Whatever you want to call it, there are entirely too many folks without stable, affordable and safe housing. If you feel obliged, please donate some money to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a policy group doing amazing work to support housing justice for all. If you meet someone on your daily commute or you find out someone you know is experiencing homelessness, do you feel prepared to offer anything other than a kind word, prayer or a warm meal or maybe even a few bucks?
In my years of advocacy, I have found myself asking specific questions to folks I meet who are experiencing housing insecurity or homelessness.
What’s “housing insecure”? Why would someone say that person is “experiencing homelessness” rather than just saying that person is homeless. Because, we all had a meeting and decided that a person is not their housing status. Kidding, we didn’t have an actual meeting, not that I am aware of. It seems to me that over time, folks who recognized that words matter began to work against using certain words about a particular status; that is a deliberate choice was made to be thoughtful around specific and defining terms. The argument can be extended to a person with a limited income. If someone is said to be poor, there is a tone, a judgement attached to that, but if you separate the person from the income or the perceived or actual lack of income, and just say that person has low income, it can speak to a more inclusive world or policy position, or one might hope.
A friend or neighbor without a home
I digress. What’s a person to do, when you find a friend, neighbor or stranger you encounter along the way, in a housing crisis? While this post cannot and should not considered legal advice, and as a caveat, resources vary wildly from state to state and from geographic region to region for sure, we can still look at several factors that may play into different resources that someone might tap into while experiencing a housing crisis.
Does this person have a disability (diagnosed or otherwise)?
If the person acknowledges a disability or a mental illness, there may be services and supports associated with the diagnosis or for people living with disabilities in your community, state or national level.
Is this person a veteran (or a dependent of a veteran)?
Did this person serve in combat? Was this person impacted by an injury or incident that took place during their military service? Did this person experience trauma at the hand of a racist or sexist person in authority over them? Did this person survive a military sexual assault? Has this person applied for or been approved or denied for VA benefits, health care or resources?
Is this person a survivor of domestic or family violence or human trafficking?
Did this person leave or escape a partner, spouse, family member or friend where they were the subject of emotional, verbal, physical violence or abuse? Was this person trafficked or brought to this country under false pretenses such as promised work?
Is this person 60 or older?
Has this person been taken advantage of or discriminated against as an older person?
Is this person impacted from a recent lay off, reduction in work hours or job loss?
Was this person illegally locked out or evicted from their home or apartment?
Does your friend identify as a person of marginalized sexual orientation or gender identity?
Is your friend Black, Indigenous or a Person of Color (BIPOC)?
My first suggestion would be to develop a rapport, if this person trusts you enough to answer some or all of these questions, you can direct them to groups or resources within your community that may serve these targeted populations. One thing to avoid is speaking or communicating without respect, on your time and not their time and without developing a level of trust that will warrant honest answers.
If you share with someone that you wish to help them, first ask them if they want help. If a person experiencing homelessness is not ready to leave the street or shelter, then a blanket, or umbrella or a dollar may be all they want to and are able to accept at that time.
If you are able to offer any help, I suggest doing so only after asking for and obtaining trust and permission / consent to help.
Something like: “Would you be willing to talk with me to discuss some possible resources or opportunities?” or “If I ask you a few questions, I might learn something about you that will help me better help you, would that be okay?”
If the person is willing to move forward you can assure them that you want to help them and that some of the questions you may ask them are private but could reveal important things about them that may make them eligible for help.
If they provide consent and you find they connect with one or more of the targeted groups referenced above, it gives you details to hone in on when you contact local resources and providers to apply for services. Often time local, state and national housing or crisis resources are targeted to specific vulnerable populations, so finding your friend connects to a targeted population may be the key to housing security or resources.
For example, “Hi, I am calling with my friend Suzy, she is a veteran of the Army, she experienced military sexual trauma, in service, she is a survivor of domestic violence which she recently fled and is experiencing food insecurity and is also experiencing homelessness.”
This information you learn helps you prepare to either reach out to a local or national Domestic Violence group, women veteran group, veteran group, sexual assault survivor group or perhaps a combination of these groups. If this person has no income, perhaps a call to a legal aid group or reaching out to one of the disability groups listed below may be helpful to assist this person in applying for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration, either based on their work history, their inability to find or maintain work due to an actual, or perceived, permanent disability, or the work history of their spouse or parents.
Or another example:
“Hi there, I am calling with my friend Juan, he was recently laid off and is living in his car with his two children, they are in crisis after their landlord kicked them out for being two months behind on rent. They need food and housing resources and the kids need health screenings. Juan needs resources to get back to work.”
Who will you call?
Perhaps, start with a reputable state agency you know that you can trust, but if you do not know one, you can always begin with 211.org or http://www.benefitscheckup.org, details belows.
(Some cities also have non-emergency municipal services available at 311 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/3-1-1#Open_311.)
What to expect?
Calling or reaching out to any one of these groups will involve waiting for folks to return a call so you and your friend can be put in touch with the right person.
Helping your friend may include using your privilege to translate your friend’s needs and situation into “magic language” that providers or government or non profits speak or understand. Please make sure to explain this to your friend, as in, “If you agree, I plan to share details about your trauma which you shared with me, so we can access some resources you may be eligible for.” If the person is not willing or is unable to share the trauma they revealed to you, then you need to acknowledge and respect that boundary and can agree to move forward only using and identifying with groups they agree to identify with.
Expect delays, and anticipate additional referrals. Ask questions, take notes about who you speak to, and if at all possible, find and connect with a social worker! Social workers make our world go around, so I always ask and suggest to individuals they should consider whether they are willing to or are already working with a social worker, whether they have in the past or are willing to work with one again now. I always explain that a social worker navigates resources for a living and many times they can help plug you into what you need, but again, you will need to have your friend agree to this suggestion before asking for help from a social worker, otherwise the resources a social worker provides may be seen as tainted or untrustworthy by your friend.
Is your friend in need of a shower, a change of clothes or medical care?
This may be the most immediate thing that needs to be mentioned when communicating with the first level of intake with 211 or 311 services. Ask whether there is a county or city safe space which staffs a drop in shelter for homeless individuals.
If your friend has had a bad experience with the government, a shelter, a social worker, a mental health or case worker, take note of this and acknowledge that every single area of the community has bad apples and that we are going to work toward finding someone who respects and cares for them and will support them in achieving housing security and stability. This will again require consent.
This might look like: “It sounds like your last social worker did not listen to you and your goals and I can imagine that was really frustrating. I have heard that social workers can really advance a person’s goal of finding housing, would you be willing to work with a social worker again, to see if there may be a better fit this time?”
If your friend agrees, then you can try to find a local community group with toileting resources, housing case workers or social workers where your friend might do a drop in for a shower or a change of clothes and a meal.
Almost all housing services and long term services will require a call back number because you will find, especially during a global pandemic, looking for services will involve leaving messages and waiting for a call back. This means it is really important to communicate with your friend that this will not be resolved immediately, despite the urgency of their need.
What if your friend does not have a phone?
If you feel comfortable, you can offer to receive the first few call backs for your friend or you can be clear in leaving your message, “Suzy parks in the Safeway parking lot at the corner of Main Street and Hill Avenue on Tuesdays and Thursdays and despite not having a phone, she is willing to engage with a person who can help her receive supports and services. Please approach with caution and make sure your outreach worker has their badge when they reach out to her.”
You may also check out whether this person can access a free government cell phone with Assurance Wireless, details below.
Assurance Wireless is a worry-free way to stay connected with family, school services, doctors, and employers. Assurance Wireless provides a free smartphone, along with free phone service each month to low-income residents in over 40 states. Low-cost plans with more minutes and data are also available as well as low international rates to over 200 countries. There are no bills, long-term contracts, or activation fees.
Assurance Wireless is a federal Lifeline Assistance program. Lifeline is a government benefit program supported by the federal Universal Service Fund. Enrollment is available to individuals who qualify based on federal or state-specific eligibility criteria. You may qualify if you participate in certain public assistance programs, like Medicaid or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). You can also qualify based on your household income. You must provide proof of program participation or proof of income. To see if you qualify for Assurance Wireless please visit our how to qualify page.
What if my friend does not have a ‘valid’ immigration status or is known to be undocumented?
Proceed with caution in accessing federal resources, but many local resources need no immigration information for eligibility purposes. There are below some resources for folks without documented immigration protections including a FAQ section of a website developed by undocumented individuals :
The National Immigrant Legal Center has a host of online resources for immigrants.
These resources above and below are not meant to be exhaustive and the questions I suggested and insights I have provided are simply ideas to consider. Please note this is not meant to be a step by step guide to serving people in need of housing or experiencing any type of crisis. I recently discussed housing insecurity with a friend and it prompted me to put a few ideas down for them to consider and I hope this is helpful.
Every person and family experiencing a housing crisis or experiencing homelessness has a story to tell and a different and unique set of circumstances which brought them to that place where you find them. Meeting that person where they are, treating them with respect, dignity and laying a foundation to develop trust and rapport sets you up to be in a position where you may be able to provide some support.
If this person trusts you enough to open up, please do not set them up for failure by committing to more than you can actually and will actually do. I suggest offering small goals and commitments, one at a time, so you can deliver and then decide what, new or next level or type of help you may offer. This way your friend can develop trust and expectations that you deliver and are worthy of being trusted.
If you find this post and these resources helpful, or if you have a suggestion about something I (very likely) missed, please leave a comment and this post may be edited later.
All my best,
Waiting For Lefty Initially published: August 18, 2020
Don’t Forget your Librarian!
Many libraries across the nation have hired social workers and support workers to assist people experiencing homelessness in finding and accessing local resources.
Catholics and non religious or non Catholics alike can apply for and receive help from Catholic Charities which has decades of experience working with and supporting immigrant communities across the nation.
Human Rights Campaign
Our goal at the Human Rights Campaign is to ensure that every LGBTQ person is free to live their life openly, with their equal rights ensured. We know that goal requires that we keep educating, supporting and inspiring ourselves and each other. In the spirit of that continual growth, we’ve compiled information and advice on a range of topics, including resources from the HRC Foundation.
Dial 2-1-1 to access a free and confidential referral service. You’ll find programs that can assist with housing, access to health care, food, and other services.
National Domestic Violence Hotline
Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-799-7233, to speak with an advocate about your situation. You’ll find confidential crisis intervention, safety planning, information and referrals to agencies in your area. (If you think your computer use may be monitored, use a public computer to access this site.)
Homelessness and Housing Assistance
Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Housing Assistance
If you are experiencing or at risk of homelessness, use the HUD list of resources and services. You’ll find a directory of shelters, helplines, and information on how to contact housing counselors. Learn how to obtain emergency assistance, food assistance, and other services.
Search for HUD homelessness resources in your state.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
If you or someone you know is suicidal or in emotional distress, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Trained crisis workers are available to talk 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They can provide crisis counseling and mental health referrals. Your confidential and toll-free call goes to the nearest crisis center in the lifeline national network.
Supplemental Security Income/Social Security Disability Insurance (SSI/SSDI) Assistance
SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access, and Recovery (SOAR)
The SAMHSA SOAR program provides SSI/SSDI application assistance to people who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness, mental illness, medical impairment, or co-occurring substance use disorder.
Social Security Representative Payment Program
If you are a beneficiary who needs assistance managing your benefits, contact the Social Security Representative Payment Program for financial management services.
National Call Center for Homeless Vets
Call the National Call Center for Homeless Vets, 1-877-4AID VET (877-424-3838), for free and confidential information about homeless prevention programs and mental health services.
If you are a wounded warrior, service member, or veteran experiencing homelessness, use the National Resource Directory to find assistance with housing, employment, access to healthcare, and other services in your state.
Call the Veterans Crisis Line, 1-800-273-8255, and press 1 to talk to a Department of Veterans Affairs responder, or send a text message to 838255. Services are confidential and are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Thanks to the SAMHSA website, last updated 4/15/2020 for the above resources:
Last Updated: 04/15/2020
The below resources I pulled together by pulling information from websites and organizations I understand to be reputable.
The National Council on Aging maintains the Benefits Check Up website, which allows folks to enter their information to find out what resources they may be eligible for locally.
Locally, you can call an Legal Services Corporation (www.lsc.gov) funded or otherwise funded Non-Profit civil Legal aid group for a free conversation about benefits and resources your friend may be eligible to apply to receive.
Elder Hotline for Senior victims of financial fraud
LGTBQ Elder Resource Hotline
National website for Area Agencies on Aging, local one stop shops for food, social services and resources
LEGAL HELP FOR MILITARҮ MEMBERS, VETERANS AND THEIR FAMILIES
National Human Trafficking Hotline
Call 1-888-373-7888 ( TTY: 711)|*Text 233733 |Live Chat
National Domestic Violence Hotline
Domestic Violence National Organizations
1 is 2 many
Launched by Vice President Joe Biden, this initiative uses technology and outreach to spread knowledge about dating violence and sexual assault among teens and young adults.
A project of the National Domestic Violence Hotline and Break the Cycle, loveisrespect is the ultimate resource for advice and info on healthy dating. Its mission is to empower youth and young adults to prevent and end abusive relationships. Peer advocates can be reached 24/7 via phone, online chat, or text (“loveis” to 22522).
National Runaway Safeline
If you’re thinking about leaving home, or you have and are seeking information and help, the Safeline is one of the top resources for runaway, homeless, and at-risk youth and their families.
NW Network was founded by and for LGBTQ survivors and is focused on safety, support and empowerment.
That’s Not Cool
“Where do you draw your digital line?” Teens can learn about dating abuse and online safety through videos, games, and downloads they can share with friends.
A Thin Line
A Thin Line is an MTV campaign created to empower teens to identify, respond to, and stop the spread of digital abuse.
Trevor Project is the national crisis lifeline for LGBTQ teens and adults. They have suicide prevention services for youth in digital spaces, counseling via IM, and a large online social network for LGBTQ people.
Inclusive, comprehensive, supportive sexuality and relationships information for teens and emerging adults.
VA Accredited Veteran Service Organizations