Becoming homeless is a constant fear for low-income families in the United States and is becoming more common as income inequality continues to spiral out of control. Unfortunately, once someone becomes homeless, it is extremely difficult to climb out of the hole and get life back on track. Multiple obstacles stand in the way of someone who wants to escape the curse of being homeless, such as difficulty overcoming the stigma, difficulty getting a job, housing, and the overlooked cost of being homeless. Without having been homeless, these obstacles are hard for the public to empathize with people who are going through the situation and often leads to the stigma of being homeless even worse than it already is.
The first thing that someone will do when they’ve become homeless, especially a family that includes children, is to try and find some place where they will have a roof over their head, whether it’s living with a friend or relative, a motel, or a homeless shelter. None of these options are without their problems.
It can be difficult to find friends or family that will allow someone to stay with them until the situation is resolved, but if this is an option and won’t strain relationships, it can allow people to save money once they find employment. Motels cost money, but they provide a warm place to sleep as well as electric and water. For someone who has lost their home, it is much easier to raise the money for a motel room in a short period of time than traditional rent for an apartment or home.
Unfortunately, many of the motels that are affordable to people living day-to-day and struggling for money are also havens for illegal activities and violence related to the illegal activities happening regularly. Motels are especially difficult for families with children; although the room may come with free cable, it’s a very small area that can result in cabin fever while room tenants are trying to stay as quiet as possible and avoid being evicted from their room.
Homeless shelters present an entirely new set of problems if someone can find a shelter that will accept them and has an available bed. Homeless shelters have limited space, and finding one with an open bed can be tricky. Some shelters work on a first-come-first-served basis where lines can start as early as people walk out of the door in the morning, leaving a difficult choice between trying to find a job and standing in line for an undetermined amount of time to ensure a place to stay for the night. A lot of homeless shelters also either separate families, children staying with their mother while fathers are housed somewhere else, or only allow certain members of the family to stay with them at all. Although the choice seems obvious, separating a family every night during a stressful time can have consequences as well. Finding a job while staying in a shelter can be particularly challenging, as most of them place curfews on their guests that restrict availability lest they risk having a place to sleep that particular night. Facilities for the homeless can also be areas prone to illegal activity due to people doing whatever they can to make money; most of the facilities are also located in less savory parts of town and can be lacking in maintenance.
Finding a job while homeless can be another defeating, vicious cycle with the ability to tear down even the most optimistic person. Stereotypes associated with the homeless paints them as dirty and sometimes even parasitic; most homeless people searching for a job will go to any length to hide the fact that they are homeless, but it can be a hard thing to hide. Inability to produce an address can be a dead giveaway and often leads to disqualification in the application process. Time can be a casualty of homelessness as well, with some having to sacrifice time that could otherwise be spent searching for jobs and doing interviews and spend that time securing some type of housing for the night.
Very often the stereotype of a homeless person is that they are too lazy to work and simply want to live off what other people will give them, while that is simply not the case; going out and getting a job is not always necessarily enough to break the curse of being homeless. There are a lot of variables that someone looking from the outside simply aren’t able to see, unless they were to experience the problem of homelessness firsthand.