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What to Do If You Become Homeless With Children? Advice for Homeless Families

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Peeples is a long-term child abuse survivor who ended up in foster care. Her goal is to inform others about foster care and social issues.

Families: The New Face of Homelessness

With the economy falling apart, prices skyrocketing, and a society that fails to care for its citizens, it's no wonder that families are quickly becoming the majority of those affected by homelessness. An unlivable minimum wage is often the starting pay, even at skilled positions. Many companies pay less than $9 per hour, even for those with years of experience. So when life goes the wrong way, it is easy to very rapidly lose everything.

I never thought my once-middle-class family would end up on the street. We faced this reality not too long ago, but we managed to pull through. Here are my tips for surviving homelessness with a family.

What to do if you find yourself homeless. . . and with a child to take care of.

What to do if you find yourself homeless. . . and with a child to take care of.

Where to Sleep When Homeless With Children?

Of course, no housing is like your own. There will be negatives to all these options, as long as we are not in a comfortable place to call our own. The key is finding the option that is the easiest to handle for both yourself and your child or children.

  1. Stay With Family. The obvious best option is to check with family. See if there is any way that you could live there in exchange for cleaning, doing yard work, or cooking. This would give your child a place to be somewhere somewhat familiar while you get back on your feet. Not everyone has the family option. Some just don't want their family to know the extent of their problems. If that is the case, you will need to look at other options.
  2. Stay With Friends. Sometimes this can be the best option. . . and, as I learned, sometimes it can be a total nightmare. It can be really difficult if your friend has no children or parents their children differently than you do. It can lead to all sorts of issues—from not being able to put your kids to sleep at a reasonable time to trying to explain to a child why it's so cold in the house that they have to wear a jacket. That being said, it is a roof. Right now that is the priority.
  3. Stay in a Hotel. Many lower-quality hotels and motels offer weekly rates. There are even some that have complete kitchens. Value Place Hotels are a good option in my town, as long as you don't have a pet. These hotels run anywhere from $175 to $350 a week. This option could easily take up most of your check, but it provides a roof, water, electricity, and independence. Some places offer free breakfast (don't forget to grab an extra bagel or yogurt for lunch!). Also, if there is a rest stop nearby, be sure to stop in to look for hotel coupons. I have found that these coupons have better deals than any you'll find listed online.
  4. Camp or Sleep in Your Car. Read this article for more information about how to do this safely.
  5. Find a Shelter. I'm listing this last because, in my opinion, it is the worst option when you are a homeless family. There were no family shelters within a 100-mile radius of our fairly large city. All of the shelters in my area split the family up. Boys over 10 had to be separated from their mothers at night to go to the men's section. Husband and wife had to sleep in different buildings. Showers were limited to five minutes (have these people tried wrestling a 3-year-old in a shower?). We were warned that we may be housed with sex offenders and violent criminals. It was truly depressing and made us feel worse than we already did. Grateful they have a system in place, but it should definitely be a last resort.
The kitchen at a "tent city" in my city.

The kitchen at a "tent city" in my city.

Considerations When Choosing a Hotel or Motel

If you choose to stay in a hotel consider a few options.

  • Is this a place that is safe for your children? My husband and I checked into one where we both got hit on by prostitutes. So, consider the crime at the hotel before staying.
  • Did you check for bed bugs? We hear many horror stories about some of the lower-class hotels having bed bugs.
  • Is breakfast included? We are a family of five, with three children. So even on a dollar menu, the cost of breakfast is a minimum of $5 for us all. That's $25 per week, not even for really full bellies. For us, it was better to just pay an extra $25 to $30 a week to stay at a place that offers full breakfast. You can sometimes take some back to your room for later. We didn't buy milk at all when we were staying in the hotel and lunch was usually breakfast we had brought back.

Always remember safety first, and don't forget to do fun things with the kids during these stressful times. Take them to the park in downtime. If you still have their bike, let them ride it in the hotel parking lot. Remember that being homeless may not change your child as long as you remember to not let the stress affect your relationship.

Basic Tips For Homeless Parents

Basic Tips For Homeless Parents

How to Feed Your Family While Homeless

  • EBT/Food Stamps.

    Even with no permanent address, you can get food stamps if you meet certain income requirements. This is true in all states. I want to make sure this is very clear because there is a lot of misinformation about food stamps out there. Everything helps and this is what the system is for.

  • Food Banks. This is a great option but often conflicts with a work schedule if you are a working family. Some foodbanks have weekend giveaway times. Make sure you tell them if you have no access to a can opener, stove, or refrigerator. Most can pack a bag made especially for the homeless.
  • Dumpster Diving. Do you have any idea how much good, edible food goes into dumpsters every year? I'm talking about still-sealed, non-perishable food! Tons of it. Let go of your ego and you can often fill a car with food in a couple hours of dumpster diving.
  • Couponing. You can often get free food from couponing, or at least save a good bit of money. Check sites like for coupon deals at most major grocery outlets.

Even with no permanent address, you can get food stamps if you meet income requirements.

This is true in all states. Apply!

Dial 211

If you have access to a phone, call 211. Yes, just those three numbers. This will connect you to your local United Way. You can speak with someone to find out where the nearest shelters and assistance are. They can direct you to food banks, shelters, your local SNAP (food stamps) office, WIC, and many other programs. Don't be afraid or nervous to call. The whole point of this number is to connect people with the services they need.

Additional Resources

12 Ways to Prepare for Homelessness: How to get ready and prepare yourself if you think you are about to be homeless.

How to Find Low-Cost Extended-Stay Hotels and Motels: A list of weekly motels and hotels that usually offer affordable rates and decent lodging.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2014 Peeples


Carissa Anderson on December 02, 2017:

Me, my husband and 4 kids will be homeless in 2 weeks. We are at family right now, but they don't really like kids and want us gone. We have 2 weeks tops and no money. My husband works but it's been scarce. 2 of my kids are very small, we can't go on the street. Shelters here are a joke. I have gotten us on some waiting lists, but that will take months before we can get in anywhere.

Brieana on November 25, 2017:

A friend, who I thought was a friend, was present when my father passed away, knowing the estate money would be mine. So she had convinced me into moving into this home she rented out to me and my two year old son just for the home to be unfit to live in, not only that, but she drained me by stealing my money, not caring that we are homeless now, freezing, with limited resources and nothing to eat, no family, I am so heartbroken and stressed out, idk what to do.

kay on October 13, 2017:

ive been homeless for about 15 months im not signing on or working my son is 15 we have been sofa surfing as u can guess not good for my son anyone no if i go into a hotel bedsit will they still help with costs

Kevin on October 06, 2017:

You know, I' ve been homeless before. I lived out of my car. But, that was 20 years ago. Now I have a wife and kids. The biggest problem is we have pets. We're not homeless yet. But, it's coming. We're looking everywhere. It seems like as soon as there's an opportunity, we try and someone else gets it. I've always been a survivor. My wife and I both have stable, full time jobs. So, we don't want to move too far away. We've got friends looking, co workers looking, churches looking, even strangers looking. I'm positive something will turn up.

Tara on September 08, 2017:

Thank you for this article.. I never thought in a million years I would be in this situation and being homeless with my 3 kids. I have everything else covered like childcare, food, vehicle, but housing has been the biggest obstacle with rising rent prices in my area. This will be our first night being homeless and you gave me to courage to push on since its only a temporary setback.

Shay on March 04, 2017:

Glad you made it that gives me some kind of hope that I will to..........

darkwindhorse on May 04, 2015:

I have three flip phone cell phones that are able to be activated on the StraightTalk network, as well as two smartphones that can be activated on it as well. If anyone knows of someone in the Southern Utah, Las Vegas or Salt Lake City regions who needs a phone to use for job hunting, safety, and to stay in touch with loved ones, please reply to this post with an email address and I will see what I can do to get these phones to people who really need them. Thanks.

Fay Favored from USA on August 27, 2014:

I am so sad to hear of what your family has experienced, but grateful you are willing to share what you have learned. I didn't know that food stamps were available to the homeless, and I can venture to say most of them don't either. I pray God blesses you with new wonderful adventures to heal you heart.

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on May 14, 2014:

Good job. I found this to be a wonderful, no-nense approach on how to survive.

The quality of your homeless shelter experience saddens me. I don't understand the necessity for unnecessary rules in these places that are supposed to be there to help you. Of course you don't want your children to have to go off somewhere else and sleep! It's commonsense.

Your article also gave great insight into the disparity of wealth in this country. At one time a person could live on minimum wage and there was not nearly so broad a gap between the extreme wealthy and the poor.

Sorry. I'm going on and on. A wonderful article.

Brian Leekley from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA on May 08, 2014:

Good, practical advice, well expressed. Up, Useful, and Interesting.

I read recently about another problem faced by some homeless families -- having "latchkey children" when there is no home, no door, no latch. Imagine siblings 6, 8, and 11 years old getting out of school at 3 pm and having to go to a public library or a mall or somewhere and pass the time without calling attention to themselves till a parent can get off work at a low-wage part-time job at 4:30 and drive across town with "home" (perhaps, say, a 25 years old GMC Suburban or an old cargo van) to join the children.

Outfits and programs that help the homeless vary a lot in quality. I've talked with homeless persons about horrors of a shelter at which the ulterior motive is to proselytize -- study the Bible their way and get a dorm room bunk; respectfully decline and get a very thin mattress on the floor in the hallway. There are other shelters where homeless persons are treated with respectful loving kindness. Food banks, hot meal programs, daytime shelters, and so on also differ in their approaches. Ask at a public library reference desk about local organizations that help, or advocate on behalf of, the homeless and the hungry, or use a library computer to search the Internet on: Countyname County homeless.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on May 08, 2014:

This is heartbreaking. I so happy you and your family are no longer homeless. I admire your strength and courage to make the best of your situation and overcome in the end.

Renee' D. Campbell from Gaithersburg, Maryland on May 08, 2014:

Wow peeples - i know this situation first hand - thank you for sharing your story- living without knowing where you will be "living" is tough -and now that I know what it means to have to rely on friends or others just to have a place to shower and lay your head at night -has opened my eyes to a lot of things in this world. Great hub- keep writing!!!!

Peeples (author) from South Carolina on May 07, 2014:

@ Vicki Thanks for reading. It really is a scary situation I wouldn't wish on anyone!

@gregas So many places provide free internet now, it is a wonderful thing. The job my husband got was thanks to a place who let him use the computer to send in a resume.

@billybuc Thank you for stopping by. If it wasn't for my children the car would have made the best option. Hotels sure aren't fun to pay for!

LTM Thank you! I greatly appreciate the thoughtfulness you have shown in the past months!!

LongTimeMother from Australia on May 07, 2014:

Hey, peeples. Great hub. I'm sharing it. Will also link to it from my hub about homelessness. So pleased you're getting back on your feet. :)

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on May 07, 2014:

I voted for staying in my car because, well, I've been homeless and that's where I lived.

Valuable information my friend, and it will be more valuable with each passing year as this economy continues to go tits up.

Vickiw on May 07, 2014:

This is a heartbreaking Hub. I think it is phenomenal advice for those who may be suffering through this type of situation, and perhaps the most significant thing is that you have come through it so well, giving encouragement to others. You should feel so much pride in your abilities, and your learning as you worked through all the difficulties. I'm sure it is a case of "you had to be there" to fully understand how scary this would be, and so many are just a tiny way from having it happen to them. Great Hub.

Greg Schweizer from Corona, California. on May 07, 2014:

Good to know. I know I have had times when I thought I would be on the streets for one reason or another. I know there are a lot of reasons for being homeless. It is good thet they have the access too, even to look gfor jobs because I know that even though some people seem to think homeless are lazy and just don't want to work, they are wrong about a lot of them. I can see where jut having that accress could actually help some get back on their feet. I hope you are back on yours and doing better. Greg.

Peeples (author) from South Carolina on May 07, 2014:

Actually you would be surprised. We just did a 8 month long journey of being homeless. Most homeless families have to have a phone for contact with the world. Almost all phones have internet access. When at my lowest I often googled what to do. Also the homeless shelters had one or two computer (while very old and cluncky) that still had internet access. They let the people there take turns using them. Another cool (or warm in the winter) place for them is to go to the library where there are plenty of computers. Hotels usually have a computer in the lobby to. This day and age it is rare for someone to have no access to any internet. Really I don't know what I would have done without it. Thanks for stopping by!

Greg Schweizer from Corona, California. on May 07, 2014:

Great hub, good advice and great plans. But I have one question. If a family is homeless, what are the chances that they have a computer or access to Internet to be able to get this information? Just asking, Greg.