Living on the Streets: What’s It Really Like?
Published Sept 19, 2021
Most of us have probably never imagined ourselves living on the streets. But for about 2% of the world’s population, this is their unfortunate reality.
Whether we admit it or not, homelessness has become very prevalent in the past several years and became worse during the pandemic. In big cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Washington DC, the numbers are especially high. But with shelters almost always filled to capacity, many homeless have no choice but to sleep on the cold pavements.
But what is living on the streets really like?
As you may have imagined, it’s not easy. Life on the streets is as complex and varied as anywhere else. But having no place to call home makes it much more challenging. More than just protection from the elements, a home provides comfort and security. With that comes the ability to dream of a better future. For people living on the streets who don’t even know where to get their next meal, thinking of the future is a luxury they can’t afford.
There are a wide range of reasons and situations that force a person to homelessness. But one thing is for sure, most of them didn’t choose that life. They’re mostly just victims of circumstances beyond their control. Sometimes, all they need is someone to empathize with them and a chance to redeem themselves.
Our Father’s House Soup Kitchen has fed the poor and homeless over 90,000 full and nutritious meals since 1993. You can donate to help the poor and homeless through our christian charity online.
To give you a better perspective of what they go through, we’ve gathered details of what living on the streets is really like.
What Do The Homeless Do All Day?
If you found yourself wondering about this, then you’re not the only one. This is a common question about homeless people. There’s a misconception that homeless people just bum around all day spending welfare money.
But nothing could be farther from the truth. Homeless people spend their day just like the rest of us – trying to improve their lot in life.
For many homeless people, the day starts even before the city stirs to life. Waking up from the icy pavements, most of them line up in public washrooms or wherever they can clean themselves. Then they prepare to go to work or look for work.
Yes, contrary to popular belief, homeless people have jobs too. In fact, a survey in California found that about 13% of the homeless population is working full time. They just don’t earn enough to afford rent.
Of course, getting a job or keeping one when you’re homeless can be especially challenging. Social prejudices against homeless people often keep employers from hiring them. Even if they overcome that stigma, applying for a job and showing up in interviews can be difficult when you’re sleeping rough.
Those who can’t get a job are often forced to panhandle or rely on social programs to fill their stomach for the day. Sometimes, they have to walk for miles to find a food bank or a soup kitchen. Remember, they don’t have cars and most likely no money for Uber either. So a trip that usually takes just a few minutes for most of us can take hours of walking for a homeless person.
This is how most homeless people spend their day. But when you’re living on the streets, each day is a fight to survive. So there is no such thing as a “typical” homeless experience.
Where Do Homeless People Sleep?
Not all homeless people sleep on the street. Remember that there are varying degrees of homelessness. Some homeless people move back home with their parents or crash on their friend’s couches. Others stay in garages/sheds, backyard tents, and even parking lots. They may have a place to stay but they’re still technically homeless. When the hospitality wears out, they usually end up on the streets.
Then there’s the second type of homeless – the ones who stay in shelters and transitional housing. Most shelters require some form of rent from their occupants. So most of those staying in shelters either have jobs or are receiving welfare. Shelters also set a maximum occupancy period so they can’t stay in there forever.
Though there are many shelters around the country, they’re not enough to house everyone. Most of those who get turned out of shelters have to live in their cars or wherever they can find a safe place to lay their heads in. Some of them found a safe haven in tent cities and sanctioned camps where there’s a better sense of community and security. While others camp in abandoned buildings, parks, and other public places.
But due to ordinances banning camping and sleeping in public areas, homeless people can’t just sleep wherever they want. In San Diego, doing such can even lead to jail time. That’s why sometimes, you’ll find a homeless person sleeping in places unfit for human habitation like doorways, driveways, the sidewalk, and even under a bridge.
The Dangers of Living on the Streets
Every living space has its own share of risks. But when you’re living on the streets, the risks of bodily harm or even death is significantly higher.
Reports of violence against homeless people usually include incidences of:
- being deliberately hit or kicked
- having things thrown at them
- being urinated on
- sexual assault
- verbal abuse
- intimidation and harassment
Aside from these acts of violence, homeless people also have to contend with the ever-present threat of starvation. On particularly harsh winters, the danger of freezing to death is also a grim possibility.
Common Struggles of People Living on the Streets
Aside from the dangers mentioned above, living as an unsheltered individual comes its own set of challenges such as:
This is one of the biggest struggles for people experiencing homelessness. Despite many documentaries saying otherwise, many people still believe that the homeless are a bunch of addicts and bums who are a threat to public safety. This often prevents them from getting the respect due them as human beings.
Because of this prevailing social stigma, they usually find it hard to get a job or even keep a job. It also affects their housing prospects since there aren’t many landlords willing to rent out to homeless people, even if they can afford to pay the rent.
Lack of Stability
As mentioned, for people who don’t even know where to get their next meal, planning for the future is a luxury. Unlike most of us, homeless people have to focus on survival every single day. This is especially true for unsheltered individuals. Most of them have to sleep in a different place every night. This robs them of the stability that a home provides.
The lack of stability, in turn, affects them in various ways – especially the children. According to a study, children exposed to residential instability tend to have poor academic and social skills. This often leads to behavioral problems, poor vocabulary, and an increased risk of dropping out of school. For adults, the lack of stability for extended periods of time prevents them from developing close relationships leading to various mental health issues.
Lack of Access to Health Care Services
When you’re sleeping rough and have nothing to eat, worrying about your health is the last thing you’ll think about. This is why a large number of homeless adults don’t have access to even basic health care services. In fact, one study reported that many homeless adults have substantial unmet needs for multiple types of health care. This is largely due to both a lack of health insurance and the high cost of medical treatments.
As you can imagine, living on the streets can severely limit your hygiene and sanitation options. Some even have to go for days without taking a bath, washing their hair, or even brushing their teeth. Obviously, poor hygiene and sanitation can lead to poor health and various medical conditions.
Homelessness by the Numbers
According to a report by the US Department of Housing and Development, there were 580,466 Americans experiencing homelessness on a given night in 2020. About 61% of them are staying in homeless shelters and transitional housing programs. While the rest are living in unsheltered locations like the streets, abandoned buildings, parks, and other public places.
Though unfortunate, this is the reality of homelessness in the US. The report also disclosed that the number of unsheltered individuals increased by 7% in 2020. This means that more homeless people are now living on the streets than in shelters. Experts blame it on the pandemic as many homeless people avoid shelters for fear of contracting the virus.
These numbers are echoed in many highly urbanized places around the world. In Canada, for instance, the number of people experiencing homelessness in a single night has grown to about half of the US. The BBC reports that the number of people living rough in London had increased by 23% in 2020.
With these numbers, we can only imagine how many people are sleeping rough both in the US and around the world. They may not be that visible to us but they do exist and they need our help. And when it comes to helping the homeless, every single effort can go a long way.
About The Author
Judy Ponio is a full time blogger and is devoted to topics about charity, kindness, and Christianity. She is part of Correct Digital, Inc which is paid by private donors to provide website digital marketing services to this non-profit organization.