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Have you decided how to handle a shirttail relative showing up on your doorstep when a crisis strikes? What about a coworker or a neighbor? What about a complete stranger?
Put more bluntly, how do you act in such a way that you will both make it through an extended disaster AND be proud of the person that you became and the actions you took to make it through?
If you’ve been open about what you’ve got stored up or if people know about your tactical background, it’s a distinct possibility–regardless of whether or not you actually have the supplies they think you do–that people will come to you in a disaster expecting you to give them anything you’ve got that they need.
It’s a fact that extra people will be a drain on your resources, but it’s also a fact that faced with such a decision, it may be difficult to turn them away. . .or not.
When friends, relatives, and neighbors show up and start burning through your emergency supplies during a short-term disaster, it may not be all that bad of a thing. It can bring you closer, give them the kick in the pants they need to prepare themselves, and possibly cause them to wait before doubting you in the future. As a bonus, they might replace the supplies that they used with newer ones. (If I were speaking, I’d insert a pause for laughter here.)
But what do you do in a long-term crisis?
In a long-term crisis the ante will be upped a thousand-fold and you will likely be faced with strangers who are in need, in addition to people you know and care for. If you have planned so that you will have items set aside for charity, there are ways to help others while keeping a safety buffer between you and those in need that we’ll cover in a minute. But first, it might be worthwhile looking at what people experienced during the Great Depression to avoid becoming overrun by those in need.
It’s estimated that the hobo population grew from 500,000 at the turn of the century to one and a half million during the Great Depression as 12 million people in America lost their jobs. Job loss led to homelessness, and many took to the rails in an attempt to find work and improve their chances of survival. As the depression continued, and more of the homeless stowed away on freight cars for shelter and free travel to look for work.
A code of ethics developed within the hobo population which included helping one-another through the use of ‘hobo signs’, which were symbols written in chalk or coal on fences, posts, sidewalks, homes, buildings, trestles, bridge abutments and railroad line side equipment, alerting other hobos passing through where they could receive a handout, where they would be welcome and which places they should stay clear of. (David covers these in the Survive In Place course as an alternative method of communication in a long term post-disaster situation)
The following are some of the most common symbols used to alert fellow hobos:
- A circle with an X in the middle signified “good for a handout”.
- A V signified faking an illness for food or a place to sleep.
- An M signified telling a hard luck story for food or a place to sleep.
- A cross signified “angel food”–food was served to the hobos after a sermon.
- A triangle with hands signified the homeowner was armed.
- A horizontal zigzag meant a barking dog.
- A square missing its top line signified it was safe to camp in that location.
- A top hat and a triangle signified wealth.
- A spearhead signified a warning that Hobo’s may need to defend themselves.
- A circle with two parallel arrows meant to get out fast–hobos weren’t welcome in the area.
- Two interlocked circles signified handcuffs–if found, hobo’s would be carted off to jail.
- A caduceus symbol signified the house had a doctor living there.
- A cross with a smiley face in one of the corners meant the doctor in residence would treat hobos free of charge.
- A cat signified a kind lady lived there.
- A wavy line signified water and if it had an X above the wavy line it meant fresh water and a campsite.
- A square with a slanted roof with an X through it signified people living in the house had been tricked by another hobo, and thus was not a trusting house.
- Two shovels signified work was available.
Savvy people learned/reverse engineered the hobo codes and made sure that the ones in front of their house/business said what they wanted it to say and, possibly more importantly, didn’t say what they didn’t want it to say.
The reason Preppers should be aware of hobo symbols is that they are still in use today, and recently I’ve stumbled upon a few sites promoting their use as a helping tool for people who find themselves on foot or riding the rail system, searching for help during a crisis. It’s natural for someone to share their good fortune of the food and water (and in some cases shelter) they received with others who are in need and point them to the household who offered them help where they, too, can get help. Most who show up on the doorstep of those extending charity through word of mouth and hobo signs will appreciate the help they are given and move on. Unfortunately, some won’t.
It’s worth noting that it’s been over 80 years since the Great Depression kicked off the wide use of hobo signs. Things aren’t as simple as they were back in those by-gone days when Americans prided themselves on self-reliance and people were expected to make their own way. It’s true that in 1935, the middle of the Great Depression, the welfare system was put into place to help single mothers feed their children and to help dependent persons through those terribly lean times, but the help extended was meagerly. At the heart of things, Americans still believed in self-reliance.
Today over 47 million people receive food stamps, and those numbers have steadily grown since 2008. Through entitlements like food stamps and subsidized housing, a portion of Americans have come to assume they will be taken care of. If those entitlements ever dry up, people’s fear and anger could quickly turn into a powder keg of riots and looting, and at such a time, it will become critical to approach charity carefully to avoid some who would otherwise take advantage.
Here are a few steps you can take to keep a buffer between your provisions and those who may not be trustworthy:
Deliver Extra Provisions To A Neutral Location
Taking extra provisions to a Church or a community relief location will give you a buffer. Then, if anyone comes to you for food, you can say that you gave everything you had to give and point them to the location.
Trust In Your Discernment
Discernment should never be underestimated. If you have a bad feeling about the person who has shown up to your doorstep asking for help, trust your instinct!
Show of Force
Greeting a stranger while visibly armed may be necessary if there is widespread looting in your area. It sends the message that you’re capable of protecting yourself and your loved ones. During peaceful times, this approach may seem over the top. But in times of looting and worse, a stranger who approaches should expect caution on your part.
Keep Multiple Stores of Food
In general, keep multiple stores of food throughout your house rather than keeping it all in one location so that you can sacrifice one if forced to and still have a chance of having supplies.
Give vs. Letting Them Take
Never let people pick what they want from your food stores. If you give them something, give them a little, and keep them outside where they can’t see your supplies, but don’t ever give so much that you appear to be overflowing with supplies.
(David’s note: We don’t plan on “giving” anything away from our house. We will give supplies to churches, cause mysterious packages to show up on our neighbors’ doors, and let people work for food, but we won’t “give” anything away at our house.
Also, never tell anyone or show anyone anything that you don’t want them to tell everyone. Getting a hungry person to promise you not to tell anyone what you’ve given them or what they’ve seen in exchange for you giving them food is going to guarantee that they tell you a lie in order to get the food. Any peace of mind that you get from their promise is false. Plan your words, actions, and what people see in advance so that they leave with the storyline that you have created…not one that you’ve asked them to tell.
I’ve spoken about this several times, but it’s worth repeating. If you have the ability, set aside basic supplies for local law enforcement. People have made immoral decisions to fill their empty bellies and the empty bellies of their families throughout history and providing for law enforcement in a long term crisis is one high-leverage way to help maintain order.)
Set Ground Rules
If this is all you can give, make this clear. That way, the person you’re helping won’t be as likely to send more people to you for freebies. This is by no means a guarantee, however.
If you plan to help others during a crisis, consider stocking extra of the following:
- Blankets–they can be purchased cheaply at thrift stores, garage sales, and moving stores.
- Canned food–many don’t require cooking and can be eaten cold during a crisis.
- Can Openers–they can also be picked up cheaply at thrift stores.
- Peanut Butter
- Canned Tuna Fish
- Protein or granola bars
- Trail Mix
- Travel-Size Toothpaste
- Body Soap
- Alcohol Wipes
Note: Although it’s sometimes suggested offering beans and rice to those in need, consider that those who are unprepared may not have a way to cook them. Canned and prepared food will avoid that problem.
Do you plan to help others during a crisis or do you plan to stay under the radar by keeping your preps to yourself? Do you have any suggestions on how to safely offer help to others in need? Please sound off by commenting below!
And, if you haven’t checked out Former Force Recon Marine, Chris Graham’s at-home 30-10 pistol training, please do so now by clicking >HERE< If you missed Chris nailing a 200 yard shot with a Glock 17 on his first shot, check out the article and video by going >HERE<!
God bless and stay safe,
David Morris and Survival Diva