Finding the Food You Need

My last post got some pushback from homeless people who basically scoffed at the idea that a homeless person has money or that a homeless person would worry about nutrition. I currently have earned income, and I do worry a lot about nutrition. I am not the only homeless person who has some kind of income or worries about proper nutrition.

But I have gone through periods in the past when I had a lot less than I have now. At one point, my bank account was locked up for 30 days by one of my creditors. I basically was limited to found money that month, though I did have food stamps and I was in downtown San Diego with access to food pantries and the like.

So, I do realize that there are homeless people who have no money at all. I suggest you start by checking out the Money page on this site, plus the Food page. If you are in San Diego County, the Food page has some listings for local meal sites and the like.

But, this page is being written on the assumption that:
  1. You aren't in San Diego County
  2. You don't have food stamps, can't get them or they simply aren't enough
  3. You currently have no cash and no ready means to get any
  4. You probably have dietary restrictions due to health issues

Where to Get a List

As I said in a previous post about Finding the Services You Need, when I was going to homeless services five years ago:

the state of the art for getting information into the hands of actual homeless individuals was word of mouth and paper handouts.
I was able to find a paper handout with a list of local food resources at places like:
  • Food Pantries
  • The Welfare Office
  • Homeless Services Centers
So, if you can locate any of those things in your city, go ask for a list of meal sites and other food sources. It may be part of a more comprehensive list of resources or it may be a stand alone list.

Food Pantries

I used to use the food pantry services from Catholic Charities. They were really good and gave you some choices. You filled out a form that let you check mark one of two to three choices per listed category. This helped me get things I was more likely to actually eat, given my dietary restrictions. They provided about three days worth of food. You could go once a month, about eight months out of the year.


Churches sometimes have free meal sites and other services. If they do a free hot meal, the norm seems to be once a week. Some of these are good and some are not. If you have no idea where else to start, go find out what is available from churches.

Free Meal Sites

If you are in a big enough city, you should be able to find free meal sites. In addition to churches, these are often served at homeless services centers and sometimes found at parks or at places where homeless people are known to gather for some reason. Keep your eye out, ask other homeless people, ask for info at whatever services you can find.

The Big City

Wherever you live, if you are really destitute and you are in some small town or mid sized city with little in the way of support services, go to the nearest big city. They will have more homeless services and more meal sites. This is exactly why I spent six months in downtown San Diego when I was first homeless and at my most destitute. I left after I acquired food stamps and was generally in a little better shape.

Bread and Produce

When I was homeless in downtown San Diego and really destitute, I was initially getting a lot of free bread and drinking water from water fountains. Word to the wise: This is a great way to wind up horribly constipated. Once I knew that, I began trying to make sure I got bread and produce. Since I do have dietary restrictions, the meal sites were often not a good fit for me. But I applied for food stamps and I began learning where I could get bread and produce about once a week. Once I had mapped out enough places to reliably get bread and produce (plus a good breakfast site), I generally had enough to eat, without having problems like severe constipation.

Middle Class Free Food

I also use discount cards, reward programs, etc. I still participate in Microsoft Rewards (formerly known as Bing Rewards) and I get free Starbuck's gift cards that way. I have a Starbuck's membership and I get free items for participating in that. There is a website/email list called Free Food Guy that tells you about promotions at restaurants and the like where they do free items periodically. Even while dirt poor, it is sometimes possible to get some freebies from the middle class route of promotionals, reward programs, etc.

So, find out what food resources are available where you are at and do your best to use the ones that meet your needs. If you can't get your needs met where you are, consider going to a bigger city which is likely to have more resources.

But, also, take it upon yourself to begin working on solving your problems. If you don't have an income, you need to develop one. I have spent the past 5.5 years doing the following:
  • Getting healthier
  • Paying down debt
  • Developing a portable online income and scaling it up
The fact that my income is portable allowed me to leave San Diego County and move someplace cheaper. I may also eventually leave California entirely and move someplace cheaper. I hope to be able to afford housing again sometime in the not too distant future.


I am aware that some homeless people get food and other items out of dumpsters or eat out of trash cans. I have never done this. My entire plan for solving my personal problems hinges upon the need to get well first. I am very big on germ control. Dumpster diving and digging in trash cans runs counter to that plan. When you are homeless, it can be impossible to get properly cleaned up again after exposing yourself to something like that.

Part of the point of this website is providing tips on how to get your needs adequately met such that it preserves your path back to a middle class life. Eating well and staying healthy are a big part of that.