What is homelessness?

It’s estimated that more than 2 million youth will face homelessness every year. Being homeless doesn’t always mean sleeping on concrete. Homelessness is when you don’t have a safe and reliable home to live in. Sometimes people choose to runaway and sometimes they are forced out of their home. 

Some common stereotypes are that homelessness is caused primarily by rebellion or drug use. In reality, there are many reasons that people can become homeless. Reasons include:

What does homelessness look like?

Being homeless doesn’t just mean living in a cardboard box. Homeless programs and community planners recognize different kinds of homelessness.

Couch Surfing. It may not be as physically rough or dangerous as sleeping on the streets, but sleeping on a different couch every night has its own set of mental challenges. These challenges include a loss of stability, and in some cases the feeling of being a burden to the family or friend that you are staying with. Having a place for personal items is also tough when you are switching to different houses all the time.

Shelters. Shelters are available in most large cities, and at times in smaller cities. On average they exist to fill a gap of housing and are not meant for long term housing. All homeless youth shelters have different policies on how long you can stay. In most cities these shelters can be found through the city hall information center or by calling the non-emergency police number. You can also call 1-800-RUNAWAY for help in finding shelters in your area.

Squatting. Squatters seek out condemned or unoccupied buildings for short term shelter. These buildings usually do not have electricity or water. Sometimes this term applies to homeless people breaking into houses whose occupants are away for long periods of time.

Where to Get Help

If you are homeless, or feel like you might be at risk of becoming homeless, there are services that can help you find a place to stay, put you in touch with a social worker or find advice about money, employment and, if you’d like, support for longer-term issues.

Transportation and clothing. If you are enrolled in school (K-12) and do not have stable or healthy housing, you have access to the McKinney Vento program—a federal law that ensures immediate enrollment and educational stability for homeless children and youth. Each school district is mandated to have a McKinney Vento liaison. These liaisons will help you with things like transportation, clothing, and toiletries so you can attend school.

Emergency accommodation and food. If you need a place to stay immediately, call Boys Town National Hotline at 1-800-448-3000. They have a database of emergency accommodations and food services around the US, many of which are free. The U.S. Department of Housing website can also put you in touch with emergency and refuge accommodation.

Getting home from long distances. If you’ve run away to another city or state and want to go home, Greyhound offers a free ride home. For more information about the Home Free Program, call 1-800-621-4000.

Homeless youth resources and referrals. The National Runaway Safeline offers various services for homeless youth across the United States. The program offers counseling, referrals and general information. For more information, call 1-800-RUNAWAY or visit National Runaway Safeline.


Information for this article was provided by:
Acknowledgements: This article was originally developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com

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