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Why Do People Remain Homeless?

Updated on March 19, 2017
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Kylyssa Shay was homeless for over a year in her youth; it lead to her activism involving homelessness. She thinks, feels, and has opinions.

Find out how some people get stuck in a state of homelessness by the things that happen while being homeless.
Find out how some people get stuck in a state of homelessness by the things that happen while being homeless. | Source

Homelessness Becomes a Trap

The reasons people become homeless are often quite easy to see, but what is a bit less obvious are the things which trap people in chronic homelessness. Even if the root cause is remedied a person may remain on the street, sometimes for many years.

An unemployed person might find a job, an addict might kick the habit, a disabled person might qualify for Social Security Disability, or a mentally ill person might get successful treatment yet still remain homeless. The purpose of this page is to expose some of those reasons that people may become trapped in deep poverty and live without homes for long periods of time. In it, I try to answer the questions of, "Why do people stay homeless?" and "How does homelessness trap people?"

Abuse shatters lives, and those shattered lives tend to fall through the cracks.
Abuse shatters lives, and those shattered lives tend to fall through the cracks. | Source

Homelessness Worsens or Even Creates Mental Illnesses

It seems obvious, but homelessness is not good for your mental health.

Homelessness often worsens mental illnesses to the point that formerly functional people become severely mentally ill. Many who start out mentally sound develop PTSD or other mental illnesses as a result of physical assaults, sexual assaults, sleep deprivation, or exposure to trauma. Often, many of those factors are combined together in the life of a single unfortunate person.

Some types of mental illness prevent a person from being employed or in some cases prevent a person from being able to care for himself or even unable to seek help from others.

Physical Injuries Can Create Disabilities

Homeless people are at a greater risk of sustaining disabling injuries than people with dependable housing.

Some people gain a disability from severe injuries that they cannot get proper treatment for. Assault is often a cause of injury. Head injuries due to beatings or fights are very common. Exposure to the elements can also cause injuries such as frostbite which, if left untreated can lead to the loss of digits, dexterity, or mobility.

Once someone becomes physically, mentally, or emotionally disabled, getting out of homelessness becomes extremely difficult.

photo by Simon Gray
photo by Simon Gray

Disabilities Can Trap People On The Street

Some homeless people have an inability to work due to physical or mental disability. Some are so mentally ill that they are not even able to apply for what meager assistance is available to select individuals. Additionally, the Social Security Disability application process is not easy to navigate even if one is emotionally and mentally stable. Without a contact phone and address, it might be impossible.

Additionally, the process of applying for Disability is lengthy. The first rejection usually takes about six months and appeals can take up to a year to get the next rejection. Over two thirds of disabled people who apply for Social Security Disability (and eventually qualify) are rejected the first time they apply. Also, most people wait until they are out of money and have been disabled for some time so they don't have enough savings to live on for the typical one to three year wait for approval. Most Americans don't have enough saved up to survive without new income for even six months, much less three years.

Once they lose their home, people have extreme difficulty jumping through the bureaucratic hoops; they can't be available to wait for a call and don't have a dependable address to get the appointment letters mailed to them. And when SSA makes an appointment for them a hundred miles away, they have no way to get there. People who are already homeless who then become disabled are in an extremely difficult situation.

When I filed for Social Security Disability, there was so much paperwork mailed to me to mail back with more information, each piece extremely time-sensitive. Even having a home, I missed one "return by" date because the piece of mail requesting the information arrived the day it was due. I was able to call and fax the information the same day, but it was a very near thing. A homeless person probably wouldn't have gotten the piece of mail (using a friend's address, general delivery, or a PO Box doesn't lend itself to frequent mail checking) in time and probably wouldn't have access to a fax machine. They also often lose all of their ID and other vital paperwork and can't slip a copy in the mail on short notice.

How Hard Could It Be?

How hard is it to escape homelessness?

Easy, there are programs and stuff.

Easy, there are programs and stuff.

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    Hard, a homeless person has a lot to overcome.

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      • Kylyssa Shay 19 months ago from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

        Your advice is incredibly unrealistic. Let me guess, you've never been homeless and you didn't read the page you left this very long comment on.

        You also aren't aware that around 40% of homeless people have jobs, which is pretty impressive considering how many homeless people are children, physically disabled, mentally disabled, or elderly. Much of their time is taken up by working, looking for better paying work, trying to stay clean enough to keep their jobs, finding places to sleep, and trying not to get raped or beaten.

        Intense exercise is all but impossible if you don't eat regularly or get enough sleep. It also makes you sweat which requires somewhere to clean up and to wash sweaty clothing. People fire or don't hire stinky people.

        Your advice to women to try to be beautiful in order to attract men to take them in is unrealistic along with being grotesque. Women who follow your advice don't tend to escape homelessness; they tend to get stuck in prostitution, kept homeless and in sexual slavery by the guy they thought was a boyfriend. What good does your advice to try to escape homelessness by attracting men do for unattractive women and elderly women, assuming they actually want to be prostitutes, even if you are only suggesting they be prostitutes to just one man? And women who look as beautiful as Sophia Loren are incredibly rare. They are no more interested in exchanging sex for a place to stay than other women; if they were, they wouldn't be homeless.

        When public libraries won't issue library cards to people without homes, how are they to get the books to read? And seriously, reading by starlight? I don't know what special abilities you may have but super human night vision doesn't come with homelessness.

        Additionally, I found your suggestion that homeless people learn to draw and paint and sell the artwork a bit hilarious. Have you ever painted a painting? Do you realize painting is a skill with a learning curve and that most people don't have the aptitude to do it well even with instruction, plenty of tools, paints, canvases, and the ability to waste materials?

      • David 19 months ago

        How do you escape? - For those who are not seriously mentally ill. Easy, strap those boot laces tight, and read further, because we are going to go to war.

        Homelessness, is a beast. Not a fairy tell beast, but a life beast much like the loss of your child, a divorce, or an amputation trauma. And the beast, needs to be slayed. Less physically, and more mentally. And what is homelessness to some, is a completely normal life to others. There are children starving and homeless at any given time all over the world, who still have the highest levels of potential. And so do you. This is the heart of the beast to be slayed. Your own mindset.

        You must think, eat and drink as a soldier; one who has waged war against a powerful enemy, and who will be defeated when this ememy has been vamquished to never return. It will take courage, and humility, but a true soldier does not care what others think, he merely slides his blade alongside the throat for all to see. He is dangerous in this way. He makes people fear his stremgth as well as feel it.

        Second, and with this mindset for battle, every ounce of your body must be trained and healthy to combat the elements. You must imcrease strength with highly intense exercise. Your strong body with built muscles will preserve your comfidence and increase yohr appearance. For a fantastic figure can dawn any outfit, that of homeless or that of star. What man would turn down Sophia Loren because she looked homeless. None. They might clean her up, but she would be treated like gold. And this includes hygien. A soldier awakens earlier than all. A real soldier loves the discomfort of sleepiness in the morning. Amd he cleans himself strictly at this time. Everytime. All the time. For his battle is of both body and mind, and he respects this.

        Third, he does not worry about what will happen. He does not cry about who will see. He only does the work that needs to be done, for he has Purpose. The rest of the pieces fall into place. Homelessness is a war, but one fought in one's mind first. Jesus Christ was homeless on his travels, and many other great men in history were as well. But they did not curl up and die because they had this one thing - Purpose. Their life itself, was a large war. They were soldiers, and would not be had the road been paved with glitter and gold. For it is the size of the fight that defines a person's legacy. Have a purpose for being. Do things for others that you may have them done for you in return. But most importantly, have a real serious goal for yourself and others, whether it be self improvement or loving animals. It doesn't matter.

        And finally, with the strength of mindset to change for the better, we must Work. You must have income or you will be destroyed. The only ither option is to live off the free land and there is not much of that left around. You must find a hustle. Criminal record? Go door to door selling or flipping goods. Learn to draw and sell paintings. But do something amd do it well. For a lazy man has no work. And with that will remain a sluggard. Volunteer whenever possible as well to keep yourself in high regards with the community and with a well fit body you will find someone to give you a chance. But you must work. Hard and intelligently. At night read many books before your bed under the stars. Learn poetry and other languages. This is not a choice, it is a must. As knowledge is power. This could never be more true. You will say the right words when needed. You will offer the right advice when requested of you. And you will, eat at the table of Kings for it.

      • anonymous 4 years ago

        It seems extremely difficult, which makes me want to cry because I'm on the brink of homelessness.

      • anonymous 4 years ago


      • Lorelei Cohen 4 years ago from Canada

        Homelessness and hopelessness become entwined and it becomes very difficult to have the strength to escape either.

      • lezsaysit lm 4 years ago

        I have a neighbor who was very popular and after a bad divorce or breakup, he became homeless and it has been two years. People offer help, shelter and even clothes. He gets clean, drunk, and then clean again. This lens was quite refreshing and educational. Thank you for sharing you personal experience and being so brave to do so.

      • anonymous 5 years ago

        i am writing areport on a research paper and I am at a loss as where to find good information to get a good short research paper I would like some help paper is final assignment in sociology next tuesday

      • anonymous 5 years ago

        it can be done, but it isn't easy. you have to be determined and have a positive outlook, which is difficult under the circumstances. the real problem is that most people who are homeless are lacking in self-esteem or have given up hope. there must be an inner transformation for the individual to overcome the burden of homelessness. he or she must resolve that they will succeed against all the odds. otherwise, they will remain in a homeless condition.

      • anonymous 5 years ago

        many have no $ to access help,

      • EelKat13 5 years ago

        I first became homeless in May 2006, I thought it would only last a few weeks. It has been 5 years now, and I am still homeless. The first 3 years were the hardest...learning how to survive with nothing. I lived in a tent made out of a tarp than. The last 2 years were much easier now that I've mastered basic survival skills, it's still hard, but I have a car now and it's safer and drier than the tent was. Slowly I'm moving up into better living conditions: I am currently saving up for a used motorhome, which hopefully I'll be able to afford this fall. Once I've done that I'll finally have a home again - granted a tiny home on wheels, but a home never the less. Even though it has been 5 years, I have been luckier than most, I know one woman who's been homeless over 20 years now, and others who had a rougher time of it than me. I believe it is easier to prevent becoming homeless than it is to get back out of it.

      • anonymous 6 years ago

        If over 50,pretty hard unless you have good friends or family to help.I've been homeless about 8 years now.Parents dead.Family helps very little if at all.Churches help mostly with basics.Could always use more though.--Bye,Ken,57years old now around Dupage county,Illinois.

      • anonymous 6 years ago

        its very hard to escape homelessness it would feel like a long term abuse

      • anonymous 6 years ago

        really hard

      • anonymous 6 years ago

        being homeless is tough especially because without employment i can not finish school for which i was going.Criminal Justice was the 2 year program to become a criminal investigator detective was supposed to graduate October 2012 it is in jeopardy if i can not find employment by March 28th,2011.Also I will no longer have a home at the end of April 2011 due to savings running out.

      • anonymous 6 years ago

        i am homeless and i can afford to rent a place now and i did for 6 weeks before i left. paying 400 a month to live on some nasty cow's couch and put up with the all the nasty habits of everyone around you was a hard price to pay. esp when it ate up all my funds for gas or a social life. I work a typical 9-5 job but at nights.. a 3rd shift job so for me i get to sleep during the day and pretend to be a student around the local universities (since i'm only 23). yes its rough, but is a system. I have a gym membership to shower (and work out) which only improves my self esteem. When i tried to re-integrate into society, i hated myself and who i had become... I love being homeless. and home is not one place and it doesn't have to be tangible. Yes i may not have a bed to sleep in or a kitchen to cook in or a toilet to shit in, but i have never been happier in my life. I finally know who i am and what makes me happy... and one thing i know.. money is NOT the answer.

      photo by Istvan Markus
      photo by Istvan Markus

      Age Makes Escape Less Likely

      Most elderly people become unable to work eventually. If they have no family willing to support them they will often lose their homes. While some elderly people can collect Social Security, it is often either too little or too late.

      The average Social Security check elderly Americans collect is usually not enough to pay for housing, food, and utilities. This can sometimes be solved by getting roommates, but then the death of roommates often leaves elderly people without enough to cover rent and expenses.

      For some elderly people, Social Security comes too late. Many people develop age-related diseases or conditions long before they reach 65-70 years of age, especially if they work in manual labor, retail, or any other standing-only job. Many don't have adequate medical insurance to properly treat illness or injury, or if they do, they don't have the real ability to take time off of work to have even vital surgeries or to recover from serious illness. While there are laws providing for medical leaves in many states, in practice, few businesses that don't pay a living wage actually allow such leaves to be taken. Low wage businesses, especially in states with "at will employment" where the employer can fire employees at any time without any reason or repercussions and the employee can quit at any time, but will be blacklisted, frequently just terminate employees who are sick, ill, or elderly.

      A significant percentage of people become too ill or frail to work long before they qualify for retirement and must try to navigate Social Security Disability which can take years to get. Once they become homeless it is very difficult for them to collect either.

      photo by Ben Yokitis
      photo by Ben Yokitis

      Preconceptions Employers and Landlords Hold

      If you are homeless, landlords and employers will assume you are a drug-addicted criminal who is mentally ill. Although not all homeless people have problems with addiction the societal perception is that they do.

      Additionally, there is a perception that they are morally inferior to people with homes which compounds this problem.

      Employers will often pass over people with even slightly spotty work histories any time in the past, even decades before, or without a proper phone number and address on their job application. Additionally, many employers will not even consider hiring someone they know is, or has been, homeless.

      But even if a someone gets a job and finds affordable housing he or she may not be able to rent a place to live. Landlords often reject renters with any history of homelessness, unemployment, or bad credit ratings. Some landlords may even charge a double deposit to currently or formerly homeless people, making affordable housing less far so.

      Would You Look Beyond the Stereotypes? - Assuming you were a business owner or manager or a rental property owner would you hire or rent to a homeless man, woma

      Would you hire or rent to a homeless person?

      See results
      photo by Lychee
      photo by Lychee

      Just as Addiction Brreds Poverty, Poverty Breeds Addiction

      Some homeless people gain an addiction due to the mental and emotional stress of their situation, or they turn to drugs to ease the pain of improperly healed injuries or age related maladies. Sometimes it's a conscious or unconscious effort to commit slow suicide. If you already have an addiction, it is fairly likely to spiral out of control once you are homeless.

      photo by Wojciech Wolak
      photo by Wojciech Wolak

      Lack of Medical Care Is a Trap

      If you are homeless a treatable illness may keep you from working because you cannot get treatment for it. Emergency rooms are required to treat people without insurance but they do not treat chronic illnesses or progressive diseases. Clinics which provide comprehensive care at no cost are very few and those who need them may not be in any condition to find them.

      Family and Friends Won't Help or the Welcome Soon Runs Out

      Family, friends, and acquaintances will usually not help out, often not even the well-to-do adult children of elderly homeless parents. They share the cultural fear and disdain toward homeless people. Any feelings of affection they may have had for you will be overshadowed by their fear, disdain, or hatred of homeless and poor people. Lack of money is too closely associated with immorality and crime in our country for people without it to have any real degree of safety.

      You may think your family and friends would step up to the plate if you were in danger of homelessness but chances are, they wouldn't. I know this sounds like a bizarre statement, but I've seen it play out many, many times. Most homeless people find out the hard way that most of their friends and family only value them if they maintain their social status and wealth.

      photo by foxumon, SXC
      photo by foxumon, SXC

      Status Crimes

      Sometimes, being homeless is a crime in and of itself!

      Many people without homes develop criminal records because in many places, being homeless is a crime because it causes one to sleep outside. Public urination is another major problem because it can get the person labeled as a sex offender. People with criminal records often have difficulty securing either jobs or housing.

      Lost or Stolen ID Hampers Job Searches and Apartment Rental

      Homeless people often lose their ID through theft. Sometimes they lose their ID in other ways. They may also end up abandoning their pack while being pursued by assailants. If your ID has been lost or stolen you will have great difficulty getting it replaced, and even greater difficulty getting a job or apartment without it.

      Without ID, a person cannot get assistance and may even have his or her citizenship status questioned in some states, especially if he or she is of Mexican or Native American descent.

      It's almost impossible to get a legal job without ID.

      photo by unidentified photographer via Wikimedia Commons
      photo by unidentified photographer via Wikimedia Commons

      Lack of Job and Social Skills

      Homeless teens often become chronically homeless adults because they lack social skills and job skills. When a parent discards a teenager there are usually severe repercussions in the entire life of the child.

      Many of them are also voluntary or involuntary school drop-outs. Without at least a high school diploma it's very hard to get a job.

      Other people lose their homes due to their lack of job skills and social skills and it's difficult to remedy those deficiencies.

      © 2010 Kylyssa Shay

      Why Do You Think People Stay Homeless?

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          BoulderHomeless 7 months ago

          There are so many misconceptions about the homeless. With no ID you can do almost NOTHING.

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          Lorelei Cohen 4 years ago from Canada

          I read your comment that someone had asked why this lens does not donate it's proceeds to homelessness if you care so much. I also had similar comments raised on a couple of my articles. It always shocks me when I see something like that. Each person gives back in their own way. If your articles change the attitude of even a few people on homelessness then you have given back far more than the proceeds of one article could ever. Blessings.

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          anonymous 5 years ago

          Trouble occurs in family's, Someone was supported for a long time, now they have to fend for themselves and whatever was acquired in the family like animal they get stuck with. Kids is a big thing to. .Economy sucks. No insurance for them to do anything for their health or medicines they need. Abused, fed up, some people are bipolar or schizo, and don't realize it either. Don't care anymore, just drink to not care, and they don't want that. Some can get strong, and some just fall apart, because they can't handle it anymore. No one paid them any mind or felt their pain. You have to be compassionate to help people that are really bad, not the pretenders.

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          anonymous 5 years ago

          Quite simple; the system is broken. When you introduce coercive prejudices (AKA laws) to the economy, the economy changes in unpredictable ways that are not based directly on rational interests. Jobs would be easier to find if regulations weren't making it harder to hire people; even the much-praised "minimum wage" made human labor less worthwhile and encouraged mechanization, and I'm sure that the increase in money in circulation from people being paid more made everything more expensive.From what I understand, one way for the homeless to get money is to work "under the table" for a few dollars doing minor tasks that would be more expensive for an employee to do.

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          soaringsis 6 years ago

          There must be many reasons why people stay homeless. One might be that they have a distrustof anyone due to others not understanding them or from being terribly abused.Some of us need professional help in coping with everyday life.If we could get help for everyone our world would be a much better place.

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          anonymous 6 years ago

          HI.and thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my opinion with the readers ,my name is Hala I always had a sensitivity toward homeless people , I like to talk to them and to help as much as I can. Unfortunately homelessness is a problem that we suffer from as society and to effect change we have to work together to lessen this problem. It is something which should effect each and every one of us and we all can do something even if it is small but we can make a difference by talking to people and also trying to help them get out of their situation by helping them finding jobs and places to stay. When I came to this country 24 years ago my brother took me downtown LA and showed me the homeless people. I was shocked to see as many homeless people in a great country like this country and it saddened me a lot. Since then I always want to do something to help and I always will God-willing.

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          SafeCard LM 7 years ago

          HI.,You are so right about this stuff. We need to be more careful with this kind of thing. You shared some very good tips on here.Thanks!!

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