How One Homeless Person Lives: Coping With Homelessness

by Silicon Valley Blogger on 2012-11-2621

I’ve discussed how to avoid foreclosure and how to avoid bankruptcy in the past, but in some cases, things don’t work out too well, and there are people who end up becoming casualties of the real estate bust, credit crisis and weak job market.

Lots of people have been forced into homelessness due to a variety of reasons. Many cases of homelessness are because of mistakes and choices people make in their lives. There are those who fall into substance abuse and become stuck in this kind of existence. But there are other cases — particularly in recent years — that are not from bad choices. In some situations, it may be due to poor planning.

But this is not the entire story because there are those who fall into homelessness even with reasonable planning. Sometimes, even when you think you’re sufficiently ready for any kind of emergency, the sky does fall on you and you find yourself reeling from an unrecoverable financial predicament. Bad health can do it. Extended job loss can do it as well. Sheer bad luck and misfortune can just be in the cards for a while.

I used to think that with enough savings and preparation, nothing is insurmountable. Well, I’m halfway through my life now and I’ve seen enough to think otherwise. Sometimes, it’s about crossing your fingers too, and hoping that you never have to face a financial tsunami in your lifetime.

On that note, I’d like to share this CNN video that I found quite surprising in many ways. It’s about “tunnel dwellers” in Las Vegas; not everything is what it seems…

Steve Dommer and his girlfriend, Kathryn, live in the depths below the Vegas Strip. They created an elaborate 400-square-foot space, complete with a living room, bedroom, kitchen and workshop to fix bicycles. Everything is elevated off the floor with wooden pallets or milk crates because of potential flooding.

The guy in the video does not look homeless, yet he is. He’s coping, somehow. I guess this is the type of story that reminds us that homelessness can befall anyone, and why public awareness of programs like Help USA is important.

Homeless Myths and Facts

Here are a few more homeless myths and facts that may clear up a few misconceptions:

Myth: Homelessness only befalls a small percentage of people.
Fact: It’s a small group, but it’s not as small as you may think. For any particular year, around 1% of the population becomes homeless. The U.S. population is around 300 million, so that homeless group is around 3 million.

Myth: Homeless people are generally nomadic.
Fact: Not really. Studies show that homeless folks tend to stay put. They actually don’t move as much as the average person or family.

Myth: The homeless are stuck in their situation.
Fact: Not true. Majority of those who are homeless are able to get out of their situation within two years or less (70%, in fact).

Myth: Homeless people are to be feared.
Fact: Many homeless folks are substance abusers (around 25% to 40%). However, their chances of being involved in a violent crime are pretty much the same as someone who has a residence.

Myth: Homeless people have mental problems.
Fact: The mentally ill in this population amount to 15% to 25%.

Myth: Homeless people are in their situation because they lack motivation. They are lazy.
Fact: They certainly spend a lot of time and energy doing some kind of “work”. But work that may not be entirely productive. A lot want to be employed but find themselves unable to secure a job due to the potential discrimination of employers against those without a permanent address.

Created November 6, 2009. Updated November 26, 2012. Copyright © 2012 The Digerati Life. All Rights Reserved.

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

xemphim November 6, 2009 at 8:36 pm

Living when you are Homeless is very very difficult. I hope all governments think of these people more.

personal tips November 6, 2009 at 9:09 pm

There is no way to plan for everything. Just a couple of examples to think about.

Even when all goes well and you don’t have bad luck, someday you can wake-up and you could be in actual trouble, yet you just don’t realize it! How? Identity theft can cause you to become homeless. ID theft can destroy your credit, and it takes years to clean your credit record from false transactions, plus you can imagine the effort! This can certainly lead to bankruptcy.

I have a friend that almost became homeless as all his life he was in deep trouble for having the same name and birthday as a criminal (financial fraud and extortion). This made his life a nightmare especially since his finances got messed up.

Those are external situations. Last year i lost my parents who were both 70 years of age. Let say that something like that makes even the “big guys” become very weak. This, along with other troubles can make you emotionally fragile. For a year, I was in pretty bad shape emotionally. I’m a bit better these last 2 months, but this is not over. Don’t take things for granted. Falling down is way faster than moving up.

Anish November 7, 2009 at 12:13 am

I agree with you. There are lots of reasons for being homelessness due to wrong decision, losses of jobs, bad health etc.

John DeFlumeri Jr November 7, 2009 at 8:41 am

It is quite sobering to see that it can happen to almost anyone! They didn’t start out homeless…

John DeFlumeri Jr.

Pilot DJ Frost November 7, 2009 at 8:56 pm

It saddens me to see how close many people are to living on the edge of homelessness. Most have done the best they can to live a good life and play by the rules. Suddenly, the rules seemed to have changed. Our nation is hurting and it will take a while to heal.

Negotiate November 10, 2009 at 11:28 am

It is always a challenge to decide who needs the money for a roof or who needs it for beer.


Jayson November 10, 2009 at 11:34 am

These myths have been around for a long time. I always here people talking about homeless people like their drug addict losers and then I hear the homeless people talking about how they try to work, or do work, and that they just don’t make enough money.

I’m sure some are addicts and some are great people down on their luck. I usually try and give to homeless people because I have a feeling that they’re not all bad. Thanks clearing up some of these myths.

Kevin@OutOfYourRut November 10, 2009 at 1:46 pm

A lot of people turn a blind eye to this because they don’t think it can happen to them. Wrong! With the right (wrong) combination of events it can happen to anyone. Once there, the broken spirit takes over and then the situation can become permanent.

While it’s true that mistakes and poor planning can cause homelessness, the fact is that many people make mistakes or fail to plan for the future at all, but don’t end up homeless. Misfortune can often come from unexpected directions, and not every contingency can be planned for. Call it luck, but clearly someting else is at work here.

I have to disagree with Exmphim (comment #1), this isn’t a government problem. Most of us know people who are dangling close to homelessness, and can do something to help. And it’s crucial that people get help before things get that bad.

Everyone of us can help the unemployed or those going through crisis in some way, even if it isn’t monetary. You can provide references for a job search, make phone calls to prospective employers or network contacts, help them with creditors, provide food, watch their children when they go on job interviews or doctor visits or just be a friend to remind them that they aren’t alone in the world.

We all wring our hands at crisis and say “they” should do something, but it’s really we who should do something, rather than being guided by the cultural standard of “I don’t want to get involved”.

Online Business Cookbook November 10, 2009 at 7:30 pm

I was homeless for a time. Dare I say, I kind of enjoyed it and learned sooo much about myself and the world. But I guess I always knew it was a personal experiment that I could elevate myself out of. There are many people in that world that really suffer and they feel hopeless and trapped. A better society would give them some help, a place to be useful and a path to self actuate.

I like your blog a lot — you’re not just a blogger blogging about blogger’s blogging!

Silicon Valley Blogger November 10, 2009 at 7:38 pm

I like your suggestions. I definitely second them! We *can* help those who are in need without having to do so monetarily.

@Online Business Cookbook,
Thanks for your kind compliment! You were once homeless? Goodness. I actually knew someone personally who ended up homeless, but it happened because she fell into heavy drug use. It was very sad. Notice the past tense 🙁 .

Off topic: My blog is about personal finance for the most part, mixed with Silicon Valley references and sprinkled with small/online business topics. I particularly enjoy “lifestyle” or “feature” type posts as well as those that touch on behavioral finance, society and culture, which I mix along with the harder financial topics. So yes — you won’t often see me expounding on “how bloggers should blog”… although on occasion, I may do so, in the context of how to make money doing this kind of thing.

Kristen from FiLife November 15, 2009 at 8:26 pm

Thanks for highlighting this video and the fact that homelessness can happen to the unsuspecting. Homelessness is a problem in my hometown, New Orleans, due to a lack of affordable housing. Not having a permanent address when applying for jobs or a safe place to keep / wash your clothes before interviews compounds the problem. But there are resources available. Asking about them at a local shelter is key.

rocketc March 6, 2010 at 11:33 am

I am sensitive to the plight of the homeless and often seek ways to help them, but I cannot keep myself from questioning some of these facts.

#1 – a study from 1987?!! can that be used to prove anything about homelessness in 2008?

#2 – so what percentage of them have full-time jobs? and what kind of jobs are these?

#3 – what percentage are mentally ill? do the mentally ill also have full-time jobs?

#4 – if the homeless desire help, why do they not take advantage of the 1000′s of private and public programs that are available? Are shelters turning people away? Is government housing not available? What is going on here?

#5 – so what can we do to address homelessness? What solutions are offered?

Patrick March 6, 2010 at 11:33 am

The plight of the homeless is a serious one, and one for which there is no easy answer. Many of the stereotypes are just that – generalizations. Most situations are completely unrelated, which makes a one-size-fits-all approach impossible.

Minimum Wage March 8, 2010 at 11:29 am

If you have to choose between rent and food, pay the rent. There are places where you can get free food but nobody is giving free rent.

Minimum Wage March 8, 2010 at 11:30 am

I’ve seen a number of media reports (mostly in the late 80s and the 90s) suggesting that about 15-20 percent of the homeless are employed. The high estimate was 24 percent cited by the National Conference of Mayors (i.e. big-city mayors) in Investor’s Business Daily (11/15/91) and may not be representative today in big cities or in the rest of the country.

There is a lot of “temporary” homelessness which passes fairly quickly. Many of these people have access to some sort of shelter where they’re not “obviously” homeless. I once slept in my car – I was employed full-time delivering pizzas and kinda needed the car.

Shelters have a risky population (mentally ill and/or criminal) and a lot of homeless people will not go to one unless street conditions are dire, like sub-freezing weather.

I think the proportion of homeless with jobs varies greatly, and is probably largely a function of local housing prices and employment patterns. Big (expensive) cities probably have higher proportions of homeless with full-time jobs.

The demand for affordable housing and for government housing assistance far exceeds the available supply. (Interestinly, and not well-known, a high proportion of (unsubsidized) “affordable” housing units are NOT occupied by the poor, but by non-poor people, resulting in a mismatch between affordable housing units and the people who need them most.)

Will March 11, 2010 at 11:29 am

I work at a homeless center/shelter in South Bend, IN. Homelessness is everywhere, in varying degrees. And, while it’s sobering to think this way, the risk of becoming homeless affects us all. Speaking from the population I work with, I think we should be cautious to lump all people who are homeless into one bag. There are those who are mentally ill, those who have money management problems, those with addictions, and those who just seem to have bad luck and are looking to re-stabilize themselves.

As for government programs and non-profits, there are many of them. But, the funding only goes so far. There are several places in South Bend which address how those who are homeless can raise themselves up to self-sufficiency, and not just provide “3 hots and a cot.” But, this type of programming has its limits and cannot meet everyone’s needs.
Homelessness is, at least from what I’ve learned thus far, a very complicated social issue that goes far beyond, “Why don’t they just get a job?”

Paulus Roi September 22, 2010 at 10:17 am

Homelessness is one of many problems happened in my country, Indonesia. I don’t know when this problem can be solved.

Zaasrd November 27, 2012 at 11:04 am

Avoiding something is not a solution to its existence, Involuntary poverty is the product of the monopoliconomy and is cyclical driven by land price corrections.

The multiplicity of social problem dominoes are due to the failure of successive governments to collect the annual rental value of land for public revenue instead of tax on production, consumption and employment. No one is homeless it is a myth originating in the religionists psyche to maintain the need for a welfarist mentality that both the privileged and the wealthy haters embrace. People are first landless and that is due to price for that location has zero production. Which is never stated in economic literature as being a political phenomena. This is why economics must end replaced by Siteonomy if you want poverty to end. Now you know there is an explanation and there is a permanent solution.

Restatement of the permanent solution is, site value rating of land is sufficient to meet all the budgetary requirements of government without recourse to taxation. This is because only by access to land can wealth be produced. Do not be hoodwinked by claims to clawback the riches from the wealthy via the tax system. Everything returns to the land. Do not confuse property with land. Property is in the Title to licensing the benefactor to maintain security of exclusive access. And that reality is completely ignored by all and sundry. A society would then arise free from land price and taxation which are the two true evils nullifying the left and right dichotomy.

LB @ Financial Black Sheep November 27, 2012 at 1:30 pm

Back when the first comments (and I assume this post) was made, I was in fact, almost homeless. I went into extreme savings mode, even though I only snagged a part-time job, delivering newspapers. My husband and I both lost jobs, but because of our earlier incomes, were only allowed a one-time emergency food box. Without family and very little savings, I taped down light switches, unplugged all appliances, wore layers upon layers for warmth when the thermostat was set at 55 and in general tried my hardest to make it through by finding any full-time job. Both my husband and I eventually found jobs, but rejection after rejection left us so close to losing our home that I was in shock. I had planned taking on a small home, so I could pay for it no matter what. What I didn’t plan on, was the competition for jobs and the rejection from places like fast-food. From that experience, I learned nothing is permanent and enjoy everything you have, every day. (And repay all kindness!)

Silicon Valley Blogger November 27, 2012 at 2:59 pm

That’s an amazing story LB. I trust that things are much better for your family now? We really can’t take anything for granted because if it’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that our fates can easily change overnight. I wish you the best!

Tie the Money Knot December 4, 2012 at 10:39 am

Many people truly are a financial tsunami away from this situation – even if short-term. Whether it’s job, natural disaster, or health, the loss of income can really wreak havoc. Best to keep a solid emergency fund, truly live within our means at all times, regularly save, and take care of our health.

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