My Son Is Homeless (Facing Difficult Choices)

According to HUD, on any given night there’s an estimated 580,000 homeless people, a staggering number, so what do you do when your son is one of them? What’s a parent and grandparent’s responsibility towards their homeless teen or adult child?

Finding out my son is homeless means facing difficult choices. On one hand it’s a parent’s responsibility to love and provide for their child. But on the other hand, if a child chooses to be homeless, parents have limited options. It’s vital to look at each situation thoughtfully before responding.

As a mom to three sons, I can only imagine the trauma of dealing with one (or more) of them being homeless. Yet, I can’t say it’s something that won’t ever happen either. I also believe there’s more that parents can do on the prevention side than given credit for, too.

I look into this issue below, sharing some ideas about what to do if your son is homeless, particularly as they relate with the reasons why (i.e. mental illness; drug abuse; or lifestyle choices…) and how to approach it depending on his age. And of course, I’ll provide some helpful tips and suggestions for avoiding this situation altogether, or as much as we can possibly hope to prevent it.

Homelessness-A Brief Overview

So first, let’s look into what it means to actually be ‘homeless’ because it seems there are varying degrees or situations of homelessness.

HUD said half a million Americans are homeless each day. This fluctuates because of the transient nature of homelessness. While families sometimes find themselves temporarily displaced, some people are chronically homeless, such drug addicts or mentally disabled who live on the streets for years.

Who are the homeless?

  1. In recent years, there’s been a sharp rise in what’s called ‘the graying homeless.’ These are young baby boomers who were born in the late 50s and early 60s and find themselves displaced due to low or no retirement; health problems preventing them from working and/or resulting in large bills; lack of savings; and rising cost of living.
  2. Families are homeless from time to time too because of back rents; sometimes one or more parents lose their job and fall behind bills.
  3. Many homeless are single and became homeless after breaking up with a partner or getting divorced. They may be temporarily displaced until finding a new place to live, or their temporary situation turns into something long-term.
  4. Often the reason teens are homeless is due to being put out of their homes for disagreements with parental figures, or the teens don’t want to follow ‘house rules’ so they leave home on impulse.
  5. Some people, who aren’t diagnosed mentally ill, reject common social norms and elect to be homeless on purpose. These same people consider ‘dumpster diving’ as appropriate for food sourcing, calling it sustainable foraging or environmentally conscious/responsible.
  6. The ‘stereotypical homeless’ makes up a large section of the homeless population, which is why the stereotype exists. These are veterans, who many times are on the streets because they have difficulties assimilating back into civilian life, with some suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Also many homeless are mentally ill and can’t support themselves. Many times they actually receive government financial support but due to their mental disabilities they’re not able to manage the funds. And of course the other most common homeless stereotype are those that are homeless due to drug addiction. (Source: HUD)

The Many Definitions of Homeless:

  1. Homeless is anyone living on the streets (common areas are parking lots; forests; and under bridges).
  2. Homeless could mean anyone living in their cars/vehicles.
  3. You’re also homeless if you are ‘couch surfing’, which is a slang term for someone sleeping on a friend or family member’s couch temporarily, and then moving on to another person’s sofa once their time is up at the previous house.
  4. You’re also considered homeless if you are living in temporary shelters or accommodations. This could be specifically designed homeless shelters or a church basement, for instance.
Where the Heart Is, starring Natalie Portman and released in 2000, is a movie with a sub-plot of a woman living inside Walmart. It takes an obvious rose-colored view of homelessness, but still provides some explanation for how a person could end up in that situation. You can watch this story on Amazon Prime.

Although it’s becoming more and more common to have homeless in all parts of the US, there are some areas or geographic zones more prone or appealing to homeless populations. One reason is for mild climates and more access to charities and support.

Beach areas are very popular for homeless, as well as urban city centers. This is why Santa Monica has a high homeless population, and also New York City. In fact, more than half of the US homeless population are located in just four states: California earns top place.

Percentage of HomelessState
New York 16%
Table Displaying Top 4 States With Over Half the US Homeless Population

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So what’s the best homeless prevention?

To be perfectly up front, the best ‘homeless prevention’ is not a quick-fix. It’s truly long-term investment.

In this, I mean, it’s about good parenting from the start. Teaching your kids properly, right from wrong, good citizenship, and responsibility is the best way to prevent many of the issues that can lead to homelessness. Here are some tips in that regard, then:

  1. As parents, teach your child good lifestyle habits. From nutrition to sleeping to healthy communication, all of these daily living routines and expectations can help set your child up for healthy adult living.
  2. Maintain good communication. This means knowing what’s going on with your kids. Often we become so myopic in our own responsibilities, the only time we notice our kids and other family members is when something goes wrong. By then, it’s too late!
  3. Teach good financial management and responsibility. Talk to your kids about managing funds, saving, and proper spending.
  4. Give your kids ‘a leg up’ depending on your means, and their character. Helping your kids learn the value of a dollar doesn’t necessarily mean making them stand on their own two feet-before they’re ready. For us, we allowed our children to live with us beyond age 18 as they were ‘establishing themselves’. This could mean living at home during college, or for one of our sons, living at home while working full time in order to save up a nest egg. He plans to do this for several years, until he’s actually ready to move out and start his own family! And as long as he was saving, helping at home, and being responsible, it was a joy for us to give him this opportunity to ‘prep’ before going immediately out on his own.
  5. If possible, and as appropriate for your children, show your kids ‘the other side.’ You might do this by volunteering at soup kitchens, working in charities at your church, or some other means. This way they learn to appreciate what they have as well as learn empathy for others’ situations.
  6. Last and most certainly not least, for us, being Catholic is central to our family life, and it informs everything we do. We encourage you to put Faith front and center in your home if you are like us and Christian, or if you aren’t, we hope you’ll consider it!

What To Do When Your Son Is Homeless

So what should you do if your son is homeless?

If your son is homeless, what you should do depends on his age and the reason for homelessness. Our natural instinct is to say let him live with you, but you must look at the whole picture. If he’s a teen, do what you can to house him. If he’s an adult, you can utilize other options for support.

Let’s look more specifically in the next section at how to respond to your child’s homelessness as a teen and as an adult.

Homeless Teen Son Vs. Homeless Adult Son

An interview was posted on YouTube about a father and his young son who were temporarily homeless in Echo Park, Los Angeles.

For homeless teens, both parents should be involved in the solutions if at all possible. First you have to look at why he’s homeless.

Is your son rebelling against your house rules or your parenting role? If this is the reason he’s homeless, you should do what you can to maintain contact with your child. Often once he goes out on his own and realizes it’s not so easy, he’ll want to come home and you’ll need to make sure he knows that’s an option.

It’s important that you don’t cave on your role, however. This is assuming you’re being reasonable and fulfilling your parenting role responsibly. (It doesn’t hurt to reevaluate your ‘flags’ and affirm you’re on solid ground, either!)

When you accept your son back into your home, you’ll want to re-establish your house rules and your role, and your son needs to accept this.

If your son has left home because of drug addiction, then you’ll want to do what you can to provide medical and emotional support. Get your son into counseling and do what’s necessary to provide him what he needs to get clean. Include your family doctor, clergy, and any trusted friends and family in the support, too. Here’s a link to more on this: Partnership to End Addiction.

But what if your homeless son is an adult? Much of the same advice holds true, except your parenting role is quite different here. As parents of teens, you’re still ‘in control’ but when your son is an adult, he’s legally responsible for himself. Essentially, you’re not the boss anymore, but you still have a responsibility to your son to love him and help him.

Again, the first thing is to figure out why he’s homeless. If it’s due to drugs or mental illness, you’ll want to enlist expert help. Here’s a link for specifically helping sons with mental illness: National Alliance on Mental Illness.

If it’s due to mismanagement of money or losing a job, providing a loan or job direction might be helpful but you’ll have to consider your individual situation. Are you financially secure enough to provide money? Is this a recurring problem?

If possible, providing short-term living accommodations is where I’d start. Just like with a rental company, it can help to lay out the parameters and expectations just so there aren’t any misunderstandings later on. As people who’ve opened their home to others, we can vouch that misunderstandings happen and having things listed in writing can be very helpful!

Now if you’re in a situation where you have ‘extra room’ and would enjoy your son living with you indefinitely, then maybe you can consider it a long-term residential placement. Even so, I’d advise talking about expectations and ‘house rules’ upfront. This is especially important if your son brings baggage, as in extra people such as a partner and/or children, too!

And this dynamic works best if you have similar lifestyles!

Homeless Mentally Ill Son Vs. Homeless Drug-Addicted Son

If your son is homeless due to mental illness or drug addiction, you might likely address these in different ways. Let’s look at each.

Mentally ill sons suffer consequences that aren’t their making and you’ll respond with that in mind.

We have one son (out of three total) who suffers from learning disabilities and ID. There’s no way he could support himself, even if he were receiving a disability check (which he doesn’t, by the way). He doesn’t have the capacity to make life choices on his own.

If he took a turn for the worse and no longer followed our house rules or honored our decision making power as his parents, it would be our responsibility to get him the help he needs so that he wouldn’t be living on the street, even if he could no longer live with us.

In this kind of circumstance, he could live in assisted living housing, with one of his siblings (provided he accepted their role as ‘leader’), or some other situation that would ensure his safety and well-being.

Now put this in perspective of a drug-addicted son. It would more than likely not be possible to have a drug-addicted son living in your home. It would be unsafe for you or any other family living there, too. However, as parents, it’s still your responsibility to help however possible.

In my case, I’d do all within my power to get him into a treatment center or living in a shelter to help him off drugs. If he refuses, then at least I know I’d done what I could and I’d try to ensure he maintains communication.

In recent years there’s been a steep rise in the ‘working’ homeless.

The Takeaway for My Son Is Homeless

So what should you takeaway from this article about my (or your) son being homeless? First and foremost, our children are always our children and we are obligated to love them, and when possible, this means caring for and providing support. Now as they age into adulthood, our supporting role doesn’t have to include monetary support, to be clear, but it certainly can.

If our children, whether teens or adults, need our help monetarily and we have the financial ability to offer it, we should as much as it will actually help them. Our monetary support shouldn’t enable bad choices, so this is why it’s critical to be thoughtful and discerning with how we help.

Homelessness affects over half a million people every day, so it’s probable we’ll be touched by it at some point. With that in mind, remember to look at the big picture before providing help, but help nonetheless!

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