18 Things Most People Don’t Realize About Being Homeless

Have you ever judged a homeless person without knowing anything about them? You would not be the only one. One of the worst parts about being homeless is the constant shame radiating from the judgment in people’s eyes and hurled nasty insults.

Over a decade ago now, I was a homeless heroin addict living in my car. So, I guess I fit the stereotype of a drug addict choosing to be out there. Although I don’t know if it’s so much a choice as a consequence of the disease, I digress:

Here are several things most people never realize or consider about what it is like being homeless in America.

1. How Much More Dangerous It Is for Homeless Women Than Men

homeless woman sleeping on cardboard
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It is considerably more dangerous for a woman to be homeless than it is for a man. Some homeless women opt not to appear too clean so that they’ll draw less attention to themselves. Unfortunately, police don’t take homeless women’s claims of sexual assault crimes and abuse as seriously as they do housed women.

2. How Dangerous Shelters Can Be

Black woman in homeless shelter domestic violence
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Most people have no idea how dangerous homeless shelters are nowadays. Many of them have become crowded with people suffering from substance use disorders who openly use their substances in the public eye. It’s terrifying for anyone who isn’t involved in that scene. It also creates a safety issue and the real threat of being robbed.

3. How Expensive It Is

homeless man holding sign
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Being homeless is incredibly expensive. If you can afford a roof over your head, it’s hotel prices. All meals are dining out, and your belongings are constantly stolen, which creates a need to repurchase them. Imagine having to frequently buy things that have been stolen from you, like phones, chargers, toiletries, blankets, shoes, and socks.

4. You Can Never Relax

homeless man sleeping under tarp
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You can never truly relax when you live on the streets. You’re in the wide open and vulnerable to everyone around you. The stress of constantly being aware of your surroundings is taxing.

5. Trench Foot

Trench Foot
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Have you heard of trench foot before? It’s a painful foot condition caused by prolonged immersion in cold water or mud, marked by blackening and death of surface tissue. Homeless people are susceptible to trench foot due to a lack of shelter and prolonged exposure to moist and cold environments.

6. Not Every Homeless Person Is a Drug Addict

homeless children refugee camp
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I will never stop recommending the documentary United States of Tents. It takes you on a journey to several homeless camps across America, including interviews with leaders in many communities addressing this devastating crisis.

A considerable number of homeless people are mothers with small children. There are also a lot of homeless people who have full-time or multiple jobs and still can’t afford a place to stay or who are full-time college students, especially in New York City. 

Some homelessness issues are a result of things like mental healthcare and substance rehabilitation, but a lot of it comes down to a lack of social welfare systems for poor people.

7. Not Every Homeless Looks Homeless

homeless college student
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A significant portion of the homeless population doesn’t look transient. People tend to stereotype homelessness, picturing a chronically homeless person living on the literal street.

However, there’s a lot of under-the-radar homelessness where people couch surf from place to place, sleep in their cars, or stay in homeless camps with generators and have access to showers. Being homeless looks like many things, despite how the media has projected the situation.

8. Having Dietary Restrictions Not Met

feeding the homeless
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A portion of the homeless population has dietary needs and restrictions that aren’t met. While it’s easy to argue none of them are likely to survive on nutritious meals, many have conditions, including celiac disease, lactose intolerance, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Consuming fatty fast foods and processed snacks exacerbates those conditions and can lead to more significant medical issues.

9. The Mental Toll That Comes With Being Completely Ignored

homeless veteran being ignored
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Can you imagine having people completely ignore your existence? You meagerly approach someone asking for help, and they refuse eye contact or any words of acknowledgment as they hurry away from you. How would that feel? Pretty dehumanizing.

10. Not Having an Address Is Detrimental for Receiving Help

homeless Asian man laying on cardboard
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The lack of a physical address is detrimental to getting any help. You must prove your address often, including at the DMV, to get an identification card or driver’s license. This problem extends to the inability to receive necessary paperwork for social programs like housing, food assistance, and disability payments.

11. You Can’t Criminalize Homelessness to End It

Criminalize Homelessness cops bothering homeless man
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Despite their best efforts, it’s apparent that criminalizing being homeless hasn’t eradicated the issue. It’s terrible to know they’ve made benches impossible to lay on. Imagine being constantly shuffled and never being able to get eight hours of interrupted, warm, quiet sleep.

12. It’s Cold

homeless man in snow
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It’s cold, and in Washington, it’s wet. You shiver as you’re chilled right down to your bones. That bitter chill makes sleep impossible for fear of losing toes to frostbite. Regardless of coats, hats, gloves, and scarves, outside temperatures won’t allow you ever to feel warm. Your hands, nose, feet, and bum have no feeling.

13. How Difficult It Is to Heal From Sicknesses

sick man fever cold
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It can be challenging to heal when you get sick living on the streets. The constant cold, lack of medical care, and inability to ever get “rest” prolong illnesses for months. I remember having a cough for months.

14. How Challenging It Can Be to Find a Bathroom

homeless veteran will work for food sign
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Most businesses won’t allow you to use their restroom unless you’re a paying customer. Truthfully, more and more businesses aren’t even allowing that. So, finding a bathroom can be difficult, especially if you’re on foot.

15. How Difficult It Is to Have Periods

poor homeless woman on streets in tarp
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If you’re a woman with periods, being homeless makes them challenging. Between not having money to afford feminine hygeine products and not having access to a personal bathroom for daily showers, it’s not fun.

16. How Horrific It Is Not to Have Basic Needs Met

older senior homeless woman
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Not having your basic needs met is a horrific experience. Being pushed from place to place, never finding shelter. Being hungry, thirsty, and tired without being able to meet those needs is agonizing.

17. How Challenging It Is to Get Clean

homeless man seeking human kindness
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Keeping up on hygeine care is challenging for many homeless people. Where I was, you could pay to shower if you could find a public shower, but it cost money—not having a toothbrush, toothpaste, and a sink to brush your teeth in sucks.

18. How Much Closer People Are to Being Homeless Themselves

homeless and hungry man
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Most Americans don’t realize that they’re just one accident, health crisis, or life-changing event away from homelessness. USA Today reports: “There were more than 650,000 people in the U.S. experiencing homelessness in 2023, a double-digit percent increase from last year.”


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Elizabeth Ervin is the owner of Sober Healing. She is a freelance writer passionate about opioid recovery and has celebrated breaking free since 09-27-2013. She advocates for mental health awareness and encourages others to embrace healing, recovery, and Jesus.