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Why Do People Remain Homeless?

Kylyssa Shay was homeless for over a year in her youth; it lead her to become a homelessness activist. She thinks, feels, and has opinions.

Find out how some people get stuck in a state of homelessness by the things that happen while being homeless.

Find out how some people get stuck in a state of homelessness by the things that happen while being homeless.

Homelessness Becomes a Trap

The reasons people become homeless are often quite easy to see, but what is a bit less obvious are the things which trap people in chronic homelessness. Even if the root cause is remedied a person may remain on the street, sometimes for many years.

An unemployed person might find a job, an addict might kick the habit, a disabled person might qualify for Social Security Disability, or a mentally ill person might get successful treatment yet still remain homeless. The purpose of this page is to expose some of those reasons that people may become trapped in deep poverty and live without homes for long periods of time. In it, I try to answer the questions of, "Why do people stay homeless?" and "How does homelessness trap people?"

Abuse shatters lives, and those shattered lives tend to fall through the cracks.

Abuse shatters lives, and those shattered lives tend to fall through the cracks.

Homelessness Worsens or Even Creates Mental Illnesses

It seems obvious, but homelessness is not good for your mental health.

Homelessness often worsens mental illnesses to the point that formerly functional people become severely mentally ill. Many who start out mentally sound develop PTSD or other mental illnesses as a result of physical assaults, sexual assaults, sleep deprivation, or exposure to trauma. Often, many of those factors are combined together in the life of a single unfortunate person.

Some types of mental illness prevent a person from being employed or in some cases prevent a person from being able to care for himself or even unable to seek help from others.


Physical Injuries Can Create Disabilities

Homeless people are at a greater risk of sustaining disabling injuries than people with dependable housing.

Some people gain a disability from severe injuries that they cannot get proper treatment for. Assault is often a cause of injury. Head injuries due to beatings or fights are very common. Exposure to the elements can also cause injuries such as frostbite which, if left untreated can lead to the loss of digits, dexterity, or mobility.

Once someone becomes physically, mentally, or emotionally disabled, getting out of homelessness becomes extremely difficult.

photo by Simon Gray

photo by Simon Gray

Disabilities Can Trap People On The Street

Some homeless people have an inability to work due to physical or mental disability. Some are so mentally ill that they are not even able to apply for what meager assistance is available to select individuals. Additionally, the Social Security Disability application process is not easy to navigate even if one is emotionally and mentally stable. Without a contact phone and address, it might be impossible.

Additionally, the process of applying for Disability is lengthy. The first rejection usually takes about six months and appeals can take up to a year to get the next rejection. Over two thirds of disabled people who apply for Social Security Disability (and eventually qualify) are rejected the first time they apply. Also, most people wait until they are out of money and have been disabled for some time so they don't have enough savings to live on for the typical one to three year wait for approval. Most Americans don't have enough saved up to survive without new income for even six months, much less three years.

Once they lose their home, people have extreme difficulty jumping through the bureaucratic hoops; they can't be available to wait for a call and don't have a dependable address to get the appointment letters mailed to them. And when SSA makes an appointment for them a hundred miles away, they have no way to get there. People who are already homeless who then become disabled are in an extremely difficult situation.

When I filed for Social Security Disability, there was so much paperwork mailed to me to mail back with more information, each piece extremely time-sensitive. Even having a home, I missed one "return by" date because the piece of mail requesting the information arrived the day it was due. I was able to call and fax the information the same day, but it was a very near thing. A homeless person probably wouldn't have gotten the piece of mail (using a friend's address, general delivery, or a PO Box doesn't lend itself to frequent mail checking) in time and probably wouldn't have access to a fax machine. They also often lose all of their ID and other vital paperwork and can't slip a copy in the mail on short notice.

How Hard Could It Be?

How hard is it to escape homelessness?

photo by Istvan Markus

photo by Istvan Markus

Age Makes Escape Less Likely

Most elderly people become unable to work eventually. If they have no family willing to support them they will often lose their homes. While some elderly people can collect Social Security, it is often either too little or too late.

The average Social Security check elderly Americans collect is usually not enough to pay for housing, food, and utilities. This can sometimes be solved by getting roommates, but then the death of roommates often leaves elderly people without enough to cover rent and expenses.

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For some elderly people, Social Security comes too late. Many people develop age-related diseases or conditions long before they reach 65-70 years of age, especially if they work in manual labor, retail, or any other standing-only job. Many don't have adequate medical insurance to properly treat illness or injury, or if they do, they don't have the real ability to take time off of work to have even vital surgeries or to recover from serious illness. While there are laws providing for medical leaves in many states, in practice, few businesses that don't pay a living wage actually allow such leaves to be taken. Low wage businesses, especially in states with "at will employment" where the employer can fire employees at any time without any reason or repercussions and the employee can quit at any time, but will be blacklisted, frequently just terminate employees who are sick, ill, or elderly.

A significant percentage of people become too ill or frail to work long before they qualify for retirement and must try to navigate Social Security Disability which can take years to get. Once they become homeless it is very difficult for them to collect either.

photo by Ben Yokitis

photo by Ben Yokitis

Preconceptions Employers and Landlords Hold

If you are homeless, landlords and employers will assume you are a drug-addicted criminal who is mentally ill. Although not all homeless people have problems with addiction the societal perception is that they do.

Additionally, there is a perception that they are morally inferior to people with homes which compounds this problem.

Employers will often pass over people with even slightly spotty work histories any time in the past, even decades before, or without a proper phone number and address on their job application. Additionally, many employers will not even consider hiring someone they know is, or has been, homeless.

But even if a someone gets a job and finds affordable housing he or she may not be able to rent a place to live. Landlords often reject renters with any history of homelessness, unemployment, or bad credit ratings. Some landlords may even charge a double deposit to currently or formerly homeless people, making affordable housing less far so.

Would You Look Beyond the Stereotypes? - Assuming you were a business owner or manager or a rental property owner would you hire or rent to a homeless man, woma

photo by Lychee

photo by Lychee

Just as Addiction Brreds Poverty, Poverty Breeds Addiction

Some homeless people gain an addiction due to the mental and emotional stress of their situation, or they turn to drugs to ease the pain of improperly healed injuries or age related maladies. Sometimes it's a conscious or unconscious effort to commit slow suicide. If you already have an addiction, it is fairly likely to spiral out of control once you are homeless.

photo by Wojciech Wolak

photo by Wojciech Wolak

Lack of Medical Care Is a Trap

If you are homeless a treatable illness may keep you from working because you cannot get treatment for it. Emergency rooms are required to treat people without insurance but they do not treat chronic illnesses or progressive diseases. Clinics which provide comprehensive care at no cost are very few and those who need them may not be in any condition to find them.

Family and Friends Won't Help or the Welcome Soon Runs Out

Family, friends, and acquaintances will usually not help out, often not even the well-to-do adult children of elderly homeless parents. They share the cultural fear and disdain toward homeless people. Any feelings of affection they may have had for you will be overshadowed by their fear, disdain, or hatred of homeless and poor people. Lack of money is too closely associated with immorality and crime in our country for people without it to have any real degree of safety.

You may think your family and friends would step up to the plate if you were in danger of homelessness but chances are, they wouldn't. I know this sounds like a bizarre statement, but I've seen it play out many, many times. Most homeless people find out the hard way that most of their friends and family only value them if they maintain their social status and wealth.

photo by foxumon, SXC

photo by foxumon, SXC

Status Crimes

Sometimes, being homeless is a crime in and of itself!

Many people without homes develop criminal records because in many places, being homeless is a crime because it causes one to sleep outside. Public urination is another major problem because it can get the person labeled as a sex offender. People with criminal records often have difficulty securing either jobs or housing.

Lost or Stolen ID Hampers Job Searches and Apartment Rental

Homeless people often lose their ID through theft. Sometimes they lose their ID in other ways. They may also end up abandoning their pack while being pursued by assailants. If your ID has been lost or stolen you will have great difficulty getting it replaced, and even greater difficulty getting a job or apartment without it.

Without ID, a person cannot get assistance and may even have his or her citizenship status questioned in some states, especially if he or she is of Mexican or Native American descent.

photo by unidentified photographer via Wikimedia Commons

photo by unidentified photographer via Wikimedia Commons

Lack of Job and Social Skills

Homeless teens often become chronically homeless adults because they lack social skills and job skills. When a parent discards a teenager there are usually severe repercussions in the entire life of the child.

Many of them are also voluntary or involuntary school drop-outs. Without at least a high school diploma it's very hard to get a job.

Other people lose their homes due to their lack of job skills and social skills and it's difficult to remedy those deficiencies.

© 2010 Kylyssa Shay

Why Do You Think People Stay Homeless?

Victor Smith from North Platte, Nebraska on January 13, 2019:

I have been one of the Homeless, Couldn't Afford the Proper Meds. Companies that are Hiring will give an Interview, but as Soon as you Mention anything About taking Meds. for any Type of Mental Reason ,

They(Company Management ) Have All Ready put a BIG NOT on Your Appilcation!!

gwenn on November 09, 2018:

I picked a tag off our angle tree at church last Sunday. I was told the child I chose was a 9 year old girl, living in a homeless shelter. This is the first time I have ever had to give a serious though to giving to a child. Trying not to make her a target for theft or someone that would hurt her to get her things. Something that she can keep and carry with her as well as something useful and is her very own. God bless this child and others like her and me in making this a special Christmas for her. This is a special Christmas for me too, a first.

BoulderHomeless on December 23, 2016:

There are so many misconceptions about the homeless. With no ID you can do almost NOTHING.

Lorelei Cohen from Canada on October 03, 2012:

I read your comment that someone had asked why this lens does not donate it's proceeds to homelessness if you care so much. I also had similar comments raised on a couple of my articles. It always shocks me when I see something like that. Each person gives back in their own way. If your articles change the attitude of even a few people on homelessness then you have given back far more than the proceeds of one article could ever. Blessings.

anonymous on July 09, 2012:

Trouble occurs in family's, Someone was supported for a long time, now they have to fend for themselves and whatever was acquired in the family like animal they get stuck with. Kids is a big thing to. .Economy sucks. No insurance for them to do anything for their health or medicines they need. Abused, fed up, some people are bipolar or schizo, and don't realize it either. Don't care anymore, just drink to not care, and they don't want that. Some can get strong, and some just fall apart, because they can't handle it anymore. No one paid them any mind or felt their pain. You have to be compassionate to help people that are really bad, not the pretenders.

anonymous on March 06, 2012:

Quite simple; the system is broken. When you introduce coercive prejudices (AKA laws) to the economy, the economy changes in unpredictable ways that are not based directly on rational interests. Jobs would be easier to find if regulations weren't making it harder to hire people; even the much-praised "minimum wage" made human labor less worthwhile and encouraged mechanization, and I'm sure that the increase in money in circulation from people being paid more made everything more expensive.From what I understand, one way for the homeless to get money is to work "under the table" for a few dollars doing minor tasks that would be more expensive for an employee to do.

soaringsis on January 12, 2011:

There must be many reasons why people stay homeless. One might be that they have a distrustof anyone due to others not understanding them or from being terribly abused.Some of us need professional help in coping with everyday life.If we could get help for everyone our world would be a much better place.

anonymous on August 14, 2010:

HI.and thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my opinion with the readers ,my name is Hala I always had a sensitivity toward homeless people , I like to talk to them and to help as much as I can. Unfortunately homelessness is a problem that we suffer from as society and to effect change we have to work together to lessen this problem. It is something which should effect each and every one of us and we all can do something even if it is small but we can make a difference by talking to people and also trying to help them get out of their situation by helping them finding jobs and places to stay. When I came to this country 24 years ago my brother took me downtown LA and showed me the homeless people. I was shocked to see as many homeless people in a great country like this country and it saddened me a lot. Since then I always want to do something to help and I always will God-willing.

SafeCard LM on June 22, 2010:

HI.,You are so right about this stuff. We need to be more careful with this kind of thing. You shared some very good tips on here.Thanks!!

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