You need to eat, but there are loads of places that give food away for free. Instead, try using your cash for these other essentials.
By Dori Zinn
Living on the streets doesn’t necessarily equate to being penniless. Housing is expensive, and depending on the location, difficult to find at all. Many of those who are experiencing homelessness may have money on hand, but simply don’t have enough money to afford housing.
But there is a lot of potential use for whatever money is on hand, and more efficient ways of spending it than one of the most common: food.
If it’s necessary, then it’s necessary, but there are many food banks and food donation centers that readily and reliably give food away to those who need it. So, instead of putting money into food, here are some alternatives to stretch that money more efficiently and cover more potential needs.
1. Gym membership
A gym membership offers a shower, bathroom, and free water — you can brush your teeth, fill up your water bottle, even store possessions in the lockers depending on the gym. A membership usually grants all-day access as well, letting you use the facilities whenever you need. If you’ve spent the day outside, you can use your evenings to wash up, even if you were just there that morning.
Some gyms are open 24-hours, which would allow access to your belongings at all times. But if you’re not tied to one area, gyms with many different locations could be a better aspect to look for so you’re never too far from one.
A little cash towards a prepaid phone can give immediate access to a lot of useful resources like maps, job applications, social services, and maybe even an online bank. Refurbished ones can start as low as $10, depending on what’s available in your area, and there are many cheap phone plan options as well.
Keep in mind that many charities offer free cell phones and you might be able to get one without paying for it. Check with local organizations to see if this is something they offer.
If you don’t have a car, public transport is the next best option for many reasons. Florida is not really meant for pedestrians, and walking miles and miles in the hot sun is not ideal if you don’t have easy access to food, water, and shelter.
If it fits in your budget, and you know you’ll need to get to and from multiple places, an unlimited pass could be worth the cost. In Broward County, for example, one-way bus fares are $2, but an unlimited, 7-day pass is $20. If going to and from one place is $4, doing that once a day, for a week, already comes out to $28. That $20 can instead bring you to and from work, job interviews, shelters, the library, anywhere, as many times as you want, and it’s an air conditioned break from the outdoors.
4. New shoes
Clothes and shoes are other necessities, like food, that can usually be easily acquired through donation centers or shelters. What can be difficult to find are decent shoes that fit though, and thrift stores can fill that gap for cheap.
If a bus pass is outside the realm of possibility, buying shoes might be the next best option. With the walking required without the bus, and Florida’s constant rainfall, decent shoes will help tremendously. Weather is so unpredictable, even with a 15-minute sunshower, your socks could be wet for hours.
5. Laundry Products
Doing laundry may not be as high a priority as food, water, and transportation, but it is good for keeping clothes presentable, and if you’re going to do it at a laundromat, it can provide a reprieve from the elements — so maybe go on a particularly rainy or hot day.
In terms of saving money, avoid buying detergent at the laundromat. They tend to sell products that have a short lifespan, but the same price as regular stores. Instead head to the dollar store, they sell smaller containers — like 64-oz bottles and smaller, unlike big box retailers — for $1. These are easy to carry around and have a longer lifespan than what you’d get at the laundromat.