This post is part of our Friday "Ask the Hub" blog series. Have a homeless-related question you want answered? E-mail us at thehub@edu.yorku.ca and we will provide a research-based answer.

Yesterday, via our Twitter account, we received this question:

Where do you start? If you find yourself homeless? What's the first thing to do?

First of all, are you safe? Whether you’ve been kicked out by your parents, fled an abusive relationship, left a burning building or been evicted (or any other of the myriad reasons people become homeless) your safety is important. If you feel you are in immediate danger of serious harm call 911. If you are mobile (vehicle or public transit) go to a public space — police station, library, shopping centre etc. — until you can figure out your next steps.

Secondly, remember two important facts:

  1. You are a person experiencing homelessness. Don’t let others categorize you to the point that they put your homelessness first and you second.
  2. For the majority of people homelessness is a very transitory state. In our State of Homelessness in Canada: 2013 we shared that 29% of people using shelters stay for only one night and the majority of people are homeless for less than a month.

Third, look to see what resources exist within your own social network. This is not the time to be shy about asking for help. Do you have friends or family who might let you stay for a day or a week? Is there someone who owes you $50 that might be in a position to pay it back? Do you belong (or have you ever) to a faith community, cultural group, service club or other association that might be willing to help you out? Unfortunately, many people become homeless when they have exhausted all these resources.

Fourth, find out what is available in your community. Many cities across Canada have either 211 or 311 systems in place; these are both free calls from a payphone or regular phone. 211 provides links to community organizations which could include rent banks, housing help centres, food banks, shelters, drop-in centres or meal programs. There are matching online resources as well such as BC211 and 211 Nova Scotia. 311 has information about services available through your municipal government which could include shelters, drop-ins and other resources. If you can find a telephone book, there are emergency resources listed in the very front and government resources listed in the “blue pages”. Some communities also publish resource guides for people experiencing homelessness including this one from New Orleans and this one for youth from Niagara Region.

Finally, remember for the majority of people, this too shall pass. You will make it through and become stronger on the other side.

Tanya Gulliver-GarciaResearch CoordinatorCanadian Observatory on Homelessness/Homeless Hub; York University