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If You're Homeless or Need Help

Prevention or Emergency Assistance Programs

Things to Do If You May Become Homeless in a Few Weeks

Things to Do If You May Become Homeless in a Few Months

Prevention or Emergency Assistance Programs

If you are not homeless yet, it may be possible to avoid becoming homeless by finding out about prevention or emergency assistance programs in your area. Often these programs can help in paying rent, utilities, or bills.


If you are homeless now, emergency assistance programs may help with temporary shelter, or security deposits and/or first month's rent.  Oftentimes prevention and/or emergency assistance programs are operated by the state, county, or local division of housing assistance, or by the division of social/human services.  Churches and non-profit organizations also offer emergency help.


If you are a teenager and are thinking about running away from home, or if you are already living on the streets, call the National Runaway Switchboard. The Switchboard is a toll free, confidential hotline. The Switchboard staff will listen to you and help you think about what you need and want to do next. They also can tell you about people in your community who can help you. Dial 1-800-621-4000 or visit the Switchboard's website at


Other places to look for names and numbers of programs that may help are:

Things to Do If You May Become Homeless in a Few Weeks

If you may become homeless in a few weeks, one of the first things to do is to see if there are any prevention or assistance programs near you (see above section). In addition, Russell Sjoblom, who was recently homeless with his family, has compiled a list of suggestions for people who are in danger of becoming homeless. Russell offers advice on money, food, transportation, shelter, storage, help paying for medications, social security and disability.  The Sjoblom family's experience in its entirety can be found here.

Things to Do If You May Become Homeless in a Few Days

​If you only have a few days before you may become homeless, it is helpful to start making plans. The goal should be either to avoid going to an emergency shelter, or, if that can't be avoided, to make your stay there as short as possible. Depending on how much time you have before you might become homeless, try one or all of the following:


  1. Try to locate an assistance program near you.  Some agencies provide homeless prevention assistance (see above list of resources). These programs may have waiting lists, require an appointment/interview, or have certain restrictions on who they serve. For these reasons, the sooner you can find a program that may be able help you, the better.

  2. Apply for Public Housing and/or Section 8 Housing.  Waiting lists for public and Section 8 housing vary across the country, but in many cases, the waiting list for public housing is shorter than for Section 8 housing. You can find out how to apply here.

  3. Apply for Transitional Housing.  In some communities, transitional housing is an option for people who are homeless. Transitional housing programs vary greatly across the country as far as who they serve and what their requirements are. You will have to fill out an application and make an appointment for an interview. Follow through with as many of these programs as possible.  Click here for a National Emergency & Transitional Housing Directory.

  4. Make sure your ID is current and available.  If your driver's license has expired, or been taken for a traffic ticket, etc., reapply or get your State ID processed. If you only have a printout of your Social Security Card, get a new card to replace it as soon as possible. Many shelters and employers have strict ID requirements, and it will make things easier if you have these things ready or in process. Set up a P.O. Box for delivery and mail if that is possible.

  5. Make an Emergency Pack.  If you have more than two bags for yourself, or one for each child, try to find someone you know who can and will hold your things for you. Almost every shelter has limits on the amount of baggage people can carry with them because they don't have enough space.

    Pack the things you can take with you. Try to arrange a ride or some sort of transportation for the day you'll have to leave. If there is anyone who can lend you some money, now would be the time to borrow it. Try to keep at least $20-$50 with you in a safe place just for emergencies. Make sure your ID is in a safe and accessible place -- you will want to take it with you.

    These recommendations are just suggestions so that you will have the most resources at your disposal when you need it.

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