Tag Archives: multiple chemical sensitvity

Homelessness Part 2 (not so graphic but not for the squeamish) – revisited

This is the second in a five-part series by my friend at Planet Thrive on surviving homelessness.  In this post, Vanessa talks about food, water, and hygiene.

(my current digs, one person bivy tent with tarp)

Food, Water and Hygiene

This is a continuation of the blog post on June 1st.  These are difficult topics to cover since I have found almost every person is different with respects to diet, containers used for storage, etc.

Food:  Since I spend a majority of my time in the woods, my diet consists mostly of canned foods and dried foods so they do not spoil.  I have a small insulated cooler when I do get produce, but the ice melts fast and I have to eat the food within 2-3 days otherwise I will risk a food borne illness.  Because of my space limitations in the car I cannot have a plug-in cooler or a larger one, it’s just not practical.  Some things to consider when looking at keeping perishables:

* If you opt for some kind of plug in cooler you need to keep track of your usage otherwise you will completely drain your car battery.  I have gone through three batteries since 2009 just from charging my cell phone, laptop and camera batteries.

* Keep your cooler from direct sunlight to keep the ice from melting too fast.  It is best to cover them in blankets when possible; clothing is ok but not optimal.

*Always clean you cooler after every use and wipe down with whatever you use as an antiseptic.  I use Dr. Bronners Sal Suds and then wipe down with 80 proof vodka (40% alcohol).

I try to keep my dry foods light and quick to cook.  For example, you will use at least half a canister of propane to cook dried beans.  Canned kidney beans cook in just 5-10 minutes.  Raw potatoes (red or white) need to be boiled for about 15 minutes, not including the time it takes to heat the water to boiling. Forget about fresh meat unless you have at least one and a half canisters to do this properly.  Canisters can be expensive running about $2.50 per generic brand canisters.  These can be purchased virtually anywhere from Kmart to Wal-Mart to any hardware store (if you can tolerate them).  I also have a small Snowpeak, Gigapeak backpacking stove.  This is extremely valuable and necessary for survival in remote areas and is not a luxury.  Many times weather conditions are so bad that a regular kitchen cannot be set up.  When the weather is cold you desperately need hot fluids at the very least to keep you warm (and keep your morale up).  A backpacking stove can be set in small sheltered areas like rocks, downed logs, behind snowdrifts, large trees or you can build a small wind break out of limbs and boughs and rocks.  I have to add the following disclaimer:  DO NOT use your back packing stove near grass, bushes or other dry material in the spring, summer and fall.  You need to clear an area around the stove free of combustibles to prevent starting a forest fire.  Portable propane stoves can be one burner or up to four.  The larger stoves however take larger propane tanks, not bottles, and would not be practical for stowing in the car.  I have a cheap knockoff of Coleman called “Century” that my Mom got from a garage sale.  That would be the best thing is to get a lightly used stove from a garage sale.  If you need to buy new there are many generic brands that are just as good as Coleman.  Here is what you need to look for:

*   Portability and weight.  Will the stove fit in your car and be easy to retrieve, especially when you are not feeling well.

* Easy to use.  A portable stove should be easy to set up and take down with as few components as possible.

* Durability.  The Century stove I have has a lid that lifts up vertical with two metal “wings” on each side to provide some protection from the wind.  The metal is mostly painted aluminum with a steel grate.  It’s been holding up nicely.

Affordability.  Do shop around a little bit and see what is out there.  Online you can check out Campmor, Cabelas, Sierra Trading post and some of the outdoor outfitters like REI, North Face, MSR and Snowpeak.  I’ve found buying the backpacking stove, esp. MSRs, can be affordable in outdoor sporting goods stores.  I have also seen them in army surplus stores.

I also carry trioxylene tablets in my backpack/go bag.  These are sterno type tablets that ignite quickly and burn very hot.  You can use these in extreme circumstances by placing the tablet on a non-combustible surface (ie. rock) and use a small aluminum container (about 1-1 ½ cup) to heat water or cook canned soup or noodles.  These do not last very long so whatever is being cooked needs to be non-perishable food.  The trioxylene tablets were (and might still be) used in the military to cook MRE (Meals Ready to Eat) in small aluminum containers the soldiers carry.  In dire circumstances you can also use them to start a campfire.  Yes, these are more than likely toxic, but you always need a contingent plan should you get stranded and your fuel canisters run out.  These are available in most army surplus stores and maybe some outfitting/outdoor stores.

As for pots and pans, I have a mix of aluminum (I know, gasp, aluminum but I am not cooking acidic foods most of the time) to high-end titanium.  It’s best to get small to medium size pots because they heat faster, requiring less fuel and you’ll need one that fits on you backpacking stove.  Again, places to find these are the local outdoor stores, REI, Campmor, Sierra Trading Post, North Face, MSR, etc.

Here is a partial list of what is in my pantry:

Canned Kidney Beans, Black-eyed peas, Garbanzo beans, Carrots, Potatoes, tomatoes


Canned chili, soup

Instant Brown Rice

Uncle Ben’s instant brown rice meals in pouches (teriyaki rice, Spanish rice, etc.)

Instant noodles

Apple sauce in individual servings

Canned peaches, pears, fruit cocktail (In water)

Olive oil, Canola oil

aluminum foil, one gallon baggies, plastic wrap (all of which can be purchased as “non toxic”)

A whole bunch of different spices, salt

A variety of teas

Unsweetened cocoa

Sugar (honey in the summer)

Coffee (decaf and caffeinated)

As you can see the nutritional value is sorely lacking in this list.  This is why I wanted to let people know the reality that their diet is going to change and they will have more limited access to fresh produce.  This greatly impacts health and ability to heal.  Those who are living in trailers have many more options.

Lastly, do not cook in or near your tent, especially in bear country.  Change out of the clothes you cooked in to different clothes at bed time if you are sleeping in a tent.  Ideally you should cook at least 50 feet from your tent.  However, I have broken this rule while in the middle of a three-day deluge and needed to keep out of the rain as much as possible.  I cooked outside my tent in the vestibule (the part of the rain fly that extends out from the door).  Always store your food in the car at night and do not take food with you into your tent.  This is not only for your protection but for the animal as well.  Animals habituated to human food are usually destroyed by Fish and Game.  I was charged once by a black bear while backpacking and it followed us for over a mile.  It had become use to human food and was trying to get at ours even though we had our food packed in wet/dry bags in our packs to minimize the scent.

Water.  This is second to shelter for surviving outdoors.  I carry 13-16 gallons of water.  You will need to ration using the following priorities:  drinking, cooking, washing and washing clothes.  If you are near a reliable water source (campground, river, stream) you can be a little lax, but when in remote places with no water this is a precious commodity.  You always have to have a contingent plan and never let your water supply drop to less than two gallons before resupplying.  If something happens and you are stranded, these two gallons can save your life.  In the desert they say a person needs a gallon of water per day to survive.  I figured a person can go with a little less if they remain inactive during the heat of the day, stay in the shade and sip the water.  There is also a technique of sucking on a pebble to help satiate thirst.  You also can hold the water in your mouth and swallow a little at a time.  In the woods you can stretch it out a little more, but not much.

Always carry iodine tablets.  I don’t care about toxicity when my life is in danger and I need water to survive.  This last winter I was forced to get water from a questionable source and boiled 3 gallons of water to a rolling boil for 10 minutes.  Then I purified it with iodine tablets.  I did this for every use, including washing, because I didn’t want any bacteria (ie necrotizing fasciitis) to get into a wound (which by the way, you will get a lot of cuts living outside).

Hygiene:  All I can say is, “to each his own”.  Everyone has their soaps they tolerate so I am not even going to cover the breadth of what is out there.  As for myself I use Dr Bronners Almond or Tea Tree oil liquid Castile soaps.  I sometimes switch to coconut oil based soap when the air is drier.  I use EarthScience’s fragrance free shampoo and conditioner.  I have a fifth of vodka to make an antiseptic toner.  I mix it with Tea Tree oil and it’s a damn good astringent and wound cleaner.  I think my wounds heal faster with that than with anything else.  Lastly, if you live outside 24/7 and cannot tolerate campground showers, you will have to accept the indignity of taking sponge baths a majority of the time.  Many of the times it is cold, rainy, windy, etc and not good for completely stripping down to bathe.  Then again if you’re feeling adventurous, try taking a dip in a mountain stream year round.  That will test your resolve.  Also you have to consider the human factor and make damn sure no one is around to see you.  Not only is this awkward, it can be dangerous or possibly lead to being arrested for indecent exposure.

For a quick bath, just target those areas prone to stinking (you know what I mean) and folds in the skin where bacteria accumulate.  The face is also very important because you want to keep healthy looking and not disheveled d and greasy.

In the next installment I will cover clothing and survival gear.  I am saving first aid for the last part.

The photo below is from Vanessa’s photographs.  It is part of a series of chair photos to show these places are her home. 

Homelessness Part 1 (Warning Graphic Language) – revisited

A few days ago my dear friend and blogger, Sonda (Sonda’s MCS Chatter) wrote a blog post in tribute to her Homeless MCS Sisters. It got me to thinking about a series of guest blog posts on Living the Homeless Life with MCS by a Planet Thrive friend of mine, Vanessa.  In honor of Sonda’s tribute and Vanessa, I am sharing this six part series again.

This is Part 1 of Vanessa’s posts on Planet Thrive related to living homelessness.  Her bio and history were posted yesterday in Living the Homeless Life with MCS.

This is a subject near and dear to my heart, for obvious reasons.  Given the recent posts by fellow PT’rs (referring to Planet Thrive members)  I feel compelled to write about the realities of homelessness.

It is not an adventure.  Yes, sometimes people talk about it this way, including myself, but this is a defense mechanism to keep sane when your reality sucks.  You have to have a sense of morbid humor when you are forced to shit in a hole year round, pee along roadsides (in bushes) because the rest stops are too much to bear.  It is hard to laugh though when you become violently ill, by yourself, in the middle of nowhere and sometimes without cell coverage to call for help.  I have had full body neuralgia while lying in the front seat of my car and not able to move at all.  I have puked on myself (and yes, shit myself) when I had the stomach flu and no amenities.  All I could do was to clean myself in the break of the stormy weather as best I could with cold water and change my clothes.  These are just a few of the indignities I have endured.

I understand the fear and frustration that comes with facing the prospect of becoming homeless.  I remember clearly in May 2009 as I was coming to grips with my worst nightmare.  I could not sleep for days prior to leaving for the desert.  I finally sucked it up, left and never looked back.  I cried in my tent that night, alone and afraid of what was to come.  I still have moments when I try to envision my future as being healthy, independent and no longer homeless.  I envision myself working and supporting myself once more.  But then the grave reality of my present circumstance comes over me like a frigid tidal wave, dragging me back into the open sea of despair.

I can’t emphasize enough how deciding to live in your car, tent or whatever in the woods is dangerous.  I have read the statistics and the news regarding just how brutal people can be to a homeless person.  The psychology is that the homeless are perceived as weak and that they have no one who cares about their welfare, making them easy targets for harassment.  I have experienced firsthand the degradation of being talked down to by law enforcement.  I remember one officer contemptuously asking me if this was a “lifestyle”.  I simply replied saying “no” when I wanted to say “who the hell chooses to freeze their ass off as a lifestyle.  Get real.”

I could go on about the other perils of living/surviving this way.  This is no way to live and the fact that some people are forced into this standard of living is unconscionable in our nation.  Yes, there are those who really do choose to live homeless, but I think they are the minority.  Any sane, rational individual will not choose this for themselves, their families and friends.  Safe and affordable housing is a necessity, not a luxury, and is one of the pillars needed to facilitate healing.  To obtain and maintain good health the basics such as a safe home, clean water and clean food are essential.  Why this is so hard for some to grasp is beyond me.

I am going to list by category what is necessary to survive and give some resources on where to find supplies.  These things are imperative to survival.

1.  Shelter.  This is the first rule of survival.  You need a place to keep out of the elements.  Getting cold and wet can lead to hypothermia, even if you are in a car.  The car is the obvious shelter of choice, but sleeping in it constantly can lead to back problems (which I have found out the hard way).  You have to come to terms with the fact that sleeping in your car constantly will also ruin the interior making any chance of resale difficult.  There are many styles of tents and many pricing options.  I recommend middle of the road tents.  You don’t need an expedition style tent, but you shouldn’t go for the ones at Walmart either.  You need a tent that will stand up to high winds and the weight of snow.  Tents were also not designed as permanent shelters, they are recreational.  I have two, a one-man bivy tent and a two-man tent.  I wanted a backup for one or the other in case one got destroyed.  Each has its pros and cons.  One person tents are light and compact, however they do not have a lot of room for extra gear inside.  Two person tents are roomy, allows to stow stuff in there with you but are a little more bulky.  Look for the following qualities:

– What seasons are they for?  Are they three season or four?

-Material.  Most tents are made from waterproofed taffeta or nylon/polyester fabrics.  The floors are rubberized for waterproofing.  It took a few months to air out one of my tents.  For a while it smelled like jet fuel whenever it got hot in the sun.  With sufficient airing out, washing/rinsing and hanging in the sun (and rain if need be) it should off gas nicely. (but do not use soap, it will ruin the waterproofing).

-Tents that are for all seasons are more expensive than those used in just three seasons or for the summer.

-Durability.  Keep in mind you are living in this tent, not camping, and need to gauge on the description if it will hold up to the demands of being used constantly.

-Ease of set up.   You don’t want a bunch of pieces to put the tent together.  Keep it simple.

The tents I have are:  Mountain Hardware bivy/one person, three season tent and North Face two person tent, three season.  Places where you can get deals are Campmor, Sierra Trading Post, North Face website, Cabelas.  Campmor usually has some of the best deals.

In addition to a tent you will need at least two tarps, thick grade or “mil”.  The lower the “mil” the thicker the tarp material and vice versa.  I have a 20×20 and 8×10.  The large one I use as a shelter or privacy screen and the smaller one acts as a privacy screen and can be placed under the tent to keep the floor dry in heavy rains (but this can also be accomplished by using two large garbage bags as well).  Along with the tarps you will need at least two ropes, 50 ft  nylon and any longer length of 550lb parachute cord.  You will also need bungee cords (of various sizes) and metal stakes.  You will also need a hammer to drive the stakes into the ground.

2. Security.   You need to be prepared to defend yourself against any aggression whether it is from a person or an animal.  I have heard that some EIs travel with firearms.  I am totally against this not because I am anti-gun, but because I am for responsible gun ownership.  As an EI it is doubtful that the cleaning solvents and lubricants used to maintain a firearm will be tolerated.  To be proficient in the use of a weapon in self-defense, you need to practice with it.  If you don’t practice you might as well throw the cartridges at the aggressor because you’ll have a better chance of hitting them.  As a homeless person, there is no way of properly securing a firearm to prevent it from being stolen.  Hiding it somewhere in the car is not enough.  Any burglar can easily find it and you also don’t want it so well hidden that you can’t get to it in an emergency.  Some have commented that they feel the mere sight of a firearm will deter a criminal.  No it won’t.  It will only draw unwanted attention and create a dangerous situation.  Others have talked about having BB guns or toys as a means of self-defense.  Shooting a would be assailant with a BB gun is like swatting a bull with a fly swatter, you’ll only piss them off.  If you are serious about defense consider these:  Pepper spray or a Taser.  You need to make sure that whatever is coming at you gets no closer than 12 feet.  Pepper spray comes in 30 ft,  12ft and 8ft ranges.  I don’t know what the reach of a taser is, but it probably is less than 12 feet.  There are many places that sell these products.  I purchased my pepper spray kit (all three sizes) from Cabelas.  The manufacture is UDAP based out of Bozeman MT.

Know your territory.  Know where the party spots are and talk with the forest service about potential problems with drugs or drug manufacturing in the forest.  They will know the areas that are questionable.

Do not act like a victim.  Stand straight, look people in the eye, do not disclose too much information about yourself or your circumstances.  This is not the time to serve as an ambassador to spread the information about MCS/EI.

Anything can be used as a weapon.  Your hands, feet, knees, elbows, teeth.  You can pickup rocks, sticks, forks, knives, pots/pans, hot grease, hot water.  The combinations are endless.  You do not have to be trained in self-defense to defend yourself, you just need a good understanding of the human anatomy and the confidence of how to take advantage of it.  However, if you do ever get a chance to take a self-defense course I strongly recommend it.

I am going to stop here for now as this is getting pretty long.  The next segments I will cover are food, water, hygiene, clothing, survival gear, and first aid.