Why and how people become homeless

Becoming homeless and street dependent is not a “one size fits all” situation. There are many ways that this can happen in someone’s life. 

Here are few reasons out of the many.

Foster care.

“In Travis County, 37% of homeless young adults between 16 and 24 years old were in the foster care system.” (Community Impact Newspaper)

When kids age out of Foster care, most of the time there is no family to go to hence being in a foster home.
Some foster homes are physically, mentally, and/or sexually abusive to the foster child and they are generally a paycheck. When that paycheck ends, the kids will be put out on their own to figure it all out.  In these dysfunctional foster homes, these kids are not being taught general life skills, budgeting, how to function without trauma, and just how to live a normal life. 

They are now wounded and some have extensive trauma without any healing or counseling which leads to being in a constant survival mode and many times that looks like addictions to cover up the pain.

Being in survival mode can look like many things such as using their bodies to “pay” for their addictions, stealing to survive, panhandling, confusion and being unsure of their identity and who they are called to be, and remaining in unsafe environments and living with toxic and dysfunctional relationships. 


Over the last 11 years of doing street ministry in Austin, TX, we have met many people that are experiencing homelessness because of illnesses. 

For example, one of our most dedicated volunteers for many years was homeless.  He would show up week after week to help us distribute things at our outreaches. This particular gentleman was very clean and neat and if you did not know he was homeless, it was not apparent. 

His wife was sick with cancer and had to have treatments that were expensive and they used all of their money which caused them to go into major debt for her healing. Sadly, she passed away and this left him with insurmountable debt which led to losing their home. He had no one to turn to and ended up living on the streets. Thankfully, he has now gotten housing through a program in Austin and is no longer on the streets. 

Mental illness

Over the years we have served people on the streets that have varying degrees of mental illnesses. Mental illness can look like many different things that can hinder someone from being productive and functioning.  If the person suffering with mental illess does not have a support system, it is very difficult to maintain a normal way of life. This support system normally encourages one to take care of themselves and that can mean taking their prescribed medications on a regular basis. Without being held accountable by a support system, doctor and mental health appoitments are missed which is another cause for spiraling out of control. When there is no family or a dysfunctional family or foster home which lands someone on the streets, self care becomes a last priority and their mental illnesses become untreated and out of control. 

Sudden unexpected life changes

There are times in our lives where we will experience unexpected twists and turns in life. For most of us, we have the correct survival skills and support systems to help us through those times. Unfortunately, there are people who are not equipped mentally, spiritually or physically to weather those changes. For example, being displaced by a catastrophic natural disaster such as a tornado, hurricane or flooding can be life changing in a negative way. Being sent to a new city during the time that help is offered is great until that help runs out and you have no means to survive in a new place which will sadly lead to homelessness. 

These are just a few examples of how someone can become homeless and does not encompass the vast majority of causes.  At any given time, people can be one paycheck or major life change away from becoming homeless.  It is important that we don’t put every person that we see on the streets into once category of the stereotypical “bum on the corner with a beer in a paper bag” and take time to learn the story behind each set of eyes that we meet.

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