Why Do People Become Homeless

In Internet time, this article is ancient.  In homelessness time, it’s even older.  The content of this article, although correct at the time of the writing, needs to be rewritten in light of changes currently taking place in the homelessness industry.   I’ll keep this article here as a historical perspective.  Just know that a lot of the info herein no longer applies.   I guess I’ll have to write yet another article on this subject – a 2014 version.  I’ll put a link here once it’s written.  Thanks.

I have recently rewritten this blog post, hopefully with more clarity.   You can find it at
http://thehomelessguy.blogspot.com/2013/04/why-do-people-become-homeless-2013.html

There is only one path to homelessness, but there are many reasons why it happens. And the differences in those reasons are very important, they are more important than the cause itself.

The Difference between How and Why

Let me digress for just a moment here. The difference between “how” a person became homeless, and “why” they became homeless is important to consider. Often, people confuse those two words, they use them interchangeably. I think this is perhaps the biggest reason why people become confused about homelessness, about why it exists, and what can or should be done about it. In short, “how” describes only the process of becoming homeless, the steps taken. “Why” is what we consider when determining the reasons something happened, why a person ended up on that path to homelessness.

Though it is important to know how people become homeless, the true cause of homelessness is found by asking why they are homeless. Understanding the difference between how and why people become homeless directly effects the process of helping people overcome homelessness. If people only focus on the “how,” and disregard the “why,” they will fail every time, at ending homelessness.

Homelessness is caused by a lack of money

Every single person who becomes homeless does so the same way, they all follow the same basic path. They all ended up in a situation where they didn’t have enough money to pay for a place to live. Either they lost a job, spent all the money they had, or they left a home where someone else was paying the bills. That’s “how” they all become homeless.

Two types of homeless people

In answering the question, “why” they become homeless, why they ended up with a lack of money, at this point we find two distinguishable types of homeless people. There are those people who become homeless only because of financial mismanagement. How they organized their finances was insufficient to deal with necessities required to maintain a home. They made a few incorrect decisions with their money causing them to have inadequate funds to pay for housing. For this group, it is that simple. And for them, the solution to end their homelessness is equally as simple. All they need do is correct their financial situation and in a very short amount of time, they will find themselves back in a home. For these people, the “how” and the “why” of their homelessness is, for the most part, one and the same. Their homeless experience lasts a very short time – from just a day or two, to a few months at the most. Often, these people fix their homeless situation by themselves, or with very little assistance. The majority of people who become homeless fall into this category.

All other homeless people fall into a separate category. These people also experience a financial crisis, but for different reasons. Their decision making processes are impaired by extenuating circumstances, such as mental illness, or addictions. It is important to note that a person does not have to be completely crazy to have a mental health condition that interferes with their decision making process. Depression or anxiety, or other brain function differences, such as Asperger’s Syndrome, can impair their abilities and cause them to become homeless. All of the people in this category require treatment specific to their condition before they can successfully leave homelessness. This treatment involves teaching coping skills so that these people can effectively control their condition and prevent it from interfering with their decision making processes. The amount of time it takes for these people to leave homelessness depends on the severity of their condition and the quality of treatment they receive. There are fewer people becoming homeless this way, but because very few services are available to them, their homelessness can last a long time. Many homeless people die while still homeless and awaiting help.

With homelessness, we have one “how” and two “whys.”

How people homeless is always due to financial mismanagement. Why people people become homeless is due to either improper decision making only, or improper decision making due to conditions that interfere with a person’s decision making process.

It is of the utmost importance that this distinction between types of homeless people be made. Confusing the two types will make solving homelessness more difficult. It is wrong to assume that all homeless people have a mental health condition or addiction problem. Many people will not hire a homeless person or give them financial assistance because of this assumption and may unnecessarily extend a person’s homelessness. At the same time, it would be a mistake to give a job, or money, to a homeless person who has a mental health condition or addiction because they may not be able to handle those responsibilities successfully. Not only is it a waste of resources, it could lead to a worsening of their condition. Before things like a job, or money, are given to a person with those extenuating circumstances, it is important to first determine if they have received proper treatment and have developed adequate coping skills. Know also that such assistance to this type of homeless person may have only a limited effect, easing their homelessness, but not curing it outright.

And now this message:   If you benefit in any way by reading my blog on homelessness, please show your support by clicking on the paypal button on this webpage and making a financial contribution  Thank you

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About Kevin Barbieux

I have been diagnosed as being chronically homeless. I write about my experiences and opinions of being homeless

45 comments

  1. I believe there is another cause of homelessness that may not be quite as obvious, which is that no one believes they are going to grow up to become homeless. We are all told as children that we can grow up to become anything we want, as long as we work hard and want to succeed. That illusion makes us think that homeless people are beneath the middle class, and that it can be justified to let people stay on the streets. We label them as drug addicts, con artists, liars, criminals. The result of putting an outgroup labels on all homeless people is that society barely cares more about them than they would stray cats. Even if people feel bad about it, they still don't usually believe they can become it. One change that I believe is necessary, and certainly would not be a popular idea, is that children need to be talked to straight about how the world really is, and they become homeless not by being lazy, irresponsible, and apathetic; but by not asking for help until its too late. If everyone believed that any one of us could be homeless, I guarantee people would be doing more.

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  2. Excellent comments, and helpful!

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  3. You will have to admit, Dietrich, that although you will be among the homeless, you will not truly be homeless yourself. There are many people who mingle among the homeless. If you have the ability to have and maintain a home, and only choose to not have one, then you cannot claim to be homeless. Jesus never called himself homeless. According to Him, his home was in Heaven with his Father.

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  4. Well, right now, im planning on becoming homeless. Now, you are prolly sitting there, reading that first sentance, thinking, why would anyone PLAN to be homeless? Well, its because i want to follow. I need to get away from the distractions of Worldly Possessions, and focus on the one thing that matters: God and his son Jesus Christ… “Matthew 8:20 – The foxes have their holes, and the birds of the air their nests, but the Son of Man has not place to rest his head”… i need to follow him fully. no distractions from housekeeping or working a job or watching tv… just me and him…

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  5. My ex is homeless because of a complex number of reasons and I fear he may die in this condition, but I also fear fear for mine and my child's safety in trying to help him.

    (The Backstory)
    I must sound like such a fearful person, but before this relationship I was pretty strong, stable in my beliefs and ways and had an answer for everything.

    I'm a US citizen born and raised for one, I have a BA and was working towards my MA, and if it weren't for my friends and family I too would be homeless with my child.

    He on the other hand is…
    Not a US citizen, he is a legal resident. Although he too is college educated and speaks english, he is a foreigner who faces that as a barrier to our system. He has no REAL friends (or as he says) no family.

    If it were not for his abusive ways we might have both had a brighter future as a family-well I was hoping anyways. I believe he was abusive because of his abusive past along with mental illness(PTSD being one).

    He has had problems in the past with drugs, and when I met him he was a smoker and drinker-and did pot. Though at the time they were not a problem-as time went on and we progressed they suddenly became an issue for me because we brought a child into this world. The fighting and abuse escalated to the point where I fled fearing for my safety numerous times but moved away from him in the end twice.

    This second time leaving him again in the midst of his joblessness-again I feared for him, but I feared more for myself and my child. I sacrificed everything for a second chance, we did counseling I drained any type of savings we had for our child. In the end I left my job, school, our home and him. He was so mentally-ill he did not see the problem or couldn't get past the barriers.

    (His Homelessness)
    Now he's on the streets, sometimes at a hostel, if he can pick up extra-work, and he calls asking for money mostly or to complain about his life. When I try to give him solutions it often ends up with us fighting.

    By giving him money I am enabling him to continue to ask money from me and it possibly might not make a difference. I have since refused.

    He chooses me as his support system because he insists he has no family, though he used to live with his brother and his family before we got together. I cannot be his support system, I've said, but I feel obligated to maintain contact because of our toddler together.

    (Hopeless?)
    I too now feel I have suffered from the situation -that I fear mental illness for myself. I have returned to my family and friends in another town and I'm trying to piece together my life again so my child and I can have a stable and happier environment. However a phone call from him undermines a positive day. As much as I am glad to know he is safe, somewhat-sane, I fear threats of retaliation and bitterness.

    I want to help him, but it seems impossible a catch-22. When I try to help, he ends up verbally abusing me. I don't want to cut all contact because I do care and worry for him and I want to make our child available for him to speak too at the least.

    I just wish there was something out there for him a program, a friend, a person, anything and I mainly wish that he would accept it and hopefully pick-himself up.

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  6. I lost the want to, want to be part of society. I witnessed the economy falling apart because I grew up working. I never had any friends and my family was scarce to none. I became homeless four years ago when I refused to text my supervisor at Walmart. I was previously working as a cart pusher. I was one of the best and management soon realized that I was worth two guys. So, they always shorted me when I was on shift. For example, from 6:00 am until 2:00 pm there would normally be three cart pushers. However, if it was my shift they would only staff two people and I was even told it was because I was such a good worker. Then my supervisor started texting me. She started asking to specific questions. I told her to stop texting me. Then everyday she hounded me on got on my case. She constantly was looking for any mistakes that I did and if I did make a mistake she'd actually yell. Her attitude towards me change from friendly to ugh! I hate you! type of attitude. Then she started talking to other assistant managers and soon my hours went from 39 hours a week to 5 hours a week. Then I had to move out of my place into my car which then I parked my car at Walmart and lived out of my car in 15 degree weather. I couldn't find assistance in relativity to time. so, I decided to move and go to different states. I then realized how bad our economy and over all morale towards each other really was and is. I ended up learning about the law and Americas society's in which they govern. I am not homeless because of financial inadequacies on my part. i can easily manage my own money. The thing I can't manage is society and their rules. The societies we have are disgusting. There is no freedom in a democracy anymore. I even ended up working in law enforcement at which point I was appalled as well as disgusted at how much our federal government not only abuses power but then recklessly spends money. homelessness as well as suicide is at an all time. So, in contrast people become homeless for all sorts of reasons. In the end you have to ask yourself “whats my reward for working?”

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  7. How is your friend now? How does he respond to your advice?

    Jesus. This hits very close to home for me.

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  8. im just 13 i have really never exspriance homlessness i hope i never do i sounds like a very hard life and mostly today lack of money and a job are the most typical reason see today

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  9. Wrong Wrong Wrong, obviously you have never been homeless, some of us end up that way not due to finacial ,but due to the greed of others and society in general. I dont have any vices or addictions, I am a single Dad, 58 years of age raising my diabled 12 year old daughter. When it was aparrent that my child needed special care I had to quit my job to look after her full time. The Australia goverment give me just over $1000 a fortnight, however over the last 4 years my rent has climbed to $700 a fortnight. I am staring at the fact my daughter may need to go in to care as noone wants to help at all. Ive been on the waiting list for public housing for the last 6 years, and yet we are housing all the illegals flooding in to our country – So the “homeless” shouldnt be placed into the “one how or two whys” when there is other factors beyond their control happening. THIS IS NOT THE AUSTRALIA I GREW UP IN

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  10. Mental Illness is insidious. It would certainly be better if we got back to the days when family, or a judge could have someone committed to a hospital. when a person is suffering from mental illness, they are not in their right mind to make the proper decisions for themselves. Someone else has to do it for them, or they do end up homeless. Very sad, indeed. Having compassion on our fellow man is key to ending homelessness. You know, if you witness a car accident, but leave and do not render aid, you could be found guilty of a crime. It should be the same for other situations too.

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  11. I know someone who will be homeless in about 3 months. He took early “retirement” at age 47, way too young, from a very secure job he could still be doing. After 20 years of service, he received a lump sum buyout plus his savings of $247K. Dumb move. Now he regrets leaving that job. Now, 14 years later, he has $4,500.00 left. For the past 9, yes, 9 years, I have told him he will run out of money if he doesn't get some income to at least cover his fixed expenses coming in via work. Right now, he is very depressed, looks horrible, smells bad and, in reality, is not presentable for employment. He refuses to get food stamps or apply for Section 8 housing. He is single, has no relatives. He needs help for the depression, but he refuses to go to a doctor. He has full medical insurance from his previous employer. So that is not an issue. In June, 2013, he will qualify for social security. Age 62, $1,100.00 per month. He will be homeless before that kicks in. I have told him he needs to find a room to rent for about half of what he pays in apartment rent right now. It is doable, but he doesn't want to live with anyone. No, he will live with other homeless on the street, instead. … For 9 years, I have told him I can see in the far distance a homeless train coming down the tracks. That train has been getting closer and closer. Now, by, early 2013, that homeless train will run him over.

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  12. Yeah sometimes it's mental health issues. I live visit to visit, to social welfare, knowing full well one day it will stop and one of these weeks very soon. My anxiety problems will win in the end. I'm much less afraid of being homeless and by myself til the end of my days, than I am to be around people and healthy. This entire world is crooked, teaching us to be farsely independent and not ask for help with he risk you're labelled a socialist/communist. I say bring in voluntary legal euthanasia for people like me. It'll save the government millions. It beats being threatened and bullied by those that feed you, of giving no more.

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  13. As I have said before, there are people who choose to live among the homeless, but that does not make them homeless. If you have a place you can go, if you have the means to not be homeless, and yet call yourself homeless, then you are just being dishonest.

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  14. I am homeless because I choose to be. I used to work, I used to drive, I used to have money, but I gave it all away willingly. I travel across the land and eat wild foods that I find, make my own medicines out of wild plants, I eat handout by generous people, I eat fresh foods that have been discarded by businesses. And churches help me out ever so much. I volunteer to help them with their services andnever ask for anything in return. I sleep in parks, I house set, I even stay with family!
    I became sick of our Babylon like ways here in our country so I decided to opt out and live like the natives. Like Jesus. Like Buddha. Ascetically, and at peace with myself. Nature provides for me. The good will of others provides for me. It can you as well.

    “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
    -Matthew 6:28-34-

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  15. Thank you for the article! I am over 55, am still in my rental home of 725 per month in Traverse City MI. My hubs had rotor cuff surgery in January, went back to work in July and boom, he was terminated. He is 59, and the economic climate here is very disturbing. People just look the other way at homeless here, like they do not exist. I am facing it too, and if I do not get a job within two weeks, I will have the landlady give me an “eviction notice” so that I am able to at least apply for assistance at the local DHS. Have been actively looking, combing every job site daily, and I did finally get an interview with a start up communications group, 90 people applying for 1 position. It is down to myself and the other candidate now. Will also lose car, credit is shot, and it is not as easy as some think, well, just get a job and everything will be ok!!!! Not the picture, so you need to have the category of aging seniors with no where to go either.

    If I have to, I am going to dress up in a business suit, run off a couple hundred copies of my resume, add another page for MY STORY, and park my car at the mall or anywhere there is high foot traffic and be HEARD!!!! This is crazy, that folks that WANT a freaking job CANNOT GET ONE!!!! The possibility of living in the street is very FRIGHTENING and as a poster commented, no$$$$=no car, gas, = less than nothing. How are you going to get to the interview, be clean, looking refreshed, and be able to present yourself professionally is beyond my comprehension. This town has many dirty secrets, and because of highly touted Sleeping Bear Dunes, they DO NOT WANT THE HOMELESS TO BE SEEN or HEARD!!! Can't miss all the money coming in from the tourists!!! Hell, they cannot even fix the roads, bad urban planning, not even close to affordable housing, and I can't even get a front desk job at one of the MANY hotels, they hire people from Jamaica every summer (no offense here) but you may ask yourself why, when there people of all ages here needing work. I visit a site called Washington Watch, hr bill 589, and that was the go to board for all unemployed, underemployed, you name it. Many have CHECKED OUT as when you do not have hope, for any good outcome, why torture yourself anymore? I cannot give up yet, but I am pretty close to it!

    So, every story is different, we have sold everything of value, I even went thru stage 2 bc, made it back to the world and now I have to face these fears, because when I had cancer, I just rode it out, and gradually came back to health after 47 radiations, chemos, and all the drugs. I did not feel the DESPAIR I feel now.

    Thank you again, my last decent job was managing a pay day loan company, and they downsized, I was making about 15 an hour, well they cleaned house and 8.50 was the new starting wage…

    SHOCKING, Michael Moore lives in Glen Arbor over here, no public beaches there, only the super uber who I do not even think this problem is going on right in their own community!!! Now that would be a film worth seeing, how Traverse City MI hides all the homeless.

    Thanks again for your site, must go do some laundry and cruise all the job sites.

    To all the homeless, soon to be homeless, I think and do as much as I can each day, we now have folks in the streets with their signs, and I think you can get a ticket or get arrested for being a vagrent, something like that, they sure need customers for the jails, BS counseling programs, and cops hide in the bushes to catch speeders…just crazy I tell you…

    Never ever think that it could not happen to you….good day to all!!!!

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