General Question

omph's avatar

How exactly do you escape homelessness?

Asked by omph (810points) November 29th, 2008

Imagine that you wake up in the morning and find yourself needing a haircut and only have one dirty outfit. You are on the street with no money and no family or friends.

How do you find a job? How do you find a place to live? How do you breakout of the cycle. Keep in mind that most of your energy will be spent finding food.

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52 Answers

Zaku's avatar

I thump and loot drug dealers using my wicked kung fu skills.

omph's avatar

Thank you for the thoughtful answer. I will try to remember your contributions the next time you make an inquiry.

steve6's avatar

Drive farther out of town.

shrubbery's avatar

I’d never have no family, so I’d be pretty set.
I guess it’s hard, and that’s why there are so many homeless people begging for change, but people do do it, so you’d probably be best asking someone who has.

steve6's avatar

Please excuse my crassness. A homeless person could read the want ads in the local paper, read them on-line at the library, become involved with a local church where many good souls would help with jobs, advise, fellowship (friendship), food, shelter, moral support. Try to keep a clear mind and focus on goals that would lead to a better situation.

omph's avatar

If you were in the position to hire at McDonalds you would hire the homeless guy over the high school kid?

omph's avatar

And if you get a job do you know how hard it is to find a place. First, last, and security on minimum wage can be damn near impossible. Or you could find a overpriced rent by the week hotel so you can go to work clean.

steve6's avatar

There but for the grace of God…

omph's avatar

Thanks for the bible stuff. I guess i didn’t figure mythology into my question enough.

Jesus Saves, Gretzky Scores.

steve6's avatar

I really didn’t mean to inject religion into the forum, it’s just that churches seem to do a lot for the homeless. Some of my responses are just quips, jokes, and cliches.

jtvoar16's avatar

Answering you question literarily. If I found myself homeless, that would mean I would have screwed up in a major way, however the question is posed as a “what if.” So, I wake up, remembering nothing of my past. I would find out what kind of city I am living in. If it is the city I am currently living in, then I would immediately head towards Focus On The Family. Not because they would help me find work and a home, but because I could befriend many in the church, and utilize the many ditches and stream over flows near the building for shelter. Once I found myself in a place of trust with the “high ups” in the “church” I would then proceed to blackmail them, ether into giving me a good paying job, or just for money. If I received a job, then it would be an easy jump to getting a place to live. If I only received money, it would be a considerable amount, enough I could pay for a years worth of rent at a cheap, crappy place. In that years time, I would get a job at any of the many, many, MANY, “fine” establishments in this town, such as the local pawnshops who value drug dealers over educated people (drugies are cheaper to pay, and think less for themselves.) I can easily pretend to be a drugie.
If I was fortunate enough to maintain everything from my past memory but how and why I wound up on the street, then I would head to the Apple Store, beg and pled, demonstrate my knowledge of their products and get a job based off that. I know plenty of places to get “fancied up,” such as the local “Beauty College” They are always looking for test subjects and learning aids, and what better learning aid then a homeless man with feces in his hair?

The problem with asking a question like this is, most people here have never been homeless, nor ever plan to be. The problem with that? We can only relate what would we do with the experiences we know. I have many friends in this town, all of which would help me out at the drop of a hat, however, if I had to ended up homeless after high school, or possibly even before (but those kids end up getting sold to Russia or Japan, so they do end up getting a type of home, albet one they pay for with sex) I would not have made any of these friends or connections, thus, I would have no way of getting help, or even helping myself.

Another consideration is the fact that most homeless people who are homeless for more then a month, want to be that way. People who really want to pull themselves out of the gutter, will. It’s the same principal the applies in the example of: If you have a hobby and really want something to do with that hobby, you will find a way of getting it. I would easily spend 8,000$ on a camera lens, however my friend would never spend that much money on anything but food and drugs.
If we both wound up homeless, he would probably end up staying that way, and I would have found lodging within a few weeks, unless one of my other friends let me crash at their houses.

So, in summery, to answer you question: I would wake up, walk to my best friends house, take a shower in their house, shave, then got beg at the Apple Store. Failing that, Walmart is always hiring, and they come with benefits.

steve6's avatar

Where’s the answer, Steven?

jtvoar16's avatar

Are you asking me? Cause my name isn’t Steven…

steve6's avatar

No, someone named steven was composing a response then it never posted.

jtvoar16's avatar

oh, okay. sorry. I wasn’t sure. Sorry about that!

LostInParadise's avatar

I am not sure what I would do. Homeless people have a rough time. I would imagine that after a while a lot of them become discouraged and give up. It does not help matters that many of the homeless are mentally unbalanced but will not be hospitalized because they do not pose a threat to themselves or to others.

basp's avatar

For people who havenever known hard times, it is hard for them to understand the mindset that takesover for those living in desparation. Sure, it makes sense to do things in a way that gives the future promise but when you spend all of your energy trying to secure basic needs such as food and shelter it becomes unsummountable to think of the future.
And then there is the stigma of those who think if a person is homeless it is because they screwed up somehow or did something wrong. While it is true there are those who choose a homeless lifestyle, the majority of homeless are victims of the economy, and other circumstances for which they have little or no control over.

bythebay's avatar

omph, I would start by removing the chip on my shoulder…oh wait that’s you not the htpothetical homeless person.
People find themselves in many situations that are beyond difficult every day. Certainly being homeless is a very real crisis, and is not an easily solved problem. As people have mentioned already this can occur as a result of mental illness, choice, or quite simply bad luck. As with any situation – you would need to pick yourself up and move. That movement could be toward a shelter, soup kitchen, church or any other place that reaches out to those in dire situations. There was a mother with 2 small children living in her broken car in a store parking lot close by. After a couple of days of begging for hand outs she realized their situation was not going to resolve itself in any way unless she changed it herself. She marched into the K-Mart the next morning, with her children in tow, went straight to the manager and asked for a job…any job.
He gave her a job, in the stock room. He directed her to a local church for temporary day-care for her children. A woman at the church sent her to a local shelter for a roof over their heads. A worker at the shelter knew a man who would fix her car in barter for her cleaning his offices, and the story goes on…It ends with her being the manager of the store 2 short years later and with her starting a cleaning business that now employs other people who find themselves like she thought she was, hopeless.

Obviously she has no mental issues; and her story started when she left her drug dealing husband because she feared for her & the childrens safety. Her family had long since shunned her and she had nowhere to go. My point being; she moved in a positive direction and made things happen. Certainly not everyone has this capacity nor the desire. So to answer your original question; there is no exact way to escape homelessness or any other problem.

steve6's avatar

Finally, an intelligent response. I’ve been waiting for days.

bythebay's avatar

It appears there are some other responses here that might interest you as well.

steve6's avatar

There are, I’ve read them all. It wasn’t so much what you said as your style of writing. I’m new at this site and really don’t know what I am doing. I just now got around to posting my bio. All in all it seems rather user-friendly. (This is the first site I’ve ever written anything on. I did, however, post a photo on flickr of an unusual moth species. That was actually my first interaction. I should be using these strokes for my novel but this seems to be “cleansing my mental pallete (sp?)”)

steve6's avatar

p. s. Thanks for the link. I hadn’t read all those.

Judi's avatar

I have not been homeless, but very close to it. It is real easy to say, “I’d go get a job at Walmart” but there are so many road blocks. So you found a shower, and got half way decent clothes and you DID get the job. How far do you live from Walmart? How are you going to get your shower tomorrow? Where are you going to plug in your alarm clock to make sure you get there on time from your cardboard box house? What if you have kids? Will Walmart pay enough to pay for the babysitter, much less housing expenses? What if your credit was wrecked because unemployment ran out months ago and the bills got behind? What if the reason you’re homeless is because you could no longer pay the rent and you have an eviction on your record? Even with a good job you’re going to have a heck of a time getting an apartment. What if you have an illness that makes it impossible t work? What if that illness is a brain disorder that also makes it difficult to realize you need help even if it’s available? What if you had a car (Maybe you’re living in it) but you can’t afford the insurance?
I wish the answers were as simple as “Get a job.” I hope we aren’t as heartless a nation to think that only the lazy end up homeless. Don’t pass judgement until you’ve walked in another person’s shoes.
If I were homeless, I would have to rely on the kindness of others, hope that resourses would be available to help me bridge that awful road block, and yes, trust my God to see me through.

bythebay's avatar

@Judi: Very well stated.

chyna's avatar

I see the homeless people standing by the exit to the interstate near my home everyday. They have signs that say “homeless, need food”, or “homeless mom, help”. I see lots of people stopping to give them money, as I have done also. Then I have heard many, many rumors that these few people are in a racket, that they truly don’t need money, but they own a mini van and a home. The clerk at the convience store has told me this too, as they stop in there to buy beer after their “shift” is over. I know people, including me, have stopped giving to homeless people because of this. So people like this are making it hard for people who truly need money. I guess I didn’t answer your question, but wanted to get this off my chest.

Judi's avatar

Those rumors used to bother me too until I realized that it’s the condition of MY heart that matters, not theirs.

bodyhead's avatar

I’m a huge proponent of the idea that getting homeless people off the streets can start with voicemail. It’s a pain to try and get a job if no one can get in touch with you.

jca's avatar

i have family, coworkers and friends that i could stay with, so if this did happen i would go stay with them. however, if i had no family nor any friends to help, i would go to the local social services department, tell them i am homeless, and they would hopefully direct me to the nearest shelter. there, i would utilize the resources that would hopefully be available to me, food, shelter, help finding a job, maybe job training skills (assuming i needed them). meals would probably be available at the local soup kitchen (i. e. salvation army or church).

Perchik's avatar

I have not been homeless, but I’ve spent a lot of time with the homeless. Firstly, until you spend time with them, do NOT judge them. Yeah there are a few addicts*, a few people who spend all their money on alcohol and drugs, but the majority of them are not. Most of their stories are very similar , they got behind on bills and credit, working for minimum wage, and they eventually lose their house. There’s so many people living at such a low income, that without their next paycheck, they would be homeless.

I’ve met very few people who have been on the streets for a really long time. (>1 year) most of them are just the result of bad circumstances. So please don’t treat these people like scum. It comes out in a lot of your attitudes and I really don’t appreciate that.

*on the issuef of addicts. On a cold night, alcohol keeps you warm and numbs the pain. It’s easy to turn to that.
With that said, If I were to end up homeless, the first thing I would do is to find a church. A lot of churches provide some kind of help for the homeless, whether its just giving them a good meal, or setting them up with some agency that is designed to help. In a lot of cities, there are homeless shelters and agencies that can help.


Of course that’s easy to say, but in reality, I doubt any of us have been there, so it’s almost impossible for us to imagine. I’ve slept out on the streets a lot of nights with some homeless guys, it’s not easy to live when everyone treats you like crap.

I agree wholeheartedly with bodyhead, cell phones are big deal in helping homeless people.

I think the biggest thing in helping me escape homelessness is your help. Please do something to help the homeless this holiday season. Donate you old winter clothes to a shelter, volunteer at a shelter or food kitchen (and talk to homeless people there. you might be surprised) , Buy the homeless man outside of starbucks a coffee and find out his story. Nothing matters more to them than knowing that someone cares.

Please do something.

basp's avatar

Your plan sounds good, however there won’t be room at the shelter nor will social services be adequate to assist you. In the last eight years, funding for shelters and assistance has been severly cut. This coming fiscal year the closures of shelters and assisting agencies and programs will increase like never before. Our local food banks have bare shelvesas donations are down. Local services offered by human services are being cut right and left. The bad economy has hit them just as hard as the rest of the population.
Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that is the reality. In our county in the past year I have seen five non profits that used to offer social services go under. Local government services are also being cut just as severely.

laureth's avatar

While I have never been homeless, I did date a homeless guy for a year or so in my sordid past. “Bill” worked for various local restaurants as a cook or dishwasher to make enough money to buy the important things (like beer) and would save up to be able to get a few months’ rent on a room for the cold months. He did other things like dumpster dive (because we have a transient student population that throws away perfectly good stuff rather than move it every semester). And sometimes he’d live in a squat, although I’ve never seen him live in the proverbial cardboard box.

The thing is, “Bill” really didn’t have the desire to get out of the situation. While I’m sure that most people don’t particularly enjoy being homeless, he didn’t want to be tied down to a place. He wasn’t that stable – he would move, or quit jobs, or go off on a trip to the Rainbow Gathering at the drop of a hat. People who habitually have homes and regular jobs are somehow different – they value different things than “Bill” did. (I’m one of them, which is one reason why “Bill” and I didn’t last all that long.)

Oh, and for people who think you can just go to soup kitchens and homeless shelters – those are not always what they’re cracked up to be. He would rather sleep in a snowbank than the shelter, because at the shelter you could get into a fight, or people would steal your wallet while you’re sleeping. The food pantries are running out of food nowadays too, because people who would normally donate can’t afford to anymore, or even need to go get food there themselves. Churches can help, but they often help only if you believe in the same things they believe.

Someone who is used to living in a home will cling to having a home as the ideal life – they have the passion and desire to climb back up among the “reputable” and will go to Socail Services and try to get help. People like “Bill” – not so much. He just survives. He takes under-the-table, cash-paying jobs, has a post-office box and a cell phone when he can afford them, and keeps living his life with none of that desire for a permanent home and “reputable” life that people expect the homeless to have. Some people are just different.

scamp's avatar

When I was in my early 20’s and newly married, My wasband and I decided to move from the west coast of Florida to the east coast. We had $900.00, which we thought was a lot at the time, and an old station wagon. We packed up all our belongings, bought a tent ( we thought it would be cheaper than hotel fees while we looked for work) and headed for who knows where.

That was in May. By June, the money had run out and the car broke down, leaving us with no where but the tent to sleep, and the car served as only a way to keep our things out of the weather. (kind of like a storage unit on wheels)

We were lucky enough to find a spot to put up the tent so we at least had some form of shelter. Back then sodas came in glass bottles, so we walked to town daily picking them up and turned them in for a small amount of change to feed us. After a couple months of this we swallowed what was left of our pride and knocked on the door of a small church, to ask the preacher if we could do some yard work or any other small job to get something to eat.

The lady minister was very kind to us and tho she had little money herself, she invited us in for some hot dogs and boiled potatoes.. a feast when you are that down and out. She allowed us to shower in her house, and during her sermon the following sunday she mentioned our struggle to the congregation. They raised a whopping $12.00 for us, but what helped us the most is the word of mouth that helped us to find employment.

There was an elderly man in the area who had some fishing boats, and one was in dire need of repair. He gave us a room in his house, and for payment, I did the housework and cooking, and my wasband went to work repairing one of the boats.

When the boat was finished, my wasband and I became the greenest fisherman you would ever hope to know. We barely caught enough to keep going, but in time we started to make a small profit for both us and the elderly man.

We could have gotten out of that situation with one phone call to my parents, but somehow I knew at the time I was learning a very valuable lesson in life, so I didn’t make the call.

So, that’s how we beat being homeless, by the situations of how and why people are on the street vary, as well as how they can get into a job and a home.

rss's avatar

I think a major problem with dealing with homelessness is that people are in that situation for different reasons, so only one response is not enough. Some people have mental health/addiction issues – only offering shelter but not health services will not fix this, or help them to get a job etc. Some people have children and can’t just take any job because they have to either care for the children or get them to school. Some people have been on the street for a long time and it is hard for them to reintegrate.

Then there are the logistical problems of even getting a job (some of these are mentioned above): if you are homeless you don’t have 1. a phone 2. an address 3. a place to store nice clothes 4. a shower 5. transportation. All of these are necessary to even look for work.

Shelter services are simply not available for everyone (except in new york where a right to shelter is in the state constitution, and even there it is more complicated). And, as mentioned above, shelters can be unsafe environments because of violence or theft.

Most people don’t “wake up being homeless” – they have had their living situation decline over a period of time from losing their home, to staying with friends, to not staying anywhere. That being said – if I reached that point I think I would try to swallow my pride immediately and head for a church or shelter. Some cities have services that offer a mailbox and voicemail, so I would try to sign up for that. Then… hope for the best and just keep going.

AlfredaPrufrock's avatar

This is an interesting question, because I’ve had a couple of incidents that brought me up short lately. First, my husband injured his bank this summer, and couldn’t work for 6 weeks. His income is based upon his ability travel and speak, so our income literally stopped for a month and a half, and at the same time, I had to write tuition checks for my daughter, so savings depleted rather quickly, causing me to be aware of how precarious our financial situation really is. Our lifestyle, while not lavish, is based upon two incomes. While my husband has recovered, the incident left me with a renewed commitment to savings and cutting debt. Secondly, our power was out for over a week, causing me to use the laundrymat. I was shocked at the fact that it cost me $20 to do laundry for two people for a week. It left me thinking that if I was a charity looking for an innovative way to help people, then running a low- or no-cost laundry facility would be helpful I ride the bus with a man who cooks somewhere, and is not very clean.

galileogirl's avatar

Judi had it right. For you “Get a job” proponents, read Nickl’d and Dimed by Barbara Eirenreich. At one point in my life I was working in retail at just above minimum wage when the nation wide company announced in late November it was closing in 6 weeks. (I feel your pain, Mervyn’s employees) I got my last check on New Years Eve and after paying my rent and utility bills, I had $20 to last until unemployment kicked in 3 weeks later. I ate at my folk’s house a couple times a week but I didn’t have any food in my house for 2 weeks but rice and the condiments in my refrigerator. The unemployment allowed me to do my laundry and apply for jobs. If I hadn’t been able ask family for a loan at the end of January to pay my rent, I would have been evicted and not been able to apply for the job that I was offered in mid-February.

140 people lost their jobs from the same store as I did. Some of them lived in a residential “motel” across the street from the shopping center and were living week-to-week. I don’t know how they did it without family nearby. Some of them probably didn’t.

Allie's avatar

It would be really difficult and definitely take some time. A change wouldn’t happen overnight. Fast food services like to hire kids because they do what they’re told (for the most part) and don’t ask for much. Although, if I were homeless and applying for a job I wouldn’t ask for much from them either. Honestly, I wouldn’t expect much from businesses that work the way they do.
Appearances are important if you want to even be considered for a job anywhere and it would be hard to keep yourself presentable without a place to wash clothes and clean up. There are short and long term shelters in cities like Berkeley that provide a place to stay (some for up to a year, I think) and try to help people get back on their feet. I think I would head for some place like that.
Personally, I couldn’t do it on my own. Maybe some people can, but I’m not one of them. And for every one person who does well there are more who are still trapped.

Jeruba's avatar

If I really found myself in this situation completely unexpectedly, I hope I would remember enough to head for one of the nearby shelters that give you a place to clean up and a decent set of clothes and then let you use the phone or computer to search for work. That’s the kind of place I prefer to make donations to, both of money and of used clothing and household goods.

But before the first moment of homelessness occurs, there has to be a last moment of non-homelessness, and a moment before that, when there is still time to take some kind of a step. if I saw eviction coming, I would do all in my power to stave it off. I have been nearly destitute more than once in times long past, but even if I lived on rice and soy sauce for a month, or bread and lettuce, the rent was always the first thing paid. The only exception was the time that my cat required emergency surgery and I spent the rent money on that.

Judi's avatar

As a landlord, I always love the excuse “My Car broke down. ” My answer: “Are you prepared to live in your car?”

jca's avatar

basp: i live in new york state in a very wealthy county, where there are definitely shelter services available. i know shelters are no piece of cake, but given the choice between trying to sleep in 10 degree weather or living in a shelter, i would deal with the shelter.

the problem with this question asked the way it’s asked is that most people don’t wake up homeless – it takes several important steps for them to get there, like mental illness, drug addiction, not paying their rent, ignoring social service mandates, etc. if i woke up homeless i know being in the condition i’m in (college educated, good job, no mental illness, no drug addiction,etc) i could go to a church and get someone there to take me in temporarily. i know the question is based on the assumption that the person would not have these choices.

Perchik's avatar

@jca, It doesn’t always take several steps. It really can happen to people who are living paycheck to paycheck. If you’re living paycheck to paycheck and something happens to you, you end up with medical bills. Things start being repo’d and its downhill from there. I’m really against this idea that every single homeless person got there because they did something wrong. That chain of thought leads to the conclusion that we don’t have to help them since they did it to themselves. Sometimes it is honestly just a failure in our system. The minimum wage is not a livable wage.

Judi's avatar

Are we going to have to slip into another depression for America to learn compassion again?

jca's avatar

i agree that a minimum wage is not livable, and i agree that not every single person that’s homeless got there due to their own fault. absolutely not every homeless person is mentally ill, substance abuser, etc. however, since i work in a local Department of Social Services office, i see a lot of them come in and they have mental illness, drug addiction, or they withhold their rent due to some other reason, or sometimes they go homeless on purpose as a way to get an apartment or Section 8 quicker than if they wait on a list. i see it all the time. or they don’t comply with a requirement of social services, like attending a program or whatever, and they get booted off the system.

bodyhead's avatar

Yes, we will have to slip into another depression for rich people to learn compassion again. The people with the most compassion are those closest to the poorhouse. The food banks aren’t as full as the once were because it’s mostly those living paycheck to paycheck who know the true importance of that food.

galileogirl's avatar

Rich people don’t learn compassion because the economy worsens. You learn compassion in the first 5 years of your life. Some of the corporate heads were embarrassed because they are still using private jets when their employees are being laid off, but that isn’t compassion.

Jeruba's avatar

Nice point, @galileogirl. People can also learn it by experiencing real hardship themselves. Hardship comes in many forms and does not always involve losing your house.

bythebay's avatar

bodyhead, I couldn’t disagree with you more. You simply should not generalize about people’s compassion, or lack thereof, based on their net worth.

bodyhead's avatar

You’re right. I shouldn’t generalize.

Unemployment and homelessness are up. Donations to food banks are down. Draw your own conclusions.

bythebay's avatar

I don’t have to draw conclusions. Compassion & giving are not directly related to someones income.

laureth's avatar

Perhaps donations to food banks are down because the people that donated are now unemployed and/or hungry themselves, not just because stingy rich people are more stingy when times are tough.

Jeruba's avatar

Hmm, but I think the point was that the principal donors were those same folks who were in the vulnerable tier and not those with ample secure incomes and investments. If the rich people give exactly the same amount as before, but donations are down and need is up, it sounds like a lower-level group moved from giving to needing, or at least from giving more to giving less.

And it makes sense that if you’re close to the edge, the responsible thing to do is make sure you can still take care of yourself before you give away what you’ve got—right? Even though that’s never going to win you a paragraph in the literature of noble self-sacrifice.

Not defending the argument or the statistics, just noticing the apparent intent of bodyhead’s remark.

laureth's avatar

Jeruba, I’m agreeing with you.

tiffyandthewall's avatar

i haven’t read every response to this question in its entirety, but for anyone that makes assumptions that the homeless are all too lazy to get a job, too busy pitying themselves, etc, do you know how many of the homeless have serious mental impairments? i’m not being sarcastic, i’m just saying, because i don’t think that’s something a lot of people think about. in extreme cases of impairments such as schizophrenia, it is impossible for a person with it to get and hold a job. and in many cases, the reason they are homeless is because of that. mental hospitals and things of that nature are not always helpful, partly because they are so full of patients that there is little that is/can be done for each person. there are some things you really have to take into consideration before you condemn someone who is on the streets. next time you see a homeless person talking or yelling to themselves, try to imagine the employer that will be willing to choose them for a job, even stocking shelves or unloading trucks.

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