Back in 2013 or 2014, I took on a self-imposed challenge where I would be intentionally homeless in Hong Kong and Macau for a full week. This article discusses some things I learned and experienced while being homeless for 1 week in those places.
Backstory — Why I Decided To Try Out Being Homeless
Before I go into what I learned from being intentionally homeless for a week in HK and Macau, I need to explain the backstory as to why I even took on this challenge in the first place.
A Russian friend of mine, named Ivan, fascinated me when he told me stories of how he travelled to many countries for a long time and on a low budget. Ivan’s a very interesting and intelligent man. I actually first met him in Taiwan, where he worked at a hostel. He worked in the hostel in part, so he could get free lodging while he was studying Chinese in Taiwan.
Later, in HK, he taught me a lot about his experiences with living as cheaply as possible, and being homeless around the world.
He told me that he usually hitchhiked when travelling between countries or for going long distances to save on transportation costs. And to save on housing costs, he’d go homeless, sleeping almost anywhere, so that he wouldn’t have to pay for lodging.
He’d often go homeless in a country for days on end, just leaving when his visa expired, and coming back with a new visa. For example, when his tourist visa in HK was about to expire, he’d do a visa run by taking a ferry to Macau and come back to HK on the same day with a new visa.
Ivan taught me various things he did while being homeless, such as how to avoid getting pickpocketed or robbed while sleeping in public, and how to stay safe.
He said he’d sleep just about anywhere: In a 24 hours McDonald’s at night, under a bridge and more.
I had been living in HK for a while and knew the city very well, and felt I might be able to try such a challenge.
His story fascinated me so much that I wanted to try being intentionally homeless. I did this for a few reasons:
- I wanted to learn what being homeless really felt like and about the type of things homeless people have to do day-to-day.
- Likewise, I wanted to see if I could actually complete the challenge. For me, going intentionally homeless seemed like previous hard challenges I’d taken on, like only taking cold showers, or fasting for a few days.
- I also thought it might help me become more grateful for having a place to live.
- In addition, I thought being homeless might teach me what’s really essential in life, and about things in life that don’t really matter.
Now, with no further ado, I’ll discuss 6 things that I learned while being intentionally homeless.
1. Even In A Big City, The Cost Of Living Can Be Low If You’re Homeless
In Hong Kong, my biggest expense is always apartment rent costs.
Food in HK isn’t very expensive in my experience. In HK, if you buy food from local markets or grocery stores, and mainly eat local foods, you can have a low food budget.
Food and Drink
Homeless people still have to eat and drink like everyone else.
Unless you live on a farm, become a hunter-gatherer, or fish at a river, lake, or ocean where you can get all the fish you need, you’re going to need money to buy food.
But all that being said, if you are willing to eat simple things, like bananas and other inexpensive fruit, bread from grocery stores, and inexpensive local foods, you can survive on a fairly small amount of money for a long time.
Tap water is free in many places in the world, like from public drinking fountains and faucets in public toilets. So if you avoid drinking anything other than water, you can save a lot of money.
2. There Are A Surprising Number Of Things You Can Do That Are Free
I would go to the HK Central Library almost every day to get work done, which was free to use. There, I could bring my laptop for work, plug it in for free, and use the free Wi-Fi. And of course, you can read and check out books for free from a library.
Even if you don’t have much money, there are still lots of things you can do for entertainment, leisure, and pleasure that are free.
For fun, there are quite a lot of things you can do for free. You can exercise or play sports with friends in a public park, go hiking, go cycling, and do many other things. And at night, you can of course stargaze, and if you’re camping, you could have a campfire with your friends.
3. Not All Homeless People Are Beggars
Many homeless people never beg and get by the best they can. Actually, some refuse to beg.
I knew of an elderly homeless lady, who lived near where I used to live in Kowloon, HK, who would push lots of cardboard boxes outside to recycle, to make a little money.
And I distinctly remember that she never begged. I think she had too much pride for that.
HK doesn’t have very much of a social safety net. I assume that she didn’t have children of her own because, in Chinese society, it’s kind of assumed that children will take care of their parents, at least a little, when they become elderly.
While I did give her money at least once, I also gave her some fruit because I figured that ultimately food would be on the top of her list.
At the most basic level, all you can say for certain about a homeless person is that he or she has no home. For the sake of simplicity, I’m assuming that a vagabond, a person who travels from place to place with no hometown or fixed location, is different from a homeless person.
4. Not All Homeless People Are Mentally Ill or Somehow Morally Depraved
For some reason, I get the impression that many people think that homeless people are just ‘scum’ and deserve to be the way they are. Certainly, homeless people are treated as undesirables in quite a lot of places.
Many homeless people are just people who have just fallen on hard times. A person can become homeless for a multitude of reasons.
While a person may be homeless because of some mental illness, there are also a lot of other reasons a person could become homeless.
For example, a person could get laid off, or otherwise have a very hard time finding a job in such times as an economic recession or depression.
One example would be the COVID-19 epidemic, which has ravaged economies around the world. Many governments have prevented companies from running at full capacity, and have also even prevented people from physically going to work. COVID-19 will surely have knock-on effects on the world economy for years or even decades to come.
Showing compassion and helping a homeless person find a job or some other kind of meaning in their life would be a great way to help them.
5. It’s Possible To Be Very Hygienic While You Are Homeless
Hong Kong has many free public toilets (restrooms) where you can of course “do your business”. Some public toilets in HK even have free showers. But if there aren’t showers in a public toilet, you could use the faucet water with a towel or rag for cleaning your body.
And of course, you could brush your teeth, and do any other things you would require for your hygiene, in a public toilet.
Ivan told me how he’d often clean himself in public toilets, though he’d try not to draw attention to himself.
6. It’s Possible To Hide Your Homelessness And Act As If You Weren’t Homeless
A homeless person can look, dress, and smell just like any other average person who isn’t homeless. Again, being homeless at the most basic level just means that you have no home, nothing else.
A Small Caveat About This Challenge
I do need to concede that I kept my luggage in a hostel I had previously stayed at in HK. The hostel staff let me store my suitcase for free, which I was really grateful for. Being homeless would have been much harder if I had no place to store my stuff for free or very cheaply.
I learned a lot about being homeless, and about important things about life in general when I did a full 7 days of being homeless.
Because I wanted to get this article out quickly and wanted to start writing consistently on this site, I decided to break up the topic of homelessness and what I learned into different articles.
In later articles, I’ll discuss ways to stay for free in places, without sleeping outside, and many other things I’ve learned while travelling around the world and about being homeless.
What did you think of this article? Do you have anything to add? Let’s discuss it in the comments below.