10 Reasons Homeless People Sleep Out in the Cold

Editor’s note: This Care2 favorite was originally posted on December 12, 2012. Enjoy!

You can’t miss them when you walk around a city: shapeless masses pressed up against buildings or wedged into corners. Homeless people are sleeping outside — even now, when the temperature is cold and dropping. The lucky ones preserve their body heat under a pile of blankets; others make do with cardboard boxes or layers of clothes.

And sadly, some die — about 700 deaths each year in the United States. The solution seems obvious: Homeless lives would be saved if they slept in the warmth of a shelter. But there simply aren’t enough shelter beds to go around — and some of the beds that do exist come with very unappealing strings attached.

1. The “#1 Reason Homeless People Don’t Use Shelters [is the] Lack of Available Beds,” writes formerly homeless Kylyssa Shay. Shelters are over-crowded in many, if not most, cities. People must line up hours before the facility opens to secure a bed for the night — and then go through the same process the next day and the next.

2. Those who hold jobs – and many homeless people do — can’t always be in line at 4:30 in the afternoon, so it’s rare that they can get a shelter bed. And the people who choose to stand in line may give up on finding employment because of this inconvenient schedule.

3. As if homelessness didn’t cause enough physical discomfort — hunger, untreated pain from medical conditions and a lack of hygiene,  — shelters often add inconveniences, like bed bugs and body lice, which are inevitable when a different homeless person sleeps in a bed each night. Contagious diseases are also common among a population that lacks access to nutritious food and adequate medical care. Shelters don’t have the means to quarantine the ill from the general population, making a night in a shelter a health risk. Hepatitis and tuberculosis are particularly common.

4. Straddling the line between discomfort and serious health risk is a lack of appropriate footwear. Shoe theft is a common problem for the homeless – especially in shelters. Not having shoes, or only having ill-fitting shoes, can cause wounds that make it challenging or impossible to walk — and there are precious few places in a city where a homeless person can recuperate for a while without having to move along.

5. A dog or cat is often a homeless person’s best friend and only family. For young women on the street alone, a dog can also provide indispensable protection. But shelters for homeless people rarely accept their companion animals. Many people prefer sleeping outdoors to giving up their beloved friends.

6. Some shelters close their doors to people who are under the influence of alcohol or illegal substances. This understandable rule inevitably leaves some people who need shelter out on the street.

7. Nevertheless, some shelters are known as operation centers for drug dealers, and, therefore, they’re considered dangerous. Some homeless people prefer to take their chances outside.

8. There are few family shelters that accept single fathers with children. Sometimes the solution is for the children to spend the night in the shelter while dad sleeps outside.

9. LGBT people often face discrimination and “physical risk” in homeless shelters. For instance, transgender women forced to take shelter with heterosexual men are frequently subjected to verbal, physical and sexual abuse. Some shelters simply deny entry to transgender people.

10. Some faith-based homeless shelters require guests to sit through sermons and even personal appeals to convert to their hosts’ religion. Enduring these sometimes derogatory and coercive tactics day after day is too much for some — especially people with strong religious convictions of their own.

Consider taking action to help end homelessness. As the National Coalition for the Homeless recommends, “Get connected to a coalition. Volunteer at your local, state, or national housing or homeless advocacy coalition, or make a financial contribution to support their work. For the name of the coalition nearest you, see NCH’s Directory of National Housing and Homeless Organizations.”

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Photo Credit: zenjazzygeek/Flickr


DAVID fleming
DAVID fyesterday

Thank you

Mike R
Mike R29 days ago

Very sad.

Clare O
Clare O'Bearaabout a month ago

Over here it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender.

Clare O
Clare O'Bearaabout a month ago


Irene S
Irene Sabout a month ago

It is such a disgrace that rich countries do not care better for their weakest citizens!

Sophie M
Sophie Mabout a month ago

Thank you

Nita L
Nita Labout a month ago

This is important info to share and I did. Thank you.

Kerrie G
Kerrie Gabout a month ago

Shared, thanks.

Victoria P
Victoria Pabout a month ago


Teresa F
Teresa Fabout a month ago

so very sad, I am so sorry!, take care everyone, huggles from Teresa
My Religion Is Very Simple. My Religion Is KINDNESS!