Saturday, September 14, 2019

100 Resources If You Are Flat Broke, Homeless, Jobless, Etc.

I've written two popular posts on this topic, one way back in 2010(!) and an update in 2014.  It's been five years so I figured I would update this list of resources once again so that people in need would have this information all together on one list to help them out.

The same caveats from the previous posts still apply, namely that I have never been homeless by circumstance (although we were technically homeless for a couple of years while we traveled which brought up some interesting issues such as trying to renew my driver's license when I didn't have an "official" address and the lady at the DMV insisting that I couldn't have a driver's license if I didn't have an address and me asking her how all of the homeless people who live in their cars can legally drive if they didn't have an actual house with an address and her rolling her eyes...hopefully the DMVs have addressed this issue but I don't know if they have and I don't have much faith that any government worker would go above and beyond to fix this issue but I digress...).  Also, this list is meant to be helpful but not a cure-all for homelessness.  If there was a way to fix homelessness there wouldn't be thousands and thousands of people living on the streets of all of our major cities in our country.  Homelessness is a many-faceted problem with, so far, very few options for "fixing".

Another quick note--after revising this list it is amazing how far we have come since 2010 with internet resources which are super useful for the homeless and those in need!


  1. You really do need ID to function in society these days.  For people who have lost or otherwise never had ID, getting a state ID card, driver's license, Social Security card, or passport is like a catch-22, basically you need ID in order to get ID which is where the problem lies.  Here is some info on how to go about getting official government ID if you don't currently have ID.  Also, homeless service agencies can often help people procure ID (everything from helping them contact their state's vital records office to providing an "official" address to receive mail at).
  2. A cell phone is pretty much required to function in society these days.  Cheap pre-paid cell phones can be found at Walmart and similar stores.  Cheap cell service can be found at Mint, Ting, and similar places.  Also, low income people can qualify for free cell service through the Lifeline program.  As a side note, even cell phones that aren't activated can still be used to call 911.  Also consider using Google Voice, Skype, and social media services like Facebook messenger, etc for your communication needs.
  3. Another necessity for modern life is an address where you can receive mail and other official documents.  Mailing addresses for the homeless could be a post office box or private mail box (these cost money and require an "official" home address when setting them up), using a (responsible!) friend or family member's address where you can receive mail, and some homeless service agencies let people use their address for mailing purposes.  Note that full-time RVers also have this issue; here is an overview of how they get around the mailing address problem.
  4. At the first sign that you will be losing your home/income, go to your local welfare office (Google welfare and the name of your state to find a local office) and sign up for any service/program you qualify for like TANF, WIC, food stamps (SNAP), emergency housing, unemployment, Medicare, etc.  Basically get as much help as you can, as quickly as you can, headed your way.  Sometimes housing lists are years long but sign up anyway as new programs and funding can sometimes change these circumstances with no notice.
  5. Another good resource for those in need is calling 211.  This is like 911 but it provides information on local social services that you can use like emergency housing or food resources.  Just call and tell them what kind of help you need and the operator can point you in the right direction.  You can also find 211 online here.
  6. Storage is another issue for the homeless.  Carrying around all of your worldly belongings can make you a target for robbery or theft so other options like renting a storage unit (expensive), storing stuff at a friend's house (iffy), renting a locker in a bus station or bowling alley, or even getting a safe deposit box for your most important papers should be considered.  Note that copies of ALL of your important documents like birth certificate, license, and passport, etc should be scanned and put on both a thumb drive you carry with you and stored in the cloud like in your email or free cloud storage service like OneDrive.
  7. If you can get a free checking/savings account, open a PayPal account, and/or get a credit card (linked to your bank or pre-paid), do so.  These services will give you a secure place to store your money, receive direct deposits to, and cash checks.  People also use places like Walmart and Western Union for these services but there is a fee with each transaction.  Here are some free banking resources; note some are online only.
  8. You also need gear if you are going to be homeless.  Even something as simple as a basic backpack and a couple changes of clothes and toiletries will be useful in order to take care of yourself.  Check the links further down the page on housekeeping for places where you can acquire this gear on the cheap.
  9. Get as much education as you can.  When you are homeless and in survival mode, this may be the last thing you are thinking about, but something as simple as getting a free GED (check your local community college for these classes) can open employment doors that would otherwise be closed to people with no basic education.  If there is a training course for those in need, grab it (check the Goodwill or your local employment office for these).  If you can get into JobCorps or the military, even better; you will be housed and fed and educated for free!
  10. A social network is also very useful for those in need.  Family, friends, and other people you can depend on to help you out when needed can be a lifesaver (note, these need to be positive people, not losers who will drag you down with them).  Do be agreeable and helpful, don't overstay your welcome or take advantage of people.
  1. Find out where free hot meals are being served in your community and take advantage of this.  You need food to keep you active and healthy and free food is a great way to stay full on the cheap.
  2. Also find out where the food pantries in your area are located.  These places are designed for people in need and there is no shame in getting the food you need for free from these places as that is what they are there for.  Note that many food pantries can also provide baby items like formula and diapers as well as pet food.
  3. Stop by churches in your area and see what kind of resources they offer.  Some have food pantries, some serve hot meals, some provide gift cards for local stores, etc.
  4. Fast food places are often the "go to" for those who are hungry.  While you wouldn't want to eat there everyday since the food isn't that great for your health, the $1 menu can be a lifesaver if you are hungry.
  5. Dollar Stores and 99 Cent stores have popped up all over the place.  For only a few dollars, you can make some relatively healthy meals from the food sold at these places (rice, beans, etc).
  6. Don't forget to check out community events which sometimes provide free food and snacks for attendees.  Meetings like fire station open houses, community safety forums, and other meetings where the public are invited might serve everything from cookies and coffee to full meals.
  7. Dumpster diving for free food sounds kind of yucky but there is an entire movement dedicated to this way of sourcing free food.  Use online resources--from wikis to reddit to YouTube--to learn how to do this.
  8. Foraging for wild food and gleaning farmer's fields are also tried and true way to acquire free produce.  Again, the internet has tons of resources for how to do this in your area (wild edibles vary by region).
  9. Check out places that provide free food samples.  From using an old Costco card (you can get a complete meal at these stores on the weekend just from all the sample tables) to taking food factory tours and paying attention to samples at your local grocery store, you can eat pretty well this way.
  10. Also consider bartering for a free meal.  I've seen people exchange work with local farmers for free food or shelter to bartering things like window washing or cleaning up with local restaurant owners for free meals.
  1. Find out where your local homeless shelters are.  Some people live in these shelters, others wouldn't touch them with a 10-foot pole, but it is still a good idea to know where they are located in your city for times when you need a roof over your head.
  2. Squatting is another way to shelter yourself if you are homeless.  Note that squatting is usually illegal and can often be dangerous so do this at your own risk.
  3. Camping is another way that the homeless shelter themselves.  This can range from living in an official campground to finding an out of the way place to set up a tent.  Camping gear can be acquired from thrift stores or friends and this is a good way to keep the rain off you.  Note that camping in cities and towns can sometimes be illegal so do this at your own risk.  Here's a list of free and legal places to camp in the US.
  4. Couchsurfing is another way to shelter yourself.  This means sleeping on a friend's couch/in their guest room, for free.  Couchsurfing can also be done via an app where you stay for free with people who open their homes to couchsurfers (generally travelers) and traveling bicyclists through WarmShowers.
  5. It may be possible to trade for your room and board by becoming a live-in caretaker (babysitter or for the elderly), a farm worker (WWOOFing for example), or house sitter.
  6. If you have a car, this may be the best place to shelter yourself.  There are thousands and thousands of people living in their vehicles in the US either by choice, or necessity.  Know the local laws as they pertain to living in your car (it's illegal in some places), and learn the tricks and tips for doing this by hitting up the internet (YouTube is a goldmine of info on this topic, just search 'living in your car').
  7. Sometimes you can just ask for shelter.  Friends, family, and acquaintances may open their home to you if they know you need a place to stay for a while.  Some people have asked to stay in churches and have been allowed to do so, while others have asked farmers if they can set up in a tent on their property and have been granted permission to do this.
  8. There may be longer-term shelter options in your community like transitional housing programs, halfway houses, in-patient drug and mental health treatment facilities, etc.
  9. If you suddenly find yourself homeless, sometimes local organizations like shelters, the Red Cross, churches, etc. can offer vouchers for you to stay in a local hotel for a few days.  It doesn't hurt to ask if these vouchers are available in your area.
  10. Other unusual ways to shelter yourself include: living in a library, living in a mall, and living hidden in an attic.  Note that all of these things are illegal.
Special Circumstances
  1. If you or your spouse has ever served in the military, check with your local VA office to see if you are entitled to any benefits that could help you.  Local military service agencies like DAVs, VFW halls, and local vet service centers (example here) can also be helpful in this regard.
  2. If you are fleeing from an abusive situation, your local domestic violence shelter can help provide food, housing, and other resources until you can get back on your feet.  
  3. If you are a registered member of an Indian Tribe, check with your reservation's services office and see what kind of help they can provide (everything from medical services to food and housing may be available).
  4. If you are a senior citizen, check and see what kind of help you can receive in your community.  Everything from Medicare and Social Security payments to senior housing and Meal on Wheels and more may be available to you.
  5. If you are a minority, check to see what resources may be available to help you in your community (examples here, here, and here).
  6. If you are an immigrant, see what resources are available to help you in your community (this can include everything from lawyers and translators to help with legal issues to free English classes at your local library).
  7. If you are a teenager who has become homeless, use Google to find local and national teen homeless resources in help you out.  Be sure to also seek assistance at your school (many schools have food pantries and clothing donation centers for students in need) as well as from social services if necessary (some parents literally kick their teenagers out of the house which is illegal).
  8. If you are disabled, find out what resources are available in your community.  Everything from Social Security disability payments to a higher spot on housing lists to free or reduced transit passes is often available to those in need who are also disabled.
  9. If you are a college student, check with student services to see what kinds of resources your school provides.  There are A LOT of homeless college students these days and many schools have stepped up to help them with food pantries and all kinds of other programs to meet their needs.
  10. If you are homeless with your children, find out what kind of services are available in your community.  These can range from federal benefits like TANF and free school meal programs (even during the summer) to housing programs and free daycare.
  1. See if your community offers free or sliding scale medical clinics.
  2. Also pay attention to free health fairs in your community.  These are particularly common for back to school events for kids and homeless outreach clinic days for those who cannot afford to pay for medical care.
  3. If you have a medical emergency, go to your local hospital ER.  ERs have to treat you even if you can't pay.  Note that you will get bills for treatment afterwards but you can always ask the hospital if they have a charity care program which can lower or even erase the bills you owe.
  4. See what free and cheap services your local health district offers (example here).  This can range from free immunizations and car seats to free mammograms and pap smears for women who otherwise wouldn't be able to afford these services.
  5. If you need prescription medicine for a chronic medical condition, check out the variety of ways to get the medication you need for cheap or even free.  There are free prescription programs, you can ask your doctor for free prescription samples, Walmart offers reduced-price medications at their pharmacies, and people can buy prescriptions at Costco even if they aren't a member.
  6. If you qualify, sign up for Medicare/Medicaid.  These programs are specifically for seniors and low income people.  While Medicare is a national program that all seniors qualify for, Medicaid qualifications vary by state.
  7. Consider medical and dental schools for free and reduced cost care.  Yes, you will be taken care of by students while they "practice" on you, but they are always overseen by their professors who are qualified doctors (example here).
  8. Check into Planned Parenthood for free and low cost medical and reproductive services such as birth control, pap smears, etc.
  9. Keeping yourself in excellent physical shape is perhaps one of the best ways to avoid the need for medical and dental care.  Eat right, exercise daily, cut out bad habits like smoking and drinking, and preventive care like having your teeth cleaned every six months instead of waiting years until your teeth are rotting out before seeking care, can all do wonders to keep you out of the doctor's or dentist's office.
  10. Finally, there are a number of unusual ways people have sought inexpensive medical and dental services including: medical and dental tourism, using animal prescriptions for humans, and joining medical trials for free medical care.
  1. Walking is often the transit mode of choice for the homeless.  It is free and the only thing you need are a good pair of shoes.
  2. Next on the scale of inexpensive transportation options is using a bicycle.  A bicycle will require the initial cost to purchase it (you can find these cheap on Craigslist or at thrift stores), plus maintenance and upkeep (there are lots of good DIY videos on YouTube about this), and of course the ability to safely ride a bike and keep it secured from theft.
  3. Public transit is a great way to get all around your city for very low cost.  Note that low income people, seniors, and students can often get free or reduced-cost transit passes.  Also check for vouchers for free transit passes provided by social service agencies in your area.
  4. If you need to travel further from home, there are many low-cost bus services which are very popular among travelers.  These include Megabus, Bolt Bus, Flix bus, and GoTo bus.  Note that areas with large Hispanic or Asian populations often have low cost "no-name" bus services which you can find by asking around.
  5. Check out your local Craigslist and reddit bulletin boards to find free or cheap ride shares is that is a way you are comfortable traveling.
  6. Hitchhiking and train hopping are free and are about as old as cars and trains.  The safety and legality of these modes of transportation, however, may be questionable so do this at your own risk.
  7. Cars can be both transportation and shelter and there are thousands of people who are currently living in their vehicles.  On the one hand, cars are expensive to buy and maintain and you need to keep up on all legal requirements (valid driver's license, registration, insurance, etc) in order to avoid fines and tickets, on the other hand, cars are safer and more secure than just sleeping on the streets.
  8. Not that many people in need are going to be hopping a plane but if you need to go a long distance fast, consider cheap airlines like Spirit, Allegiant, and Jet Blue (use Google flights to find the lowest cost airline tickets by day).
  9. Motorcycles and mopeds are a good option between bicycling and driving a car.  They are cheaper to buy, maintain, and cheaper for gas and registration, as well as much faster than a bicycle.  Be sure to learn how to drive safely and always wear appropriate safety gear like a helmet.
  10. Carpooling, ride-shares, Uber, Lyft, etc. are another form of inexpensive transportation.  Uber and Lyft are usually cheaper than taxis, and some jobs provide free or inexpensive car-pooling and van pools for employees. 
  1. If you qualify, consider using government-funded programs to both provide an income as well as teach you viable job skills.  Programs like JobCorps and apprenticeships are great ways to earn while you learn.
  2. Years ago the military was open to basically anyone with a pulse.  These days the military is more choosy about who they allow to join but this is still a good option for many people.  The military provides great benefits and job training as well as housing, medical care, and food.
  3. Panhandling and busking are quick ways to earn quick cash.  These activities may or may not be legal where you are so plan accordingly to stay out of legal trouble.
  4. Bartering is another way to get what you need, using what you have.  Whether you are trading your skills, time, labor, or material items, this is an interesting way to acquire what you need without actually paying cash for it.
  5. Earning an income from your online activities or app use is a very viable way to earn money these days.  You can Google for ideas and come up with lots of info like this.
  6. If you have worked at all in the past, take advantage of any ways you can turn this into money for you (ie: file for unemployment if you have been laid off, be sure to file your taxes and get the money you are owed from the government, if you were injured on the job file for unemployment disability, take any resources offered if you are laid off, participate in job retraining programs if you qualify, etc).
  7. Day labor is a quick way to earn cash.  Many of these places will pay you each day for the hours you work and have very minimal requirements (showing up early in the morning is the most obvious one).
  8. Google for ways to earn quick cash.  You will find thousands and thousands of pages on this topic and suggestions will range from walking dogs to selling blood and everything in between.
  9. Use your trash picking and dumpster diving skills to find things you can clean up and resell on platforms like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, Offer Up, etc.
  10. A side note, avoid things like scams and opportunities that sound too good to be true as well as doing things that are illegal and will get you a quick trip to jail like burglary, theft, prostitution, drug dealing, etc.
  1. Use your local library for all the free resources they provide from loaner books and movies to educational classes and social services (or even just a cool place to sit during the hottest days of the summer).  Libraries are one of the very best resources for those in need.
  2. Shop thrift stores, especially on half-price days.  You can pretty much find anything you need at a thrift store for a fraction of the cost of a new item.
  3. Speaking of thrift stores, many of these organizations that also provide services for the homeless and jobless including resume writing, job training, and even jobs so be sure to take advantage of these services if they are offered in your community.
  4. Staying clean is another challenge when one is homeless.  Some people buy monthly passes to national gym chains so they have daily access to showers.  The community pool is generally a cheap place to take a shower, as are truck stops, parks facilities, and some homeless service centers.  The old fashioned way of using a public water source like a lake or river to bathe will work too.
  5. Keeping your clothes clean can also be a challenge.  Laundromats are the most common place to do laundry, doing laundry at a friend's place is another option, and some homeless service centers offer free laundry facilities.  Hand washing and hanging your clothes to dry is also an option.
  6. Just because you are homeless or broke, doesn't mean you should never have any fun.  Check local Facebook pages, local reddit pages, and online news and entertainment sites to find free and low cost entertainment opportunities.  Volunteering can also score you some free entertainment.  Generally you provide a few hours of work at a conference or festival and you will get to stay for the rest of the day to enjoy the event for free.
  7. Keeping your stuff in good repair is a good way to extend the life of your gear and clothing and it's much cheaper than re-buying the items.  Keep a small sewing kit and some duct tape on hand to make quick repairs to your gear and clothing.
  8. When you need things--from clothes and shoes to household goods and work supplies--check out Freecycle, Craigslist free items, and ask on social media sites like Facebook and reddit; free is better than spending money on items people are only too happy to give away.
  9. Many homeless service centers, shelters, churches, even free meal programs will provide free clothing, shoes, and hygiene items to those in need just for asking.
  10. Remember the mantra "reduce, reuse, recycle, or do without".  People throw so many things out that are still in great condition.  Having minimal, quality items and keeping them in good repair, as well as recycling used items is a good way to have the things you need on the cheap.
Long-Term Fixes
  1. If part of the reason you are in a bad situation is due to drug or alcohol addiction, consider joining free treatment services like NA and AA.  Other addiction treatment programs may be available as part of a doctor-ordered or court-ordered treatment program.
  2. Do not get into debt.  If you are in debt, check out Dave Ramsey for advice on how to get out of debt.  Things like payday lenders, credit cards, rent to own places, and worse, the local loan shark, are the quickest way to keep you down and keep you from getting out of a bad situation.
  3. If you have legal problems, make sure to take care of these issues ASAP.  Check with your local free legal aid office for help and ask to do community service or jail days in lieu of paying fines or tickets...the last thing you want if you are already living on the streets is warrants and other problems with the law following you around.
  4. While I usually never recommend going into debt, if you have the ability (like a diploma or GED and good SAT scores) you might consider taking out student loans for college or certification programs which will help you to get a good job in the future.  Note that scholarships are way better than loans and, as of right now, student loans will follow you until you die since they are not dischargable in bankruptcy.
  5. Apply for any and every job you can find.  Even if it is a low-paying crap job it is better than no job (usually).  For some reason it is easier to get another, better job if you are already employed.  Also some jobs have additional benefits like free meals when you work, all the coffee you can drink, etc.
  6. Avoid the law if at all possible.  This includes everything from not breaking the law (like vandalism or squatting), getting tickets or fines you can't pay, driving without insurance, not having kids you can't support, not paying court-ordered child support, or hanging with people who routinely commit crimes.  Courts, trials, probation, jail and prison time...all of those things you DON'T want in your life.
  7. Volunteer.  If you aren't doing anything anyway, volunteering can be a great way to get free things (like a free meal when volunteering at a meal program), is a great addition to your resume (it shows you can be dependable and work), and it's a great way to network in the community (I've hired several people I met when they were volunteering through various charities I was working with).
  8. Cut out vices if you can.  Drinking, smoking, drugs...these things are expensive, sometimes illegal, and do nothing to really benefit your life.
  9. Seek assistance for problems that keep you in a downward cycle.  If mental health issues are the problem, seek out resources for treatment.  If a loser SO is the problem, kick them out and move on.  If the people you hang out with are causing you problems, find better friends.
  10. See if there is a listing or directory of homeless services in your area.  Many communities produce these sorts of lists which include all services you may need in your area (example here).
  11. Know your legal rights.  The poorest and most downtrodden in our society are often taken advantage of because they don't now their rights.  The ACLU has several general 'Know your Rights' pamphlets.
  12. Reddit is a wonderful online community where you can ask for pretty much anything from legal and medical advice to general assistance to tech support.
  13. Safety is of top concern, especially if you are homelessTake extra caution to avoid dangerous people and situations.
  14. Move.  Often people feel stuck in a bad situation (bad home life, high unemployment area, living in a dangerous area, living in an area you can no way afford, etc) but one simple way to fix this is to pick up and move to a new area.  Obviously it is a precarious situation to just do this but the payoff may be much greater than staying stuck where you are.
  15. If you still have a home but can't afford your utilities check with each utility company (electric, gas, internet, trash, water, sewer, etc) and see what kind of assistance programs they offer.  Many electric companies provide free or discounted electric service to people in need during the winter as well as free weatherization programs.  There are very inexpensive internet programs for low income folks.  The gas company may have rebates or discount programs, etc.
  16. If you have children, sign them up for any free program they qualify for.  Free school lunches, free school supplies, free medical care, free dental care, free vaccinations, free parks programs, even free haircuts at back to school events and free weekend/summer meal programs.  There are so many free programs and services for children in most communities that it pays to take advantage of every program you can for your kids.
  17. Tech tips: get a free email address since many things like job applications are now done online instead of in person (GMail, Hotmail, Yahoo mail, etc).  Find free wifi in your community instead of paying for it.  Keep all of your important documents backed up on a memory card or thumb drive.  Utilize the library for free internet/free computers to use/free computer classes/etc.  Cancel cable and use an over-the-air antenna to get free TV.
  18. Google for general homeless resources and see what you can find.  I did just that and found this, this, this, and this.
  19. Work together with other people in your situation to help everyone out.  Share babysitting with other mothers in need, go together to buy a 50 pound bag of rice and share it (this is much cheaper than buying smaller quantities), share housing if possible, etc.
  20. Do something out of the ordinary to achieve out of the ordinary results.  For example, this man was homeless, he wrote a book about his situation, and now he is a famous author.  This kid was an orphan so he asked for a family when he went to church and now has one.  J K Rowling was jobless and penniless but she started writing and...well you know how that story ends.

No comments:

Post a Comment