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If You’re Homeless or Need Help

Published by the National Coalition for the Homeless, May 2009

If you are not homeless yet, it may be possible to avoid becoming homeless by finding out about prevention or emergency assistance programs in your area. Often these programs can help in paying rent, utilities, or bills. If you are homeless now, emergency assistance programs may help with temporary shelter, or security deposits and/or first month's rent.

Sometimes prevention and/or emergency assistance programs are operated by the state, county, or local division of housing assistance, or by the division of social/human services. Try looking in the government listings in your phone book for these agencies. Churches and non-profit organizations also offer emergency help. Sometimes these organizations are listed under "crisis services" in the yellow pages of the phone book.

In rural areas, prevention and/or emergency assistance programs may be operated by community action agencies (see the National Community Action Partnership web site).

If you are a teenager
and are thinking about running away from home, or if you are already living on the streets, call the National Runaway Switchboard. The Switchboard is a toll free, confidential hotline. The Switchboard staff will listen to you and help you think about what you need and want to do next. They also can tell you about people in your community who can help you. Dial 1-800-621-4000 or visit the Switchboard's website at http://www.nrscrisisline.org/.

Other places to look for names and numbers of programs that may help are:

  1. NCH's Online Directory of Local Homeless Service Organizations
    This directory does not list every homeless and housing program in the country -- unfortunately, there is no such list. If you are in a rural area, you may be more likely to find help from a community action agency. The National Community Action Partnership web site provides a partial list of community action agencies across the country.

    If you don't see anything listed near you, check out the Directory of Statewide and Local Advocacy Coalitions described below. It may also be helpful to simply contact the nearest agency you can find and ask them directly if there are any service providers in the area that are closest to you.

  2. NCH's Online Directory of Statewide and Local Advocacy Coalitions
    This directory lists homeless and housing coalitions that are involved in advocacy. These coalitions vary greatly in the kind of advice and resources they can provide -- not all coalitions provide direct services, but many are excellent sources of information and referrals to programs near you.

  3. Homeless Outreach Information Center
    This is the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's database of homeless assistance providers.

  4. Health Care for the Homeless Information Resource Center
    If you are homeless and have health care needs, there may be a Health Care for the Homeless program near you that can help. Health Care for the Homeless programs also provide referrals for other services such as housing, so it may be useful to contact the program nearest you to see what services are available. A listing of Health Care for the Homeless programs is available from the Health Care for the Homeless Information Resource Center.

  5. If You Don't Find A Listing Near You
    If none of these directories contain information about agencies near you, please send us an email at info@nationalhomeless.org with the name of your city and state, and any information you think may be useful (whether you have children, when you might become homeless, etc.). Please understand that we are a very small office, and that the most we may be able to do is to refer you to an organization or a person near you. But we will do our very best to find a source of assistance in your area.


Things to Do if You May Become Homeless in a Few Weeks

If you may become homeless in a few weeks, one of the first things to do is to see if there are any prevention or assistance programs near you. Reading the section called Directories can help you find those programs.

In addition, Russell Sjoblom, who was recently homeless with his family, has compiled a list of suggestions for people who are in danger of becoming homeless. Russell offers advice on money, food, transportation, shelter, storage, help paying for medications, social security and disability.

Hi, My name is Russell Sjoblom. My family and I were recently homeless for a few years, but have since found a place to call home. I believe that if I knew some of the things then that I know now we could have possibly prevented our homelessness. We became homeless due to an injury to myself on the job that ultimately disabled me for life and put me, the principal breadwinner, out of work. Through our experiences, we found many obstacles to overcome. Though not all were overcome, we found a way to get back up by persistence and although it was not easy at all, we DID NOT give up. Here I have written down what I feel are some of the most important things to do to try to prevent becoming homeless and even aid in recovery from homelessness.
There are things to look out for and things to do to obtain medication, food, health care, financial assistance, schooling, and housing assistance and temporary housing and shelter. We still have to deal with staying housed and as I get more information I will update this file. I hope this information will help you. Good luck and God bless.

The Sjoblom family's experience in its entirety can be found here.

Things to Do if You May Become Homeless in a Few Days

If you only have a few days before you may become homeless, it is helpful to start making plans. The goal should be either to avoid going to an emergency shelter, or, if that can't be avoided, to make your stay there as short as possible. Depending on how much time you have before you might become homeless, try one or all of the following:

  1. Try to locate an assistance program near you.
    Some agencies provide homeless prevention assistance. These programs may have waiting lists, require an appointment/interview, or have certain restrictions on who they serve. For these reasons, the sooner you can find a program that may be able help you, the better. If you do not know of any programs near you, the section Sources of Help may help you find one.

  2. Apply for Public Housing and/or Section 8 Housing
    Waiting lists for public and Section 8 housing vary across the country, but in many cases, the waiting list for public housing is shorter than for Section 8 housing. You can find out how to apply by looking for the number of your local public housing authority in the government section of the phone book.

  3. Apply for Transitional Housing
    In some communities, transitional housing is an option for people who are homeless. Transitional housing programs vary greatly across the country as far as who they serve and what their requirements are. You will have to fill out an application and make an appointment for an interview. Follow through with as many of these programs as possible.

  4. Make sure your ID is current and available.
    If your driver's license has expired, or been taken for a traffic ticket, etc., reapply or get your State ID processed. If you only have a printout of your Social Security Card, get a new card to replace it as soon as possible. Many shelters and employers have strict ID requirements, and it will make things easier if you have these things ready or in process. Set up a P.O. Box for delivery and mail if that is possible.

  5. Make an Emergency Pack.
    If you have more than two bags for yourself, or one for each child, try to find someone you know who can and will hold your things for you. Almost every shelter has limits on the amount of baggage people can carry with them because they don't have enough space.

    Pack the things you can take with you. Try to arrange a ride or some sort of transportation for the day you'll have to leave. If there is anyone who can lend you some money, now would be the time to borrow it. Try to keep at least $20-$50 with you in a safe place just for emergencies. Make sure your ID is in a safe and accessible place -- you will want to take it with you.

    Some shelters charge money, or have strict ID requirements. These recommendations are just suggestions so that you will have the most resources at your disposal when you need it.


National Coalition for the Homeless
2201 P Street NW
Washington, DC 20037-1033

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