How to Find a Missing Homeless Person

A homeless man sleeps on a bench.

When it comes to locating people, trying to find a person who is homeless can be one of the most difficult things that someone can be tasked with. However, you do have options and you shouldn’t just automatically assume it’s impossible just because they don’t have a home or may be mobile or traveling.

Sometimes it’s just a matter of knowing where to look for information and if you know where to find information on the person, then you have direction in where to go to actually find them. I’ve been homeless in the past and I’m also fairly skilled at finding people as I’ve had to do it myself many times in the past.

So with this guide, I’m going to outline all the best resources and methods that you can use to find that person you’re looking for so you don’t end up wasting time running around in circles.


Social Media

The first place you should always look for anyone is social media, and homeless people are no different. Many homeless people still maintain and regular visit their accounts on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

When I was homeless I still kept my Facebook account, although admittedly, I didn’t check it quite as regularly as I would if I were doing better. A lot of this was simply because I didn’t feel like talking to anybody who might ask how I was doing. But at least once a month or every two months I’d check my messages there.

So start with Facebook and the other popular platforms that you think this person might possibly be using and search for them by name. It may actually turn out to be the simplest solution to finding them. If at first you can’t find them by name, try searching for people they may associate with if you know any of their old friends or anyone else they may still be talking to.

You can then either message their friends and ask about them, or check the friends lists of their friends to see if you can find them under a different name. I didn’t use my last name when I was using Facebook and chose to use my middle name instead so it’d be harder for less desirable people to find me when I didn’t want to talk to them anymore.


Probation or Parole Officer

Many homeless people are on probation or parole and have to check in with their probation and parole officers. If you think the homeless person you’re looking for may have done time in prison or has a record, you might just want to check with your local police department to see if you can get any information on who supervises them.

Parole and probation officers keep track of where transients stay as they continually have to check in with them. To determine if they’ve done time in prison or jail, most states (but not all) have official state or local government websites online that allow you to search their prison or jail databases by offender name, date of birth, or both. These websites will often list whether a person is on parole or probation as well if the release details are public.

After determining if they are, you should then try contacting the police department as stated before. Once you get in contact with the parole or probation officer who supervises them, you can simply explain why you’re looking for this person and see if they can possibly get you in touch with them. They won’t normally provide any confidential information to an unauthorized person, but they may still be able to pass along a message for you.


Shelters

Obviously, homeless shelters will be one of the most probable places that a homeless person may be if they don’t like sleeping outside. But even if they are sleeping outside, they may still frequent shelters in the area for food.

I stayed in a shelter briefly, but didn’t like it, so I chose to stay outside most of the time. I’d still visit all three shelters in my area for meals when they were serving breakfast, lunch, or dinner. So if you know what area a homeless person might be, you may want to stop in and speak to the staff working there to see if they recognize any pictures you may have of the person or descriptions you can give.

You may just want to stop in when it’s chow time and see if you recognize the person eating at any of the tables. The staff will normally be more than willing to help you locate someone if they actually recognize a face or description you give them, so that should be your first course of action at any homeless shelters.


Encampments

In addition to shelters, many homeless people such as myself prefer to stay in encampments outside. This is because there’s often less rules and restrictions when sleeping outside and encampments can actually be safer in many circumstances than sleeping alone.

People in these areas act almost neighborly in many cases after they’re familiar with each other and while they don’t always take too kindly to strangers showing up, it’s still worth checking out any encampments in the area where you think the person might be staying.

If you don’t know where the local encampments are, speak to your local police or charity workers in the area and they can normally point you in the right directions. The police will often go to these encampments to clear them out or to check for warrants and the charities will often visit them to hand out food or blankets.


Churches

Even if the person you’re looking for isn’t religious, churches on certain days are worth visiting. You should check online to see which churches in the area host events for the homeless, such as free breakfasts or lunches.

I would sometimes go to this one church when I was homeless because they were known for having some of the best food in town available to the homeless community. They would often hire caterers about once every two weeks and service banquet breakfasts that every homeless person in my area would talk about.

Word of mouth led to hundreds of homeless people visiting this church for their bi-weekly events, and this would be the perfect scenario for you to stop in and see if you recognize them in the crowd. You can also speak to the staff working for the church and ask them if they’ve seen the person you’re looking for.


Parks

This is another obvious place to find homeless people, but you’ll want to normally visit parks in the early morning hours or towards the middle of the day. Many homeless people use parks as a way to relax and get some sleep during the day that they were unable to get during the night for whatever reason.

But also they’ll hang out in parks because they really have nowhere else to go and it’s completely legal to loiter or hang out in these places. But if the homeless person you’re looking for is staying in a shelter at night, they may leave the park earlier in the afternoon because many shelters have a deadline around 5pm or 6pm to check-in to get a bed.

Because these shelters often wake their residents up at about 5am or 6am, many of them leave the shelters and go straight to parks from there in the very early morning hours, before everything else is open. After that, they may go to the library or elsewhere. So it’s best to check parks between the hours of 7am and 9am, but also in mid-day as well.


Libraries

Libraries are one of the most common hangouts for most homeless people, particularly when the weather outside is either very hot, very cold, or raining. So if you at least know the general area where the person you’re looking for might be, try checking the library on a bad weather day, and make sure to visit the public computer section because for many homeless people.

This is their only way to access the internet during the day and check their emails or search for resources online such as shelters, free meals, and directions to places they need to walk to. Also, it might be worth visiting the library within the first hour after it opens on these days.

When I would wake up on a rainy day or a day where the weather was unbearable outside, I’d rush to get to the library and would wait outside it in until it opened. I knew this was the safest and most comfortable place I could be until the weather outside would get better and it was a great way to kill time. In addition to myself, there were always other homeless people outside waiting for the doors to open as well.


Hospitals

If the homeless person you’re looking for has only recently become missing and you’re concerned about their welfare, you should also check local hospitals. This is particularly true if they have a drug addiction or alcohol problem or any health concerns.

While I’m sure this is not the place you hope to find this person at, you should still check. You can’t discount the fact that if someone you love or care about has gone missing, there’s always the possiblity that something bad may have happened to them.

The best way to get in touch with a hospital is simply call them, rather than visiting, and explain that you’re a relative or a loved one and ask if they are staying there. Many hospitals may not divulge any information unless you can prove you’re a relative and visit in-person, but many will still at least tell you if the person is staying there as an in-patient or not.


Missing Persons Report & Flyers

If they’re truly missing and you’re a relative or loved one who’s concerned about their welfare, you can file a missing persons report with their local police department. Often times, police departments and the social services department work in conjunction.

So if the person does happen to show up to apply for social services such as EBT (food stamps), Medicaid, or other services, the police may be contacted and will in turn contact you. There are many different scenarios where police may come across a missing person long before you do with any of the methods I mention here, so you might as well make an effort to file a report and do so as soon as possible before an opportunity to find them is missed.

Imagine if the police have an interaction with the person you’re looking for but they don’t know you’re looking for this person and eventually lose contact with them by the time you do file your report. This is why it’s important to be timely and file as soon as you can. It doesn’t cost any money to file a missing persons report, so there’s really no reason not to.

Also, if you are taking this route in finding them, then you should also think about creating “missing” flyers if you know the city that they might be in.  You can create these flyers cheaply on a computer and print them out, or visit a local computer services company or copy center and see if they can make the flyers for you. You should post them up throughout populated areas of the city and in all the homeless shelters, churches, soup kitchens and outside the local social services department if possible. These can be quite effective if someone happens to see the flyers and knows the person you’re looking for.

Just be sure to include your phone number and why you’re looking for them so that people will want to help you in locating them and will pass along the information when they see your flyers. Usually you’ll need a picture of the missing person on the flyer, and this should be very large and prominent. But if you don’t have a picture, at least try to include their name and a description and something else that might get people’s attention to actually read the flyers.


Last Known Address (Search Engines)

If you can find a vagrants last known address, then there’s a possibility that someone at that address may know where they are or they might just be at that address and no longer homeless. With the internet and all the information available on it nowadays, it’s quite easy to find most people’s last known address, even if they don’t want you to. It’s all a matter of knowing how to use search engines to get to the information you’re looking for quickly and to target it and narrow it down.

People think that using a search engine like Google, Bing, or Duck Duck Go is all about simply typing words in the box and then pressing enter. Those who know anything about how search engines work know that there’s all different tips and tricks you can use to program the search engine to do advanced searches most people don’t know about.

It doesn’t matter which search engine you use with these techniques, just as long as you are patient and have time to try different methods. In any search engine, the first thing you’ll want to do is type the person’s name into a search box, but put their name inside quotation marks. For example, if you’re looking for Tom Cruise, you’ll type “Tom Cruise”. Do it just like that with the quotation marks exactly where they are. Next to the name, simply type the word address. So it should look like this: “Tom Cruise” address.

You do not need to put the word ‘address’ in quotation marks because it’s only one word. But for this method to work, you need to always put quotation marks around any phrases or names with two or more words in them.

The reason we’re doing this is because we want to narrow down the search results in Google. For example, if you type ‘Tom Cruise’ in Google without quotation marks and search for that name, you’ll get articles and websites about Tom Cruise but you may also find websites where the word ‘Tom” and the word ‘Cruise’ are mentioned, but not necessarily together and in the right order.

So it may be a website where a person named Tom Smith is discussed and where another person John Cruise is also mentioned. Google doesn’t know you want ‘Tom Cruise” and not these other two people until you tell their search engine to only look for those two words in that exact order.

By searching like this, it greatly narrows down the results of our search and targets exactly what we want to target. This way you don’t have to sift through millions of websites just to get to pages about the person you’re looking for. Now that you understand how that works, you’ll go ahead and search for what you typed in the box and look at all websites coming up.

Check these websites for any publicly listed addresses that may be published for this person, or narrow things down even further and try alternative methods if this isn’t working for you.
Using search engines, you can often find their last known address and the names of relatives or people they may be associated with.

To narrow things down further, you have to think outside the box. Try searching for other variations of their name. Try “Thomas Cruise” instead. Try “Thomas J Cruise” if their middle name starts with J. Try their full name with their middle name spelled out. Try “T Cruise” for websites that might be abbreviating the first name. Try “Cruise, Tom” and all the variations of the name Tom that I already went over. I suggest switching the order of the first and last name like this because court documents made available to the public normally print people’s names with last name first.

Also, try replacing the word ‘address’ with other words such as the name of a town or city where you know they may have lived in the past. Make sure to put that city or town name in quotation marks as well if it’s more than one word. Think of other words instead of ‘address’ or the town or city name to search with next to their name.

Even if you don’t find their last known address this way, you might find other public information that’s useful to you. I once knew a girl who was looking for her father because they had lost touch with each other for many years after an argument. I found her father for her by putting his name into a search engine with quotation marks and then putting his sister’s name (her aunt) next to his, also in quotation marks. This brought up a website that listed his name and his Facebook account and listed his sister’s name in the “known relatives” section. So just think about different combinations of words or phrases that may be relevant and try them all.


Obituaries

As morbid and as upsetting as this may be, when all else fails, you may want to run a search on recent or past obituaries in their local newspapers or online. As much as I hope this isn’t the case, the person you’re looking for might have recently passed away and that may be a reason why you can’t find them when using other methods.

If searching online, there are many different websites set up to pay tribute to people who passed away such as Legacy.com and some friends or family may have set up a tribute page for them which might clue you in as to what possibly happened to them.

Also, you can search most online newspapers for past or recent obituaries using their website search boxes if you know what town or city they might have been living in last. You can also try using the search engine method I just covered, but put the word “obituary” next to their name.

If you need to search through physical newspapers because their local online newspaper doesn’t publish this information on the web or because the person’s death may have taken place before the internet was popularized, then make calls to your local libraries and ask them if they have a microfilm reader (sometimes referred to as a “microfilm machine”).

Because old newspapers and historical documents are normally stored on microfilm in large libraries, you will need to view them on this machine in order to read them. You can normally use these types of devices to manually scan through most past issues of their newspaper and check the obituary sections of each one. This is the most time consuming of all the methods I’ve listed, so I would only resort to doing this if you’ve exhausted all other options.


Reconnection Sites

Although they aren’t very common, there are actually websites online that were set up specifically for people to find their missing loved ones when those loved ones are homeless, but they differ from area to area and forums are usually the most common types of sites that specialize in this.

You’ll have to search for your local area in a search engine and type “lost loved ones” or other keyword topics that these sites may be using. This is one of the more difficult ways to find a lost homeless person for obvious reasons, but there’s still a possibility that you might find them this way.

When my mother was in her late teens, she had a daughter out of wedlock with a man with a young man who didn’t stick around afterwards. Her parents would not allow her to keep her child because there was no father in the picture to help raise her, so she was forced to give her daughter over to an adoption agency.

When my mother became ill with cancer and knew she didn’t have much time left, she joined a website designed for adoptive children and their natural parents to reconnect. As unlikely as it sounds, her daughter also joined this site because she always wanted to meet her natural mother and they both found this site in an internet search.

This led into my mother and her daughter (my half sister) meeting for the first time after more than 30 years had passed. While this story is about an adoption scenario, this still goes to show that stranger things have happened and homeless websites which operate in a similar way just might be worth your time.


Facial Recognition Sites

Lastly, while this is an extremely unconventional way of finding someone, it has worked for a few people who tried finding others on the internet. Nowadays, there’s a number of different facial recognition sites online which allow you to upload a photo of someone and they will search the web and return back any results they find.

Even Google Images has a search option where you can upload a photo and it will return any matched photos to you. So if you happen to have a picture of the person, this is at least worth a shot. They may be using nicknames or pseudonyms on the internet and uploading photos of themselves to social network sites or other websites.

The technology available now through facial recognition sites is still very faulty and not perfected yet. Plus, their ability to search all images on the internet is also not exactly ideal. With that said, they do still sometimes find the results you’re looking for.

You could possibly upload a photo of the person you’re looking for, and they will use their facial recognition software to search millions of photos online to see if the faces in any of them are similar. From there, you can find the website that the picture is posted and see if you can make contact with the person who posted it from there.