Most people who know me have heard my stories about sleeping in parks in Taipei, or “urban camping” in some of Europe’s more (or less) welcoming cities. Sure it was no fun to be outside, but for the most part it was a matter of choice. I could have called home (that’s right kids, we’re talking about the world as we knew it B. I.*) to ask for money, or at least become a more determined houseguest. Not everyone has that luxury.
There is actually a pretty full spectrum of possibilities for how and why someone might themselves living in public. You might just need a couple of days between lodgings. I spent a couple of weeks living that way on the UCLA campus: regular work and classes during the day, and at night just find some spot to curl up and sleep. As long as your personal safety isn’t in danger, it’s actually pretty easy. Hell, you even save yourself the morning commute.
Other people find themselves outside seasonally. There are a lot of these people where I live in Hong Kong–they come from China to work and underestimate costs, or overestimate demand, or else just factor in a period of street life between jobs or before returning home.
The deadly cold snap in February brought out another sort. These were people who had homes, but were unable to stand living without heat. Central heat simply doesn’t exist in subtropical Hong Kong, and the temperatures were really hard to bear, especially at night, when it dropped below zero.
A lot of people took refuge in community centres like mine here in Taipo, which set up heated shelters. Others did (and many still do) camp out in restaurants like McDonalds, which are open 24 hours, and are remarkably welcoming. Even on normal business days, most HK McDonald’s are packed full of old people who order nothing, and set up for hours at a time. (I call it the McSenior Center, not to be confused with the McOffice, which is where I spend my weekends.)
During the cold snap these places also became especially busy McShelters, and to their credit, I never saw anyone ever try to move people on. Workers even went around handing out cups of hot water.
I deeply McRespect that.