What to do if You Become Homeless


Homelessness is a lamentable state of affairs which, given the current housing crisis, is touching more and more Americans every day. Unfortunately, given the historic stigma placed upon being homeless, many people that are on the verge of being homeless—or already are—don’t explore the various avenues of assistance open to them.

This only aggravates an individual’s, as well as the overall, situation. With federal, state, and local initiatives to assist those who find themselves without adequate, normal shelter, being homeless doesn’t have to be as tough—or as insurmountable—as it might first appear. Keep the following ideas and organizations in mind if you find yourself in the unfortunate circumstance of being homeless.

Discover All Available Safety Nets

The most important step in alleviating the pain and discomfort that accompany being homeless, is finding out exactly where the closest, most convenient homeless shelters are. There are a ton of organizations, of social, governmental, and religious orientation that can help you get off the streets and into a decent shelter. Take a look at the following list of sites, which will provide the most comprehensive ways to search for a safety net within your vicinity:

Swallow Your Pride

If you happen to have the bad luck to have lost your home—foreclosures are at an all time high, and are becoming a more significant cause of homelessness throughout the nation—you’ll have to stand in long lines, answer uncomfortable or possibly humiliating questions (people’s opinions vary here, but if you’ve come down from pretty high on the socioeconomic ladder, you might feel somewhat humiliated), and possibly even face the disapproving glares of passers-by.

Do not be disheartened by these realities, and learn to overcome your pride whenever it stands in the way of improving your situation. After all, many people that opine about homelessness in general have never experienced it, and therefore have no idea what it is really like to be homeless. There is nothing sadder than someone who languishes in misery, not because they have no alternative, but because they are too proud to seek out and accept help from others.

Prepare for the Worst

Sometimes, help doesn’t come as quickly as would ideally be the case, and people out on the streets with nowhere to go should prepare themselves for whatever situation may present itself, especially poor meteorological conditions. There is nothing worse than being homeless during the winter months, and having a notion of how to protect yourself from the elements will be key to your survival. Consider the following steps:

  • Dress with as many layers as possible. Put the thinnest layers, like an undershirt, closest to your skin, and keep the thickest layers, like a winter coat, on the very outside.
  • This applies to pants and socks as well. Tuck in as many of the layers as possible into your pants, except for your outer coat.
  • Cover your head with a thick hat; somewhere around 80% of the body’s heat is lost through the top of the head, so cover it!
  • Stay dry at all costs, as getting wet—especially with so many layers—can leach the warmth right out of your body.
  • Seek shelter, whether under natural formations in the landscape, or under a bridge, stairwell, etc. Heat vents are never hard to find, and can make a huge difference for spending a night on the street. Trespassing laws play against homeless people, so beware of where you choose to go, and keep a constant eye out for security guards or police. Unfortunately, in several states it is illegal to be homeless.

Find Pro Bono Services for Any Pending Legal Matters

The idea of becoming homeless in the middle of a legal matter is hard to fathom, but this is precisely the situation of many folks that have recently lost the roof over their head.

Finding pro bono legal services will save you a major expense, so that if you do have some money stored away, you can put it toward resolving your most serious problem, housing. The American Bar Association’s website, provides an excellent section on exactly this topic.
You can also read our article, “Find Cheap or Free Legal Aid.”

Locate Yourself

Though just about any homeless person that consults the sites listed in the first section should be able to find help and a place to stay, sometimes people fall through the cracks, either through lack of initiative or, worse still, because the system fails them.
If you have done your best to get off the streets but have been turned down at every turn, you may want to relocate to a community with better conditions for homeless people—either due to climactic considerations, or social welfare programs, or both. For example, finding a climate where homelessness won’t be so intolerable is a good idea if you’re facing a longer spell of homelessness. Again, the winter months are the toughest for homeless people, and therefore if you are in the northern parts of the country, consider moving farther south to warmer climates.

Never Lose Heart

Beyond all these measures, it’s important never to lose heart: many people get stuck in the condition of homeless because they enter a vicious cycle of depression and substance abuse. Keep yourself proactive, and allow other people to help you—though do not allow yourself to be taken advantage of. Take care of your health by consulting the National Health Care for the Homeless Council.

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