10 Ingenious Ways Homeless People Have Adapted to Life on the Streets

If you’ve ever lived in a part of the world with a large homeless population, you’ve probably wondered how homeless people adapt to life on the streets. Maybe you’ve even planned a bit, as Seinfeld co-creator Larry David did, what your particular homeless life would be like, which alcove you’d nest in if things got desperate.

As the old cliché goes, desperate times indeed do call for desperate measures, and - to double-down on the triteness - necessity is, indeed, the mother of invention, which is how you get some of the ingenious adaptation and survival tactics illustrated in the list below. It’s not a comprehensive look at how homeless people get by - an extraordinarily complex and sobering topic - but it does show you just how far some people will go to survive on the streets.

(If you or someone you know is battling homelessness, contact the National Homeless Coalition for information and resources.) 

  • Digging a 15-Foot-Deep Cave in a Public Park

    Digging a 15-Foot-Deep Cave in a Public Park
    Photo: Metaweb / CC-BY

    It’s unclear how Yosue Joel Rios got away with it, or how long he got away with it, but the 25-year-old homeless man somehow managed, Shawshank Redemption-style, to secretly dig a 15-foot-deep cave with a five-foot ceiling in a park in Fairfax, Virginia, in 2015. Rios wouldn’t tell police how long he’d been living there, or how long it took him to build his hidey-hole, or much of anything, really. Rios was charged with destruction of property and county crews filled in the hole with dirt a few days later.

    Police first, however, recovered some clues about Rios’s lifestyle, including “books and papers that looked like homework assignments” and a few English language textbooks. Local residents said he had attended a nearby Bible study just days before the police found his cave, and one Old Testament story must have really stuck with him, because he carved “Adullam” into the wall of his Flintstonean abode. The Cave of Adullam, you may remember from Sunday School, is where David hid from the King of Gath after slaying Goliath. Considering Rios’s impressive digging skills, police may want to check for a dead giant buried somewhere in the park.

  • Sleeping Inside the Manhattan Bridge

    Sleeping Inside the Manhattan Bridge
    Video: YouTube

    Some ingenious “coffin-sized” apartments were discovered hidden in plain sight on the underside of the Manhattan Bridge in 2014. The New York Post, after a characteristically tasteful lede warning that“crafty hobos” were turning the bridge into a “veritable shantytown,” goes on to clarify that only two homeless men, in fact, were discovered living in two separate “pods,” measuring only ten feet-by-one-and-a-half feet, under the upper deck. One of the pods featured a pretty brilliant makeshift door made out of a plank of wood and a bike lock. Inside, police discovered a milk jug “toilet” and “a scrap from a magazine” for décor.

    Considering a one-bedroom apartment in the neighborhood costs an absurd $2,900 a month, can you blame these guys for pulling a Nosferatu? 

  • Living in Decommissioned Airplanes

    Living in Decommissioned Airplanes
    Video: YouTube

    In 2015, three homeless families outside of Bangkok turned decommissioned jets sitting in an “airplane graveyard” into makeshift homes. They’re just a few of the tens of thousands of residents of the city of eight million living in “extremely poor conditions,” according to an understatement from Gizmodo. To afford food, they collect and recycle garbage, which nets them a few bucks per day.

    The video above, featuring a relatively cheerful matriarch, gives you a taste, but Taylor Weidman’s amazing photographs of daily life in the planes paint a pretty bleak picture. You have to applaud their ingenuity, though, and it’s not like the big ol’ jet airliners are being used for anything else.

  • Turning a Shopping Cart Into a Grill

    You may have seen some variation of the picture above on your Facebook wall with some caption like Redneck Tech! or Gettin’ ‘er Well-Done! or some such garbage. Look, guys: rednecks already have grills. Visit the American South, Midwest, or 20 minutes outside of any major city in the country: they’re lousy with grills.

    Homeless people, however, are not typically grill owners, but they do have a well-known knack for procuring shopping carts. In 2008, the Arizona Daily Star spoke to the owners of Triton Shopping Cart Retrieval Service and confirmed that yes, homeless people using shopping carts as grills is a thing. Also a thing? Professional shopping cart retrievers, apparently.