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How to Help Someone Facing Homelessness

Reviewed Dec 16, 2013


Help someone you care about:

  • Find the right resources.
  • Get back on track.
  • Build a good foundation.

If you know someone on the brink of losing their home, you are not alone. It is estimated that close to 700,000 people in the United States don’t have a home every night.

You may be the only thing between your friend or family member and the street. Many families turn their backs on people who have lost their home. They may blame it on their own problems and do not want to help. 

Your friend is in a very hard position in his life. It is likely brought on by many causes, including some of these:

  • Money problems. She didn’t pay the rent, mortgage or taxes.
  • Health problems, including mental health and addictions. Poor health or addictions can keep a person from working or can get them fired.
  • Conflicts with others, including family members, spouses, landlords or neighbors. 
  • Misunderstandings, language problems or other actions that got in the way of their best efforts to be mature adults.
  • Lack of a social support network because the person was in the military, a health clinic or prison. It’s easy to get lost when you have nothing to come home to. 

Often, a mixture of problems pushes a person out of their home. It can leave them suffering from shame, anger and feeling no hope. If you want to help, be gentle and kind.  

How you can help

1. Be a friend. Don’t preach. His self-esteem may be at an all-time low, so don’t make things worse. As we’ve all learned lately from the news, anyone can be out of work or lose their home. If you can offer some part of your home as shelter, make sure the person knows it’s a short-term answer. Offer plenty of emotional support.

“Often people are so distressed, they have trouble figuring out what to do next, so pick up the phone and help them start making calls to agencies that can help,” says social worker William Shryer. He suggests starting with a county services access line (most often a 1-800 number) which can lead you to the right people, with one call.

2. Help your friend find needed resources, or find someone who can. Call a help line to find out what the person qualifies for. Give her phone numbers, websites, addresses and other ways to get in touch with agencies or people that can help. They might be legal aid or mental health centers, landlords, job programs or social service agencies. Help her make office visits, then get to them, on time. Help her connect to an area resource, such as a church, service group, senior group, YMCA, veteran’s group or where they can find some support.

3. Offer helpful counsel and aid. Offer him a place to wash his clothes. Help him rent a post office box. Find a location to store valuables or other belongings. Take photos of belongings before they are stored. Take pictures of the person’s home for proof of condition; it may be needed. Help him sign up for health protection. Call schools, if children are involved. Make any needed arrangements for change and/or transportation. Try to help your friend work out payment plans with creditors or plans to delay eviction or foreclosure. Give him a job running errands, babysitting, fixing things or caring for pets. Help him start a business, such as dog walking, handyman work or yard work.

4. Give her some privacy. Give the person a quiet corner of your home to work from. Work with her, if she wants you to.

5. Be positive. Show your friend you trust him to work through this problem.       

About one-third of the homeless are veterans. They often bring many problems home with them when they return from service.

“The [veteran’s] family needs to spearhead getting good mental and physical health right away,” says LeslieBeth Wish, a social worker who works with homeless people. “They are coming back to the worst job market in years and a lot of them have spouses who lost their homes while they were away.”

“If you’re cared for and cared about, it helps you become a care agent in your own life,” Wish says.


Mental Health America
2000 N. Beauregard St, 6th floor
Alexandria, VA 22311
(800) 969-6642

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
451 7th Street SW
Washington, DC 20410
(202) 708-1112

Veterans Crisis Line
(800) 273-8255

National Call Center for Homeless Veterans
(877) 424-3838

VA Caregiver Support Line
(855) 260-3274

Wounded Warrior Resource Center
(800) 342-9647

Helpful websites

Facts about the homeless:

National Resource Directory contains many good contacts for anyone in need of help,

Call 211 for information and referrals for help with food, housing, employment, health care and more. Learn more about your local 211 at

By Paula Hartman Cohen
Source: Isiah Bingham, BSW, QMHP, MSW, ACSW, lead social worker/case manager, The Next Step Program, Norfolk, VA; William Shryer, DCSW, LCSW, clinical director, Diablo Behavioral Healthcare, Danville, CA; LeslieBeth Wish, EdD, MSS, psychologist, licensed clinical social worker and co-director of The Counseling Network of the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, Sarasota, FL.

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