Frequently Asked Questions

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What is homelessness?

Homelessness is a condition of people or persons who lack regular and/or legal access to adequate housing of their own. These persons are forced to utilize homeless shelters and other homeless support service agencies for shelter, food, clothing, personal hygiene and other necessary personal needs.

Many who cannot avail themselves of these agencies are forced to sleep in public areas such as behind buildings, in alleyways, vacant lots, their vehicles or other such locations.

Some are forced to use whatever means necessary to provide themselves with food, clothing and personal hygiene.

A homeless person as defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Development is:

  1. an individual who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence; and

  2. an individual who has a primary nighttime residence that is:

    • supervised publicly or privately operated shelter designed to provide temporary living accommodations (including welfare hotels, congregate shelters, and transitional housing for the mentally ill);

    • an institution that provides a temporary residence for individuals intended to be institutionalized;

    • or a public or private place not designed for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping accommodations for human beings.

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Who are the homeless?

There is no one single answer to who can become homeless. Homelessness can and does afflict persons of every ethnic, religious, educational and social background.

As recently as 2 or 3 decades ago, the homeless were mostly adult men. That demographic however, has changed dramatically. The homeless of today is still comprised mostly of adult men, however the number of woman and children who are homeless has increased at an alarming rate.

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How many are homeless?

Accurate statistical numbers of homeless persons in our country are difficult to establish, since there are many homeless who do not avail themselves of homeless support service agencies and are therefore “unaccounted” for. In addition, there are "transitional" or "couch" homeless are persons who, although lacking a residence of their own, have avoided using homeless support services by living with family or friends. These individuals are then therefore also unaccounted for.

However, studies are showing that these couch homeless will eventually find themselves required to use homeless support services when they overstay their welcome.

The data below are based on homeless persons who have availed themselves of government, private or non-profit agencies that provide services to the homeless.

Nationally, it is estimated that between 1.65 and 3.5 million persons will experience homelessness annually, and can be broken down into the following demographic groups:

  • 40% Families
  • 39% Children
  • 23% Veterans
  • 2.2% Senior Citizens

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Why are they homeless?

Individuals and families find themselves falling into homelessness when they lack the financial ability to maintain housing of their own.

There are many reasons why this occurs. Among them are the rise in the cost of living index, the lack of affordable housing units and, the outsourcing of jobs to foreign markets all of which are contributing factors to the increase in homelessness. Moreover, wage increases have not kept up with the rising cost of living, thus more of a person’s overall income is being spent on housing.

According to one study, a person who is working a minimum wage job would be required to work 89 hours per week in order to be to afford a median priced rental unit.

Many senior citizens and persons with disabilities on fixed incomes find themselves homeless as a result of eviction due to rent increases they cannot afford.

Women with dependant children find themselves homeless as a result of fleeing relationships wrought with domestic violence.

Middle aged "Baby Boomers" becoming homeless as a result of job loss or personal injuries find it difficult to re-establish themselves into the job market because of employers who are seeking a young workforce.

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Why should we care about the homeless?

The primary reason for caring about the homeless is: humanity.

While it is true that there are those homeless who are so due to alcohol or drug addictions, these homeless represent only a fraction of the varied types of people who are currently homeless throughout the nation.

It is easy to dismiss the homeless as people who are homeless as a result of their own actions, however current studies have shown that an ever growing majority of the homeless are so as a result of circumstances that are beyond their control.

With the increased number of families with children, senior citizens, persons with disabilities and veterans who experience homelessness each year, it is clear to see why we should care about helping the homeless.

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Why do they panhandle or beg for money?

Although the United States Supreme Court has ruled that "soliciting" or the "begging of alms" is a form of free speech protected under the 1st Amendment, many Americans intensely dislike panhandlers. This prejudice against panhandling is based on presuppositions of why homeless persons panhandle.

Many people experience a sense of intimidation or annoyance by any homeless person who approaches them for the express purpose of asking for money. Moreover, many believe that all homeless who panhandle are simply too lazy to work. While it is true that there are many who panhandle out of laziness, it is important to remember that there are equally as many who panhandle out of necessity.

In communities where employment opportunities or the availability of homeless support services are limited, many homeless are forced to solicit rather than commit crimes in order to meet their personal needs.

Sadly, because of assumptions and misconceptions, many homeless who panhandle have become victims of verbal and physical attacks by members of the mainstream community who view the homeless as "social leeches."

If you are approached by any person who asks you for money and you do not wish to help, the most effective method is to use a firm but non-confrontational "no." This will usually suffice. In the event that the person continues to follow you or if they appear to become annoyed contact your local authorities but DO NOT seek to "deal" with the person yourself.

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Why don’t the homeless just get jobs?

Contrary to popular myth, the majority of homeless are not lazy and/or unwilling to work.

According to national statistics, approximately 24% of all adult homeless are employed full time, however the majority of them are earning only minimum wage.

In addition, the lack of jobs that provide for gainful earnings combined with the shrinking affordable housing market make it increasingly difficult for homeless to raise their standard of living.

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Why don’t the homeless just go somewhere else?

While it is easy to ask why the homeless do not go somewhere else, perhaps a more appropriate question would be to ask ourselves where exactly we expect the homeless to go.

Most communities have adopted a "NIMBY" (Not In My Backyard) attitude toward the homeless. We want them to go elsewhere, but once they get there that community, in turn, wants them to go elsewhere.

Studies on homelessness, indicate that most persons will generally remain within the community in which they become homeless. The presence of family, friends, a familiarity with the area and its resources, the fear of being homeless in a new or unfamiliar area, all create a natural reluctance for someone who finds themselves homeless to leave a community that has been their home.

Many who become homeless believe that since a community has been their home that they will have "a better chance" at getting back into the mainstream community. However, with the misconceptions and prejudices that the majority of people have toward the homeless, a person who finds themselves homeless soon find that they have become outcast within the very community that they have lived in.

Persons with disabilities and senior citizens, are those less likely to leave an area in which they lived prior to homelessness than are younger persons.

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What about homeless shelters?

Due to lack of adequate funding most homeless shelters — which are generally private non-profit organizations — are able to provide only one meal, a bed and shower facilities to the homeless.

Some homeless shelters seek to offer additional services to the homeless such as case management, counseling, mailing address services, advocacy and referrals to other agencies. Once again, however, the lack of adequate funding makes effectively meeting the needs of the homeless virtually an impossible task.

Most homeless shelters lack the financial resources to remain open 24 hours a day and operate only during the evening and night hours. The homeless, therefore are required to find somewhere else to be throughout the day.

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What about other homeless services agencies?

Some communities do provide additional homeless support services to supplement their night shelters via "day centers" which are able to provide services to the homeless during the day.

Although attempts are made to coordinate homeless services between agencies, each organization is its own separate entity and as such, there is often a lack of effective coordination between them. Subsequently, many of the provided services are redundant between agencies, thus reducing the overall effectiveness of community contributed dollars.

In addition, this redundancy reduces the ability to effectively help the homeless regain a place within the community. As a result, many of the homeless are forced to remain homeless for longer periods of time before they can re-establish themselves into the community.

Moreover, the community is forced to choose which agency will receive what percentage of contributions as each agency vies for its share of donations.

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Doesn’t the Federal Government provide funding for these services?

Yes. However, this funding is "filtered" down to local governments by way of the State, then County and finally the city or town itself.

Each homeless support services agency can request government funding, however, they are required to keep a record of the total numbers of people they helped, the types and numbers of services they provided, and other such data. They must also comply with certain regulations that govern these types of organizations.

The local government will then take all of this information into consideration and determine what percentage of funding each agency will receive for the upcoming year.

Unfortunately, in most municipalities, funding programs to help the homeless is almost always at the bottom of the list. In some areas, local agencies that provide services to the homeless must rely exclusively on support from the private sector.

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Where can I get more information about homelessness?

On the "Links" page you will find a list of web sites that have further information about homelessness.

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How can I help make a difference?

  • Volunteer Work –
    Agencies and organizations who provide services to the homeless are always in short supply of willing hands.
  • Donations –
    Homeless support services agencies are always in need of items such as: food, clothing, blankets, personal hygiene items (e.g. – bath soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, sanitary napkins, disposable diapers, etc.) and of course money.
  • Have a fund raising event –
    Car washes, garage sales, bake sales, or any other type of event and donate the proceeds to your local homeless shelter.
  • Don’t do business with stores that discriminate against the homeless –
    Some businesses will not hire a person who is homeless. This type of discrimination is illegal but very difficult to prove. If you know of a business that is engaging in this type of discrimination, stop doing business with them. Then let them know that you’ve stopped doing business with them and why.
  • Contact Your Local Elected Officials –
    Let them know that you expect them to find an efficient and effective manner for dealing with homelessness in your community. Make it clear to them that you want them to do more than just pass laws and ordinances that penalize the homeless. Let them know that you want them to find a way to help the homeless regain some since of dignity. Remind them that as a member of the voting public you are putting them “on notice.”
  • Contact Your State and Federal Representatives –
    Don’t believe for one moment that because a politician is at the state or federal level that they won’t to listen to their local constituents. Circulate a petition among your social clubs, churches and other groups demanding that your state’s legislators take proper and effective measures to seriously address the issue of homelessness. Remind them that they “work” for you – the voting public.
  • Most importantly –
    remember that anyone who is homeless is still a person and entitled to be treated as such: with dignity and respect.

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