Some people enduring homelessness are easy to spot, but many—perhaps most—are not. They’re living with friends and families, in their cars or in shelters.

For some faced with housing insecurity, the idea of living in a self-storage unit may seem like a viable option. After all, the monthly rent is cheap and it provides privacy and protection. 

The critically acclaimed television show Atlanta ended its 10th episode first season in an unexpected place, but one that is dear to our hearts: a self-storage unit. The episode ends with the main character, Earn (portrayed by show creator, rapper and comedian Donald Glover), retiring for the night in his storage facility holding on to the only money in his name: two $100 bills.

Another example of someone living in a storage unit was from YouTuber 007craft. He even made it look cool to live in a storage unit after a video of his lifestyle went viral.

According to his post, he had returned from hiking the Pacific Crest trail and had no place to live. Instead of unloading his belongings from a storage unit into a new apartment, the man decided to rent an even bigger unit and just move in. He spent $100 outfitting the unit, and paid $205 a month in rent, including insurance. (Although we’re not sure why he bothered to get insurance, since the policy would be voided due to his illegal habitation.)

“I have all the amenities of an apartment, just in a very tiny space,” the man says during the video.

While we are impressed by his ingenuity, this guy certainly endangered himself and the belongings of other tenants by occupying a self-storage unit illegally.

And you know what else isn’t cool? Getting evicted, which is exactly what happened to him—and will certainly happen to you if you try to live in a 24-hour access storage facility to dodge the high cost of real estate.

Why You Can’t Live in a Storage Unit

Aside from being against the law, there are many really good reasons why living in a storage unit is a horrible idea.

  • No running water. Storage units do not have running water, which is needed to maintain sanitary living conditions.
  • No natural light. Storage units do not have windows, and many do not have any kind of lighting whatsoever. Most storage units do not provide electricity either. 
  • It is a fire hazard. Speaking of extension cords, rigging a storing unit for electricity or heat could lead to a fire. Fires have been started by storage unit dwellers trying to stay warm in the winter or heating food in a toaster oven. Even a climate-controlled storage unit will not maintain temperature for human levels of comfort.
  • Proper ventilation is non-existent. In a standard storage unit, there are only four walls and a door. Without proper ventilation it is hard to breathe. Throw in a kerosene heater and you have a recipe for a fatal accident.
  • You will be caught. You might get away with living in a storage unit for a while, but eventually you will be caught. Most facilities have security cameras everywhere, and storage facility staff are trained to sniff out stowaways.

What It’s Really Like Living in a Storage Unit

As a member of the self-storage industry, we know that this is a really sensitive issue for facility owners and the people that attempt to live inside of a storage unit. Storage units are meant for your stuff, not for living in—and doing so is not legal.

As we mentioned, there is no running water or ventilation, and electricity is uncommon. A lack of these amenities creates unsanitary conditions when someone is living in a unit, not to mention an increased risk of a fire that could affect other people’s belongings.

But for those who do live in a storage unit, they often feel as though their only other option was the street.

From Becky Blanton’s perspective, homeless people living in storage units “is a huge issue.”

Blanton, who lived in a Colorado storage unit for four months in 2006, said she knows of at least five people who are living in storage units in her area. Meanwhile, Blanton said she’s got a friend in Colorado who manages a storage facility and has had to kick out several tenants who were living in their units.

“I totally understand why people don’t let the homeless live in units, even though they feel for them. I have a room in a house now and a roommate, and use my storage unit strictly as an office now,” said Blanton, who now lives in Richmond, VA.

“Finding safe, dry, warm, affordable housing is a problem for the homeless,” said Blanton.

Similar to Earn, Blanton’s journey of rebuilding her life started in a self-storage unit, despite how illegal, unpleasant and risky it was.

“I found out a lot about what it takes to live in a storage unit. The key is remaining invisible. And you can’t tell anyone what you’re doing,” Blanton told SpareFoot in a 2013 interview.

Becky Blanton
Becky Blanton lived for four months in a storage unit.

Common Consequences to Living in a Storage Unit

Living in a storage unit is neither safe nor legal, but it does occur, for a variety of reasons. According to a SpareFoot survey of nonprofits that help the homeless, it’s unusual but not unheard of.

If you are caught living in a storage unit, you will most likely be evicted immediately. That means you, and your stuff, will be kicked to the curb. You could also face potential criminal charges, especially if you have children, as storage units are not considered fit for human habitation.

“Being homeless, according to a friend, is like being a turtle,” said Michael Stoops, director of community organizing for the Washington, DC-based National Coalition for the Homeless. “You’re carrying everything you own on your back.”

Homeless people often rent storage units to keep their most precious belongings safe and to preserve what they can of their former life, Stoops said.

They also face another challenge. “When you’re homeless, you’re a private person in a public place,” Stoops said. The ability to keep their belongings in a secure place gives homeless people a renewed sense of normalcy.

homeless couple storage unit
This couple lived in an Arizona storage unit in 2012.

How Common Is It?

It is hard to gauge exactly how widespread the practice of living in storage is. An informal survey conducted by SpareFoot found that five out of 41 homeless social service providers across the country were currently helping clients who were living in storage. One respondent said that they estimate about seven percent of the homeless population attempt to live in a storage unit at some point.

We frequently come across news stories about people living in storage, and it doesn’t always end well for them. In Colorado, a man living in storage was found shot dead inside his unit. In Texas, a woman was arrested for endangering her 7-year-old by living in a unit.

So while we congratulate Earn on his new found independence and dedication to the grind, we can’t condone his choice of sleeping quarters. 

A Problem That’s Hard to Gauge

It’s pretty much impossible to determine exactly how many people are living in storage units in the U.S., but there are some indicators: media reports, as well as data from shelters and other organizations that help homeless people. At any given time, about 582,000 people in the U.S. are homeless, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

For our survey, we contacted 100 homeless services organizations in the country’s 50 most populated metro areas. We received 41 responses from nonprofits in 30 of those metro areas. The organizations that responded to our survey serve more than 120,000 people a year. Most provide emergency shelter, and many also provide transitional and long-term services, such as job training and health care.

The survey results: Five organizations (12 percent) responded that current or recent clients had lived in a storage unit and reported 14 such cases within the past three years. Five more responded they’d heard about people doing this, but had no specific reports from current or recent clients. The remaining 31 (76 percent) had not heard about people living in storage units.

Keep in mind that many homeless shelters and other service organizations don’t track such data, so our results probably underestimate the true number of people living in storage units. Prohibitions against this behavior also mean most people who engage in it do so secretly, Stoops said.

homeless man
At any given time, about 610,000 people in the U.S. are homeless.

Where the Homeless Are Staying

One survey respondent said she’d heard about this behavior for more than 15 years and estimated up to 7 percent of the local homeless population engaged in it. Another said that more people are talking about the issue, but noted it still involves only a small percentage of the people her organization helps. Two of the respondents that had specific reports of people living in storage units were in Southern California, along with one each in Arizona, Florida and Washington.

According to our survey respondents, a much larger share of homeless people are living in motels, with friends or relatives, in their cars or on the streets. And they’re less likely than many people think to suffer from addictions or mental health conditions. Instead, they’re coping with domestic abuse, layoffs, evictions or foreclosures.

One survey respondent was able to provide data on the backgrounds of its clients. More than half never before had been homeless, 79 percent did not struggle with mental illness, and 71 percent had at least a high school diploma. In fact, 6 percent had earned bachelor’s degrees.

homeless woman
Community organizer: “The majority of homeless folks are just like you and I.”

Homelessness: Almost a Full-Time Job

Homeless people also are less likely to be chronically unemployed than many people realize, our survey respondents said. Some are working full time and simply unable to earn enough money to cover all of their basic needs. In fact, the National Coalition for the Homeless estimates that at least half of all homeless people are employed, according to Stoops.

“Being homeless is almost a full-time job,” he said. “In most cities, you can’t get all the services you need in one location. You have to go to Point A for meals, Point B for health care, Point C for food stamps.”

Ultimately, our respondents said, the typical image of someone living on the streets doesn’t paint a complete picture of homelessness in America. In reality, homelessness can happen to anyone, perhaps because of health problems, disabilities or economic troubles. Homelessness even affects some of our nation’s heroes. For instance, roughly 6,500 female combat veterans in the U.S. are homeless, with some of them living in storage units, federal officials say.

“The majority of homeless folks are just like you and I,” Stoops said. “They’re chronically normal. All they need is a place they can afford to live in, a job that pays a decent wage and health care.”

John Egan contributed information to this story.

Photos courtesy of Flickr/Adam Fagen, Flickr/Ed Yourdon, KPHO-TV, Becky Blanton



  1. pathetic, they rented it they can do what they want with it as long as they leave it how they found it. you people make me sick.
    I dare you to walk in their shoes.

    1. Socially, sure. Legally, no.

      They make laws for reasons. I don’t know what those reasons were, but they must’ve been pretty good ones for a group of people to spend so much time writing them up and others so much time enforcing them.

      You should probably spend less time arguing that “the homeless should get to live in storage units” and more time arguing that “we need more homeless shelters; single-room housing for individuals and couples / two-bedroom housing (or apartments) for couple with <2 children /etc. needs to be federally subsidized." Similar to SNAP/Medicaid/Workers Comp. Must be working or looking for work, tracked by the government, federally-assisted job placement programs. All those great ideas that have so little exposure.

      You know. If you're interested in the social welfare of these individuals, perhaps you should argue in favor of social welfare.

  2. I personally do jot see a problem with someone occupying a storage unit. It actually sounds like a great idea if you have no other alternatives. It is safe and dry and secure. There is a storage unit in my town that is climate controlled and has a coded lock on entrance to the facility.

    1. No bathroom (they’re going to go somewhere, sooner or later…), outdoor units have no heat/AC, easy to get locked in; if you have children with you, they are unprovided for, could be considered neglect depending on what the relevant laws state. No electricity, so gas lanterns may be used for heat/light, poses a fire hazard and CO poisoning hazard in a small, unventilated area.

      Plenty of reasons.

          1. Shelters are expensive to maintain and support. Many shelters are run out of old buildings that don’t have much room. it’s not that simple.

          2. Yeah, that’s what taxes are for.

            Talk about it like it matters, people will think about it and agree, someone will take action, free people will complain and fight against it.

            Fortunately, somebody else out there who needs to feel important will do something about it.

          3. That would be a good idea for the government to provide, along with private donations and low monthly fee. A series of large sturdy box homes, like a small studio or cheap hotel room as long term housing for the homeless, especially the elderly, single moms/dads…etc.

          4. “Talk about it like it matters, people will think about it and agree, someone will take action”, ummm not true?

          5. Right, you’re the other people that keep it from happening by not agreeing, but if you agreed, I’d be right. Get it?

            Contrarian gets us nowhere.

          6. Walk a mile in a homeless Persons shoes….. Ive been homeless in Ocala Fl. for over a Year, Not once have I had the luck of being able to get into one of the shelters. Section 8 housing isn’t accepting new apps for over a Year. I have a broken back, am in a wheelchair, and $488 Disability a Mo. WTF Is anyone supposed to do with THAT.

          7. Amen! I feel it! I myself have a broken back, also have cauda equina syndrome. I only get $350/,month disability because “to young to have these problems” I’m freaking 25 and broke my goddamn back! I didn’t do it on purpose. How exactly are we supposed to survive on the piddleshit they give us a month? I can’t go back to work because my field was manual labor. Can’t do that anymore now. Wtf am I and the thousands like me supposed to do?

          8. And again, naysay instead of action. Hm, ionno, bring it up at one of those political rallies or meetings where you get to ask questions like that.

            See, it’s quid pro quo. Republicans want votes, you want action. In order to get votes, politicians take action. You give those good little boys and girls something to do and say you’ll hire them if they do it, they’ll do it. Get it?

  3. So, it seems that, one of the biggest problems facing our country, is poverty.

    Not gay rights, not society’s perception of women, not marijuana legalization, not transgender dysphoric individuals, transgender bathrooms, public breastfeeding. None of this special interest group BS.

    Homelessness, expensive housing, prevalence of and dependence on food stamps. Too many people are broke. They need more money, things need to be cheaper. Tax the rich, we have plenty of them.

    Mebbe we should rethink how this economy works, mayhaps?

    1. I agree that poverty is a huge issue (I disagree that the other things you mentioned are unimportant). I can not, for the life of me, figure out why people struggling to make ends meet would vote for Trump. He’s one of the worst rich people out there. He’s only going to make things worse!

      1. Yes, you can dissuade supporters of my opinion, though there seem to be bone because I speak on behalf of those who cannot stand together to form a voice, by changing the subject to a larger, more easily digestible topic bound to promote distracting argument.

        No, none of those things matter, these people complain because they did not know what to complain about, so they complained about the rules enforced upon them, in favor of people that treated them well. We can discuss psychology all day long, but that doesn’t day anything about helping the impoverished.

        Please stay on topic.

        You’re one of those “Talks about it for attention but does nothing g to help.” Kind of people.

  4. One problem I’ve heard of with shelters is that you have to get there by a certain time to get in. For example a 5pm deadline keeps people who work, say 9-5, from being able to stay, except on their days off.

  5. I sold my house last week. I rented PS unit. Every time I am at my unit there is a same car with the same faces a couple of numbers down from mine… They must be living there. I could not believe it…

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