Why Don’t Homeless People Just Go Home to Their Family?

It’s common to see a homeless person on the street and wonder why they aren’t living with their family. Surely they must have a support system; after all, we all come from somewhere. If worse came to worst, couldn’t we just go back, even though it might be embarrassing? It’s like a knee-jerk reaction: “If that were me, I’d live with a family member before it ever came to that.”

This thinking leads to one of the most prevalent stereotypes about homeless people: that they choose to be homeless. However, there are many valid reasons for choosing shelters and even the streets over home—if there is a home at all.

Here are a few that shed light on not only what it’s like to be homeless, but how someone gets there as well.

Never Had a Family

Returning home is impossible if you’ve never truly had one. This could happen if you were orphaned or removed from your parent’s home at a young age. About 20,000 youth age out of the foster care system each year in the U.S. Many of these youth will go on to struggle with homelessness, if they haven’t already, due to challenges they faced growing up.

Growing up without a family alters one’s mindset as well. For example, even if a former foster youth does have family to turn to, relying on themselves probably comes naturally and may even be preferable. If you’ve been abused or neglected by the people who were supposed to shelter and care for you, there’s comfort in depending only on yourself.

Family Members Have Died or Don’t Have Homes Themselves

Many homeless people are elderly. Perhaps their parents were a major part of their support system, and have now passed on. The same could be true of siblings and other relatives. Sadly, some homeless people are old enough to have watched most of their safety net pass away. They find themselves with less and less supports to reach out to, much less live with.

Others may have living parents, but they’re in institutions like assisted living facilities. Because generational poverty is so prevalent, their parents may be homeless, too. Or they may have somewhere to sleep, but are unable to have guests; for example, they’re renting, or sharing space with others.

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