Often when people imagine what homelessness looks like, they picture an individual who is “sleeping rough” meaning on the street without any shelter. While this is sometimes the case, homelessness is many different things that impacts people differently. Being homeless doesn't just mean those without shelter, but those without a permanent home.
Here are a few different places where someone experiencing homelessness may try to catch some rest, or live temporarily.
In urban areas you may walk past someone sleeping on the sidewalk, in the park, or on public seating especially during the day time. It’s actually safer for people sleeping rough to catch some rest during the day - chances of violence or theft is lower. Though it’s very hard to find a place to sleep in public where you won’t be interrupted, let alone find privacy.
One big challenge with sleeping outside is with an increase of criminalizing public behaviors, such as sleeping, eating, or sitting in public spaces. Depending on how local police choose to handle enforcement, it’s usually targeted toward who may or may not look homeless.
You may be thinking why don’t people just go sleep at the shelters during the night? It’s true, sleeping on the street is normally the last resort for folks, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who would refuse a bed for the night. Unfortunately in places like San Francisco, the shelters are full. Shelters can also be dangerous, a place with access to vices that people are hoping to avoid, and often people’s belongings are stolen.
For many it can come down to when they are able to get in line for the shelter, sometimes early in the afternoon, to be let in for the night and unable to leave until morning. Shelters have some pretty strict rules that can split up partners and families (women and children vs. men), normally don’t allow you bring in your belongings or pets (read: why do homeless people have pets?).
This loss of freedom and time impacts someone experiencing homelessness just like it would you or me.
Sometimes partners, families, or friends may opt to live in encampments. These are areas where people set up tents to camp together, usually outside the city. One of the largest encampments in the Bay Area, before it was disbanded, was called The Jungle in San Jose.
Cities are putting effort into breaking these encampments up and asking smaller ones to move each day, without a clear path to exit homelessness for these groups. Though there are some innovative programs like the Navigation Center in San Francisco that focuses on moving entire encampments into their temporary space, including their belongings and pets. On average people are housed within 45 days.
Living in a car or RV provides some privacy and shelter, but it doesn’t provide a place to shower and it’s tough to find a safe place to park. Often the fees of keeping a car running with up-to-date tags can cause an individual to eventually lose their last bit of shelter, leaving them on the street.
Single Occupancy Rooms (SRO), Motels and Hotels
SROs are generally available for rent by the night, the week, or the month. Very minimal living sometimes with no kitchen and a shared bathroom, and usually not in great condition. Sometimes these rooms are subsidized and managed by nonprofit organizations which helps connect the steps for someone moving from the street to temporary housing. While SROs are not ideal living situations, it’s sometimes the only thing someone with limited income can afford.
People experiencing homelessness will also leverage motels when they have the funds to get a good night’s rest and a shower.
Couch Surfing and Doubling Up
This can be overlooked when we think about what homelessness is, but people without a permanent home may find themselves jumping from friend to friend or relative, sleeping on couches or floors.
For families living in poverty, they may ‘double up’ in a living space meaning have two or more families in a one-family living space. With both couch surfing and doubling up, a disagreement or renters issue can quickly change the circumstances and leave someone homeless.
What Can We Do?
For someone who is homeless, finding a place to sleep is a huge obstacle every single day. Understanding the different types of places an individual or a family might find temporary shelter can help us understand the different paths out of homelessness. You can donate to someone fundraising for housing right now on HandUp.
If you have someone in your community you'd like to help, give them a HandUp Gift Card which also connects them to local services here in San Francisco. When we have more understanding, we can have more compassion.