Homelessness is a serious issue, particularly in the U.S., and there are many common misconceptions that people who haven’t experienced it have.
Someone asked people who have experienced homelessness to share some insight and the responses are eye-opening.
People who’ve experienced homelessness, what do you wish more people understood about being homeless?
Here are some of the top responses.
There are different levels of homelessness.
First “level” is you don’t have a place of your own but have friends or family you can stay with little/no rent charges. This is usually temporary because you have a support system, and is caused by something generally quick to fix (lost a job, house had a sudden flood, etc)
Second is you don’t have friends or family to help, but you have a car or cheap RV/fancy tent you can stay in. You can work to pay basic bills, use a gym membership for a shower, etc.
Third is the worst. No job, no car, no help at all. You might get lucky enough to stay in an empty lot or tent city for a while but there’s never consistency.
The thing to know is 1) because of the terrible economy, there are more people at the first or second level, and 2) not having a physical address can make it damn near impossible to get your life together. Most job applications want a physical mailing address—not a PO BOX. Most places won’t hire you if your clothes have a few holes.
I’ve only been through levels 1 and 2, thankfully, but I know people who went through the third level. It’s hell.
At first, it’s not bad. But eventually, Mentality changes. Some people get caught in that thought process of being homeless. Once you hit that point it’s really hard to climb out. I’ve been homeless twice. The first time I was about 20 yo. My parents moved into my based on income housing. The rent went up and my Mom is mentally ill so she stopped paying rent. I had to throw everything away. All my worldly things are gone.
I still remember giving away my favorite thing at that time which was a beautiful picture of comet Hale Bopp. Broke my heart. I slept in a van in the winter and cried every night. Almost broke me. I thought it wouldn’t ever happen again then fast forward many many years later and my wife kicked me out of the house. I’ve never been so close to the edge of losing it. She tried to take my kids away too. I lost everything again but have been building myself from scratch. Remember to be kind to the homeless. You don’t know their situation. You don’t have to give them money but you should be kind. Life is hard enough without someone being a jerk to someone down on their luck.
That it can happen to anyone
This. I came here to say this, but you beat me to it lol. There’s SOOO much truth in that short sentence, me and my ex were homeless in western Washington for about 3 years, sleeping in the rain and snow and always keeping a watchful eye open for people who want to steal/fuck you over in a heartbeat. Personally, I don’t believe addicts who live on the street streets can stay sober, my addiction went into full rampage mode while I was on the streets, I needed something to blunt me from my thoughts and the reality that I was facing day after day, being looked at as less than by others, having to steal food just to eat once a day, my list could easily go on…
I just wish people would realize that homeless people are still human beings and to not kick someone while they’re already down…
The reason why some homeless people can be seen talking to themselves is that everyday people treat you like some garbage on the sidewalk.
I was homeless for over 5 years. I have no family, came from poverty, did excellent in school, and fought for college on three occasions, eventually having to drop out each time when my 2-3 jobs couldn’t pay rent and college. I worked.
I ALWAYS could find work and worked hard but lived out of my car, eventually had to sell my car to help with what is needed to rent a place (deposit, first & last month’s rent, deposit for energy/water to be turned on, etc) and then the family sold the house giving me 30 days to move (which was completely legal I found out in that state) so then I was left to wander in a worse situation than before. Now with no car.
The loneliness was something most people fortunately never know. I was 23 at this point. I had gone through all of this since my late teens. As a woman who looks younger than she is, I was never taken seriously and seeking help was nearly impossible. I didn’t “look” homeless. So yeah, even institutions made to help the homeless refused to help. They’d give me a piece of paper and say call these places for resources. No phone, no car…the library was my only refuge. Anyway, I’m an artist and poet. This is something I wrote pertaining to my experience and loneliness.
never asking for more
than something to cover your back
or satisfy your stomach.
The poor wont feed you more than
False hope and whiskey
and sing songs of gasoline
and nightmares from stars
While your nose drips with
salt and your heart screams
with your scars
From empty dreams and sexless nights
babies of wheat and demons in sleep
They all keep you company.”
Edit To Add: I just paid off my first car since that moment and I’m 32. That’s how long it took to constantly work my ass off to reach the point of having a vehicle again. When you have no one, it feels impossible. I was on/off suicidal the whole time. We are not meant to be solitary creatures.
Gotta make hard choices every day. You only have 2 dollars in your pocket. Do I gas up or buy food? Gas gives me one more day of not being arrested by police for parking anywhere. I haven’t eaten breakfast and lunch, but a churchmate promised to treat me to dinner, so gas.
(Car was borrowed from my parents so I could not sell it.)
It isn’t as simple as “just get a job.” Not having a permanent address makes it nearly impossible. Employers also know where the shitty neighborhoods that the effectively homeless often end up in or where the shelters are. The further down you go the harder it is to get a job. If you’re from a neighborhood that people know is rough a lot of places will just bin your application. The places that do intentionally hire from the bottom do so as they know they can exploit you pretty badly in that situation. Places that work with special programs that offer jobs to ex-cons are actually the absolute worst for this.
There is also no “just go to school” either. How can I go to school if I can’t even afford to take the SAT, apply, or move even if I get accepted? Getting through school is also tough to impossible if you don’t have a proper support structure as one unexpected expense can wreck you. The help you get is often barely enough to cover basic expenses and schools are raising tuition to match the aid you get so good luck surviving anyway. Even then when you’re at the bottom and in survival mode you literally can’t think multiple years out. Everything is just dealing with your immediate needs as they come as you can’t save ahead.
Poverty and homelessness also come with a certain amount of inertia. You need to get your hands on things like presentable clothes, savings, a functional car, and so forth to really get back on track. This can take months or years. This is one reason that being among level one (called “effectively homeless”) even itself can be difficult to escape. If you have a place to crash but no nice enough clothes for a job interview and no car to get there then how do you even work to get money to get those things in the first place? If you can get a job it will probably pay horribly and if you have no way to get there reliably you might end up walking which of course takes time. Climbing up from that far down is hard. Not just is it hard but it can put people in situations that are actually completely impossible. If your solution involves the word “just” then you don’t get it.
That we need more shelters that cater to the 16-20 demographic
That once you’re given the money it’s not theirs anymore. I was a kid when I was homeless and I remember being cussed out because I used the money to watch a movie and eat popcorn by the guy that gave me it because “it was meant for food” in the lobby. Was actually a really happy moment to that point.
Also. There are a lot more homeless children and teens out there that most would never notice because they couch surf with families that “take them in” for a bit and the system in place to take care of children is a massive joke.
You are without so much that others take for granted: clean, running water; sewer services; cover for the weather; food source; bathing; privacy; safety.
That it’s nothing to do with choice.
People love to think that being homeless is the homeless person’s fault for being lazy and not getting a job, or for spending all their money on drugs.
I ended up homeless because I still lived with my family, my mother started abusing my niece, and I dared to tell my niece’s mother. My father sided with my mother and that was it. I was thrown out on the spot. I’m disabled, and getting a job is not an option – I’m stuck with my pittance of disability benefits.
The terrifying thing is that I only survived because I’m disabled. The law where I live means the government has to make sure disabled people do not end up sleeping rough, so I was able to stay in a hostel for several months while the gears turned and I applied for council housing. It was still hell, though – never take for granted the ability to shit in your own bathroom.
If I didn’t have the protection of that law, I would’ve been screwed. Getting a job is hard as fuck, I know that. Without a fixed address it would’ve been impossible. Having lived through it, having come that close, I simply can’t see homeless people the way society does anymore – if the government had suddenly decided I wasn’t disabled enough, as they so often do to so many, I would’ve been in the same place.
I was on borrowed goodwill, and for those people on the street it simply ran out.
How easy it is.
All that stuff you have–your job, home, boy/girlfriend, pets, car–all of it’s just a bad day away from going up in smoke. The average American doesn’t have any savings, and if you lose your job it only takes a few missed rent payments before you’re in trouble.
And it might be totally out of your control. Maybe you screwed up some major life decisions, like the classic image of being homeless, or maybe some coked-up douchebag bankers on Wall Street just crashed the economy again. It’s not always poor decisions that lead to the streets.
Haven’t been homeless, but I’ve worked with the unhoused. Cash is king. Don’t offer to buy things. They don’t have room. Food is heavy to carry around. The money you give isn’t yours anymore, and you have no claim on how they spend it.
A good night’s sleep is a rarity
I’m homeless right now. I wish everyone would understand that just because I’m not living on the streets, doesn’t mean it’s not hard. I’m staying with a friend’s family for the summer, and after that, I have nowhere to go. People I talk to are constantly invalidating me because I’m “not homeless”.
Another comment said there were different levels of homelessness and that’s absolutely true. and it really sucks. having no sense of permanence in your life is really hard. I’ve even had a few people say it must be fun for me to be with my friend all the time. I love her and I love her family, and I’m so grateful for them, but this isn’t fun.
Used to be homeless. Never understood the attitude of “don’t give homeless cash as they’ll just use it on drink/drugs”, like, what the fuck else are we to spend it on? I spent every penny I panhandled on drink and got as fucked up as I possibly could. Why? Because when you’re on the streets, all you want is an escape from reality. It also meant I’d sleep well, too. I’d have very probably killed myself if I’d had to endure the eight months I spent homeless and sober.
Homeless people can have phones that they don’t pay for, and they shouldn’t have to sell them. Phones are such an important part of everyday life now. They’re needed not only for emergencies but for jobs, housing leads, medical needs, etc. There are no longer many payphones to go to, most public places won’t let you use their phone, and neither will most strangers. Also, it can help alleviate some of the stress and boredom of one’s situation.
They’re still human beings and are deserving of love and kindness.
Homelessness may not necessarily be due to drugs or bad decision-making. It may be just honest good folks who have found themselves in a string of bad circumstances in life. It does happen to such folks more often than you think.
It doesn’t mean I’m lazy or dumb. Just like everyone at some point I had shitty luck for a while. I ended up being in my car parked outside of the place I worked. They were okay with it as long as I keep to myself and don’t throw your garbage outside. I was still working, I was able to save money for a while.
Yes, I did get a hotel every once in a while because hey, I needed to do laundry and shower. And try and relax my back from sleeping in the car. So being called lazy or dumb because I live in my car is unbelievable. Knowing you’re trying your hardest and to be put down so hard. Hurts on a new level.
Families being homeless: when they have to do things to help the other members of their family, I don’t know how common homeless families are but I was homeless on and off when I was 7-8 years old, sometimes I had to go to a friends house while my mom slept in her car, and I remember each night I sobbed and begged her not to leave me, sometimes I’d sleep in the car with her in a parking lot, we’d stay at cheap hotels, and overall was always hopping around (I don’t know if you would consider this as homeless but I know that I didn’t have a home) unfortunately at 16 I still have fears of being homeless, but I know how to make any place “comfortable” (or at least comfortable for long enough that I could get some shut-eye with)
It isn’t always our fault we are homeless. Some of us were kicked out by family, some of us were affected by bankruptcy and not being able to land a job, and some of us were never taught how to fend for ourselves in the real world. It really does feel like the world is against you at times
I’ve been living in a van for 2 years now. Legally speaking I’m homeless. I wish people realized how much the US despises the poor and the homeless. It is effectively illegal to be homeless. In my state, if you don’t have a residential address you’re not allowed on BLM of NFS land even for a night.
The thing I really want people to know is many homeless people desperately need help. They’re suffering from mental illness and yell at people who aren’t there, they’re hungry and tired and may have to dumpster dive for food. Many of them suffer the effects of hard drugs with no possibility of help on any front from our government.
The toll it takes on your mind. Everyone knows that the mentally ill are more likely to end up homeless but few people seem to know that being homeless will make you mentally ill.
I wish people understood that there aren’t always showers around that are actually free. I had to use a regular hand washing sink to somewhat clean my son (then 2) and myself. I hurried so fast and still, that the convenience store clerk called the law on me and had me search for drugs. She said I was shooting up? Nothing was found in the officer’s search of me, our bags, my son’s stroller, or the bathroom. I was scared to death to ever go back, thinking to myself “that woman really thinks I do that kind of stuff 😭” I never went back again.
Another thing, shelters helped us get food stamps so sometimes I would get my son a candy bar out of the $112/month we had on that card. People’s comments…you could probably imagine.
I had been caught breaking into some showers near this laundromat by someone who lived in one of the boat houses. She told me everyone had been watching me and my son sit there (I used the outlet to let him watch this Lego movie another mom had given us at the park.) So for about 2 hours we would watch the Lego movie and wait for everyone to go to bed.
I put my head down and my hands out on either side of me and I explained some of what had happened to us. I was keeping my son safe on the go. She let me sleep on her porch, and let my son sleep in her boat house with her family. I was so heartbroken to know that everyone around me was watching our struggle and could only gossip about us. I minded my manners and besides wanting to shower (we found an old key card on the ground and it worked!) And being caught, I gave up trying to fight anything anymore. I was waiting for 3 weeks to get into a shelter, and I have never struggled so hard before.
To have nothing like that is so embarrassing. To constantly have other people provide for my son – I had to wait this out. God was so good to us.
Something to know: “not all shelters are always available with beds.”