Finding Housing When You're Homeless

May 7th 2016

Finding Housing When You're Homeless

For thousands of Americans, homelessness is a grim reality. In New York City alone, the Coalition for the Homeless estimates that up to 60,000 people are homeless each night. Due to the shame associated with losing their home, many people who qualify for housing assistance never apply. However, there are programs to help homeless individuals find shelter while they rebuild their lives.

Image Courtesy of Ed Yourdon

Federal Programs to House the Homeless

Federal programs to aid homeless people are developed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, but are administered through local and state housing authorities. For this reason, homeless individuals must contact their state's housing or welfare department directly, where they can ask for help applying for housing assistance.

Common federal housing programs include:

  • Continuum of Care (CoC) Homeless Assistance Program
  • Emergency Solutions Grant Program
  • Section 8

All of these programs provide financial help for homeless individuals who want to rent housing or need temporary shelter. However, due to limited funding and the length of the application process, it's important that homeless individuals ask for assistance as soon as possible.

National Non-Profits that Offer Homeless Housing Options

Many national non-profits establish or offer financial assistance to local homeless shelters. For example, Help USA offers permanent and temporary housing for homeless people in Newark, Las Vegas, Philadelphia and other cities. Like federal and state programs, national organizations require that people needing housing assistance go through the application process at their local office.

Other non-profits that offer housing assistance include:

  • Feeding America Organization
  • Housing Assistance Council
  • National Alliance to End Homelessness
  • National Coalition for the Homeless
  • Salvation Army
  • United Way

Most non-profits that offer homeless housing assistance also offer other programs to address factors contributing to homelessness. These programs may include job training, domestic violence counseling and addiction treatment.

Housing for Special Homeless Groups

The government administers programs specifically for homeless teenagers and veterans. Homeless veterans should call 877-424-3838 to speak someone at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Veterans Affairs has started an aggressive campaign to end veterans' homelessness by 2015. Veterans who call can expect to receive health care and job training in addition to housing assistance.

Homeless teenagers and young adults can receive housing through the Transitional Living Program for Homeless Youth. In order to qualify, the applicant must be between 16 to 21 years of age and be homeless or living in a shelter. The goal of the program is to provide safe living accommodations while helping the applicant find a long-term housing solution. In order to apply, the applicant must visit a local homeless youth center to file the necessary paperwork. When visiting the youth center, homeless teens should ask about other available housing options. In many shelters, minors take priority over other homeless individuals.

Preparing for Homelessness

People who suspect they'll lose their housing should apply for benefits before they are actually homeless. They should ask about transitional housing, as well as public housing and Section 8 aid. Inquiring through local homelessness organizations may also yield temporary housing. If possible, these individuals should work to secure valid identification, find a place to receive mail and locate a place to store their belongings. In many cases, shelters limit occupants to two bags. Some shelters also require identification and may charge a nominal fee for shelter.

According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, over 600,000 people are homeless in 2013. Many of these people qualify for some type of housing assistance, but it's essential that people who qualify for these programs apply at their state or local housing office. Non-profits can also offer help; homeless adults should ask shelter workers for program recommendations in their area.  


  • Don't be afraid or ashamed to seek housing assistance immediately.
  • Check out federal and state programs through your local housing authority.
  • National and local non-profits may offer housing assistance in your area.
  • If you are a homeless teenager, young adult or veteran, there are specialized programs for you.


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