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How to Get Help If You Are Experiencing Homelessness

young homeless boy holding a cardboard h
Step One: Accessing Shelter or Housing Services

If you are at risk of or currently experiencing homelessness, the first step is to get in touch with the shelter system in your community. You may need to call a hotline or go to a community-designated organization for homeless services. Your community may have a “homeless hotline,” “2-1-1,” or other organization/agency that serves as the “front door” to receiving any kind of help.


Step Two: Determining how best to help you

Exploring options other than shelter. Having a safe, alternative to shelter is often a much better way of resolving your housing crisis. Provider staff may try to help you maintain your current housing (if you have any) and resolve conflicts that are keeping you from staying there. They may negotiate with a friend or family to extend your housing and may be able to assist you with rent or utilities.

→ To get in touch with homelessness services in your community,

      find your local 2-1-1 hotline.

If shelter is the only option. If you can’t stay where you stayed last night or there is no safe alternative for you, then provider staff will likely assess your strengths and needs relative to others who are also in need of a shelter bed. This assessment will ask you questions about your physical and mental health and your age. They may also ask how long you have been living on the street (or other place not meant for people to sleep in), if you have children, your income, employment history, and criminal history. These questions are not meant to disqualify you from services but to make the best match to services you may be eligible for.


Assessing permanent housing needs/preferences. In addition to determining whether you need shelter, this assessment will explore what other housing needs and preferences you have. This process may happen in stages with different providers based on your needs, but is meant to help you move as quickly as possible from your current situation back into your own home.

Step Three: Prioritizing for Shelter and Housing

Help for those living outside. Unfortunately, a lot of communities in the U.S. have many people sleeping outside (including for long periods of time) and do not have enough shelter or housing to move everyone back into housing quickly. These communities need to prioritize resources for those who need them the most.


Help for those “doubled up,” unstably housed, or imminently homeless. Communities that do not have a lot of people living outside will also prioritize individuals and families based on a common set of factors that indicate how vulnerable and unsafe their current situation is and how close they are to a housing crisis.

Help for Specific Populations

Specialized services are also available for particular populations experiencing homeless such as veterans and young people.



The National Call Center for Homeless Veterans, from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, offers confidential counseling 24/7 for veterans at risk of homelessness and their families.
Website | Call 1-877-424-3838

The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans offers a directory of local service providers and general help navigating resources for veterans experiencing homelessness.
Find a local provider | View resources | Call 1-800-VET-HELP


The Veterans Crisis Line offers online chat with a mental health clinician 24/7.
Chat online | Call 1-800-273-8255 (press 1) | Text 838255


Domestic Violence

The National Domestic Violence Hotline offers confidential 24/7 hotline and online chat to anyone experiencing domestic violence, seeking resources or information, or questioning unhealthy aspects of their relationship.
Call 1-800-799-7233 | Chat online (click chat in top right) | Make a safety plan


Young People

The National Runaway Safeline offers services and a confidential 24/7 hotline for young people who are at risk of homelessness.
Website | Call 1-800-786-2929

Step Four: Referral to shelter and/or housing

Referred to shelter. Once provider staff have assessed and determined your strengths, needs, and vulnerability, you may be referred to a shelter bed immediately. If you are not referred to a shelter bed, you may be placed on a waitlist for shelter. It depends on how your community makes referrals to shelter, so be sure to ask what you should expect or do next if you are not immediately referred to shelter.

Referred to housing resources. In addition to being referred to shelter, the provider staff should provide an explanation as to what housing resources may be available to you. There is no guarantee but you may be referred to housing resources such as rapid re-housing, permanent supportive housing, Section 8, or other housing resources. Be sure to ask what resources you may eligible for.

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