Why Are Homeless People Fat?

An overweight homeless man.

Obesity in America is a major health problem and one that affects millions of Americans. There’s all different types of obese people out there and homeless people are no exception. While there’s plenty of skinny people in the homeless community as well, it’s fairly common to see those who are fat. Many people who have never been homeless often wonder how anybody without a home can be obese. It’s really not that odd, and actually makes sense, since there’s even more reasons for a homeless person to be obese than your average person who has a home and a job. So if you’re curious what factors could cause a person to be both homeless and obese, here’s a short list with some of those reasons.


Fattening Shelter Food
When you think of homeless people, you shouldn’t think of starving people, at least not in the United States. There are plenty of soup kitchens, shelters, churches, and food drives that provide food for those without homes. Because many of these places receive so many food donations every month, they will often have leftovers and excess food that will be thrown away if nobody eats it. When I was eating at various shelters, there was rarely a day that went by when I wasn’t able to eat seconds, after my first helping. I was eating larger meals as a homeless person than I ever did when I was buying my own food. Shelters are expected to feed people full and balanced meals, so they won’t be criticized or lose support and donations.


So they make sure the meals are filling enough for each person so that nobody will go hungry and so it looks like the shelter is doing their job in providing adequate meals. In addition to this, many people living on the streets will go from place to place, and hit up as many places that are within walking distance from each other. They’ll eat dinner at one place, then go to a completely different shelter or church and eat a second time over there, just because the food they’re serving is different.


In some cities, where shelters and places with food are all in close proximity to each other, it’s almost like the homeless population has an all you can eat buffet. In my city, there were 3 shelters all within a 20 minute walk from each other, and all of which served food. Then there were multiple church’s and food drive programs as well. So food is one of the last things a homeless person needs, at least when we’re talking about those who live in large cities.


Food Stamps and Junk Food
Your average single person who has no income at all usually receives about $200 per month in the form of food stamps (which are also known as EBT cards now). Majority of people out on the streets receive some form of food stamps, even if they don’t get the full allowance. One of the main drawbacks of EBT cards is that you can not purchase hot foods with the money you’re given. So this greatly limits the types of foods that homeless people can eat. Things like canned foods are usually not worth buying because they may not have can openers and they have nowhere to cook the foods. Most hobos have no refrigerators as well, so it’s not like they can purchase things like lunch meats and put the leftovers in the fridge for later. So what do you think they’re going to buy in this case? Many of them purchase junk foods because they don’t require cooking, don’t need to be refrigerated, and they’re eligible for the EBT program unlike hot foods. Junk foods are filled with starches and carbohydrates that are known for leading to weight gain.


Panhandling, Disability, and Other Income
Don’t forget that homeless people know how to panhandle, file for disability or SSI, and there’s even programs in some states like General Assistance where they receive a set amount of money each month in exchange for doing a week’s worth of work. Those who are panhandling out on the street corners often make more than people who work regular jobs every day, in less amount of time. So just because a person can’t afford to have their own home or live with others, doesn’t mean they are completely broke. I’ve known a lot of people on the streets who get $900 a month in disability or between $150 and $350 a month in General Assistance, in addition to any food stamps or other forms of income they may have. So if someone is getting money from these different sources, eating for free at all the shelters, then getting food stamps on top of that, they are able to buy food and eat more than your average person.


Since being without a home can be very depressing and traumatizing to some people, they will tend to eat more as a result. The connection between depression and overindulging in foods is well documented by the medical community, and it’s a very common habit amongst people from all types of backgrounds. Since I’ve already covered the different ways that homeless individuals get free food, it’s easy to see how they can end up overeating when on the streets. Chocolate and sweets are known for making people fat, but they’re also known for helping people feel better when they’re sad. So a lot of depressed people living on the streets choose to buy lots of candy and sweets to bring back with them to their tents or sleeping bags at night. This can turn into a sweets addiction because once the sugar is fully digested and metabolized, they’ll feel a sugar crash and start to feel depressed again. So what do you think they’ll do then? They’ll go out and get more candy or sugary foods.


Less Active
Since it’s harder to get a job when you have no home, and since many people without homes are lazy, the vast majority of homeless people do not have jobs. This should come as no surprise, since you probably see them standing out there on a regular basis and probably never worked with anybody who was homeless, or at least who was willing to admit they were or appeared like they were. We all know that exercise and staying active helps to keep the pounds off, and this is yet another reason why you see so many individuals on the streets who are overweight.


Many of them will sit around all day and do nothing, instead of working a job and staying active. This causes weight gain, or it at least prevents weight loss. Either way, it makes sense doesn’t it? Picture a man standing or sitting all day near a freeway exit with a sign saying he needs money, then sits in his sleeping spot with his friends all night. Now picture another man who works in an office and has to get up from his desk to go to the copier constantly throughout the day. Even though the office worker works at his desk, even he is probably more active than that homeless man standing by that freeway exit. Most people are even more active on their jobs than that office worker, since not everybody works in an office or sits at a desk while on the job.