Why homeless people don’t just go back to their families

I recently came across this randomly in a thread discussing living on minimum wage in Los Angeles and whether it’s possible. The discussion wanders onto the topic of high taxation for California’s social services:

Please don’t be fooled by California’s glorious social service programs – THE GOVERNOR CUT THE FUNDS WHEN HE TOOK OFFICE. How do I know? The homeless cripples and drug addicts living in the streets, that’s how. Also from people that do volunteer work with them.

Okay, word choices aside, we’re off to a good start. She gets that the social services aren’t cutting it, and seems sympathetic to the problems these people face.

I honestly don’t know why the homeless just don’t go back to where they came from?? Many of them are not born and bred Californians. They must have family somewhere.

Whoa, what? They must have families? This is followed by:

thats what i think of all those homeless kids al over the place. they gotta have somewhere to go. or why dont they just get a job. many complain about prejudice. well of course!!! who wants to hire a grimmy person who knots their hair into dreads and wears dingy clothes and sports dirty finger nails. granted some might have psych problems. but really, if you are of sound mind and body, then work and stop begging for money.

It’s hard to know where to start on this second quote (and I’ll get to the first in a bit). Homeless people are grimy and clad in dingy clothes not because it’s a groovy lifestyle choice, but because – hello! – they lack access to, like, showers and laundry. Second, more than “some” have mental health issues – try 40-50% of them, because people with mental illnesses are at greater risk than the general population of becoming homeless (though a Duke study found that 49% of presidents were mentally ill, so clearly this is not the only factor required to put one at risk of becoming homeless). Third, legitimate employers may be picky about a potential employee’s grimy appearance, but they’re even more picky about there being an actual address and phone number on that application for employment. Fourth, a lot of “homeless kids” have “jobs” with employers who aren’t so picky about all that stuff – namely, pimps. Fifth, no one should ever use the phrase “Why don’t they just go get a job?” unless they’re wondering about laid off middle classers hoping Donald Trump will offer them something cushy before the unemployment runs out.

Finally, a dose of reality makes it into the thread:

A lot of these people come from terrible families in the first place. And even if they don’t, a lot of them have burned their bridges with family through drug addiction, alcholism, and general bad decisions they’ve made.

The first sentence is right. Not everyone has a family to go home to, as the first commenter insisted. Many kids are born into or end up in the foster system – at eighteen, they’re out on their ass, with no one to fall back on. Many who have families would have to tolerate more abuse in exchange for that roof over their heads than they’re facing on the streets. 95% of teenage prostitutes were sexually abused, if that gives you any idea where many of these people are coming from.

The second sentence is a little more problematic. First, drug abuse issues among the homeless should generally be taken as an indication of pre-existing, sometimes undiagnosed, mental health issues. Generally speaking, nobody’s going to “let” a fun hobby turn their life into a nightmare of homelessness. It happens because they lack the mental stability to prevent the substances from getting the upper hand, so to speak.

And everybody makes bad choices. But it’s entirely possible to end up homeless without making any deeply stupid choices. A lot of homeless people are also physically disabled, which makes it harder for them to do things like find a cheap place to live or get a job. The biggest reason why some people end up homeless is that they had a lot of choices taken away from them at the outset. Any bad choices they made beyond that are not the bulk of the problem. Some people snort coke like it’s going out of style and wind up in the White House, after all.

The main reason why people are homeless is because societies designate certain types of people as disposable. It’s a privilege not to be one of them.


  1. Anonymous says

    Thank you! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to explain to ideots – and even some of my friends- that people don’t drop down to 90 pounds and walk barefoot in the snow, because they are “lazy”. These people obviously need help to get on their feet, and calling it a “hand out” does not mean that the help is undeserved.

    I’ve been homelss before myself. Most of my friends don’t know, because they met me after I found an indoor place to stay. I’ve tried to explain without telling them about it. I tell them to imagine that they are a teen aged girl. They have two choices: 1 sleep in a nice comfy bed for the night, or 2, sleep in a dark abandoned lot, in the dirt, in the middle of winter, alone. Which would they pick? I’d pick the comfy warm bed. Now imagine how terrifying, and dangerous, and horrible it would have to be at home for a teenaged girl to pick the dark abandoned lot.

    THAT is why kids are homeless! The freezing rape/murder hotspot is the SAFER option presented to them! No drugs, no drinking, no consentual sex, no mental or physical problems, no posessions except the clothes on my back, and what I could cary, and I had a job (but not enough cash for a place to stay). There was just no other place to go, and no one I could trust to turn too. It’s not a lifestyle choice; and it’s definetly not a bad choice either, since the alternative was worse.

    Why do people always assume that when a person makes a choice that results in a negative, that the alternative was some sort of happy, fairy tale, good life choice? That was never an option. There was just very bad, or dead, and I definetly picked the right one.

    • Red says

      Oh, that is just… I’m so sorry you lived through that. Strike that; I’m glad to see you SURVIVED that! If you don’t mind my asking, what in thew world led you to being homeless?

      Maybe, just maybe, you should tell you’re friends that you were homeless and maybe they’ll be more understanding. That’s just my feeling, of course. but maybe it wil open their eyes a little more.

    • Sharra R says

      Too many of the truly stupid on this issue, in this country, still fall for the “Father Knows Best/Leave it to Beaver” happy perfect family lie, myth, outright denial image of families.

      The only reason to ever believe in “God” is because that means there is a Hell, so that that is where the really rotten, disgusting abusive parents like mine get to go!

      “Home” is not where the heart is, but yup, there is no place like home, because there is no place that is worse.

  2. Anonymous says

    What a cop out! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people point at some woman who’s been beaten up by her husband, and instead of helping her they say “why doesn’t she just leave him?” Then when a woman does leave, and is forced to go back because she hinds that she can’t survive homlessness, instead of helping her they get vicious and say “that stupid woman never learns! She deserves to get beaten up if she goes back to him!” One case I actually wittnessed: Backstory: A woman had to run away from her husband with the kids because he was beating them all and doing permenant dammage to the kids psychologically. She realised that taking her kids with her meant that she could not find a new job, because there was no one to watch them, and they were too young to stay at home alone. They were all going hungry, and getting sick, and things got so desperate that she had to back to her dangerous husband. He immediatly started beating her again. A lot. The kids too. And how did people react?(even other homeless people) Did they offer her a safe place to sleep? Did they try to help her find a safehouse? Did they call child protective services, or talk to the police about the violence that whent on in the house? No! Intstead they decided that she was a dumb *****! They accused her! They said: “That ***** brought her kids back to HIM? How stupid can she be? I have half a mind to beat her dumb ***** *** myself!”

    So like I said: asking “why don’t homless kids just go back to their families” is a total cop out! Because those who ask this question are the same people who ask “why doesn’t she just leave?”! Hypocrits. They are scared hypocrites! It makes sense that even adults would be afraid to be homless, but it does not make any sanes at all to insist that only people who deserve to be homless, or only people who made “bad decisions” ever find themselves living on the streets, or suffering. None!

    • Red says

      Oh, dear lord! Anon, that’s TERRIBLE!

      I hope she was able to get away from that SOB at some point! PLEASE tell me she was finally able to get help!

      Unfortunately, people are often afraid of confronted the uncomfortable reality of the world we live in. Things are not so simple on the surface, much as we wish them to be. it’s VERY easy (and safe) for us to say people like that woman ‘deserve what they get’. But NO ONE deserves to be treated like that. Certainly not a woman in that position.

      The question is, how many of these same people would have made the same choice she did? How many of us are willing to make brutal, painful decisions that, while we KNOW what the end result will be (and in the case of this woman, return to an abusive husband or her children starve), are preferable to the alternative?

    • SunlessNick says

      Intstead they decided that she was a dumb *****! They accused her! They said: “That ***** brought her kids back to HIM? How stupid can she be? I have half a mind to beat her dumb ***** *** myself!”

      And if she’d stayed on the street until one of kids died, they’d accuse her over that too, I haven’t she shadow of a doubt.

  3. Red says

    Pure ignorance. I’d love to see how those people would handle it.

    When I was a teen, my sister’s and I were THIS CLOSE to being homeless after a fire damaged our home and our mother had to stay in a hospital for psychiatric evaluation (I won’t go into detail). It’s only thanks to our grandparents that we were able to keep a roof over our heads and stay in school for the months we were out of the house.

    I know it’s not the same thing, but I shudder to think what would have happened to us without them or our wonderful aunts, uncles and other relatives who lived in the area. It’s terrifying to for me to think about, being 12/13 at the time, what it would have been like if we were forced to go stay in a shelter. Or WORSE.

    I have met homeless people. I have talked to them. The ones I have met were friendly, engaging and I was glad to have the experience of getting to know the few I met while I went to college in Boston. I saw them as fellow human beings down on their luck and I was always sure to give them a little something. What they gave me in return is priceless.

    • SunlessNick says

      In December, I came to within a hair’s breadth of being homeless (I found the place where I’m in now about 36 hours before I’d have been on the street). A couple of friends lent me the money I needed for a deposit (in truth they might have taken me in for a while, had I not found anywhere, so I might have avoided being on the street if not being homeless). I do have family, but they’re away across the country. And none of those people had any actual room, and I’d have felt guilty to the point of suicidal if I’d taken up any space in their homes.

  4. says

    I know so little about homelessness.
    Something you all might not know is that here in the UK, in Westminster (the central borough of London, Eng) they are (making an attempt at) outlawing homelessness, as well as soup kitchens and shelters, charities distributing sandwiches and water and there’ll even be a fine for an ordinary member of the public giving money or a bit of bread to a homeless person. According to the news report (BBC), giving homeless people food or clothing or bedding ‘encourages homelessness’. This country is becoming so right wing it’s unbelievable.
    But anyway when talking about this with a friend she said ‘how come I only see male homeless people? I hardly ever see female homeless people, is that because men are total fuckups?’ or something like that. I just sort of said ‘I don’t know’. Cos anything I could think to say about that has unpleasant implications to do with it being more dangerous for women on the streets or how women are more likely to become prostitutes than men. And then my sister said she watched a documentary about a man who said that he preferred being homeless to having a job and a house… again I didn’t know what to say to that.
    The way the media frames everything poor people do in this country puts the blame entirely on them, writing about people living like royalty on state handouts and people living it up on folded up cardboard boxes, it’s like, if you think it’s so cushty why don’t you try having no options in life, it’s not a holiday it’s their life.

    • Red says

      One doesn’t need ‘encouragement’ to be homeless. All you need is to loose your job, get sick, leave an abusive relationship and a whole host of other factors that play along that contribute to it.

      Seriously, that is just disgusting!

      • AnonAnon says

        I don’t understand why being homeless is a “criminal” issue for so many places. I worked for a legal aid society in Oakland, and most of our work revolved around getting homeless people out of jail, usually because they were arrested for urinating outside or sleeping in a public place. Ummm, what were they supposed to do? If they slept or peed indoors, they would be arrested for trespassing. In a country where nearly 10% of people are unemployed, I cannot understand how people can say, “They should just get a job,” or, “Why do they choose to live outside?” I try to understand this point of view, but I honestly fail every time I try.

  5. lilleus says

    Re: why you only see homless men:
    From my experiences with homlessness, I can tell you that fewer women fit the steriotype of homlessness. Men tend to deteriorate (socially, mentaly) quickly in homlessness. I don’t know if it’s because they have so few options, or because they are not as good at socializing as women are, or if they just phase out because they feel their worth is baced on their ability to produce, while homless women are still valued for sex. What I do know is that even “crazy” ladies tend to keep up with appearances longer than most men in the homless shelters. You walk past as many homless women as you do men, and in some places, probably MORE women than men. You just can’t tell because women are less likely to beg or stop bathing. (It’s more dangerous for women to beg, btw, and a woman who bathes is more likly to be treated like a human in general.) Also, women have a few considerations that men don’t have. There are more clothes and hygene materials available for women. We’re given some leway in shelters, because we (by the rules of the shelter) have to take care of the children. People pity women more, and are more willing to help women, through charity, and donations, than they are men. Mean while, men, if they can keep themselves mixed in with “normal” society, are offered work first, and they get far better pay in temp work. So women wind up relying on others continuously, and are often treated like a comodoty, since we have to attack ourselves to a man to keep us from being raped. (like prison. Find a big guy, and get his “protection”.) It seems like the farther down you go in class, the stronger the gender rules apply. They aren’t suggestions, they are rules. You don’t follow them, you don’t eat. You might even be attacked.

    An other thing is that a homless woman, especially if she’s got kids, is more likly to stay with somoen else. She may have a reletive, friend, aquaintance, or even a complete stranger to stay with, instead of staying outside, or in a shelter, which is often a lot scaryer than some strange persons house. She may also rush into a marriage, in a desperate attempt to get out of poverty. I tried this myself, and I knew an other girl who did this too. Problem is that it’s not like that julia roberts film. You don’t get to find a millionare tycoon to stay with. You marry somoen who is struggling, but has a place to stay. It’s survival.

    ps: Sorry about the spelling. I can’t do it.

  6. Gabriella says

    It was interesting the part about many homeless being mentally ill because the mental illness has brought about the homelessness . My sister, as you know, has bipolar and anxiety and is virtually unemployable because of it. She hasn’t EVER had a job that lasted more than a few months because her emplyees just didn’t understand what her capabilities were. (‘What do you mean, she’s on heavy medication and doesn’t like getting up before midday?’ is one of the easier questions to answer.)

    ATM, she’s working at the same cafe I work at which works on two levels – one, having a big sister there and all that… but I think mostly because our boss/owner’s sister has bipolar too, so he gets a lot of it. He tried her on a few longer, earlier shifts that didn’t work and got that it was better to get her in later when she had got more sleep and was less exerted. And I can see he’s trying to play down his sense of humour (very sarcastic, which she doesn’t get, and gets stressed over) around her. So I’m grateful – and I’m sure she is and our parents are – that she has a boss who seems to *get* it.

    But it brings me back to my original thought – without my parent’s relative wealth (and however my dad likes to cry poor, we are relatively wealthy) my sister would, at the very least, not have been afforded a comfortable, understanding home in which she could make baby steps in her bipolar. WA has all the usual issues with not enough public money for mental health – which I suspect is still WAY more public money than other countires have – so I’m aware of the options that would have been available to my sister had she NOT been able to be supported by our parents. It’s… scary.

    (Sorry for rambling.)

  7. Pamela says


    This is all IFFFF the woman has kids. As a single childless woman who has wound up homeless because of a lack of family or other places to go when my abusive family beats me up, and being in states where domestic violence shelters are nonexistent or exist only if you have children, I do know that there are more services for women but few “overnight” shelters for childless women. It IS about having to take care of the children. Most of the charities are run by the Catholic Church which every Catholic woman knows full well only treats you as being what a woman is supposed to be if you’ve reproduced. If you haven’t, married or not, they couldn’t care less if you slept out on the streets and got raped or killed. In San Francisco most homeless services actually serve men first, especially the ones in the Tenderloin.

    I’m starting to think that growing up suburban middle-class, educated, college-prep schools with straight A’s and getting into any college I wanted, then going straight to college and graduating college with a science degree, must have been the “wrong” thing to do because I never smoked, drank, did illegal drugs, had out of wedlock babies, or got any criminal record. All those people get handouts from the shelter and homeless system. The shelter system exists for those people, not for normal regular educated people with no vices or out of wedlock children. You had to have screwed up in your life somewhere for the State to help you in any way whatsoever. If you didn’t, and you just don’t have any friends or family with extra room who doesn’t just “need” rent for a few years, you’re screwed and out on the streets. Left high and dry by the State just because you didn’t do anything wrong growing up.

    One of my ex-friends I met at a womens’ day center told me that at Catholic Charities she was actually told by one of the nuns that she should fake being a recovering alcoholic just to get a room, otherwise there would be no help for her whatsoever.

  8. Pamela says


    It may seem that way because a majority of homeless people wind up with criminal records because of the things they have to do to stay alive while on the streets. In San Francisco the big one is trespassing. Loitering, they call it. They’re making more and more of the city “illegal” to be outside in, at certain times of the night – and at the same time closing the night centers and shutting down one womens’ shelter entirely. Some of it is a “Bay Area thing.” And at the same time they won’t reduce the price of the “cheap” housing any or make the landlords accept people walking in off the streets with weekly cash who might be struggling, day laborers or agency temps, or substitute teachers, who can pay the weekly rent but who probably don’t have lengthy time at employment or a bunch of pay stubs equaling three times’ the monthly rent to show up front before checking in – as these places are, after all, HOTELS. And by the time you find a place that will take you, it’s in an area of town unfit for single childless decent women to live in, like the Tenderloin.

    And it being the Bay area, the reason you don’t see more women is not just because men are in the majority of the population but the women try harder to HIDE. San Francisco’s shelter system doesn’t have anywhere near enough places for women and as for sending the women to the surrounding counties – well where do you think the surplus of women seeking shelter comes from in the first place?!?

    The other reason why it may seem that homelessness equals criminal record is because if you do have a criminal record most jobs won’t hire you. And once you become homeless you’re subject to more scrutiny on job applications if they somehow find you, i.e. you’re giving an address that is a homeless shelter and using a cell phone number. Once you become homeless it will always be assumed that you have a criminal record (in some ways it seems that all of the jobs in San Francisco seem to assume criminal records of all applicants and they also seem to assume that all applicants must use illegal drugs) and that you must use illegal drugs or drink too much. If you’re female they also seem to assume that you must have out of wedlock children. Some of it is not that homelessness in and of itself is a “crime” but the assumption is that you did something wrong to get there.

  9. Pamela says


    It’s a Bay Area “thing.” The attitudes suck. Another one you won’t understand is the “why don’t they just go back where they came from if they can’t make enough money to pay the rents here” – and these people tend to be GAY, BI-, trans-, or otherwise “misfits” of society who may only be SAFE in San Francisco. If they go back to the families that chased them out in the first place, they could very well be killed. Not that misfits are welcome everywhere in the Bay Area, but that’s the San Francisco “thing” I mentioned earlier. San Francisco under Gavin Newsom does have a “homeward bound” program but it sucks. It doesn’t take into account that the person’s family might have chased them to San Francisco in the first place just for being “different” from whatever it is they were “different” from. I personally still have family in the outskirts of the Bay Area and other parts of California who will slam the door in my face just for being “not what I’m supposed to be” because I don’t want men all over me making out of wedlock babies in my body, at least not in cities that don’t have an abundance of nonprescription Morning-After pills in every drugstore. That and I wouldn’t marry the kind that tend to like me anyway, because we have nothing in common, but I digress.

    Don’t try so hard to understand the Bay Area attitude with regards to homelessness. It will require at least a partial lobotomy.

  10. Pamela says


    RE: women who marry in a hurry just to stay off the streets:
    That tends to lead to more domestic violence. You’re right, we don’t get to choose from millionaire tycoons who are nice to us and willingly give us half of what they have in the quickie-divorce settlement. We get stuck with the very thug-type creatures we were trying to get away from in our own biological families, as being all that will “have” us. A woman desperate enough for a roof over her head doesn’t have the luxury to wait for Mr. Needs-His-Green-Card but has a good paying white collar job on his H1-B work visa which is about to expire and he’s so desperate for a temporary “wife” to stay in this country and keep his job that he will take any American woman who has enough immigration law knowledge under her belt to do the paperwork for him in a New York minute.

    No the truly desperate women get hitched to the kind of men we meet in the soup kitchens who are one Day-Labor paycheck better off than we are because we don’t qualify for the heavy-lifting type jobs that day laborers get. Yuck. Hence my aforementioned comment about not liking the kind of men who like me and offer to marry me away from destitution. I have a car with a back seat I’d rather sleep in than be legally bound to the kind of gross disgusting trash that tends to like me. I’m a college graduate who’s struggling, and the only kind of men who like me are the high school dropout sleazebag illegal immigrants who are illiterate even in their own language – my situation disgusts even me.

    Some of the luckier smart women who can calculate beforehand when the money is going to run out do keep themselves up hygienically and can try harder to attract better-off men in the hopes that complete destitution and winding up on the streets when the womens’ shelters turn them away, doesn’t happen. But these days the womens’ shelters are getting more and more overcrowded so that’s getting harder and harder to do.

  11. AlmostHomeless says

    I’ve always been very close to ending up homeless at least one time per year. I have no psych problems! I’m very educated, had 5 years of college, no degree because I had to switch majors because of the 10 year waiting lists, and I also got diagnosed with a lifelong autoimmune disease CROHNS! I was fired because of using the restroom too much! It’s not just the main symptom though, I deal with up to 14 other symptoms that go along with it and crohns also effects your mouth and all parts of your body. I had to quit college a little after getting fired because my crohns got worse. I was DENIED all government assistance except food stamps because I choose to NOT have children. I’ve never wanted kids and I’m a 24 year old woman (and never will have any either, no desire at all). I was also denied medical help for my crohns because I couldn’t afford the $30,000 a year medicine when the most I’ve ever made in one year was $8 or $9k!!!!! I was denied help when I went to the ER, statcares, clinics, you name it! Never had health insurance either! My boyfriend has never made enough to support us both either. So we have both always been in that situation. We might move to a trailer soon which would be $86/month but that’s if we find that trailer park. People really don’t understand that many poor homeless people can be educated but disabled physically from crohns (even though we’re known to not “look sick”). It’s an autoimmune disease!

    I’ve never had much family, so there is no “family” to go back to really.

  12. Anonymous says

    Ruinous, right. I attend a public university in a Southern state and I’ve had the pleasure of learning from several homeless people that they, in the past, earned degrees from my university. Foreboding…

    I know it is no difficult task to become homeless in this country. I spare kindness for most of the homeless who congregate around my university, especially its central street, except for the ones who “accost” instead of “approach.” Some of them play at being tricksters, too, and you get to know the stories con-artists tell pretty well. But many of them are just addicts or are otherwise mentally disturbed, or frankly just dirt poor, and those people are fine and honorable enough. If a person is honest his or her social station doesn’t matter. The South is pretty bad about homelessness and its conservative policies pretty much intend to cure homelessness through “attrition…”

  13. Hi says


    Poverty forces people into situations they don’t want to be in. I’ll give an example. I moved to Sydney, Australia. I moved into a place that was considered very cheap by Sydney standards because that’s all I could afford. It shared a balcony with 4 other places. The building had ten rooms for rent in total. Room 1 was occupied by a drug dealer who had a junkie girlfriend. She burnt the place down. The fire sprinklers failed to go off. As we all evacuated, we stepped outside to be homeless. No-one burnt, thankfully but to say no-one was hurt would be outright wrong.

    We went to ‘helping’ agencies and ‘charities’ for help. We were told the homeless shelters were line up outside, first in first served and it cost $50 per/night to sleep on a bunk bed in a room of 32 people. There were 3 rooms. This was to cover costs; rent, bedding, shower and staff. So, this place was raking in $480 per/night off the homeless. We had charities try and sell us clothing rather than give it. One of these charities was across the road and saw the building burn down.

    Eventually a pub let us shower and sleep 1 night.

    So, where do women go? Well, we hired a single lock-up garage for $85 per/wk, using a bucket as a toilet and the garden tap as a shower. That was just 2 of us, both working!

  14. Hi says

    Oh, let me add here; Privelege is having an income that affords you a much safer neighbourhood where things like losing everything you own and your place to sleep are far less likely.

  15. elizabeth short says

    My goodness how close to home all your comments go. I am an inch away from living on the streets too due to a divorce of 20 yrs where I supported him til he became famous in car racing. Courts gave me only 20k in divorce. Crappy lawyer I had. Ugh. And now I’m 44 and lost almost everything I ever worked so hard for as I was a model who invested in hubby all my money. I can’t drive so it’s impossible to hold a job. I have no degree as moved out at 16. I have parents but both had cancer and aging. I also developed severe mental issues in last few years where I can’t afford to treat myself effectively. I just left a hospital inpatient stay due to the stress of it all developed stroke like symptoms so doctors said it was mental issues. Never knew anxiety and stress could cause such physical issues!!! Ugh I don’t have even a speeding ticket an never did street drugs,drank or smoked. So I deeply sympathize with all writing here. What do we do? Live on streets being abused,starving in heat and cold??? I pray to God he takes me before that. One girl in psyche ward told me a man on the street when she was homeless for 2 yrs beat an robbed her so badly her eye was torn from its socket and her nose broken sideways. All I could do was sob when she shared that. I am so terrified of same fate I just want to die beforehand. Little help in Florida for people. I’m just barely alive now. I am so so sorry to all else suffering.

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