While most people have an idea about what being homeless means, the true definition of the word applies to more individuals than anyone might imagine.
Being homeless means someone lacks a regular nighttime residence, which often means they have to sleep in a public or private place not necessarily intended for someone to live in.
This also applies to those who are living in temporary or transitional shelters.
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In the United States alone, more than half a million people do not have a place to call home. Of those without a permanent residence, nearly half are families, and one quarter are children. Near 8% of the homeless population throughout the country are military veterans, and while this demographic currently represents a small portion of the homeless, there are at least 1.4 million more veterans at risk of not having a permanent home.
Anyone can become homeless due to many uncontrollable factors. Economic and social reasons including low income, little-to-no access to affordable housing, or medical issues may contribute to homelessness. These can all lead to becoming homeless, and the uncertainty that comes with not having a permanent residence can be devastating.
Being homeless creates a vicious cycle for families and individuals that can cause a long-term problem. And there are several challenges that plague those who find themselves in this situation.
Finding a solution to homelessness is not straightforward, but individuals and families experiencing homelessness can use the following resources to find the help they need.
Starting Out: First Steps to Take
Those who are currently homeless or facing homelessness in the near future can take steps today to get back on their feet. The first and most important step is seeking out the right assistance program, either through local organizations or the government.
A quick search online or a call to a housing organization or program can provide insight on what is available, and you can learn more about the process for applying for a certain program. Whether that is an emergency shelter, transitional housing, or a subsidized rental, individuals without a permanent residence should follow these simple steps to apply for the type of shelter that best meets their needs.
Need a phone or a computer? Public libraries and some homeless shelters have computers available to the public, allowing individuals to conduct their own searches online. In most cases, these locations will have phones available as well.
After the critical step of finding temporary housing is complete, finding employment is the next step toward ending homelessness. Many shelters and transitional housing programs offer resources that help with finding jobs through local businesses, resume building, interview training, and general skills education. Additionally, there are several search engines online through publicly-available computers (like the library’s) that can help individuals find job opportunities.
With the right workforce opportunities, homeless individuals and families have the ability to find a well-paying job that provides the path toward financial stability – one of the most important things to do when trying to get out of homelessness.
Programs That Help the Homeless
Many programs are available to individuals living without a place to call home, but it can be a challenge to understand the basics, their differences, and how they may play a part in getting out of homelessness. Here are several help programs designed to set people down the path toward stability and security.
1) Federal Homeless Assistance Programs
The federal government, through the Department of Housing and Urban Development, has several programs developed specifically for those facing homelessness.
Some of the most prevalent include the Continuum of Care Program, the Emergency Solutions Grant Program, the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing Program, and the Title V Program.
Continuum of Care Program (CoC)
Under CoC, individuals, youth, and families facing homelessness are provided resources that assist with finding and moving into transitional and permanent housing. With the help of community-wide planning and the strategic use of local resources, CoC is meant to offer those living without a permanent residence direction on how to overcome their circumstances and move toward a place of stability and security.
Each local non-profit organization that receives grant funding through CoC has the flexibility to design programs for the homeless in their communities that works best to meet the needs of individuals and families without a home.
The CoC program is federally funded, but it is implemented through non-profits, state and local governments, and public housing agencies that are eligible to participate in the program. With that being said, the level of commitment and care can vary from region to region. CoC funding may be used to offset or fully cover the cost of implementing homelessness prevention initiatives, the development or maintenance of permanent and transitional housing, and providing supportive services to the homeless.
A list of grant recipients can be found on the CoC website, along with the services each organization provides and where they are located. Individuals facing homelessness may use this directory as a resource to find temporary or permanent housing and support services to help them overcome homelessness.
Emergency Solutions Grant Program (ESG)
Made available to metropolitan cities, urban counties, and eligible states, the ESG program is intended to engage homeless individuals and families currently residing on the street.
With the help of federal funding, ESG grant recipients focus on street outreach, providing emergency shelter, homelessness prevention, and re-housing assistance. Grant funding also helps improve community shelters operation and with offering essential services to shelter residents.
In some cases, ESG program dollars awarded to a specific city, county, or state are dispersed to local non-profit organizations to directly help homeless individuals and families in need.
Similar to the CoC program, ESG award recipients are listed on the HUD website by location, helping those currently experiencing homelessness a resource for finding shelter.
HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing Program (HUD-VASH)
Homelessness in the veteran population is a growing concern among local and federal agencies and organizations, and the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing Program was established to help fight the problem.
Through HUD-VASH, the Department of Housing and Urban Development has partnered with Veterans Affairs to provide housing vouchers to veterans who are currently homeless. Recipients of HUD-VASH benefits must meet certain eligibility requirements including meeting certain health care criteria, homelessness status, and income. There is, however, no requirement that homeless veterans be chronically mentally ill or have a substance abuse disorder to receive HUD-VASH assistance.
The HUD-VASH program provides vouchers that can be used for rental assistance through an eligible public housing agency based on the need of the veteran community in each area. Once a voucher is received and used, the veteran and his or her family must have case management from the VA until services are no longer needed.
An extensive HUD-VASH resource guide is available online which details program specifics along with eligibility to receive program benefits by veterans and their families.
Title V Program
The Title V program is expansive legislation that allows certain organizations to use underutilized, excess, or surplus federal property to assist the homeless population. States, local governments, and non-profit organizations may use land or buildings by leasing the property at no charge to provide shelter, support services, storage, and other benefits to individuals and families experiencing homelessness.
Each week, the Department of Housing and Urban Development makes suitability determinations on available federal properties and publishes the details online. Non-profit organizations along with states and local governments can apply for use of these assets. These buildings are offered with a fee-free lease ranging from one to 20 years.
Individuals and families currently experiencing homelessness may reach out to their local government to see if there are any Title V properties being utilized as shelter or support service offices in their area.
2) Private Homeless Assistance Programs
In addition to federal homelessness programs, there are also several private organizations that provide help to those facing or currently experiencing homelessness. Each program has specific guidelines as to who may participate, how much aid or funding is available, and the reach of its services. The most widespread private programs are detailed below.
Throughout the United States and some parts of Canada, 211 operates as a non-profit organization. It offers a variety of community resources in local areas.
With a simple call to 2-1-1, individuals are connected to a specialist who is able to quickly and efficiently provide guidance on the available organizations and programs that offer critical services in the area such as shelter and housing options, utility assistance, supplemental food and nutrition programs, and employment and education opportunities.
Being able to call 211 is important. While some areas might have public phones, the public library is a great place to look when trying to find a free phone to use.
211 also offers specific services to veterans and their families such as health care information, addiction prevention and rehabilitation programs, and support groups for individuals with special needs or mental illness. All of these connections are made available for free to those who call; they are supposed to be a confidential and safe way out of critical circumstances like homelessness.
The organization works diligently to help the homeless population by giving information about emergency shelters in one’s area, as well as opportunities for securing subsidized housing, housing vouchers, rental assistance, and financial help for the elderly or disabled.
211 is backed by millions of donations each year made possible by the United Way and a large network of community-focused non-profit groups and volunteers. Those facing homelessness or currently living without a permanent residence can dial 2-1-1 to be immediately connected to a resource specialist, or they can visit the organization’s website.
Volunteers of America
As a national organization, Volunteers of America has a dedicated program to help those facing or currently experiencing homelessness through a vast network of individuals and community-based resources. The non-profit organization provides services ranging from eviction prevention, emergency services, transitional housing, and permanent affordable housing to the homeless.
Volunteers of America also offers ongoing support services to ensure the individual or family receiving assistance is able to truly get back on their feet. Individuals seeking help to get out of homelessness can utilize the Volunteers of America website to find available resources and housing in their local community.
Here are a few specific ways that the Volunteers of America can help:
- They can provide up to one month’s rent for temporary or permanent housing.
- The organization also makes available homeless shelters throughout the country as well as drop-in centers that provide a temporary reprieve from living on the streets.
- Permanent supportive housing opportunities are also provided, typically with consistent, supportive care services to encourage self-sufficiency and long-term success.
National Coalition for the Homeless
The National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) is a large organization tackling the issues that come with homelessness for millions of Americans. The coalition provides a networking platform for those who are currently or who have experienced homelessness as well as advocates and other service providers working to end homelessness.
The program also helps ensure that the immediate needs of homeless individuals and families are met. The NCH also has a driving mission to protect the civil rights of the homeless population in the communities it serves.
The coalition works with a large network of non-profits, state and local governments, and housing agency organizations across several states including Connecticut, Louisiana, New Hampshire, Washington, DC, California, Massachusetts, Washington, Ohio, and Florida. Visiting the NCH directory provides individuals in need of assistance a quick and easy way to search for local resources that may be able to provide help.
The NCH directory includes health care providers for the homeless, shelters for men, women, and families, transitional housing organizations, food pantries, HUD local offices, and affordable federal housing agencies. The NCH website is a helpful tool in finding the right resources for those experiencing homelessness.
The Salvation Army
Throughout the United States, the Salvation Army is well known for its ongoing community work in the fight to end homelessness. Nearly 30,000 individuals find shelter, food, and support through the Salvation Army each night which is made possible through donations from individual donors across the globe.
The non-profit organization focuses its efforts on providing emergency shelters for those facing extreme weather conditions, like unbearable heat and dangerous cold. The organization also maintains group homes and transitional living centers that assist with food, shelter, educational support, and counseling to those who are homeless.
The Salvation Army also offers special support services to the homeless such as the cultivation of life skills, vocational direction, and family service programs that work to keep parents and children together. Additional services like meal planning, long-term housing assistance, and utility assistance are also made available to individuals and their families.
Local Salvation Army centers can be found through a quick zip code search on the organization’s website. Remember to check the local library for access to a computer.
Useful Resources and Tips
Being homeless can feel like there is no way out. The resources listed above can be helpful in finding shelter and housing for getting back on a path toward stability and security.
However, in addition to finding safe shelter, food, and support services, individuals can put their time and energy into securing gainful employment as well as understanding their housing options in general.
Finding a job is a big step in supporting yourself out of homelessness, so finding a stable income is an absolute necessity. Additionally, all the different housing options can get confusing, so it pays to understand them if you’re going to look for housing. Let’s start with job searching.
1) Understanding Different Housing for the Homeless
When searching for housing as someone who is homeless, it is important to understand the differences in housing types and the limitations that may come with each. Here is a brief overview of housing generally available to individuals and families experiencing homelessness.
This housing is permanent which means there is no limit on the amount of time an individual or family can stay in the home or receive housing assistance. It is designed for long-term housing, and it may involve support services to help residents maintain their homes and get access to local resources.
When a home is described as transitional, it means that the residents have a limited amount of time in which they may live in the home. The Department of Housing and Urban Development defines transitional housing as a residence or shelter that offers residents a stay of up to 24 months.
This type of housing is also known as temporary housing. Don’t confuse this with transitional housing. Short-term housing is offered for only a brief period, typically shorter than transitional shelter. In most cases, temporary or short-term housing allows residents to stay from 30 days to three months.
Individuals and families may also have access to emergency shelters should they become homeless. Emergency shelters offer a bed to utilize overnight or for a few nights, but stays are generally limited and are usually shorter than short-term housing terms.
Any residence described as affordable housing is a property that is required to offer below-market rent for individuals and families with low-income, disabilities, or the elderly.
There are several variations of subsidized housing, but typically, this type of residence is offered through a voucher. This sort of housing is usually subsidized by a local, state, or federal government. The resident pays for a small percentage of the rental cost which is normally based on income. Section 8 Housing and ESG re-housing are examples of subsidized housing.
2) Finding Local Work
It can be hard for a homeless person to find a job. However, there are plenty of ways to find job opportunities online; also, there are several organizations that help with job searching.
For starters, finding an open computer at a public library or community center is important if you want to access job searching resources.
Non-Profit and Local Help
When it comes to finding work, Goodwill, a non-profit organization on a mission to help homeless and impoverished individuals, actively works to help teach job skills. Goodwill provides dedicated resources to help individuals find local work by offering job search and interview training, helping with resume building, and providing opportunities to earn credentials like an industry certification, a GED, or a college degree.
Specialists at Goodwill can also offer guidance on developing and implementing a career path, including how to get started and steps along the way. The organization currently operates 162 centers throughout the United States and Canada, and its services are free for eligible individuals who are currently homeless.
In addition to organizations like Goodwill, individuals may also take steps to find local work with the help of a local shelter or community organization. Many of these organizations offer job-search help, employment guidance, and other things like interview clothing, transportation to and from work or interviews, and childcare for working individuals with children.
If you can access a computer to check out the resources offered by Goodwill or local communities, then you can certainly strike out on your own in search of a job. Online job search engines are the predominant way of finding local work. There are several different job searching sites, like Monster or Indeed, that can narrow down job opportunities by filtering on specific skills, education requirements, and location.
There are a few challenges with searching this way. For instance, many homeless individuals fear that not having a physical address can limit their job search and potential for getting hired. Fortunately, many local organizations offer to receive mail for homeless individuals. This allows a homeless individual to use an address that isn’t a temporary shelter on a resume or job application.
Having a good understanding of the resources available through federal and community-based organizations, ways to get jobs, and the types of housing available can help those experiencing homelessness to move toward more security and financial stability over time.