Where Do Homeless People Sleep?

Written by ryn gargulinski
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Where Do Homeless People Sleep?
(Photo by Ryn Gargulinski)

Many people take their cosy bed, soft pillow and roof above their head for granted. At least 700,000 and as many as 2 million folks across the United States don't have these luxuries, according to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. Just because they are lacking a cosy bed---or even crummy cot---doesn't mean homeless people do without sleep.


While homeless sleeping spots will vary from climate to climate and in urban or rural locations, some key factors remain consistent. Ideal sleeping areas will be dry, shielded from the elements and as hidden as possible. Good examples include behind businesses, in unlocked building lobbies, under big trees, beneath makeshift tents, in park corners under benches, parking garages and, yes, they will sleep in a cardboard box if they find one large and clean enough. Occasionally a homeless person just plops down in the middle of anywhere to pass out or fall asleep, like the man pictured beneath a prominent statue at a New York City park.


The climate and region in which a homeless person lives will determine his sleeping quarters. Coastal areas will have a lot of homeless camping out on the beaches or under boardwalks. Mountainous terrains will have homeless in hillside caves or tents out in the woods. Urban areas offer alleyways, large drainage pipes, large building doorways and abandoned buildings. Rural environments are often rife with abandoned barns or farm houses, long stretches of orchards or fields, remote highway overpasses, rail yards or gutted trucks, buses and farm equipment.


Some may envision a homeless shelter as the ideal place to sleep if someone has no other home. This is not always the case. True, the shelter will provide warmth and a roof over a person's head, but it can also provide a host of other deterrents or dangers. Shelters usually pack many homeless folks together in one large room, leading to lots of noise and possibly unpleasant smells. The environment is rife for theft, harassment and other unsavory acts, and tensions often run high. Another deterrent for the homeless population is many shelters require that people be drug and alcohol free. For the ardent drinker or drug user, giving up their daily means of escape is not worth sleeping in cramped quarters full of noise, foot odour and thieves.


Unless they are blocking personal property or ruining business by snoozing outside the store, the homeless are harmless when they slumber. If folks do leave homeless alone, however, more will get the hint and the result may be hordes of homeless taking over entire parks or city blocks. Any oasis can quickly turn into a crummy-looking camp. New York's Tompkins Square Park was filled with enough tents to make it look like a grubby Boy Scout convention. An area more recently plagued with "tent cities" is Las Vegas.

Expert Insight

New York City has some of the most unique and varied places for homeless people to sleep. The subway system runs 24 hours a day, always offering sleeping quarters in the form of a station stairwell, the shadows of a station platform or on the train itself. Subways also offer miles of unused track which often reaches down several stories into the bowels of the earth beneath the city. Entire colonies of homeless folks have been known to live down there. Aptly called "the mole people," much has been written about their existence and, even if some of the accounts or more legend than truth, they are always an intriguing topic.

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