Homelessness is the result of a series of symptoms. It does not define a person.

Unlike the stereotypes, not all homeless people are drug addicts or alcoholics or mentally ill. Many of them were employed, stable, and secure before a few ill timed catastrophic events took place. If you have no natural supports – family or friends, for example, willing to lend you money or a roof over your head – the loss of your job or a sudden health issue may send your financial securities down the drain before you can recover.

But what do you do if you find yourself without those ever secure four walls surrounding you and a healthy emotional safety net? Thankfully, there are options and supports available to you even in this dark hour.

Dial 2-1-1

If you are in a situation that has left you homeless or on the path to homelessness, familiarize yourself with this number. You can contact it day or night to find information and supports. Dialling 2-1-1 is free and accessible online as well, and can provide you help with:

  • Critical situations, such as escaping an abusive relationship, or assistance for those with suicidal thoughts
  • Natural disasters and locating missing loved ones as a result
  • Resources to help feed you and your family
  • Access to quality health care and assistance for those struggling to make ends meet due to illness
  • Housing resources for those needing help in securing a stable home. They can also assist if paying your utilities is too taxing
  • Employment and education

2-1-1 can also assist if you are re-entering society after time spent in a correctional or rehabilitation institution. It is a great starting point if you don’t know where to begin when anticipating becoming homeless.

The Continuum of Care Program

Another great starting point is what is known as the “front door” for supports for your impending or recent homelessness: the Continuum of Care program, or the CoC. Through the webpage you will be directed to a map of America – simply click on your location and a contact name and information will pop up in an easy to use window, as shown below:

Find Shelter or Housing

Now that you have the information and contacts for your location and needs, you can find shelter.

If you are newly (or nearly) homeless, first and foremost you need a safe place to rest your weary head. Shelter and safety – and sleep – are panamount when it comes to your survival, and there are several resources available to those who find themselves in such dire circumstances.

This list provides you with multiple resources for housing as well as food and healthcare if you find yourself homeless. There are shelters for men only, women only, women and children only, youth or senior shelters, family shelters – even shelters that allow you to bring your pet. With a little preparation and knowledge, the possibilities of your safety and comfort are plentiful.

Further to the searchable listing above, further resources can be found on the Homeless Shelter Directory, where you can find information about dental clinics, free clinics, treatment centers for addictions recovery and support, rental assistance, childcare and food pantries and other meal resources.

In many of the programs and services listed in this article, you will be asked questions about the severity of your situation and assessed on your needs and how emergent they may be. Due to demand, you may not be admitted to your shelter of choice, as beds are generally reserved for those with the highest need. There are many shelters, however, so with some persistence you should be able to locate one to assist you.

Access to Food

Food pantries, which are often operated out of a church or non profit organization, are a great resource whether you’re already sleeping on the street or attempting to prevent that possibility, but they aren’t the only resource available. This searchable tool helps you locate food pantries, soup kitchens and other meal programs. 

Sometimes, a few large grocery bills is all that removes you from having the temporary stability you need to start building your savings and creating a buffer. The above tool also helps to provide you with subsidized groceries to help stave off impending homelessness or hunger.

Food pantries can assist with any groceries and staples that you may be unable to obtain yourself as well. A common misconception is that food banks and food pantries are the same thing, but food banks don’t directly provide food to the hungry, they provide it to food pantries and soup kitchens. It’s best to visit a food pantry for food you can prepare yourself, or a meal program, also known as a soup kitchen, for fully prepared meals.

Support and Healthcare

Food and shelter are the most basic needs for human beings, but we are not emotionless shells either. In addition to a warm safe space and food in our bellies, we need emotional support, and we need healthcare, especially after becoming homeless, which can be extremely difficult emotionally.

The importance of housing on our emotional, and not just physical, survival is clear. We all need food and water, shelter, and warmth. These are basic, vital needs to our livelihood. But what about our spirit? This listing can provide you with information and resources for crisis counselling and affordable counselling, and can provide you with ongoing support in your time of crisis.

Another important tool to access when you are homeless is healthcare and thankfully, there are a number of providers of free healthcare available to those in need. An extensive listing can be found here by clicking on your location on the map.

Support for Addictions

This website provides you with contact numbers and distress lines for suicide prevention and emergencies. It also has a lot of resources and information about treatment facilities and how to gain access to one, if you are suffering from addiction or mental health issues.

Help for Homeless Youth

Not all homeless people are adults – many are young people escaping parental abuse and other social and domestic problems. Runaways, as they are often called, can find supports here. Also available on this site is assistance for parents or loved ones.

Escaping Domestic Violence

Domestic violence can be fatal. It’s therefore so important to have supports available to help those escaping domestic violence with a safe, secure place where they cannot be found by the wrong people. There are many resources found here, as well a helpful FAQ. Additionally, a listing of shelters and emergency shelters specifically for those escaping domestic abuse can be found here.

Help for Veterans

Volunteers of America offer supports for veterans who have become homeless, many of which also suffer from post traumatic stress disorder and other related mental illnesses.  Veterans often require specialized health care, so it’s no surprise that a “taskforce” has been created, thanks to the American Legion, to help our veterans find the unique help they need.

Previously Incarcerated & Returning to Society

For those who have spent time in a correctional facility returning to work, finding employment and a secure situation can be challenging, often resulting in homelessness and a return to crime. Services for the previously incarcerated can be found at the Volunteers of America, where they can take part in work-release programs and get access to mediation and transitional housing, as well as many other programs.

Getting Back on Your Feet

While shelters and social programs do provide you with a roof over your head and regular meals, they are not a guarantee and by no means are they permanent. It’s generally preferred to find a stable situation and that generally doesn’t involve a shelter. 

While you are without a permanent home, accessing social services may be a bit tougher, however it’s vital that you do. Once you have found safe, temporary housing or have regular access to a shelter and food, it’s important to start looking for affordable low income housing right away.

Housing can mean many things. Public housing may be a good starting point, as it is based on your gross annual income. Alternatively, housing vouchers are an option, in which the government pays a portion of your rent and you pay the remainder.

Once you have secured a rental property, you can also find help paying rent and thereby preventing you from becoming homeless in future.

If you are newly homeless, or concerned about becoming homeless in the next few days or weeks, the links and information in this article can assist – help is available. This guide can also provide you with many resources and directories that can keep you as safe and comfortable as possible during this difficult time. And as a gentle reminder: homelessness doesn’t have to be a chronic condition, and it doesn’t define you. With the right support, you can dig your way out of the pit and find security.