Homelessness is when you don’t have a safe and reliable home to live in. Sometimes people choose to run away, and sometimes they are forced out of their home. People can become homeless for many different reasons. Some people:

•Are kicked out or feel unwanted at home – e.g. coming out as being gay;
•Are abusing drugs or alcohol;
•Are escaping someone else’s drug and alcohol abuse at home;
•Are escaping domestic violence;
•Leave after a relationship breakdown with parents, siblings, partners, or extended family;
•Leave an overcrowded home;
•Have a physical or mental illness;
•Are escaping physical, emotional or sexual abuse.

What does homelessness look like? Being homeless doesn’t just mean living in a cardboard box or sleeping on concrete. There are different kinds of homelessness.

Couch Surfing. It may not be as physically rough or dangerous as sleeping on the streets, but sleeping on a different couch every nighthas its own set of challenges. These challenges include a loss of stability, and in some cases the feeling of being a burden to the family or friend that you are staying with. Having a place to keep personal items is also tough when you are switching from house-to-house all the time.

Shelters. Shelters are available in most large cities and some smaller cities. They usually are not meant for long-term housing. All homeless youth shelters have different policies on how long you can stay. In most cities these shelters can be found through the city hall information center. You can also call 1-800-RUNAWAY for help finding a shelter in your area.

Squatting. Squatters seek out condemned or un-occupied buildings for short-term shelter. These buildings usually do not have electricity or water. Sometimes this term is used for homeless people that break into houses, whose occupants are away for long periods of time.

Acknowledgement: This fact sheet was originally developed by youth and staff at, a website that helps teens get through tough times. 

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