a cliff, two hundred feet across and fifty feet tall. Sitting inside and gazing into the gorge below felt like heralding himself to the world from inside the bell of a trumpet.

Suelo's grotto was a two-hour walk from pavement, and he settled in for the long haul. He chipped at the rocky ground to create a wide, flat bed, and lined it with tarps and pads and sleeping bags that had been left out with someone else's trash. He built wood-burning cook-stoves from old tin cans. He learned to forage for cactus pods, yucca seeds, wildflowers, and the watercress that grew in the creek. He drank from springs, bathed in the creek. From a chunk of talus he carved a statue, a ponderous head like some monolith from Easter Island.

In warm months the cave attracted occasional hikers, and when Suelo was away, he left a note. Feel free to camp here. What's mine is yours. Eat any of my food. Read my books. Take them with you if you'd like. Visitors left notes in return, saying they were pleased with his caretaking.

(Video) Homeless by choice: How this guy survives on the NYC streets | Extraordinary People | New York Post

Homeless by Choice: How to Live for Free in America (1)Then one day, after several years of peace, a ranger from the Bureau of Land Management arrived to evict him. Suelo had long since violated the fourteen-day limit.

"If I were hiking along here and I saw this camp," said the ranger, "I'd feel like I wasn't allowed here, that it was someone else's space. But this is public land." The ranger wrote a ticket for $120.

"Well, I don't use money," Suelo said. "So I can't pay this." Not only did he not use money, he had discarded his passport and driver's license. He had even discarded his legal surname, Shellabarger, in favor of Suelo, Spanish for "soil."

The ranger felt conflicted. He'd spent years chasing vandals and grave robbers through these canyons; he knew that Suelo was not harming the land. In some ways, Suelo was a model steward. The ranger offered to drive him to the next county to see a judge and resolve the citation.

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The next day, these odd bedfellows, a penniless hobo and a federal law enforcer, climbed into a shimmering government-issue truck and sped across the desert. As they drove, Suelo outlined his philosophy of moneyless living while the ranger explained why he had become a land manager-- to stop people from destroying nature. "And then someone like you comes along," he said, "and I struggle with my conscience."

They arrived at the courthouse. The judge was a kindly white-haired man. "So you live without money," he drawled. "This is an honorable thing. But we live in the modern world. We have all these laws for a reason."

Suelo hears this all the time: that we're living in different times now, that however noble his values, their practice is obsolete. He even heard it once when he knocked on the door of a Buddhist monastery and asked to spend the night, and a monk informed him that rates began at fifty dollars. The Buddha himself would have been turned away, Suelo observed.

"We're living in a different age than the Buddha," he was told. But Suelo simply doesn't accept this distinction.

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To the Utah judge casting about for an appropriate sentence, Suelo suggested service at a shelter for abused women and children. They agreed on twenty hours. Suelo volunteered regularly at the shelter anyway, so the punishment was a bit like sending Brer Rabbit back to the briar patch. And within a few weeks of eviction from his grand manor, he found a new cave, this time a tiny crevice where he would not be discovered.

It's tempting to conclude that Suelo's years in the wilderness have transformed him into a crusader for the earth. And clearly his lifestyle has a lower impact than virtually anybody else's in America. Without a car or a home to heat and cool, he produces hardly any carbon dioxide. Foraging for wild raspberries and spearfishing salmon has close to zero environmental cost--no production, no transportation. And although food gathered from a dumpster must be grown and processed and shipped, rescuing it from the trash actually prevents the further expenditure of energy to haul and bury that excess in a landfill.

Suelo brings into existence no bottles, cans, wrappers, bags, packaging, nor those plastic six- pack rings that you're supposed to snip up with scissors to save the seabirds. As for the benefits of pitching Coke bottles into the recycling bin-- Suelo is the guy pulling those bottles out of the bin, using them until they crack, then pitching them back. The carbon footprint of the average American is about twenty tons per year. Suelo's output is probably closer to that of an Ethiopian-- about two hundred pounds, or about one half of 1 percent of an American's.

"He wants to have the smallest ecological footprint and the largest possible impact at improving the world," says his best friend, Damian Nash. "His life goal since I met him is to take as little and give as much as possible."

(Video) Went homeless. Done Guerrilla Grazing by choice ever since

That said, Suelo constantly rethinks and interprets the rules of living without money. In the spring of 2001, Suelo had his one major lapse. While staying at a commune in Georgia, wondering how he was going to get back to Utah for a friend's wedding, a most tempting and confounding piece of mail arrived: a tax return in the amount of five hundred dollars. "This experiment of having no money is on hold now," Suelo wrote in a mass email to friends and family. He cashed the check, paid the deposit on a drive- away car, and blasted across America at the wheel of a brand- new, midnight- blue, convertible Mercedes-Benz 600 sports coupe.

"What a kick it is to go from penniless hitchhiker to driving a Mercedes!" he wrote. "I got a deep breath of the southern U.S. all the way to New Mexico, riding most the way with the top down. On top of that, I get so much pleasure seeing the look on hitch-hikers' faces when a Mercedes stops for them." Later that summer he ditched the remainder of the money "because it felt like a ball and chain," and has not returned to it since.

Suelo's quest for Free Parking might be easy if he availed himself of government programs or private homeless shelters. But Suelo refuses these charities as by-products of the money system he rejects. He does, however, accept hospitality that is freely given. He has knocked on the door of a Catholic Workers house, a Unitarian church, and a Zen center, and has been offered a place to sleep. He has spent time in a number of communes, including one in Georgia where members weave hammocks to provide income, and another in Oregon where residents grow their own vegetables. In Portland, Oregon, he stays at urban squats populated by anarchists, or in communal homes that welcome transients.

Suelo is also welcomed by family, friends, and complete strangers. He has lost count of the times someone picked him up hitchhiking, then brought him home and served him a meal. A Navajo man gave his own bed to Suelo and slept on the couch, then in the morning treated him to breakfast. Through two decades in Moab, Suelo has developed a reputation as a reliable house sitter. In a town of seasonal workers who often leave home for months at a time, his services are in high demand.

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Even with all the roofs offered, Suelo spends the majority of his nights outdoors. He camps in wilderness, the red rock country around Sedona, Arizona, or the Gila of New Mexico, where he spent a few weeks learning survival skills from a hermit. One summer, Suelo commandeered a piece of plastic dock that had floated down the Willamette River, in the heart of Portland, and paddled it to the brambles of the undeveloped island. "I had visions of building a cob house," he says, but that didn't pan out.

He spent another summer in the woods by Mount Tamalpais, just north of San Francisco. He dropped his pack just thirty feet from a trail and lived undetected in the heart of one of the wealthiest zip codes in America. He spent a month camped in a bird refuge on the University of Florida campus in Gainesville. Turns out there are plenty of places to sleep free in America: you just have to know where to look.

Adapted from Mark Sundeen's The Man Who Quit Money (Riverhead Trade, 2012).


How do homeless people live comfortably? ›

12 Tips: How to Be Homeless and Survive
  1. Layers of Clothing Are Key. Learning to stay warm is pretty important when you're on the streets. ...
  2. Use Newspapers. ...
  3. Pick the Right Place to Sleep. ...
  4. Stay Warm. ...
  5. Try to Stay Clean. ...
  6. Use Up What You Have. ...
  7. Don't Leave Your Stuff. ...
  8. Have a First Aid Kit.

Why do some people choose to stay homeless? ›

To some, freedom to move wherever they want, sleep wherever they want, and do whatever they want holds much more value than a roof over their heads. This one may be less grounded in reality than freedom, but some homeless argue that they feel safe out in the open, amongst the people of the city.

Is homelessness a choice? ›

As a choice, homelessness is embedded within debates about deviant behaviours and problematic patholo- gies. The “homeless person” is either making calculated and immoral choices to be homeless, or they are perceived to be powerless agents who lack the capacity to exercise choices.

How do homeless people survive? ›

Many live with family, friends, in a vehicle, or in shelters. Others who do live on the streets may find shelter in parks, on beaches, or even under bridges.

Where can you live for free in the US? ›

Here is a list of all the towns in the US offering free land for living there:
  • Beatrice, Nebraska.
  • Buffalo, New York.
  • Curtis, Nebraska.
  • Elwood, Nebraska.
  • Lincoln, Kansas.
  • Loup City, Nebraska.
  • Mankato, Kansas.
  • Manilla, Iowa.

Why do homeless people choose not to go to shelters? ›

They want to avoid conflict and abuse

Every person without shelter wants to avoid abuse of any kinds. The homeless who move into a traditional mass shelter don't know who will be sleeping on the cots near them or if they'll get along with those people.

Why do homeless people have dogs? ›

Homeless pet owners use their pets to facilitate socialization, getting their owners out to local vet clinics and parks where they interact with other pet owners. Many homeless pet owners regard their pet with a high degree of attachment and report lower levels of loneliness with pet ownership.

Why don t homeless people sleep in shelters? ›

Because check-in hours for shelters are often rigid and the process of waiting in line and checking in usually takes hours, many working poor cannot use them. Others work evening or night hours which don't allow them to get inside before curfew.

Is it illegal to be homeless in America? ›

When their existence is considered a crime, people experiencing homelessness can be punished with expensive tickets and citations, “sweeps” which force them to evacuate the areas they've come to know as a home, and even arrest and incarceration.

Is homelessness a choice in Canada? ›

Approximately 235,000 Canadians experience homelessness each year. The number of homeless people, and the length of time they spend homeless, continues to rise. Homelessness is not a choice. In reality, anyone can become homeless.

How can a homeless person make money? ›

25 Ways To Make Money When You're Broke on the Road
  1. Become a travel writer. ...
  2. Wield that camera. ...
  3. Get into video journalism. ...
  4. Work in a bookstore. ...
  5. Play online poker. ...
  6. Learn how to massage. ...
  7. Do farm work. ...
  8. Do construction work.
7 May 2009

How do homeless people shower? ›

Take advantage of public showers at campgrounds, parks, and rest areas. Depending on where you live, you may be able to shower regularly at a state park or local campground. Rest areas that cater to long-haul truckers are also a great option, though you may have to pay a small fee to access their showers.

How much does the average homeless person eat a day? ›

According to a national survey of homeless people, 28% sometimes or often do not get enough to eat, compared with 12% of poor American adults; 20% eat one meal a day or less; and 40% did not have anything to eat on one or more days during the month previous to the survey.

How can I live completely free? ›

14 Ways to Live Rent-Free
  1. Have Others Cover Your Rent. Rent Out a Room on Airbnb. Sublet Your Apartment. Manage a Property. ...
  2. Rent-Free Jobs. Teach English Abroad. Volunteer with Peace Corps or AmeriCorps. Become an Au Pair. ...
  3. Other Rent-Free Options. Try Out #Vanlife. Move in With Your Parents. Get Free Money from the Government.

Can you just go live in the woods? ›

On land owned by individuals, this is generally illegal. The basic offense is trespassing; if you attempt to build stuff or chop down trees there may be other charges depending on specific local laws.

How can I live without a mortgage or rent? ›

8 Legit Ways to Live Rent Free
  1. List a Room With Airbnb.
  2. Get Roommates.
  3. House Sit for Others.
  4. Find a Rent-for-Work Situation.
  5. Become a Live-In Nanny or Pet Sitter.
  6. Manage an Apartment Building.
  7. Live with a Relative and Do Chores for Rent.
  8. Move Back in With Your Parents.
23 Jan 2022

What state helps the homeless the most? ›

Based on this data, we found that Colorado, Georgia and Oregon have the overall best homeless assistance, and Oklahoma, Arkansas and West Virginia have the worst.
Key findings:
StateHomelessness rate changeHomelessness per 10K
New York0.7%47
46 more rows
12 Jan 2021

What is the safest city for homeless? ›

  • San Diego, California. In addition to providing a yearlong environment that is comfortable for outdoor living, the city of San Diego, also provides a number of city, state and federally-funded programs that help homeless people within its city limits. ...
  • Berkeley, California. ...
  • Austin, Texas. ...
  • Key West, Florida.

What organization helps the homeless the most? ›

These Are the 7 Best Charities for Helping Homeless People
  • National Alliance to End Homelessness.
  • Coalition for the Homeless.
  • Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.
  • National Homelessness Law Centre.
  • Depaul USA.
  • Streetwise.
  • Abode Services.

Why don t homeless people get jobs? ›

The lack of an address can be a huge obstacle to finding work. Many do not have a mailing address they can use on job applications or have the address to a PO box, church, or mission to use. Employers are put off by irregular addresses on job applications.

What percentage of homelessness is caused by drugs? ›

Most research shows that around 1/3 of people who are homeless have problems with alcohol and/or drugs, and around 2/3 of these people have lifetime histories of drug or alcohol use disorders. According to SAMHSA, 38% of homeless people abused alcohol while 26% abused other drugs.

How bad is homeless in LA? ›

In the city of LA, officials counted 41,980 unhoused people, marking a 1.7% increase from the 2020 count and a slower increase from previous years. Within the city's homeless population, 68%, or 28,458 people, were considered unsheltered.

Are dogs happy with homeless people? ›

It has been noted that dogs who live with individuals who are homeless, are, usually, very well-behaved. The constant presence of the person provides the dog with security and a sense of well-being that a dog left alone at home all day does not experience.

Why do homeless people have pitbulls? ›

These pets provide affection and care for people who are without homes, and in some cases, without family or friends. Dogs offer added security and emotional support to their homeless owners.

Are homeless dogs happy? ›

There is no increased risk of health issues. There's no overpopulation problem. They are fed. They are taken care of.” And because the dogs are with the owners almost constantly, the dogs are happy and calm.

What do you say to a homeless person? ›

Five Things to Say to a Person Who's Homeless
  • Hello. Hi, hey, hi there, good morning, or even howdy are all no-brainers when it comes to greetings. ...
  • How Can I Help You Today? ...
  • Did You See the Game Last Night? ...
  • How Are You Doing? ...
  • I'll Be Thinking of You. ...
  • Now Go and Use Them!
15 Aug 2019

Where do homeless people come from? ›

The major causes of homelessness include: Lack of sufficient urban housing projects to provide safe, secure, and affordable housing to the financially underprivileged. Additionally for low wage workers rents can be unaffordable in areas where their workplace is located.

Why does LA have so many homeless? ›

UCLA research on the residents of one LA encampment found that people cited a range of factors that led them to become unhoused, including eviction, job loss, domestic violence, former incarceration, family conflict and low wages in gig economy jobs.

What countries is it illegal to be homeless? ›

Hungary is the only country where criminalization of homelessness is addressed in its constitution, which is seen as part of a broader illiberal governance in the country. Sleeping in a public space is illegal and violators can be fined or jailed.

Is it legal to be homeless in California? ›

One of the biggest rumors that comes out of California is that homelessness is illegal in the state. That's not quite true. Strictly speaking, being homeless isn't a crime, but as one man said, state and local laws make everything the homeless population does to survive a crime.

Is it illegal to be homeless in Georgia? ›

Being homeless is not against the law.

However if someone is on private property without authorization to be there, then criminal trespass laws can be enforced.

What is hidden homelessness? ›

4. Hidden Homelessness. The fourth type of homelessness is referred to as “hidden homelessness.” Individuals who live with others temporarily without a permanent home are considered “hidden homeless,” as it is often most unnoticed.

How many homeless are in China? ›

CountryHomeless (avg. day)Data year
Central African Republic686,2002020
84 more rows

What are the 3 types of homelessness? ›

The Types of Homelessness
  • Chronic Homelessness. This is the most well known type of homelessness. ...
  • Episodic Homelessness. Episodic homelessness can turn in to chronic homelessness. ...
  • Transitional Homelessness. This is one of the more common types of homelessness. ...
  • Hidden Homelessness.
28 Nov 2019

How can I make money when I'm broke? ›

18 Ways I've Earned Rent Money When I Was Broke
  1. Teach a skill that you've mastered to others. ...
  2. Drive for Uber and/or Lyft. ...
  3. Put a room in your house on Airbnb. ...
  4. Build a social media brand. ...
  5. Go through your old things and sell them. ...
  6. Pickup jobs on Fiverr. ...
  7. Dog walker/sitter. ...
  8. Take advantage of credit card deals.
9 Jan 2018

How much can you make begging for money? ›

In adjusted 2020 USD, the economic yield from panhandling is most often $2–$16 per hour, $20–$60 per day, and $200–$500 per month, substantial variation exists.

How much does a homeless person make in California? ›

Homeless Person Salary in Los Angeles, CA
Annual SalaryHourly Wage
Top Earners$68,386$33
75th Percentile$51,026$25
25th Percentile$30,510$15

Where should I shower if I live in a car? ›

Many campgrounds provide shower access and other helpful amenities. Campgrounds can be particularly helpful if you're living out of your vehicle. Be aware that some campgrounds require a tent or RV for you to stay overnight. If you have a tent, this can be a great way to stay in one location for a few days or more.

How much does it cost to shower at loves? ›

At the Love's Travel Stop, this was at a separate counter in back which is typically for professional drivers (but they don't bite). At both locations, the shower cost $12. That's pretty steep for a shower, but it's also considerably less than most campgrounds with way more disgusting showers.

What is a homeless hub? ›

Homeless Services. Family Hubs are a caring new model of accommodation for families experiencing homelessness. They include wrap-around services to help families be in a better position to move into their own homes in the short-term.

How do homeless survive the winter? ›

Some people don't want to sleep indoors even when it's freezing. To make sure you have some kind of shelter outside, think about trying to find a tent for yourself. If you can't find one, stringing up blankets from trees can help create a makeshift shelter. Find a metallic survival blanket.

How long can a homeless person survive? ›

People who experience homelessness have an average life expectancy of around 50 years of age, almost 20 years lower than housed populations. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) states that people experiencing homelessness are at a greater risk of infectious and chronic illness, poor mental health, and substance abuse.

What do you say to a homeless person asking for money? ›

A flat "No" to their request might seem rude and uncaring. Instead, try something like, "I'd like to help, but I don't have any cash." It's respectful, and it allows you to avoid feeling like a villain. Ask the beggar what they need. You could give your spare change, but you can't control what it will be used for.

How do homeless people survive with cars? ›

10 Tips for Living out of Your Vehicle
  1. Stay organized. ...
  2. Take a good cooler. ...
  3. Get a power inverter for your car charger. ...
  4. Keep quick meals on hand. ...
  5. Take lots of baby wipes. ...
  6. Take some air fresheners. ...
  7. Make a really really good playlist. ...
  8. Sleep in national forests.

How do homeless people survive in winter? ›

In regions where the weather gets extremely cold in the winter, most local governments set up shelters for winter in churches and other community buildings. These are only open on the coldest nights. Look for postings around town that will tell you which buildings are designated. Check homeless shelters for room.

How long can a homeless person survive? ›

People who experience homelessness have an average life expectancy of around 50 years of age, almost 20 years lower than housed populations. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) states that people experiencing homelessness are at a greater risk of infectious and chronic illness, poor mental health, and substance abuse.

How do homeless people keep cars warm? ›

How to Stay Warm in a Car Overnight (9 Effective Tips)
  1. Wear layers of warm clothing to maintain body heat.
  2. Use space, mylar, or thermal blankets to keep warm.
  3. Invest in warm bedding like wool blankets.
  4. Buy a portable heater for additional warmth.
  5. Insulate the car with reflective foam.
21 Apr 2022

Where can I sleep in my car legally? ›

Answer provided by. As far as state laws go, you can legally sleep in your car anywhere, provided it's not on private property or prohibited by signage or local law. This is essentially just legal jargon for saying it's legal to sleep in your car.

Is it legal to sleep in your car? ›

No, under federal law, it is not illegal to sleep in your car unless you are trespassing, intoxicated (including engine off), or falling asleep whilst driving. That being said, some cities have local ordinances that do make it a crime.

Is it illegal to sleep in your car in Texas? ›

Answer provided by. Exploring Texas is an epic way to spend your last summer as a youth! And more good news: it is not illegal for you to sleep in your car in Texas. The only law that you need to respect is that you cannot park in a rest area for more than 24 hours.

How do homeless people sleep? ›

Homeless families and individuals sleep on couches, in garages, sheds and backyard tents. Although they are technically homeless, they are unseen and left uncounted in an official homeless census – until the hospitality wears out. Then, they end up on the street.

How do you stay warm while sleeping on the street? ›

Tips for keeping warm:

Wear warm clothes – layers are best because they help to trap the heat. Wear hat and gloves – It is a myth that you lose most of your body heat through your head however you WILL lose heat from any part of your body that is exposed.

How do you stay warm outside with nothing? ›

11 Easy Ways To Stay Warm (No Matter How Cold It Gets Outside!)
  1. Prewarm your clothes. Don't get dressed in the morning without this trick! ...
  2. Invest in some quality thermals. Thermals aren't just for skiing. ...
  3. Fleece leggings. ...
  4. Hand warmers. ...
  5. Cover every inch of skin. ...
  6. Eat fatty foods. ...
  7. Thermal flask. ...
  8. Keep moving.
28 Dec 2020

How can a homeless person make money? ›

25 Ways To Make Money When You're Broke on the Road
  1. Become a travel writer. ...
  2. Wield that camera. ...
  3. Get into video journalism. ...
  4. Work in a bookstore. ...
  5. Play online poker. ...
  6. Learn how to massage. ...
  7. Do farm work. ...
  8. Do construction work.
7 May 2009

How do homeless people shower? ›

Take advantage of public showers at campgrounds, parks, and rest areas. Depending on where you live, you may be able to shower regularly at a state park or local campground. Rest areas that cater to long-haul truckers are also a great option, though you may have to pay a small fee to access their showers.

How much does the average homeless person eat a day? ›

According to a national survey of homeless people, 28% sometimes or often do not get enough to eat, compared with 12% of poor American adults; 20% eat one meal a day or less; and 40% did not have anything to eat on one or more days during the month previous to the survey.

Do I need to crack a window to sleep in my car? ›

You do not need to crack the window of your vehicle while sleeping. Not only is air continually circulating, but there is also generally enough air inside the car to sustain someone for a long time.

How cold is too cold to sleep in car? ›

Anything below -30 degrees is unwise to sleep in and should not be attempted.

Why can't you sleep in your car? ›

There is no federal or state law that explicitly prohibits sleeping in your car. However, every municipality and jurisdiction has its own local ordinances that supersede state and federal laws. Of course, you can't sleep in your car on private property or in areas where it is illegal to park.


1. America’s Last Affordable Housing Is Under Threat
(VICE News)
2. Living Rent-Free Next to Millionaires
(VICE News)
3. Why The U.S. Can’t Solve Homelessness
4. Relapse or Homelessness: Addicts' Choice | The New York Times
(The New York Times)
5. Meet the Homeless Americans Living in Walmart Parking Lots
(SBS Dateline)
6. How poor people survive in the USA | DW Documentary
(DW Documentary)

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