This is a followup to my post How To Help Someone Facing Homelessness.
The events that ultimately result in homelessness are wide and varied. There are literally thousands (millions?) of stories behind the financial emergencies that ultimately result in homelessness.
However, when facing the reality of homelessness, focusing on the reasons behind the current crisis is a luxury you do not have. Here are a list of actions to take and facts to consider. (Note: This information is specific to the United States of America.)
All Homeless, Regardless of Age
- Contact every trustworthy human being you know. Ask for suggestions and help.If there is an option other than the sleeping on the street, take it. Do not stop until you have exhausted every last resourced you have.
- Contact every non-profit, government agency and similar resource you have. If they have help to offer (including advice) take it. Do not stop until you have exhausted every last resourced available.
- Keep your mind fierce. You are human and worthy of respect. Remain focused on moving through this crisis and into something better. People will try to tear you down mentally and emotionally because they can. Predators will try to convince you that you are worthless and should just give up. Don’t let them succeed.
- Be polite and practice gratitude for all help received. This for your own mental health. While it is extremely important to remain on good terms with trustworthy people who provide assistance, it is equally important to maintain a positive perspective. A meal at a soup kitchen isn’t fun, but it’s keeping you alive and well-enough fed to avoid a mindset of desperation. Desperate people make bad decisions. remain grateful, recognize the necessity in what little you receive and force yourself to believe that things will get better.
- The party isn’t worth it. I don’t care who is going to be there or how tired you are of talking to people, politely asking for help and getting verbally kicked-in-the-teeth for trying. Do not go to any parties or bars. If you are under-aged or if anyone there has illegal drugs and the police show up, you will find yourself on a fast train to prison. When you are homeless, association and prejudice are the law of the land. Without money, you can’t pay for a lawyer – and people who hate the homeless (of which there are many) know this. Avoid those circumstances like the plague.
- Remember your place. Frankly, it’s unfair and frequently degrading, but it’s reality. Review the expectations of Deserving VS Undeserving Poor and learn to play the game. Simply going out for a beer, and being seen by the decision-maker of XYZ non-profit, can result in being denied for all sorts of necessary services. Being impolite to the wrong representative can trigger a cascade of nasty phone calls that will stretch out your homelessness and/or make your life significantly worse. There are many truly good people who are really and honestly trying to help people facing financial emergencies, poverty and homelessness. Sadly, there are also plenty of spiteful-gossips (and a few predators) employed by those same agencies. When you are homeless, you do not have the luxury of responding to nasty people in the manner in which they deserve.
- Trust no one: This applies to everyone but anyone under 21 must be doubly careful. There are nasty adults who will offer desperate children ‘help’ – and the result is far worse than sleeping on the streets. Be careful. Be very VERY careful.
Ages 0 to 12
- Ask your friends for help. Can you stay at their place for a while?
- Talk to your teachers and counselors at school. Ask for resources and suggestions for places to stay.
- Talk to coaches or youth workers at local community centers and organizations like the Boys and Girls Club, the YMCA, the YWCA and your place of worship.
- Contact other family members and/or every trustworthy adult you can locate and ask for help. If you are going to be placed in foster care, then making contact with trustworthy family will significantly help your situation.
- If you are avoiding DHS and trying to stay out of foster care, then find other kids and team up. A child on the street alone is an easy target. Being properly housed and protected by trustworthy adults is better, but (when that’s not possible) there’s some safety in numbers.
- Contact government agencies. DHS (a state managed program falling under HHS) is not the only government agency offering assistance, Family and Youth Services Bureau has additional resources.
- Locate a youth shelter and get connected to their services. (Hopefully they will have enough room for you to stay there instead of on the street). Sadly, there are far to few of these shelters available and many do not advertise. The local adult shelter will (should) know where these shelters can be found.
- Contact the adult shelters and talk to the people who work there. They will not even consider providing services or allowing you to sleep at the shelter (don’t be surprised) but they will have connections to the organizations that provide assistance to homeless children.
Ages 13 to 15
- Everything listed in Ages 0 to 12 applies to you.
- Find a job. You are now legally able to work a W-2 (legal, above-board) job. Do everything you can to get one.
- Get your GED. Dealing with homelessness and high school is both stressful and risky. With a GED you are legally eligible for a full-time job, which makes getting a permanent apartment (owned and paid for by you) significantly more possible. Missing out on high school can be a disappointment, but survival takes precedence. Completing a GED as soon as humanly possible directly (significantly) improves your chances of survival.
Ages 16 to 17
- Everything listed in Ages 0 to 15 applies to you.
- Get a drivers license and a car. Surviving homelessness is significantly easier when you have a car. Getting and keeping a job is also significantly easier when you have a car.
- Join Job Corps. Job Corps provides assistance, jobs and training. If you qualify, take advantage of the program.
- Research technical training programs. Don’t give up on the possibility of college, just plan to complete technical school first. This is long-term planning. being trained and certified as an automobile mechanic translates into immediate and reasonably well paying work. A bachelors degree in art does not.
- Look for grants and scholarships. Talk to government agencies and social workers (and everyone else you can think of) and ask for help locating funds to pay for technical school.
- Look for a women’s shelter. If you are 16, female and running from an abusive situation, a woman’s shelters will (should) provide assistance.
- Contact an abuse hotline. If you are running from an abusive situation (regardless of gender) there are services available.
Ages 18 to 21
- Everything listed in Ages 0 to 17 applies to you.
- Keep looking for youth shelters. Adult shelters will not admit people under the age of 21. Some will not admit people under the age of 22.
- Apply for assistance. You are an adult, so applying for assistance through government agencies is a possibility. Start filling out forms and keep it up until you’ve applied for everything (EVERYTHING!).
Ages 22 and older
- Look for an adult shelter. Adult shelters will now admit you – and youth shelters will (literally) refuse to unlock the door if you come knocking. Contact an adult shelter and talk to the people who work there. If the shelter is safer than the street, try to get admitted.
- Get a car. Having a car greatly improves your ability to survive homelessness and get a job. If at all possible, get yourself a working and reliable vehicle.
- Get your GED. If you don’t have a high school diploma or a GED, then make it your top priority. Not having one will make life very difficult.
- Apply for assistance. Start locating agencies and filling out forms. Keep it up until you’ve applied for everything (EVERYTHING!).
- Apply for the military. The military offers many benefits that are extremely helpful to people trying to get out of poverty. If you qualify and have a personality that is suited to the military, then it is an excellent choice. However, the military has a very specific and extreme culture. Not everyone is suited to the environment and early discharge does not look good on your record. If you realize the military is not a particularly good fit after joining, then do absolutely everything in your power to keep your nose clean. A dishonorable discharge is a HUGE BLACK MARK on your record. Employers rank this right up with a felony on your criminal record. Follow orders, remain polite and respectful and do not attend parties where drugs may be involved. Just be careful, finish your time, get an honorable discharge and move on with your life.
- Get a job. Everyone you encounter will give you this advice. It’s going to become annoying very quickly. Bite back your pride, proceed with the job search and target the highest paying work you have the qualifications and skills to perform.
- Apply for work through targeted work programs like those offered by the Goodwill, the Salvation Army, and non-profit Restaurants.
- Apply for Senior Assistance. Be honest about your age. If you are old enough to qualify for programs targeting seniors (housing, employment, medical, etc), then take full advantage.