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I'm About to be Homeless: What do I do?

Homelessness is always difficult and can be traumatic, but it's not the end of your life. Millions of Americans have bounced back from homeless periods and achieved stability and success. Here's how you can put the odds in your favor.

Homelessness is an American epidemic. On any given night half a million Americans will sleep without secure shelter, often on the street or in a car, and another 7 million will be doubled up with friends or family, often the final step before homelessness.[1] If you're facing homelessness, you're probably feeling fear, resignation, maybe even shame, but you should not feel alone. Hundreds of thousands of others are in the same place, and there are places you can turn for help.

People face homelessness for many reasons. Some run into financial difficulties or unexpected expenses and can't keep up with their mortgage or rent payments. Unemployment, sometimes sudden and unexpected, is a constant threat. A dispute with a landlord can lead to a tenant getting kicked out of a home. Physical or mental health issues can accumulate and break down a person's resources and abilities. People run to the streets to escape domestic violence. Whatever the reason, suddenly facing imminent homelessness is a stressful position, especially for those who haven't prepared for it!

If you're experiencing homelessness for the first time, you probably have many questions and a lot of fear and anxiety. It's important to know that there are many ways to survive, continue to work and to get back on your feet following this difficult period in your life.

Preparing For Homelessness
Don't delay. Take action! Except for sudden disasters such as a fire or flood making your home unlivable, there is a good chance you will have some time to manage the transition to homelessness. If you know that you are about to become homeless, prepare for the situation. Start with these steps.

Decide where you will relocate
Make a plan for downsizing your possessions
Sell any possessions that you do not need
Contact friends and family for assistance
Put any excess property into long-term storage, if you can afford it
Locate any nearby shelters
Contact organizations for guidance and assistance

All of these decisions will be painful to take, but the sooner you act, the easier things will be.

Step 1: Decide Where to Relocate
Where and how you will relocate yourself or your family should be the first thing on your list. Do not just consider one option. Make a list of possibilities and consider the ups and downs of each. When you are homeless and need a place to live, consider all of the following:

Stay With Friends and Family - If you have friends and family nearby who are willing to take in you or your family, this should be your first choice. Depending on your situation, they may be willing to take you in for the long term as you work to get back on your feet or to reacquire permanent residence.

If family and friends give you shelter, remember to avoid becoming a burden. Find ways to add value to their home. Do your share of the chores and housework and contribute what you can to help with expenses. You want to be a helper, not a moocher, and you don't want a generous relative or friend to regret deciding to help you.

Local shelters - A local shelter may be an option. Some shelters operate specifically for displaced women with children, while others will take in all individuals. Remember that many shelters only take in people at night, on a first come, first served basis. Those shelters may require you to show up early in the afternoon. If you are still working and have a set schedule, a shelter may not be an easy option for you to manage.

Hotels and Motels - You may be able to stay at a nearby hotel or motel until you can find a new, permanent residence. This option may be expensive if you have a very limited income. You may consider combining occasional hotel or motel stay with other living arrangements.

A hotel or motel is a good option for those who are still working and who can afford the regular cost of the room. This is one of the better options for a family with children, as it provides one of the safest options for children. Look into extended-stay hotels or motels in your area. These often allow individuals to rent rooms with kitchens for weeks at a time. Their costs are often lower than what you'll find with a regular hotel or motel.

Your car or van - Many people use their cars, vans, or other vehicles as a temporary residence. If you are an individual, consider this as one of your options. It probably won't be at the top of your list, but do not go without taking into account the benefits. Sleeping in your car or van can help you stay out of the elements, and there are places to park free at night. It's not a long-term solution, but it's cheap and may allow you to pull together enough money to look for a new place.

Remember that during the winter and very hot days in the summer, your car is going to be a dangerous place. Unless you keep the car running for long hours at a time, your car will offer little protection against the cold and will become much like a greenhouse during the summer. You may find it wise to stay in your vehicle some nights, and a hotel or motel in others.

A camper or tent trailer - If no regular shelter is available to you, purchasing a low-cost camper or tent trailer could be a viable option. Alongside this, you may also want to purchase other camping equipment, such as a small grill for cooking. This option may only be workable if there's an area where you can legally pitch your tent or camper at night. If you live in a city, this may not be possible, but those who live in rural or suburban areas may be able to subsist on this option while looking for a more permanent residence.

Consider options for where you might park a camper, like the properties of friends and family or a dedicated trailer park. Your friends and family might not have enough room in their houses to accommodate you, but if you can live in your tent trailer and just need to use their bathroom facilities, it may be easier to ask for help.

Step 2: Sell or Store Possessions
You will have to either sell or store most of your possessions. Regardless of where you relocate, you will not have the space for all of your furniture, clothes and other possessions. If you are sure that your situation is temporary, and you know that you will be able to find permanent residence shortly, you may consider storing most of your items in a long-term self-storage facility. You can keep your possessions, and they will be there for you when you find permanent residence again.

If there is no apparent end to your situation, you may need to consider selling many of your possessions. Selling your possessions can help bring in some needed money if you have no job and no income while helping to eliminate some of the stress of trying to figure out what to do with the items. Consider a garage sale for rapid disposal. List anything that doesn't sell on Craigslist or eBay.