It's no secret that life on the streets is hard and unforgiving. These former-homeless folks share their scariest memories from life on the road.
"I was working in a mountain town and couldn’t afford rent, even with two jobs. One night after work, a friend and I got absolutely wasted at the bar we worked. We were always there by ourselves closing so the bar was free game and we got liquored up. I left work at 2 am, then walked the lonely hour and a half back to my tent outside of town. I didn't realize it at first but I was being stalked by a mountain lion. It dawned on me that the way I was walking probably made me look like an injured animal, an easy meal. I was terrified. For some reason, I had a digital camera with me and started pointing the flashing at the area of the ridge whenever I heard rustling or saw those big eyes in the dark. Creepy. Somehow made it home safe that night.
Another night after closing at a different campsite I must’ve smelled like a huge gyro after working a double at Pitas In Paradise. Not a great scent to have when you're camping out. So, I got into my tent and curled up into my sleeping bag. I was just about to doze off when I heard a big crunch outside. I could faintly see the silhouette through the tent. It was a black bear sniffing me out. I was frozen with terror. The bear put his snout against the nylon inches above my head. Hot steam on my face. His breath went through the nylon. I could smell his breath. I had pulled the sleeping bag up to my face petrified. I'm not really sure what I was thinking but I slapped the bear's nose right above my forehead. Stupid right? I guess it was my fight or flight. It was an involuntary reaction and I felt stupid but I spooked the bear and it took off. I got an apartment with some friends soon after."
"Scariest? I'll never forget it because I was convinced we killed a guy until we saw him walking around a month or two later.
I had been homeless couch surfing for like a year and scored and was able to spend a few weeks at my buddy, Josh's house, and we pooled our resources and just went on a bender. My thing was white stuff and morphine. He loved ecstasy. I smoked some tar while he smoked some weed. Well, actually I think I did too. Then we each popped triple stacks and decided to wander around the night in Oakland. We had some cops pass us and slow down so we dipped from I think Jack London Square, and ended up by some grocery store.
That's when we both heard screaming. But not normal screaming. Like screaming that makes your hair stand up. Josh was a trained mixed martial artist before his downward spiral and this was still when he was a beast. Anyways I start bolting towards the screaming and he's right beside me. We round the back of the store and in a loading dock, all we can see is shuffling and screaming. It was a fight.
Then we notice a chick, she's the one screaming and there's some dude fighting to get her pants off. I instantly realize what's happening, and while in my haze run over and land a punch on the guy. Then I felt something, figured I got stabbed and it rightly ticked me off. That's when the adrenaline kicked in and I remember really landing some punches on him.
We knock him over and he rolls on his back, so I keep smashing his face in. Josh was kicking the living daylights out of him too. We stop and he's gurgling blood and the chick, an addict, starts yelling at his unconscious body, and kicked him then went through his pockets. I asked her if she was okay and she told me to mind my own business. Okay then, lady.
We just hopped the fence and ended up following some train tracks into Berkeley I think and ended up having a rough come down on the first south Bart train back into Fremont.
Regardless, I will always remember that night, always remember that piercing sound. Her screams still scare me to this day. The panic just ingrained into my mind. She was tough as nails though, those were primal screams and had we not shown up she may have been able to handle her own who knows. After that, I spent another 10 years messing around with crime and other bad business. It all feels like another life now since it's been so long. I miss the adventures and not caring about anything but each other. We were little addicts with all these big dreams and had zero ideas of what we were doing."
"I was homeless in a predominately black area of Minneapolis. One day there was this really wasted blonde white guy, who I think had been robbed or something. Someone must've taken his phone because he walked up to the shelter line I was waiting at and started screaming some pretty nasty stuff at the top of his lungs.
I immediately yelled at him to keep his mouth shut because he was starting to get some looks and side-eyes from the other folks in line. I wasn't even trying to be mean, I just knew a lot of those guys had nothing to lose and if you get on their bad side or start a commotion for no reason they're going to royally mess you up.
This of course happened in less than a minute. Three guys walked up and immediately laid this dude out.
I've told this story before and people always ask 'Why didn't you help him?'
Buddy, there was no helping him at this point, he was surrounded and alone. I tried to tell him to shut up but he just didn't listen. Heck, I was even yelling at the guys to stop wailing on him once he was out, but they just kept kicking him in the head.
A nice old guy grabbed me by the shoulder and just shook his head and said 'Please don't get involved and get hurt. You seem like a good kid.'
So I backed off and went inside the shelter and told them to call an ambulance. Funny enough, the staff didn't even want to do that, they tried to walk in this guy who was unconscious for a good five minutes to 'sleep it off' in the shelter. Crazy.
Anyways, somehow the cops came, called an ambulance, and they took the guy away. The police didn't even bother to ask what happened cause they knew no one would talk. I sure as heck wasn't about to either. I still had to stay at that shelter and if word got around I snitched I could be dead meat. Which might have been why about two hours later that night, for the first and only time in my life I was almost mugged. Guilty by association I guess, who knows. Easily one of the scariest situations I've been in my life.
I was under a bridge, on the phone trying to find a place to stay cause while everything went down all the shelter beds filled up and I no longer had a bed.. so it was raining and I was on my phone under a bridge with some social worker lady.. some guy walks by.. and.. he didn't say anything.
So I was waiting under a bridge calling places on my phone trying to find a place to sleep since the shelter was full. I was just watching the rain with this social worker lady when this guy posts up right next to me... and just doesn't say anything. Just completely silent. But he looked right at me with these eyes. It's hard to explain but I could just tell that this guy didn't have a single good intention in his body for me.
He then walks away for about 20 feet, stops, turns around, and then starts walking back to me again. I don't know what to do.
'Hey man, you want a smoke?' I ask.
Nothing. Just a blank stare.
That's when I decided to get the heck out of there. That's when he started following me down the street. I'm still on the phone with a lady from a different shelter and I explain my situation.
'I'm gonna put my phone in my pocket and run, if you hear something maybe try to call someone for me,' I said, then I just bolted.
I had this big, heavy backpack that was slowing me down. It was also Sunday so there weren't any bars open that I could dive into. That's when it hit me. I didn't have a way out of this situation. So I ran into a parking garage to hide but the guy was still on me. That's when I heard two cars near the entrance. I ran towards them screaming like a madman for my life.
The first guy was absolutely terrified and shook his head 'No,' I honestly I don't blame him. He had no idea who I was or what was going on. The second guy, oh thank god for him, took his chance on me and let me inside. The person tailing me finally caught up and just started circling the Jeep like a shark, staring angrily at us.
The driver looks at me nervously. 'So, uh what do you want me to do?'
I kinda laugh and told him to leave. I didn't even want to deal with the police because I was an addict at the time and had my whole operation in my bag. I had him drop me off three blocks away near a gas station and I thanked him graciously. Who knows what would've happened if he hadn't taken that chance on me. But yeah that was just one day in my life of being homeless.
Being homeless is no joke. It was harder to do than anything else I've ever done. Please be nice to homeless people, they definitely don't have it easy."
"I had been homeless for a couple of weeks now and had made friends with this couple. We watched each other's backs and they seemed pretty chill, but had a bit of a drinking problem.
Anyway, one night I was sleeping and heard some commotion going on. I couldn't make out who it was or what was going on until my buddy comes and sits on my sleeping bag. My jaw dropped. Blood was pumping out of his neck. It was just like in the movies. But here he was just casually sitting up on my sleeping bag.
I ask him what happened and he said he thinks his partner had cut his throat with a Stanley blade. You know? Like one of those cardboard cutters. He was so blitzed and out of it, I don't think he was fully aware of how bad his injury was. It was nuts. He didn't even want me to call the police.
So I called the police anyway and they brought an ambulance. I see the dude a couple of days later, still homeless, but this time with a scar on his neck. At this point, he had sobered up a bit and he was grateful for calling the police. The nurse told him he was incredibly lucky. He was literally millimeters away from dying that night.
I'm no longer homeless, but this all happened about six years ago now. I no longer speak to that guy either, that is another long story. As for the girl, she was arrested but not charged. Last year she committed suicide so she's no longer with us. Another casualty of the streets."
"Lived in my truck for nearly a year back in 2008-ish. Finding a spot to sleep could be tricky because my truck was a gaudy, jacked-up monstrosity with sparkly red paint and color-changing flames (don't blame me, I bought it that way at a price I couldn't pass up), and was a huge target for law enforcement during the day and thieves at night.
One of my regular sleeping spots was a dirt road surrounded by huge fields, and there was a sweet spot where no houses could see you due to a moderate size hill on either side of the road. People would occasionally illegally dump trash there, but otherwise, there wasn't much nefarious activity that took place there. I thought I was safe there.
So I'm in the back of this old Ram Charger sleeping on this dirt road, and I was woken up because I thought I felt like I was gently swaying or rocking back and forth. As I was laying there trying to fall back asleep I hear a tap tap tap coming from the front seat.
I wake up a little more and lift myself up to see some guy hammering a screwdriver into my ignition. My adrenaline immediately EXPLODED. I am by no means a tough guy, but I did my best to be scary and started SCREAMING at the guy. I thought he might try to hit me with the hammer or stick me with the screwdriver so I pulled out the tacky mall ninja machete I kept under my pillow and that was what motivated him to vacate my vehicle.
I clambered over the seat after him for some reason and was met with two more guys standing outside of a waiting car. I admit I panicked internally at that moment, but I'm guessing they did too because instead of escalating the situation they all dived into the car and bombed out of there, peppering myself and my truck with gravel. After that, I started parking in this dried pond that was deep enough that it was hard to spot from the road during the day and I was effectively invisible at night. It was actually kind of nice, I was able to keep the back gate open and enjoy a nice summer breeze."
"Police are some of the scariest and most unpredictable people to deal with while homeless, hands down. I was 17-years-old, dead asleep in the back of a car belonging to my then girlfriend’s parents in a parking garage. It’s freezing outside, mind you this is February in Canada at 3 am.
I’m jolted awake by cops dragging me from the car. Just completely rag-dolling my sleepy-self out of the vehicle. I’m 6’2, 210 lbs by the way. But anyways these people are yelling at me about a weapon. I had no clue what they were talking about, they had literally just woke me up, but they just won’t shut up about this weapon. I simply have no idea what they’re referring to, but they won't listen. They just keep dragging me and prodding me with questions.
I try to explain that I’ve got permission to be in the car, so I gave them the number of the parents. I was more worried about waking them up. But no, no.
'The weapon! The weapon!' they shouted.
I asked them to show me what weapon they found, thinking maybe a parent had hidden a bat under the seat for protection or a pocket knife in the glovebox. These idiots pulled on the handle of a window scraper with a squeegee that was covered by a black garbage bag full of clothes intended for the Goodwill. I asked them how it was they felt threatened by a squeegee when I was ASLEEP. That was what all the fuss was about? Morons. The cops didn't even apologize. They just urged me to shut up and drive to an all-night laundromat. They told me to sleep across the super-comfortable plastic chairs."
"The scariest thing I saw was a man named Tony T. Apparently he had been a coke head for years but had to keep a job to support his habit. He had received a huge settlement, of over $500k. At which point he decided that he never had to work again. He lived on the streets and smoked that white stuff all day. The best way to describe him is Tuco from Breaking Bad. He was generous with his narcotics so people would naturally want to be around him. But he was also unpredictable, dangerous, and always on a hair-trigger. He was like a ticking time bomb.
I have tons of stories about him being crazy aggressive. The last time I saw him will always remain in my head. I watched him savagely beat a man with a lead pipe. And for what? Dropping a tiny crack rock in the dirt. We are talking like $20 worth of dope and he just went crazy like an animal. He probably either killed the guy or messed him up for life. I tried to stop him and he threatened to turn on me. He just stared at me with these crazy eyes. I walked out, went to a phone, and called my sister to come and get me. That day was my turning point. I didn't want to end up dead and in the dirt. After my sis picked me up she helped me get clean and turn my life around. I've never looked back, but I will always remember Tony T. That was 30 years ago."
"I used to wander around a neighborhood with lots of homeless people. One day I stumbled upon a group of maybe 8 or 10 boys and girls between 9 and 15. I was in my early 20 and alone so I started hanging with them here and there. I shared some pot with them sometimes, but never stayed too long or anything because they were into sniffing glue (the little ones) or heavier stuff and I was just a hippie guy who was into weed. It was pretty messed up honestly.
The thing is, they had managed to open an underground empty water deposit. I don't know the term for what I was exactly, it was like a large storm drain with some valves and pipes in there. Definitely not a place to stay in, but they used to go there to hide and do their usual business. I thought they were crazy but some would spend the night down there.
I remember one week in autumn the weather started to get stormy and rainy. One tragic night we had a flash flood and that little storm drain just got washed away with rainwater. I instantly thought of those kids in that drain. I wasn't there when it happened but when I heard that four of those kids drowned that night.
After that, the rest of them disappeared (maybe they were rescued, maybe they just moved on) and the place was soon sealed and forgotten. The neighborhood was gentrified not much later and I don't think anyone remembers what happened. I think I may be the only one who knows about those poor kids that died."
"My family was homeless. My mom and brother and me. We'd just gotten evicted and ended up with nothing. Someone stole most of the things the Marshall put on the curb.
Anyway, we ended up deep in a bad part of town, the sort of place where the sound of police helicopters was always present. My mom knew this guy who rehabbed houses and he had one half-finished which we could stay in. It had no power or water. Well, it had a 50-foot extension cord draped across the street for power. The house rehabber lived on the other side.
We were an extreme minority in that neighborhood and the people there made it clear they didn't want our kind there especially not poor and homeless. So we were constantly pelted with glass bottles. The house was boarded up so the bottles just broke outside.
So we stayed there a while. No phone. This was before cell phones. So my mom had to walk to a payphone to call around and try to find a charity to take us in.
Sometime during this period, one of the residents on that street got their gas turned off. It had been on illegally and they got caught. They blamed my mom somehow for reporting it. We didn't know and had no way to report it even if we wanted to.
Anyhow, these neighbors tricked my mom outside where a mob was waiting and they beat her with a baseball bat while my brother and I watched. We were only children! What could we do? We just cried as we heard the commotion.
Somebody called an ambulance and the whole street cheered and threw a party as we departed for the ER. It was one of the worst days in my life.
So that was it. Seeing my mom being beaten up by this mob for something we had nothing to do with. Make it make sense.
Mom survived but I know it shortened her life and she never really recovered 100%."
"I was homeless for around four months after being in a psych hospital on and off for suicide attempts. I'd like to note that the last stay was two months in a state hospital before being discharged into a local shelter.
I think the scariest thing was meeting a guy who I'd met before in the hospital, while I was walking alone in a quiet area of town. This guy, when we were in the hospital, had been a major creep. Asking me if I had a boyfriend, what my type was. At one point I reported him to staff. I was told to stay away from him and not be in a room alone with him.
So I see him while I'm walking and I try so hard to not be noticed, but he says hi and comes over and starts going on about how it's great to see me and how have I been. I could care less and can see the guy for who he is. I still try being polite and say things like 'I gotta go, I have things to do.'
Now he wants to know where I work. Great. I lie and say nowhere for now so he doesn't know where I work. He takes that as me having nothing to do and starts trying to get me to come to his friend's house for coffee, and starts trying to lead me to there.
I'm nearing the point where I'll give up on politeness and just stop telling him no and walk away, but it's early morning and we're still pretty alone on the street.
Then some absolute legend of a lady comes around the corner of the street and comes up to us and starts arguing with him about him not seeing her recently. She just looks at me and nods and I just take that moment to walk away while she yells at him for some random different things and speedwalk down the road until I turn the corner.
I look back and she just yells a bit more than angrily turns around and storms off. Like some kinda freaking valkyrie or something.
So yeah. This random lady just saved my butt from this creepy guy who was trying to do who knows what to me. Then just angrily walks away like it was nothing from this now confused and put off creep.
But yeah. I've no doubt that guy had bad intentions. He was nothing but pushy and the type to have no personal space or sense of restraint all through me knowing him. I'm really glad that lady came along, and I'm so glad she just kinda knew I wanted out and helped."