Why are homeless people so dirty?

You might think this is obvious, but there’s a bit more to it than having access to laundry machines and soap.

When you have fresh clean clothes, do you put them on a dirty body? Or do you bathe first? Would you put clean clothes on over a dirty body or would you put your old dirty clothes back on?

If you have clean clothes but they’re cold and stiff while the clothes you have on are already warm and comfortable, and it’s 35 degrees, are you going to change clothes?

If you have clean clothes but no place to wash them once they’re dirty are you going to change into the clean ones or keep wearing the dirty ones until they wear out?
What’s the point of having two sets of dirty clothes?

If life consists of staying warm, then moving from one place to another, where does the need for changing clothes come into the routine?
(yes, we know that clean clothes are warmer than dirty ones, if we’re hikers or military or whatever, but most people don’t know this)

If you’re down and out, why bother changing clothes? It adds more hassle, more interaction with people that pity or look down on you. Even a free facility is full of other people, loud, busy, with authority figures making all sorts of rules, mentally ill people causing problems, requiring you to be on constant guard.

Staying clean, both body and clothes, is difficult. It involves a lot of effort. It requires determination, patience, and desire.
When life consists of staying warm and/or staying fed, there isn’t much left to spend on things like staying clean.

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1 Comment

  1. Katydid

     /  December 8, 2011

    Have you read any of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels? He has an interesting approach to clean clothes. (If you think about it carefully, it wouldn’t actually work, but it’s an appealing concept.)

    I’ve always believed that cleanliness is a rich person’s prerogative in our cold climates. When I was In India, for example, I found that the people are extremely clean – even the most poverty-stricken beggars. But that’s because it’s warm, there’s lots of water, and a lot of people live their lives out in the open. It’s perfectly acceptable to wash yourself at a public water faucet, or beat your clothes out in the river and hang them on a bush to dry. So nobody smells, and everyone’s whites are white. But here, where it can get down to -40 (C or F, no difference) and even in summer the nights are cold, keeping your body and your clothes clean requires a lot of resources and a certain amount of planning, not to mention wardrobe redundancy.

    I still remember winters in my childhood (before ubiquitous clothes dryers), when my mother would launder my dad’s long underwear and hang them on the line till they froze solid, then bring them in to finish drying. She’d stand them around the livingroom (they’d stand up on their own at first, like ghosts at a banquet), where they’d gradually soften and subside onto the furniture. It was kind of creepy.

    Best wishes,


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