Anyway, today’s topic is going to be safety. Resources are important when you’re homeless, you learn to make the most of what you have. I am lucky, I have more than many – a vehicle/camper, a laptop, a phone, a little bit of money. You may not have these things (yet). But you do have what we all have: yourself.
You are the most important resource that you’ve got. Your body and your mind. As long as you’re alive and healthy and physically/mentally capable of coming up with a plan and executing it, you will be OK. The situation that you’re in may indeed be one of mind-boggling suckage. But you’re alive. There is always another avenue, another option, another choice, another route, another door to pursue if one is closed off to you (and often, that door is reopened later on – check back on it after trying a few other options first). It is easy to panic when life throws up an unexpected obstacle. It may be a huge one, and it seems even huger when you panic over it. Learn to let the panic run its course, then calm down and look at the situation objectively. There is another approach, you just haven’t thought of it yet.
Since you are your most valuable asset, take care of yourself. Anything material that you have/had/lost? It can be replaced, or at least reasonably substituted. You cannot be. It goes without saying that bad things happen to everyone, but you are in a far more vulnerable position living on the streets, and that goes double (quadruple!!!) if you are female. Women and children are thought of as easy prey and are most likely to be targeted by an attacker. So follow several tips to keep yourself safe:
1) Try to find a nicer part of town, with less of a reputation for crime. Become familiar with it and keep to that area as much as possible.
2) Keep to public, well-lit places as much as you can, especially at night. You are less likely to be attacked if you are surrounded by potential witnesses. Isolating yourself is a very, very bad idea. You don’t want to put yourself in a position where no one will be around to hear you scream. Avoid alleyways, deserted parking lots, stairways/stairwells (use an elevator if there is one). In parking lots, don’t park next to vans if you can avoid it. Vans have sliding doors and no windows. They are the ideal choice for a predator to hide out and pull unsuspecting women in as they park.
3) Arm yourself. I don’t necessarily mean with a gun (they can be illegal to own without a permit anyway, and they are pretty easy to abuse or accidentally misuse). Get some mace from Wal-Mart (usually in the sporting goods section – huh?!) It will probably be locked up, but an employee can get it for you. You can get mace on unobtrusive little keychains, too. I have the largest legal pocket knife I could find (I used to need it for various utilitarian purposes back when I owned a horse, but now it doubles as a backup method of personal protection). If you can afford it, they even sell purse-sized Tasers now for women. You can even order them in girly colors like pink, if you’re into that. They run about $300, but it’s probably worth the splurge to have 50,000 volts of electricity at your disposal. In fact, I’m making a mental note on my checklist right now to pick one up for myself.
4) Be constantly aware of your surroundings. There’s a difference between paranoia and healthy suspicion. Always be healthily suspicious (that’s probably really bad grammar, but oh well). Stay away from drugs and alcohol (I have nothing against a little social drinking, but when you’re homeless you will need all of your faculties, don’t dull them with mind-altering substances). Always watch what’s going on in your general vicinity. Attackers tend to look for women with long hair worn down or in a ponytail, it gives them something to grab onto (most difficult to grab is a tight bun). If you often wear your hair this way, be wary of people who come within a couple of armlengths of you, just in case. Also, if you are walking in an isolated area (say, to your vehicle at night through a deserted parking lot, or something similar), hold your keys in your fist with the pointy ends sticking out, kind of like a set of pointy knuckles. If you are attacked, you can punch as hard as you can and gouge with the keys (aim for the eyes or other sensitive areas such as the groin, throat, nose, knees, or abdomen). Don’t be squeamish. You must hit as forcefully as you are physically capable, to achieve maximum incapacitation.
5) Always resist. If you are attacked, fight. Scream – even if your attacker says you will be hurt/killed if you scream. He is planning to hurt/kill you anyway and you have a better chance of survival if you do scream. Something about a woman’s scream really disarms men. It’s bloodcurdling and it has the power to freeze them in their tracks for a split second (which could be all you need to escape), and then it generally sends them running, out of fear that someone will hear and come to help. Do not scream “HELP”. Tests have been done and many bystanders within earshot will not respond to this word (either out of fear of being drawn into danger themselves, or because they think it’s just some kids messing around – overuse of the word has made it lose much of its power). Instead, scream “FIRE” or “NO” or “TAKE YOUR HANDS OFF ME” or “DON’T TOUCH ME”. Good Samaritans are more likely to respond to these words. If someone has a gun and threatens to shoot you, run anyway if you are not physically under his control. Even within a close range (under 10 feet), he is only 40% likely to hit you, and if he does, it is still unlikely to be a vital organ. The farther away you get, the lower the percentage gets. If you stay and submit, your odds of being shot and killed are waaaaaaaaay closer to 100%.
6) If you are mugged, give the mugger your wallet, or phone, or whatever he’s asking for. It sucks to lose a valuable resource, I know. But again, your life is irreplaceable. If he’s only looking for material items, remain calm and let him have them. He may leave after this, and not attempt to physically harm or kidnap you. Let him run away, run in the opposite direction, and find a police officer. If your attacker attempts to physically harm you after you have given him your valuables, revert to #5 (fight). Do not, under any circumstances, let him take you from Point A to Point B. Point B is where you get raped and/or shot in the head.
7) Project an aura of confidence. Predators look for victims who seem weak, shy, nervous, helpless. Stand up straight. Swing your arms as you walk. Don’t look at the ground. If another person makes eye contact with you, gaze levelly right back. Don’t break eye contact until they walk by. Bad guys latch onto potential victims who look away. They are more likely to cooperate and submit out of fear. Look fearless. So much of life in general depends upon how you carry yourself. Carry yourself like a woman who can kick ass, and will, if anyone tries to lay a finger on her against her will.
8 ) Don’t look homeless. There’s a reason you hear all of those news stories about homeless
women and prostitutes being murdered. A predator assumes – wrongly – that you wouldn’t be in that position unless no one out there cared about your welfare. A criminal would usually rather harm someone that will not have concerned family or friends looking for them. If they attack someone that no one will miss, they are less likely to be caught early, if at all. So try to remain clean and neat, and somewhat well-dressed. Attempt to look like just another Jane on the way home to her family (who are naturally waiting up for her).
9) By the same token, don’t look too rich – you don’t want to be mugged for valuables. If you own any precious jewelry or designer clothes, on the street probably isn’t the place to be wearing them. You can look presentable, and even professional, without flashing a giant neon sign saying “I’M RICH!!!!!!” Pass as middle-class. It’s safer than appearing either homeless or incredibly wealthy.
10) If you have a cell phone, carry it in your hand, or even hold it up to your ear and pretend to talk/listen into it as you walk. No one wants to attack a woman when someone might be listening on the other end, ready to alert police. If you don’t have a cell phone, try to find one – if you can’t afford it, fine. Just get a free one off Craigslist (many people give away old phones, or sell them dirt-cheap, we’re talking $5 or $10 here). If you can’t activate it and pay for a phone plan, at least have it as a prop, especially if you’re in a dark, isolated, or crummy area.
11) Turn down requests for help. It sounds horrible, I know. Yes, you may be sympathetic and want to help someone find their lost puppy, or help that broken-down motorist jump his car battery, or help that handicapped man who seems like he may be stuck and need physical assistance. DON’T. You are a good person for wanting to help. But you are also vulnerable, and this is a tactic used by many predators to lure women and children. If you want to help, remain at a safe distance and tell the individual that you will find someone who can help him. Use a cell phone to call police or locate a trustworthy nearby citizen and request that they provide assistance instead.
12) If you are ever overpowered and shoved into the trunk of a car, kick out the tail lights. You may be able to achieve this even if you are tied up. Head-butt them, if you must. Just find some way to kick them out so that you can shove your arms or legs through the hole and wave them. The driver of the vehicle likely won’t be able to see this, but random motorists on the road will, and can alert police.
These are survival skills that are good for all women to cultivate, even those who are not homeless. Study up on them and put them into practice. It could save your life, and likely will at some point, whether you realize it or not. There are a lot more crazy people out there than you may realize, and many of them come across as very innocent and even kind, helpful people. The vast majority of serial killers out there went undiscovered for so long because they had reputations as quiet, friendly, good men – or even pillars of their community. I don’t say this to make you paranoid, but to make you aware. Take care of yourself out there. You can always find food, you can always find a new home, you can always come up with a way to bathe yourself, clothe yourself, access the Internet, whatever. But you cannot bring yourself back to life. You will need everything you’ve got to get through this. Be careful.