Under-housed and almost homeless in America


By David Joel Miller

Sometimes homelessness wears disguises.

Homeless and Under-housed

Homeless and Under-housed.
Photo courtesy of Flickr (waferboard)

We here in America have slipped into a shared fantasy. There are the homeless and then there are the rest of us. It would be reassuring if there were only those two kinds of people and if we could somehow pretend that the majority of us would never be homeless.

The truth is that many of us are at risk of becoming homeless. Homeless for many does not spring up overnight. It can begin as a slow slide off the cliff and into the deep waters of hopelessness.

Most of us are only 30 days away from being homeless. Lose your job or other sources of income and the eviction proceedings begin. You can try to starve it off as long as possible, borrow from friends, max out the credit cards. You try one thing, then another. But unless the money flows in again the slide to the street begins.

There is this shadow thing here in America – the under-housed.

Many stop off here on their way to the homeless encampments.One reason it is so hard to get a handle on homelessness is because people slip back and forth between being without a home, the out on the street night after night and the short-term stay places.

The slide towards homelessness can begin when suddenly you have to leave the place where you stay. Couples fight and break up. There may be domestic violence or addiction. One partner, often the woman has to leave suddenly. So they go stay with friends and relatives. The intention is to be there for a while until they can find permanent stable housing.

These stays may be temporary. The people who took in their friends or relatives only have so much space, so much money. Eventually the under-housed have to leave and move on.

Couch surfing on the way to being homeless.

Repeated moves can become “couch surfing,” a night here and a night there. You may be able to afford a motel for a night or two. Eventually, this gets expensive. Expensive beyond many people’s means.

Sometimes they are able to stay longer. We find two or more families living together in a house or apartment not designed for much more than a single person.  Not because they want to live in crowded conditions, not because they are cheap, but because they have no income or only limited funds and the cost of permanent housing is beyond their reach.

Families with small children may come apart.

One child stays with grandma, another with an aunt. But there is no place for mother and children together.

Some of you are saying there are programs for the homeless, why don’t they go to the shelters? Plenty of nights the shelters are full. There are waiting lists and programs may need your contact information. Some programs require a background check. Where do you stay while you wait to qualify for those programs?

If they do find logging in a woman’s shelter, dad or child’s father can’t come.

Women are at high risk to hook up with a man, most any man, in order to have a roof over their head and food for them and their children. Most of these relationships do not last. The cycle repeats.

Before we congratulate ourselves on the efforts to place the homeless into permanent housing, we need to be ever aware of the host of almost homeless who on any given night might end up down at the local encampment.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the

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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings, and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books

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