Homelessness & Poverty
Homeless Not Helpless

Who Is Homeless?

Anyone can become homeless. The more friends, family, and resources you have, the less likely it is that a sudden disaster will leave you homeless, but things happen. Large-scale layoffs; floods & earthquakes; accident or illness that decimates a family and leaves the survivor in depression: all of these things have left people who had many friends, family and resources suddenly homeless.

Anything that makes it more difficult to compete for resources makes it more likely that you will become homeless. Therefore there is a higher percentage of homeless people among the following:

The people I shared shelter, or other programs, with while I was homeless included:

Although I knew a number of people who had addiction or alcoholism issues, it didn't seem to me that the percentage was any higher than among the people I had known when I was housed. Then again, I grew up with alcoholic parents, and until about 38 I was a poster child for codependency, tending to find myself in the company of alcoholics and addicts at a higher than average rate.

Some homeless people are more visible than others. Those most like the standard stereotype of "homeless people" are often not homeless at all. They have housing, and often families, but their addictions or mental difficulties drive them out to the street; or, they have housing and the way they make their living is panhandling or working street cons like "I'm on my way to pick up my paycheck but I've run out of gas." On the other hand, most of those who are homeless aren't seen on the street at all because they are inside somewhere working, going to school, or doing something else to help themselves and/or to help others. You could be standing next to a homeless woman at the bus stop and not know it because she is dressed for her office job. You could be standing next to a homeless man and not know it because he is dressed for his 92nd interview.

Homeless people sleeping in doorways are highly visible. They are also highly vulnerable. Many homeless people who cannot find shelter won't sleep at all at night. They walk, or ride the bus, or if they have any money at all nurse a cup of coffee at an all-night diner -- anything to stay in well-lighted areas with some safety. Then during the day they find someplace they can doze: perhaps a park, or a chair at the library, or the bus again. Some day shelters offer a place to nap, but very few.

While many housed people I talk to estimate than one to ten percent of homeless people are women, the homeless people I have talked to -- including homeless men -- estimate that 30 percent of the homeless people in Seattle are women, and some place it at 50 percent. Homeless women are especially invisible, because they usually feel most vulnerable. Homeless women are far less likely than men to disclose being homeless. This is one of the contributing factors to women staying homeless for longer than men, on the average.

Most co-ed shelters or other co-ed programs have perhaps one or two percent women. Seattle's Tent City, however, with an atmosphere of safety, security, and zero tolerance for abuse, is about 30 percent women, at times up to 50 percent.

In another aspect of "who is homeless," anyone homeless who is in a non-standard category is less likely to find shelter. This includes the single fathers mentioned above; women seeking refuge from domestic violence who have teenage sons with them; same-sex couples; adults and parents who stay together; unmarried couples; "families" of people who have bonded together and take care of each other but are not legally or biologically related; people with service animals or any animal that they cannot bear to part with; people who work non-standard hours.

Specific issues: