Homelessness Resources

What To Do & Who To Contact If You Are Homeless Right Now
 -- Or About To Be.

Below is a brief checklist of steps to take if you're on the verge of homelessness:

  • Find people or organizations who may be willing to help. This includes government social service agencies, family, friends, churches or private foundations. If you can find someone to loan you money, now is the time to ask.
  • Think of things you can sell, and services you can eliminate (cable TV, etc.) that can provide cash for emergency funds if homelessness is inevitable.
  • If you lost your job, apply for unemployment benefits, even if you think you are ineligible.
  • Apply for public and Section 8 housing. Also apply for transitional housing.
  • Make sure your ID is current, and that you have a place to receive mail. If you don’t have a drivers license, apply for a state ID card instead. If you need a replacement Social Security card sent to you, apply for one
  • Pack only what you'll need to live on, and put the rest in storage, or ask a friend or relative to store a few things for you.

Finding Help In Your Area With One Call Or Click

Immediately contact your state, county and local health and human services offices, or the United Way Helpline to see what help is available in your area. You can do this by calling 2-1-1, or visiting http://www.211.org and entering your ZIP code. A United Way service, 2-1-1 provides free and confidential information and referrals for help with food, rent, housing, utilities, employment, health care, counseling, legal assistance and more. This one-stop shopping hotline consolidates government, nonprofit, and faith-based social services so you don’t have to make multiple phone calls trying to navigate through a confusing tangle of help agencies and bureaucracy.

Visit the Homelessness Resource Center site if 2-1-1 service is not available in your area (http://homeless.samhsa.gov/Resource/LocalResources.aspx), and click on your state. By making contact with your state agency, they will be able to further refer you to local resources in your specific city. Also visit http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/states and click on your state. Then click on “Find Homeless Resources.” There, you will find help for shelter, hotlines, utility bill help, food bank locations, Social Security offices, homeless veterans contacts, United Way services, job retraining, and other little-known assistance programs you may qualify for.

If you don’t have access to the Internet, most local social service agencies publish “essential services” resource lists of where to find the following in your area:

  • At-Risk Youth
  • Clothing
  • Crisis Intervention
  • Debt Counseling and Renegotiation
  • Disability Services
  • Food
  • Free Health Care Clinics & Services
  • Legal Assistance
  • Rent Subsidy Programs
  • Transportation
  • Shelter
  • Utility Assistance
  • Unemployment Benefits
  • Veterans Services
  • Work Referrals & Job Retraining

You may be eligible for benefits such as unemployment, food stamps, etc., and local service agencies will be able to provide you with lists and referrals to shelters and transitional or subsidized housing. Homeless families tend to get priority in shelters and for government services, such as housing assistance. This is especially true if you have children, because additional assistance, such as cash and motel vouchers, are available under the federal program called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

Do not feel you are taking government “handouts.” Your state and federal tax dollars pay for these services, and you are withdrawing a fraction of what you have paid into the system over the course of your working life. This is even moreso if you are working while homeless, so you may as well use what you have already paid for.

If you feel that a homeless shelter is a safer and more viable option than living in your car, or if you want a temporary respite from car dwelling during extreme weather, you can find state-by-state shelter directories at:

Specific groups of people are especially vulnerable to homelessness, and have no other choice but to live in their cars. They include veterans, domestic violence victims, youths, people who live in rural areas, and the chronically homeless. There are additional assistance programs and services available to these groups, on top of regular homelessness programs; see Appendix B below, as excerpted from the book.

Do not be too proud to ask for help, as there is absolutely no reward in suffering and being miserable.



Domestic Violence Victims

An unfortunate reality is that the majority of homeless women living in cars are victims of domestic violence. Among families, it is the third leading cause of homelessness. Survivors of domestic violence are often isolated from support networks and financial resources by their abusers. As a result, they have trouble finding apartments because they may lack steady income, or have poor credit, rental, and employment histories. They also suffer from anxiety, panic disorder, major depression, and substance abuse. Because of these considerable barriers, many women remain in an abusive relationship. However, domestic violence often becomes so severe that women eventually leave their homes, even when they have no place to go.

Most women who are victims of domestic violence are not aware that there is separate social service funding available to help them, in addition to homelessness services. Free or low-cost legal help is also available to assist with restraining orders and child custody issues. Domestic violence programs can often provide housing or other shelter so you don’t have to live in your car as a result of abuse.

Getting Help

You don’t have to fight the battle alone. The top “go-to” pages for resources available to you at the national, state, and local level are:

1. The National Domestic Violence Hotline. (http://www.thehotline.org or phone 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Hotline advocates are available for victims, and anyone calling on their behalf, to provide crisis intervention, safety planning, information, and referrals to agencies in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Assistance is available in English and Spanish, with access to more than 170 languages through interpreter services.

2. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. This group provides a master list of national organizations that can help. You can find the list on their website at http://www.ncadv.org/resources/OtherUSOrganizations.php. They also have a state-by-state list of agencies in your area at http://www.ncadv.org/resources/StateCoalitionList.php. Click on your state to find help.

3. The National Network to End Domestic Violence also has a list of national coalitions. You can find them on their website at http://www.nnedv.org/resources/coalitions.html.

4. WomensLaw.org is an organization that offers help finding shelters, free or low-cost legal services and representation, and help working with court and law enforcement agencies. The information is state-specific, and written in plain language so that people can comprehend it without the help of a lawyer. The website also provides tips for working with lawyers, and listings for telephone hotlines, local and state programs, court forms, and law enforcement. Visit http://www.womenslaw.org/gethelp.php to find national, state and local services and referrals in your area.

For a list of what to expect from programs, shelters and legal advocates, visit http://www.wscadv.org/getHelpNow.cfm. Services available at the local level can include: Crisis intervention, safety planning, in-person response for survivors of sexual violence, emergency housing resources, “Danger to Safety” transportation assistance, support groups, and referrals to other resources. Some programs are language-based (e.g., Russian, Southeast Asian). There are also school-based prevention programs, support groups and home visits for families leaving domestic violence situations.


Causes of homelessness among youth fall into three inter-related categories: family problems, economic problems, and residential instability (i.e., aging out of foster care). At least 1.7 million youth run away from home each year, leaving after years of physical and sexual abuse, strained relationships, addiction of a family member, and parental neglect. Other youths may become homeless when their families suffer financial crises resulting from lack of affordable housing, limited employment opportunities, insufficient wages, no medical insurance, or inadequate welfare benefits. These kids become homeless with their families, but are later separated from them by shelter, transitional housing, or child welfare policies.

The same factors that contribute to adult homelessness can lead to youth homelessness: poverty, lack of affordable housing, low education levels, unemployment, mental health issues, and substance abuse. Moreover, the existing homeless assistance system is largely designed for adults. Local nonprofit organizations, shelters, housing projects, and other assistance providers often do not understand the needs of homeless youth, and may lack the resources to provide the necessary interventions.

Homeless youth face difficulties attending school because of legal guardianship requirements, residency requirements, improper records, and lack of transportation. As a result, they face severe challenges in obtaining an education and supporting themselves emotionally and financially.

Because of their age, homeless youth have few legal means by which they can earn enough money to meet basic needs. Many homeless adolescents find that exchanging sex for food, clothing, and shelter is their only chance of survival on the streets.

Homeless adolescents often suffer from severe anxiety and depression, poor health and nutrition, and low self-esteem. In one study, the rates of major depression, conduct disorder, and post-traumatic stress syndrome were found to be three times as high among runaway youth, than youth who have not run away.

National reports have consistently noted the prevalence of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth in the homeless population. Many experience abandonment and severe family conflict stemming from their sexual orientation and gender identity, but other factors are also present: physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, substance abuse by parents, and mental health disabilities. Once homeless, LGBTQ youth experience higher rates of physical and sexual assault, and higher incidence of mental health problems and unsafe sexual behaviors, than heterosexual homeless youth. LGBTQ homeless youth are twice as likely to attempt suicide (62 percent) as their heterosexual homeless peers (29 percent).

Getting Help

Contact the National Runaway Switchboard (NRS) hotline at 1-800-RUNAWAY, or visit their website at http://www.1800runaway.org. Through the hotline and online services, NRS provides crisis intervention, referrals to local resources, and education and prevention services to youth, families and community members throughout the country 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

The NRS site also has an online bulletin board where teens can ask questions anonymously and share their thoughts and experiences. They can also reach out for help via email at info@1800Runaway.org. There is also a live chat service which allows youth and teens in crisis to access a NRS crisis intervention specialist, and connect to resources such as shelter, counseling, food, medical and legal assistance.

Via NRS’ Home Free program (in partnership with Greyhound Lines, Inc.), runaways and homeless youth can reunite with their families, or an alternative living situation with extended families, through a free bus ticket home. Over 14,000 youth have been reunited with families through the program since 1995. NRS can also facilitate conference calls when youth request assistance in contacting their family, or an agency that can help them. NRS also maintains a message service for youth who want to relay a message but are not ready to communicate directly with their parents.

For educational resources, contact the National Center for Homeless Education (NCHE):

Toll-free helpline:

Helpline email:

Staff general number:

Mailing address:
P.O. Box 5367
Greensboro, NC 27435

Visit the United Way website (http://apps.unitedway.org/myuw) and select your state to find local resources, or call United Way’s helpline by dialing 2-1-1 or visiting http://www.211.org.

The Ali Forney Center (AFC) is the nation’s largest and most comprehensive organization dedicated to homeless LGBTQ youth. They provide homeless LGBTQ youths (aged 16-24) with support and services to escape the streets, and begin to live healthy and independent lives. Visit their website at http://www.aliforneycenter.org and click on “Get Help.”


Veterans are at especially high risk for homelessness—about 40% of homeless men are veterans, although veterans comprise only 34 percent of the general adult male population. A number of factors contribute to homelessness among veterans, including lack of income, physical health and disability, mental health and trauma, substance abuse, and weak social networks. But it is the lack of affordable housing that is the primary culprit. While most of the 23.4 million U.S. veterans do not have trouble affording housing costs, the analysis found that nearly half a million veterans are extremely low-income, and therefore severely rent burdened (paying more than 50% of their income toward rent). These are the veterans who often become homeless.

Getting Help

The Veterans Administration page at http://va.gov/homeless is the “go to” website for homeless veterans, and the best starting point to find federal benefits that are available.
  • The National Call Center for Homeless Veterans 1-877-4AID-VET (or 1-877-424-3838) is a hotline for homeless and at-risk veterans to access VA Services 24/7.

If you don’t have access to the Internet, call the phone number above to access the following services available to homeless veterans, as well as veterans at risk of homelessness, and their families: Safe housing, opportunities to return to employment, health care, and mental health services. You can also call 1-800-827-1000 to see what non-homeless veterans benefits are available. For health care needs, call 1-877-222-VETS (8387).

The Veterans Crisis Line connects veterans in crisis (and their families and friends) with Department of Veterans Affairs responders through a confidential, toll-free hotline, online chat, or text:
  • Reach the Veterans Crisis Line (suicide prevention) at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and press 1
  • The web site to access the same crisis line service in online chat format instead is http://veteranscrisisline.net
  • Text 838255

When you call the hotline, join the online chat, or text:

  • You will be connected to a trained VA responder.
  • The responder will ask a few questions to assess your needs.
  • If you’re a veteran, you may be connected with the Homeless Program point of contact at the nearest VA facility.
  • Contact information will be requested so staff may follow up.

The hotline and online chat are free (texting fees may apply depending on your particular phone contract), and neither VA registration nor enrollment in VA healthcare is required to use either service. Responders will work with you to help you get through any personal crisis, even if that crisis does not involve thoughts of suicide.

The National Resource Directory (NRD) is a website that connects service members, veterans, their families, and caregivers to programs and services that support them at the national, state, and local levels, including support recovery, rehabilitation and community reintegration. You can find information on a variety of topics, such as:

  • Benefits & Compensation
  • Education & Training
  • Employment
  • Family & Caregiver Support
  • Health
  • Homeless Assistance
  • Housing
  • Transportation & Travel
  • Volunteer Opportunities
  • Other Services & Resources

For housing, the HUD Homelessness Resource Exchange Veteran’s Assistance site is a one-stop spot for veterans, and those who help veterans, to find housing. On this page are HUD homeless veteran programs and initiatives, as well as resources, publications, and relevant links to agencies and organizations. Additionally, to make the programs more easily accessible, there is local contact information for each program.

Find homeless veterans health care contacts by state.

The above site lists veterans treatment court programs and locations.

The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans pages list help that is immediately available, and step-by-step guides to help you figure out which services you might need.

To better serve veterans in rural areas, VA’s Office of Rural Health (ORH) was established in 2007 to improve access and quality of health care for rural veterans and Native American veterans in tribal communities. Veterans living in rural areas have traditionally been underserved for health care access.

The Veterans Job Bank provides a central resource that allows veterans to access jobs available specifically for them.


Rural homelessness, like urban homelessness, is the result of poverty and a lack of affordable housing. In 2005, research showed that the odds of being poor are between 1.2 to 2.3 times higher for people in non-metropolitan areas, than in metropolitan areas. Rural residential histories reveal that homelessness is often precipitated by a structural or physical housing problem jeopardizing health or safety; when families relocate to safer housing, the rent is often too much to manage and they experience homelessness again while searching for housing that is both safe and affordable. While housing costs are lower in rural areas, so are rural incomes, leading to similarly high rent burdens. Other trends affecting rural homelessness include the distance between low-cost housing and employment opportunities, lack of transportation, decline in home ownership, restrictive land-use regulations and housing codes, rising rent burdens, and insecure tenancy resulting from changes in the local real estate market (i.e., the displacement of trailer park residents). Longer periods of unemployment also plague the rural poor more often than their urban counterparts.

Rural homelessness is most pronounced in rural regions that are primarily agricultural; regions whose economies are based on declining extractive industries such as mining, timber, or fishing; and regions experiencing economic growth. This occurs because areas with industrial plants attract more workers than jobs available, and areas near urban centers attract new businesses and higher-income residents, which drive up taxes and living expenses.

Rural homelessness is a double-edged sword, because there is less transitional housing, fewer employment programs, fewer social service agencies, and fewer health care programs than in cities. However, finding solutions for homeless people can be easier in rural areas, in part because the numbers aren’t so overwhelming. “Take the extreme, say Los Angeles, that has a city’s worth of homeless people, 60,000 or 70,000 homeless people. It’s difficult to think what you might do about that,” says Nan Roman, president of the National Alliance to End Homelessness. “Whereas rural communities...may have 10 or 12 homeless people.”

Also, understanding rural homelessness requires a more flexible definition of homelessness. There are far fewer shelters in rural areas than in urban areas, so people experiencing homelessness are less likely to live on the street or in a shelter. Instead, they are more likely to live in a car or camper, or with relatives, in overcrowded or substandard housing. Restricting definitions of homelessness to include only those who are literally homeless—that is, on the streets or in shelters—does not fit well with the rural reality, and also may exclude many rural communities from accessing federal dollars to address homelessness.

About 9% of all homeless people live in rural areas. Studies comparing urban and rural homeless populations have shown that homeless people in rural areas are more likely to be white, female, married, currently working, homeless for the first time, and homeless for a shorter period of time. Other research indicates that families, single mothers, and children make up the largest group of people who are homeless in rural areas.

Rural areas have fewer service providers, and the rural homeless may have to travel long distances to find them. The service providers that do exist in rural communities differ from their urban counterparts in that they tend to provide less shelter and housing than outreach, food, and financial assistance.

Getting Help

The Rural Assistance Center (RAC) is the best online starting point to find programs specifically addressing rural homelessness.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Information Center (RIC) website provides information on housing programs and services for rural areas.

The USDA Rural Development page provides information on Housing and Community Facilities Programs (HCFP) in rural areas. The Single Family Housing Programs website (http://www.rurdev.usda.gov/HSF_SFH.html) provides information about home ownership opportunities for low- and moderate-income rural Americans through several loan, grant, and loan guarantee programs. The programs also make funding available to individuals for financing vital improvements necessary to make their homes decent, safe, and sanitary. If you find a program that suits your needs, contact your state USDA service center for help applying to the program at http://offices.sc.egov.usda.gov/locator/app.


For many, homelessness is a short-term problem. For others, homelessness is pervasive. According to HUD’s definition, a person who is “chronically homeless” is an unaccompanied homeless individual with a disabling condition (i.e., substance abuse, serious mental illness, developmental disability, or chronic physical illness) who has either been continuously homeless for a year or more, or has had at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years (with homelessness defined as sleeping in a place not meant for human habitation and/or in an emergency homeless shelter).

Twenty three percent of homeless people are reported as chronically homeless.  Although they represent a small portion of the overall homeless population, they consume over half of services. Health care is the biggest expense associated with the use of public services by the chronically homelessness, due to frequent and avoidable emergency room visits, inpatient hospitalizations, sobering centers, and nursing homes. The mortality rate for those experiencing chronic homelessness is four to nine times higher than for the general population.

The chronically homelessness also have high rates of incarceration, often for offenses that are non-violent and related to mental illness, or the realities of living on the street. This adds an additional burden to a justice system already stretched to its limit.

Providing permanent supportive housing for people experiencing chronic homelessness is highly cost-effective. Permanent supportive housing leads to dramatic drops in utilization rates for hospitals, ERs, and other major services, as well as drops in arrest rates. The cost of the housing subsidy and supportive services is more than offset by less frequent use of costly public services, such as jails and emergency rooms.

Getting Help

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) homelessness resource center website includes a suicide prevention hotline 1-800-273-TALK (8255); and a treatment locator and referral line 1-800-662-HELP (4357). Additional information is also available at the main Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website at http://www.samhsa.gov.

To search for free or low-cost addiction treatment centers, visit http://www.freeaddictioncenters.com.

For treatment centers that are free, affordable, discounted, low-cost, sliding scale or Medicaid-based, call 1-800-780-2294 to speak with a drug or alcohol counselor, or visit http://www.freetreatmentcenters.com and search by state.