Ryan Dowd’s Weekly Homeless Tip: What About People Who Choose to Be Homeless?

By: Ryan Dowd
September 25, 2018 —

My “day job” is Executive Director of Hesed House, the second largest homeless shelter in Illinois.  This week I want to share a letter I wrote for our next newsletter:

Dear people of Hesed,

“What do we do about people who choose to be homeless?”

Maybe it is the low unemployment rate or the explosive growth of tent cities popping up around the country, but I’m being asked this question more often than ever before.

My answer is simple:  Nothing.

We shouldn’t do anything about people who choose to be homeless because no one chooses to be homeless.  I have met thousands of individuals while they were homeless and not a single one chose it.

At Hesed House there are three “types” of homelessness:

  1. 50% of people stay 2 weeks or less – They certainly don’t choose homelessness.
  2. 42% of people stay 2 weeks to 1 year – They certainly don’t choose homelessness.
  3. 8% of people are with us for longer than 1 year.

This last type is what the federal government calls “chronic homelessness.”  On its face, being homeless for years can look like a choice, until you consider two factors:

  1. Mental illness – A person who is unemployable because of untreated schizophrenia has not made a “choice.”
  2. Trauma – Many chronically homeless individuals suffer from C-PTSD (complex post traumatic stress disorder), a particularly difficult-to-treat form of PTSD caused by repeated traumatic events.  Trauma is not a choice.

Substance abuse certainly factors in, but I didn’t include it as one of the most important factors, because usually the substance abuse is an attempt to cope with mental illness or trauma.

So, the answer to the question of what to do about the “homeless by choice” is easy.  A far more difficult (and important) question is:

“What do we do about people who struggle with severe mental illness and trauma?”

Answering that question is at the core of Hesed House’s reason for being.  When you volunteer, donate or pray for Hesed House, you are part of helping to find an answer to that question.


Ryan Dowd, Atty., MPA
Volunteer, Donor and Executive Director

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4 Comments on "Ryan Dowd’s Weekly Homeless Tip: What About People Who Choose to Be Homeless?"

  1. not all schizophrenia is treatable. My oldest son was one of those. He took his prescribed meds but they didn’t work. He tried almost all antipsychotic drugs. He finally killed himself. What do we do with untreatable mental illness? The only thing I can think of is long term or lifetime mental hospitals which do not exist today. My son was also violent and a danger to others

  2. Living in My Tent | September 26, 2018 at 10:33 am | Reply

    Wow that guy is clue why someone choose to be Homeless! and I don’t like being in a Homeless Shelters anymore and I had problems staying at a homeless shelter in Tampa, FL, San Diego, CA, Escondido, CA and two was from homeless guys. and “Me Tim Schneider says this to: Ryan Dowd Should walk in my BOOTS for being Homeless Living in My Tent for 22 years in Southern California!” and I just can’t afford to rent a room and eat in San Diego County in Oceanside, CA and You can not afford to rent anything
    at $977.04 from SSDI/SSI in California

  3. Hi I am a homeless 60 year old female, I have been homeless on and off for 6 years.

    I don’t mind sharing my homelessness with anyone who will listen.
    When I was 59 I had a stroke and when I was to be released I had no family to go to, no friends to sleep on their couch and didn’t have the knowledge of resources to help. I stayed at a park during the day and at night I would go across the street and slept outside the church. I thought I would be safe there hidden away and I was until one night I awoke with a man on top of me and was raped.
    I managed to call the police we made a report and description of the man. That was all they could do.
    I was told by the officer to go to the Santa Ana riverbed where I would be safe. I did that and stayed for almost a year permanent supportive housing was offered and I accepted and went to a sober living house for one month then was moved to another sober living where i stayed a month and then was sent to a homeless shelter that housed 450 people until I was matched to a program that best fit my needs. Fast forward 5 months and I am still homeless. I did have one last attempt at housing with a transitional shelter home where I currently stay, however I was accepted into this program as a couple with my husband and we were taken in separate cars because he had the bikes to transport, he never arrived and now is a missing person. I pray we find him healthy and safe. In the meantime my housing is at risk which may leave me back on the streets again. Why ? I ask myself is he not here. None the less I must go on, I am a writer in the process of getting my 7th book edited 36 poems. I have been published in the national library of poetry and it is housed in the Library of Congress. Anyway that’s my story..prayers for all homeless.

  4. This is soooo beautiful.. And so accurate.. Thank you

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