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Answers to Questions about Homelessness


Answering your questions

Many people arrive on my pages about homelessness via search engines. Hubpages' dashboard tool allows me to see what terms people searched for that landed them there. Often, these terms take the form of questions. Because not all of them require a whole page to answer, I thought it would be a good idea to dedicate a page to answering these questions on being homeless. In some cases, when more than a paragraph or two is needed to give a good answer, I will link to a more in-depth answer.

As to where my answers come from, part of them come from personal experience of living without a home or from experiences working with homeless people and others come from my research on this subject.

In addition to answering internet search questions, I welcome your questions. Simply post your question about homelessness in the guestbook below and I'll do my best to answer it here or in a page of its own.

Homelessness feels a bit like this looks

Homelessness feels a bit like this looks

What is it like being homeless?

It's not fun, that's for sure. Imagine you've been assaulted a number of times before and you are out walking alone after dark down a street in a bad area of town. For me, being homeless felt an awful lot like that, most of the time. It makes a person very vulnerable to human predators and after a short time most people find this out the hard way.

When a person loses a home they lose a lot of things at once. Safety and security are gone. Possessions are gone because all a person can keep is what can be carried around. Relationships and friends disappear. Faith in family can be lost. Children can be taken away. Jobs may be lost if losing a job wasn't the reason for becoming homeless in the first place. Dignity is stripped away.

There's no regular place to bathe so it's almost impossible to stay as clean as one would usually like.

Most human beings are used to having somewhere to sleep, somewhere to retreat from the world, to have privacy. Homeless people don't have any of those things. Some of them are so sleep deprived they can barely function.

So, for many, homelessness is a life of fear, loss, filth, humiliation and profound exhaustion - not a walk in the park by any means.

You can read more about my experience at What I Learned While Being Homeless.

Homeless Children in Orange County

photo by Julia Freeman-Woolpert

photo by Julia Freeman-Woolpert

Why don't homeless people just go stay in a shelter?

They are not as easy to get into as one would expect.

This question has quite a few different answers. It depends on the person in question.

For me, my experiences with shelters were about as frightening as sleeping on the street. I was harassed by other shelter users and followed from one by a sexual predator. A single woman leaving or waiting to enter is a target for all sorts of unpleasant things.

While I didn't ever get robbed in a shelter, I was there when others had been. And while I was not assaulted in one, I had to fend off unwanted advances and offers of money for sexual acts both from other shelter users and from staff. Add to that the fact that I got both scabies and pubic lice from using them and you might get some idea why I only used them when I was extremely exhausted. At least you won't get parasites from sleeping on the ground.

For some people their reasons for not using them (in addition to those I listed as my reasons) may be the anti-drug policies some of them enforce, the long wait to get in, or it may be that they can't get in. There just are not enough "beds" in shelters to accommodate the number of people who need them in most parts of America.

You can read more in-depth answers, some of which may shock you at Why Homeless People Avoid Shelters.


Why don't homeless people just get jobs?

Employment difficulties they face

It seems like a person could just get a job and stop being homeless, right? This question about homelessness is so popular and requires such a big answer that I wrote an entire page on the subject - Why Don't Homeless People Just Get Jobs?

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photo by Sigurd Decroos, SXC

photo by Sigurd Decroos, SXC

How can one person or one family help homeless people?

Learn the best ways to help

There are a lot of ways an individual, family, or group can help homeless people. You can give time, money, or knowledge. You can work on spreading empathy for them and you can work for social change to prevent homelessness. The most important thing is to choose something and to do it. To help you decide on something to do to help homeless people I wrote a page called The Best Ways to Help the Homeless. You should be able to find an idea there or on one of its links which you and your family can do.

photo by Mark Csabai

photo by Mark Csabai

Why are so many homeless people addicts?

Drug addiction causes homelessness and homelessness causes drug addictions.

I think this is at least a two-fold problem. Some addicts lose control of their lives and become homeless due to their addictions.

But some people become homeless and turn to drugs or alcohol as an escape from the misery of living on the street or from self-medication for illness. It may start out as a swig of alcohol to get to sleep on hard ground or to get to sleep despite the fear of being assaulted. Alcohol might be used to serve in place of the prescription painkillers they can't afford. But it tends to escalate. Sometimes the person in question may even be trying to end his or her life in a semi passive manner.

I've asked some people who ask this question "how many times would you have to be physically or sexually assaulted with no hope of escaping future attacks on your person before you turned to the bottle either to die or to escape?"

But the fact is that many homeless people are not addicts at all, just people down on their luck.

photo by Cherie Wren

photo by Cherie Wren

Why Do People Become Homeless?

Reasons for homelessness are many.

Generally, people become homeless when something beyond their ability to cope with occurs and their social support structure, family and friends, fails them. Without a supportive family to serve as a safety net, almost anyone can lose a home under the wrong circumstances.

Since there are so many reasons people become homeless and most can't be clearly explained in just a sentence or two, I wrote the page Some Reasons People Become Homeless to answer it. Please keep in mind that it does not list every reason and those listed on the page are not the only ones.

photo by David Resseguie, SXC

photo by David Resseguie, SXC

Where can a homeless child get help?

Sometimes, a child can be homeless and alone. Sometimes this happens by accident such as through a natural disaster but more often it is due to abandonment or due to the child running away from home. Who would be best for the child to get help from depends a great deal upon the situation. If the child or teen has been abandoned or has run from an abusive situation, the police are a good place to start because a crime has been committed against them.

A reader asked for suggestions in the event the child is frightened of police. For whatever reason, children and teens that find themselves homeless may be frightened of police, whether parents instilled the fear in them or they've been on the street long enough to develop a fear of police on their own. In that case, Child Protective Services is a good option. If the child is attending school, he or she can seek help from teachers or other school staff such as counselors. Children and teens that find themselves without a place to stay might feel more comfortable seeking help at a church or from the parents of a friend.

Covenant House is one of my favorite homelessness charities as they specialize in helping homeless children and teens. They have a special, toll-free number that teens and children in the US can call - 1-800-999-9999. It's called the Nineline and the line is open for calls 24 hours a day. There's also a US line for teens who are thinking of running away from home 1-800-RUNAWAY which will help them through their situation and help them get the right help. In the UK there's a line called Runaway Helpline, their free to call number is 0808 800 70 70 and their URL is - they can be accessed by phone, text, or online.

I will be adding more to this segment as my research pays off.

What Do You Want to Know about Homelessness? - Share your questions here

anonymous on June 20, 2013:

Needed for my school subject THANKS :)

anonymous on April 03, 2013:

@anonymous: indeed also it's a good website but there in London so yeah

anonymous on September 26, 2012:

after doing a little research, i've come to find that is a great site for helping the homeless. They distribute your money where its needed.

WritingForChange on July 13, 2012:

This is an amazing lens, shedding light on a hugely misunderstood topic and dispelling a few myths about homelessness and homeless people. It's very easy to be judgmental when you don't understand the complexities of a situation. You've done a great job of unravelling and explaining some of those complexities here.

anonymous on April 16, 2012:

I hope I never reach that stage of despiration. I am already unemployed and by the grace of GOD I am still intact.

anonymous on April 02, 2012:

@Kylyssa: Kylyssa, thank you so much for your suggestions! I was really at a loss for ideas!

Kylyssa Shay (author) from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA on April 01, 2012:

@anonymous: Here are a few things you could tackle which would be useful and not come off as condescending-* Foot care for homeless people. It's basically the same as foot care for diabetic people. The amount of walking and standing homeless people do plus the high incidence of frostbite injuries often cause nerve damage in the feet of homeless people. Almost every homeless person you talk to will have sore feet.* Meditation or relaxation techniques, perhaps combined with creative visualization. It's incredibly stressful to be homeless; many homeless people never, ever feel safe, likely because they aren't safe.* Some kind of self-esteem exercises. Homeless people often feel like crap and like failures and society reinforces that.

anonymous on April 01, 2012:

I'm a nursing student and, as part of my psych rotation, I'm doing some work with homeless people, since such a high percentage of them are also mentally ill. We'll be going to a shelter next week and cooking a meal and we're expected to do a short educational presentation to the residents. My problem is I don't feel like I have anything I can teach the homeless that can be of any real value to them because they have such limited resources. I admit I'm quite ignorant about what it's truly like to be homeless, and I realized this when I started visiting shelters and food pantries and actually interacting with homeless people. I feel they have much more to teach me, than I do them. I would love to find out from someone who's been homeless or is familiar with homelessness, if there is something they would like to be taught that would be of real value to them while living on the streets. The only concept I've been able to come up with is personal hygiene. I thought maybe I could look into some free or cheap and easy ways they can keep themselves and their clothes clean, so that they can avoid health problems from lack of cleanliness, excess moisture, etc. Please help?

anonymous on March 26, 2011:

I needed to spend a few nights in a shelter some while ago and understand a little of why they would not be high up on the list for people who are homeless, everybody had to leave during the day and return in the evening. You answered question expertly, of course and hit it all where the rubber meets the road for sure.

Kylyssa Shay (author) from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA on December 20, 2009:

@anonymous: I just finished a page today that might answer your question. I've linked to it above but its URL is The Best Ways to Help the Homeless

norma-holt on December 17, 2009:

Kylyssa, another great lens on this subject. I guess it will be hard for those of us who have never been in this situation to come up with good questions. I have read your lenses and already know what the problems are and how to address them, but perhaps if you answer this question from a child's perspective who has just been kicked out of home, if lonely, frightened and scared stiff of the police, where would he or she most likely go to get help or to sleep? Its obviously too young for a shelter and extremely vulnerable from pedophiles, thieves and others.Norma Norma

anonymous on December 16, 2009:

What are the absolute most effective and helpful ways for someone to aid in helping those who are homeless? From the person you pass on the street who is obviously without shelter, to the people who sit on the sidewalk asking for money, or the people who hold signs that say, "Will work for food.", etc.How can one person, or one family, like mine, help? It's heartbreaking to think of the people who are outside right now simply trying to keep from freezing or starving to death.

anonymous on December 16, 2009:

I have more than one question or comment, so I will leave them one at a time. First, a comment. The thought of becoming homeless is truly frightening, and to think that it is just a major illness away, or the loss of a job away is even scarier. Having been homeless, how do you deal with the daily stress of knowing that it is possible for it to happen again?

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