Homeless Facts

Thank you for your interest in learning more about homelessness. Below are some links to help you.


10 Ways to Help a Homeless Person

1.    Be prepared.

Anticipate opportunities and be ready to help.


2.    Recognize differences.

Factors leading to homelessness vary. There are women with children fleeing domestic violence, veterans struggling with addiction or mental health issues, and those who are employed but not able to make ends meet…just to name a few.


3.    Acknowledge them.

Treat them as a human being by making eye contact and saying hello. If the situation is safe, take a little extra time to engage in conversation. Taking time to talk to a homeless person in a friendly, respectful manner can give them a sense of civility and dignity. It also gives the person strength to fight the isolation, depression, and paranoia that many homeless people face.


4.    Be cautious.

Some homeless people may have criminal backgrounds or mental health or addiction issues. Use discernment, and stay in areas where other people can see you when ministering to those who are homeless.


5.    Don’t give money.

The majority of panhandlers are not homeless. Too often, well-intended gifts may go toward drugs or alcohol.


6.    Offer an alternative.

Providing tangible resources like clean socks, soap, granola bars, water bottles, a bus ticket, or a gift certificate to a fast food restaurant is a great way to show you care.


7.    Direct them to Wheeler Mission.

Wheeler Mission strives to demonstrate the love of Christ by offering emergency services, residential programs, and addiction recovery for men, women, and children in need.


8.    Become an advocate.

Offer your voice and time to volunteer. If you would like to volunteer at Wheeler Mission, click here.


9.    Pray for them.

Remember them in prayer. Your prayers for their physical and spiritual needs can bring many of the broken to Jesus.


10.    Share God’s love whenever you can.

If Jesus were walking the earth today, He would speak with, heal, and help the homeless. Today, Jesus chooses to work through those who believe and follow Him.


A special thanks to Portland Rescue Mission for sharing some of their great ideas with us.

10 Myths about Homelessness

1.    Homelessness is only about middle-aged men.

The face of homelessness is changing. In fact, the fastest growing segments of the homeless population are women and families with children.


2.    Homeless people need to “just get a job”.

Getting a job is incredibly difficult for a homeless person. Most lack clean clothes, showers, transportation, a permanent address and phone number. Others have a criminal past, learning disabilities and lack of education that holds them down. Even if they find work, their low income often cannot sustain them.


3.    Homeless people are dangerous.

Homelessness is often associated with drugs, alcohol, violence and crime, but rarely toward those who help them. At Wheeler Mission, the attitude we see most often from homeless men and women is gratitude.


4.    Homeless people are lazy.

Surviving on the street takes work. Homeless men and women are often sleep-deprived, cold, wet, and sick. Their minds, hearts and bodies are exhausted. It can take a full day to reach a destination, find food, and find a safe place to sleep. And they do this while lugging their precious few possessions along with them in a bag or backpack. It is not a life of ease.


5.    People are homeless by choice.

People lose jobs and then housing. Women run away to escape domestic violence. Many struggle with mental illness, depression, post-traumatic stress or simply cannot cope with trauma in their lives. Poor choices can contribute to homelessness, but outside circumstances strongly influence those choices.


6.    If homeless people wanted to, they could pull themselves out of it.

Imagine trying to get a job when you have no address, no phone number, no shower and no clean clothes. Often, things like legal issues, criminal history, mental illness, physical and emotional health hinder progress even more.


7.    Providing food and shelter only enables people to remain homeless.

By offering food and shelter, we build relationships with people in need. Then we’re able to offer something more through our residential and recovery programs to equip them to be successful, productive citizens.


8.    If we provide sufficient affordable housing, homelessness will end.

Putting a roof over the head of a deeply hurting person will not heal emotional wounds, break addiction, create relational stability or establish healthy life skills. It is a temporary solution for the many people who are homeless because they are unable to function in a “normal” life.


9.    Homelessness will never happen to me.

The majority of people we serve never intended to become homeless. They’ve had solid jobs, houses and families. But at some point, life fell apart. They are desperate for a way back home.


10. Homelessness will never end.

Homelessness will not be eliminated everywhere for all time. But homelessness does end—one life at a time. With your help, we continue to restore the lives of hurting men, women and children every day.


A special thanks to Portland Rescue Mission for sharing some of their great ideas with us.

10 Causes of Homelessness

1.    Addiction

68% of U.S. cities report that addiction is their single largest cause of homelessness.* A formerly homeless addict is likely to return to homelessness unless they deal with the addiction. Treatment programs are needed that treat the root causes of addiction and help men and women find a way back home. (*Source: National Coalition for the Homeless – Substance Abuse.)


2.    Domestic Violence

Nationally, 50% of homeless women and children are fleeing domestic violence.* If she stays in the home, she’ll be beaten again. If she leaves, she’ll have little means of support. Choosing homelessness over abuse is both a brave and frightening decision. (*Source: National Coalition for the Homeless – Domestic Violence.)


3.    Mental Illness

6% of the American population suffers from mental illness. In the homeless population, that number jumps to 20-25%.* Serious mental illnesses disrupt people’s ability to carry out essential aspects of daily life, such as self care and household management. Without assistance, these men and women have little chance of gaining stability. (*Source: National Coalition for the Homeless – Mental Illness.)


4.    Job Loss and Underemployment

Many Americans are underemployed at wages that can’t sustain them. Layoffs and job cuts leave individuals and families in desperate circumstances. Unemployment benefits and savings run out, leaving people facing homelessness. (See: National Coalition for the Homeless – Employment.)


5.    Foreclosure

From 2008 to 2009, foreclosures jumped by 32%. A 2009 survey estimates that as many as 10% of people seeking help from homeless organizations do so due to foreclosure.* (*Source: National Coalition for the Homeless – Foreclosure.)


6.    Post-Traumatic Stress

On any given night, as many as 200,000 military veterans sleep on the street.* Adapting to “normal life” back in the U.S. is proving to be extremely difficult. Unable to cope, some choose to leave homes, loved ones and jobs behind for homelessness and/or addiction. (*Source: National Coalition for the Homeless – Veterans.)


7.    Throw Away Teens

Homeless teens often become so due to family conflicts involving issues of drug/alcohol addiction, physical abuse, sexual orientation or teen pregnancy. Mental illness can also play a significant role. Teens in foster care often end up on the street after they “age-out” of the system at age 18.


8.    Relational Brokenness

A homeless person is most often a deeply hurting person and has likely burned through every supportive relationship possible. Friends and family are no longer able or willing to help. A significant barrier to recovery often lies in the ability to restore trust and maintain healthy relationships.


9.    Grief

Unable to deal with the death of a loved one or other significant trauma results in grief, and people will numb their pain in addiction. Addiction and apathy lead to the loss of job and home. They simply stop caring if they live or die. Grief becomes a roadblock to living.


10. Despair

The longer men and women are homeless, the more difficult it becomes to combat the lies they hear in their heads. They believe there’s no way out. They don’t deserve another chance. They’ll never break free from addiction. They’ll always be a failure. More than anything, these men and women need hope.


A special thanks to Portland Rescue Mission for sharing some of their great ideas with us.

10 Places Homeless People Sleep

Living without a home of your own is a devastating experience. But sleeping without a home is downright difficult. Some of these places receive media attention. Others may surprise you. But all of these overnight accommodations are completely unacceptable for regular human habitation.


1.    Storage Units

Many have called storage units the modern-day cardboard box. Sure, they’re not ideal, but they’re dry, secure and beat the dangers of the street. And they offer a way for people to keep some of their belongings rather than abandon them or have them stolen.


2.    Cars

When your home is on four wheels, it’s impossible to sit still. Each day, you must be on the go to evade authorities and the expensive citations for illegal parking or sleeping in a vehicle. You can never be perfectly at ease.


3.    Motels

For families, motels are an affordable alternative to shelter and safer than the streets. But with cramped rooms and unsafe conditions, it is far from a good alternative to safe, decent housing. And when money runs out, families are back on the street.


4.    Tent Cities

Homeless encampments have sprung up in communities across the U.S. As diverse as the residents and characteristics of these communities may be, they all have one thing in common: they are cloaked in controversy.


5.    Parks

Parks are open to the public and a decent place to get a nap during the day. But sleeping in the park at night is usually unsafe and often interrupted by police asking offenders to move along.


6.    Streets

Shelters tend to attract people who are chronically homeless and addicted. This can be frightening to someone newly homeless or to those who struggle with mental illness or social phobias, so they might choose to sleep on the street instead.


7.    Foreclosed Houses

Across the country, hundreds of thousands of foreclosed homes are boarded up, idle and empty. At the same time, homelessness has been on the rise and the need for decent affordable housing is as great as ever. It comes as no surprise that homeless men and women choose to become squatters in vacant homes.


8.    Abandoned Buildings

Much like the situation with foreclosed homes, there’s no shortage of empty warehouses and other business buildings where homeless men and women take shelter.


9.    Couches

Homeless families and individuals sleep on couches, in garages/sheds and backyard tents. Although they are technically homeless, they are unseen and left uncounted in an official homeless census – until the hospitality wears out. Then, they end up on the street.


10. We Don’t Know

For all of those homeless individuals whose unfortunate living situations are documented, recorded, and broadcast to the public, there are hundreds more who remain anonymous. The methodology for finding and counting homeless people is imperfect; we simply do not find everyone.


A special thanks to Portland Rescue Mission and change.org for sharing some of their great ideas with us.

For parents! Are your kids asking about their homeless neighbors? Are you not sure how to approach the conversation? Use and download our handout for talking to your kids about homelessness. We even included some ways they can help!

Want to learn even more about homelessness and Wheeler Mission?