If you’ve never been homeless before, are about to become homeless, or are just curious, then you may be wondering why some people become homeless. Well the short answer to that is that it differs from person to person. It can happen to anyone at any time, and the how and why of it all differs in every scenario. People who become homeless come from all different backgrounds and walks of life. I know this from personal experience because I was homeless for a long duration back in 2011. I was pretty sociable when this happened so I got to know a lot of people who were in a similar situation and I slept in many different cities in Northern California.
So I asked many of them how they came to become homeless and there is no clear cut answer for that because their responses were all different, though many of them did share similar pasts or problems such as legal problems or personal ones. Many of the people out there were actually out there by choice, but not all. Some slept outside on the streets, some slept in shelters, and some slept in cars or RV’s. Since I slept in both shelters and on the streets, these are the types of people that I spoke with the most and lived around. So out of all the reasons I heard to explain why they were homeless, here are some of the most common scenarios when people become homeless.
Drug and Alcohol Abuse
I’m sure you’ve heard of the typical stereotype that homeless people often have drug or alcohol problems. While it’s probably not fair to all homeless people to use this stereotype, it does have a little truth to it. A large amount of people I knew on the streets became homeless when their drug or alcohol addictions caused problems in their life and caused them to lose everything. Not everybody who does drugs or alcohol gets to such a point that they lose everything, but a large portion of those who are on the streets account for some of the extreme cases where that does happen.
Some may start drinking or using drugs after they become homeless, as a way to cope with the situation and forget about their worries and day to day stress, but there are also so many who probably would not have become homeless if it weren’t for having these addictions beforehand. Many of them may have been living with other people at first and their drug or alcohol abuse caused strained relations between then and their friends or family members, and they may have been kicked or pushed out of their homes or rented rooms as a result if they did not own the property or have their names on the lease. Some may have just spent all their money or lost their jobs as a result of these types of addictions. There is no story that is exactly the same, but these are two of the most common scenarios that probably occur for so many people who are now living on the streets.
In other cases, a person may have a criminal record that makes it more difficult for them to gain or keep employment. Some become homeless after they look for employment and simply can’t find anything, and a lot of times having a criminal record can make the job searchers even more hopeless, especially when combined with a weak economy and a rising unemployment rate. Most these people with criminal records are out there competing with hundreds, thousands, or even millions of people who don’t have a criminal record. So if you’re an employer and you have five applicants who are qualified for a job position but one of them has a criminal background check that shows an arrest and conviction, which one of these applicants would you choose? Which one would you trust to show up for work, remain friendly with customers or clients, and not steal anything?
Majority of employers or interviewers would choose one of the 4 applicants who don’t have a criminal record in most cases. It is true that there are many agencies that work with people who have misdemeanors or felonies on their records, but these types of places can often be first come first serve and they don’t guarantee full time or permanent employment so it’s much more difficult to get a job through these types of organizations than it would be applying at regular businesses.
So when a person can’t find work and has spent all their money on rent and food, they will often turn to food stamps and general welfare assistance from the state. But not everybody is approved and the waiting list to get into affordable or low income housing can take a very long time. So many people will become homeless after this or lose their homes and end up on the streets or in shelters.
Probably the one thing that a large majority of homeless people share in common is that most of them have some type of mental illness or disorder. A lot of times this may not even be noticeable unless you were to spend a lot of time around that person or knew the warning signs or symptoms to look for. Almost everybody that I met while homeless had some type of mental problem or physical disorder, even though these things may not have been so obvious to their family members or the society that labeled them as simply being lazy. Depression would be the most common one, but it’s hard to say if they experienced the depression before or during their state of homelessness. Depression, especially when speaking in terms of manic depressive people, can cause a person to become so sad and full of despair that they start to become hopeless.
Once hopelessness sets in, they start to wonder what the point of trying or striving to survive is, and their spirit becomes broke and they basically give up on life. They end up on the streets or in homeless communities as a result or sometimes this can be the same reason they stay living like that for long durations of time, sometimes for the rest of their lives. Schizophrenia is also a very common mental illness that I witnessed amongst many homeless people. The tell-tale signs would be people talking to themselves and having conversations with “voices” they hear that nobody else can hear. Again, this form of mental illness may have existed before they were homeless, but it may also have gone unnoticed until they became homeless and the overload of stress triggered it and caused it to become more visible and obvious.
Some people may also have very severe social disorders to where they can’t socialize like everyday people do and this can cause serious problems for them in life. It can make simple things such as a job interview seem like an impossible obstacle to get around in order to gain employment. It can also cause serious problems with those that they are closest to in their lives, and can cause them to lose everything in life.
In addition to the many mental disorders that people may have, physical disorders or disabilities are also very frequent. For example, somebody may become homeless when their disability prevents them from working a regular job or even getting approved for disability benefits. Many disabilities are impossible to prove with testing or a doctor’s diagnosis, since they are often diagnosed based on reported symptoms and not actual physical evidence on tests.
A person with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), for example, would not normally be able to apply for disability benefits. If a person has a severe form of this disorder, then it can make working a job very difficult since many people with this problem have to spend hours in the bathroom suffering from diarrhea or constipation every day. This can disrupt their work flow and cause repeated absences from work that can get them fired from their jobs. A few other physical disorders or illnesses that often don’t show up on tests would include chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia. Disabilities or problems like these are often called invisible or hidden disabilities or diseases, and mental illnesses can also fall into these categories. The problem with invisible problems is that you can’t prove you have them and there will always be a long line of people trying to pretend they have them in order to get disability payments from their state or government.
So in order to collect social security or disability benefits, the government has made it very difficult for a person to qualify and there are so many requirements that majority of people who really do have these types of disorders will not be able to qualify. So many become homeless as a result and their friends and families may not believe them or may criticize them, or wonder why they don’t “get their act together”.
Mismanagement of Money
Some people, like myself, simply can’t manage money well. It took me a long time to realize this, since I had inherited a little money from my mother after she passed and went through most of it very quickly and still ended up homeless. My mother’s side of the family, who I wasn’t in regular contact, with assumed I had a drug problem or gave it all away to friends. The truth is, I tried to do everything I could to preserve the money by learning how to invest and trying to start several different types of businesses with it. I was successful with many of my investments and some of my online businesses even started to make me some money, but I was still spending more on a regular basis than I was taking in. Little things such as eating expensive takeout meals 3 or 4 times a day and paying my rent for a one room apartment started adding up and when I had money I thought I would always have it because I wasn’t going out and buying a new car or other things people spend big money on.
But all the little things I was buying and not keeping track of added up and within a few years I quickly went through my mother’s money and was sleeping on the streets wondering how that happened. So there are many people who simply can’t manage money well. Some of them go out and spend all their money gambling or on new cars or speaker systems for their homes, while others like me just buy small things impulsively and assume that we’re being thrifty because we’re not blowing it all at once. This is why it’s very common to see people in sports and entertainment make millions of dollars and blow most of it over the years. They don’t normally blow it all in one year, but it’s the little things that add up.
What may not seem like a little expense to your average person is a little expense to someone who feels like they can buy the world. People living in poorer countries or areas manage to make it on next to nothing, because that’s the standard of living they are accustomed to. When you get accustomed to a higher standard of living then it’s very easy to spend a lot more than you should and this is how so many people become homeless who once had money or made good money on their jobs.
Lack of Family and Friends
If a person doesn’t have any family or friends, or ones that are unwilling to help them, then who can they count on to help them out of their situation? It’s for this reason that many people end up out on the streets and on their own. There’s lots of people out there who may judge a homeless person for being in the situation they’re in, but most of the people who do that usually have someone along the line that helped them when they needed it. The judgmental people may also have had better opportunities in life or better luck. All it takes it one stroke of bad luck for a person to lose everything, and with billions of people on earth, that stroke of luck is bound to happen to at least some people according to odds and probability. When that lack of opportunity or stroke of bad luck hits, some people may have others to help them out while others may not.
At the time that I was on the streets, very few of the people I knew who were also in the same situation as me had family that was willing to help them out. Many of them had been abandoned by their family members because of mental problems they had or drug addictions, so their families had basically given up on them and kicked them out or disowned them. In some cases family and friends can be the reason a person is homeless, for example, if they’re ripped off by friends who they trusted or if family unexpectedly kicked them out when they had no warning and no time to plan a move. The betrayal of friends or family can have a snowball effect on some people, because these people will have problems trusting people after that. This lack of trust can result in them meeting less people and becoming anti-social out of a lack of trust in people, and this means they have even less people to help them out when they need it.
Sometimes a person may have a different plan for themselves than what others are doing in life. What might seem like an unmotivated person could actually be the complete opposite of that. Someone might be so determined to achieve their goals in life that they are willing to do anything to get there faster, even if it means sleeping on the streets or in shelters. Obviously a person’s expenses will be a lot less if they aren’t wasting their money on rent every month. Throughout the entire time that I was homeless, my goal was to work every single day towards building my own business. I was earning enough to afford my own food and even enough to rent a room in somebody else’s house. But I wanted to save the little bit of money I was making at the time. At first I didn’t have much choice in the matter because I was barely making any money.
However, after I started to have just enough to live on, I still chose to sleep on the streets to keep my money and put it to good use. This also kept me working harder towards my goals than I normally would have, because it constantly reminded me of where I would never want to be again in my life. So some people may actually be out there on the streets because they have unconventional goals and are sacrificing other things in their lives to meet those goals. There’s been lots of famous people who were homeless or sleeping in their cars at one point because they gave up everything to pursue their dreams and that’s what it took sometimes in order to do that.
What some people have a problem understanding is that not everybody shares the same outlook in life. Some people actually choose to be homeless for this reason. In the movie Into the Wild, the character of Chris McCandless has a different view on life and how he feels he should be living it. He gives away $24,000 that was given to him for education and sets off on not only a physical journey, but a spiritual one to find himself. But Chris McCandless wasn’t just some fictional character in a movie. He was a real person and the views expressed through him in the film were most likely the same views he had in real life. It may seem like he lived a very strange life to some people, but there are literally millions of people like him out there in the world leading similar lives.
They may not follow the exact routes that he took, or do everything exactly as he did them, but many people fall into the same category as him because of their outlook in life. Backpackers who often travel to different countries and places belong in that category, as well as some lifestyle hippies. So when it comes to homeless people, many of them are living the way they live for the same reasons Chris McCandless lived the way he lived. They may be dissatisfied with the regular 9 to 5 rat race that so many people go through every day. They may view homelessness as a way to be free from materialism and commercialism the way that monks who live in monasteries are. Diogenes of Sinope was a famous Greek philosopher, and is a perfect example of a person with this type of mind frame. He lived as a homeless person outside but valued things like integrity and character rather than material things like most people. There’s many modern day people who share the same values as Diogenes, and Chris McCandless was most likely one of them.
The most common perception of homeless people by the general public is that they are lazy and simply don’t want to work regular jobs. I wish I could say that this is just a stereotype and completely false, but there is a lot of truth to this perception. Not all hobos are lazy, but there certainly is a good number of them who are. Some that are lazy may have become that way after ending up on the streets and losing hope, but most were probably lazy even before that. Their laziness and refusal to apply for or work jobs was probably the main reason they ended up on the streets. In the cases of many of them, they probably lived with family or friends who supported them and once they become homeless they stayed in that situation by letting the state or other people continue to take care of them. When I was out on the streets I couldn’t help but to separate most of the people around me into two groups; those who were lazy and those who weren’t.
Those who were lazy would spend most of their time wasting it by doing the things most regular people do once they get off work. They’d sit in shady areas talking to each other (and sometimes to themselves) all day or take naps in the local park. Some would spend their entire day at the public library watching movies on the computers their or on their own tablets and laptops (yes, believe it or not, many of those without homes still have electronics in their backpacks.) Some of them would panhandle or sit outside the local grocery store begging for change. Although it seems like this particular group is trying to better their situation, most of them should be classified as being lazy. I say this because most of those who I knew that did this didn’t really need other people’s money to survive, and usually wasted it on things they didn’t need instead of putting it to good use. There are many programs and both food and cash assistance available to most of those who were out there begging. This may not be true in other countries, but it’s certainly true in the United States and especially true in California.
In some situations there’s people who will actually choose to be homeless for the experience of it. These people are similar to the Chris McCandless people who I described earlier, however, it’s not necessarily a lifestyle choice or long-term thing for them. It may just be an experiment for them so they can see what it feels like or have a better understanding of people in that situation. They may be doing it to test themselves the way rock climbers do, or they may even be doing it to have a story they can sell. Some journalists have gone undercover and lived as homeless people to make documentaries about their experiences or to author books. There’s been many popular books written by ex-hobos over the years. Many of these books were written by people who were genuinely down and out while a few may have actually been written by people doing it for the experience of it. Some of these types of books would include The Pursuit of Happyness, Land of the Lost Souls, and Grand Central Winter.