A homeless person is someone without the income to pay for shelter, living catch-as-catch can, sometimes outside. The causes are many: incompetence, alcoholism, poor mental health, or economic recession. After 1960 many poor farms and mental hospitals that once housed the homeless have been shut down, and the weakness of family ties means their relatives are alienated and do not help. They get income by begging, stealing, and working at casual labor jobs for a day or two. Some also work consistent jobs in retail or food service. Money is not safe for they suffer heavily from robbery and this is due to past financial mistakes: many homeless do not have access to regular bank services and rely on cash checking and prepaid debit cards. 
Numbers and definitions
Refugees from wars or natural disasters are not usually included.
Social workers define three levels:
- Literally homeless if the person lacked a fixed, regular, adequate nighttime abode and was living in a shelter designed to provide temporary living accommodations, or a place not designed as a residence, such as a car, bus station, or the street.
- Institution if the person lives in a staffed transitional residence (e.g., a halfway house), a health care institution (e.g., nursing home or other hospital) or other institutional setting.
- Doubled Up if the person was staying temporarily with family members or a friend for 30 days or less.
How many are homeless, and for how long, is a puzzling question. Estimates by liberal advocates range as high as three million, but actual counts are ten times lower. Interview data suggests that half the homeless have that status for about 6 weeks; very few people are long-term homeless, and they should be the target of welfare.
About one third of homeless individuals have severe mental illness. Many homeless people rely extensively on expensive inpatient services and emergency rooms for their health care.
Because of poor sanitation and the tendency of the homeless to accost people for money, vagrancy in some places is considered a legal offense for which the victim can be arrested.
Many homeless shelters are located across the United States, usually run by local government or religious charities.
Besides giving shelter, they often have programs for job placement that can help the homeless move back into society. Under the Obama Administration some homeowners received welfare money to help them keep their homes.
Hostile synonyms include bum, tramp, beggar, hobo, and bag lady. Neutral terms include transient and homeless. Many Americans are repulsed by what seems the deliberate rejection of national standards regarding regular work and family life.
The Transient Division of the Kansas Emergency Relief Committee (KERC) operated 1933-35 under the direction of Republican Governor Alf Landon. It was funded by FERA (the Federal Emergency Relief Administration), the central relief organization of the New Deal. The KERC assisted approximately 700,000 homeless people, often in family groups, during its two years of operation. The KERC was a microcosm of the national approach to dealing with interstate migration and a model program noted for its efficiency, highly trained staff, and excellent administrative structure. It was comprised of reference centers located throughout the state and staffed by caseworkers who evaluated the health, literacy, and work skills of the migrants. Their aim was to stabilize the lives of transients and return them to their legal residences. The Kansas system, known for its quality, may have encouraged migration by acting as a lure for those living elsewhere in difficult conditions. There were challenges to the program, including people abusing the system in search of gas and food, the scarcity of work relief projects, and tensions between the service and local relief groups. Before the New Deal, transients were the responsibility of individual counties and private charities. After the program was liquidated in late 1935, the vast majority of transients were placed with the WPA (Works Progress Administration), another New Deal program, and Landon became the 1936 GOP nominee for president.
Urban renewal created much of the problem. In San Diego, California, the Centre City Development Corporation's urban renewal project in the Gaslamp Quarter began in 1968. Aimed at making the area a national historic district and bringing upper- and middle-class tourists and suburban residents to downtown San Diego, the project effectively displaced and disrupted thousands of elderly people, working-class poor, homeless, and others from this area of the city.
Despite claiming to be champions for the poor, liberal Democrat run cities such as San Francisco are criminalizing homelessness due to concern over property values and concerns over the city's reputation. They do this in addition to supporting anti-business policies that make it more difficult for the homeless people who want to get out of poverty. Policies such as the Obamacare employer mandate have made it cost prohibitive to hire unskilled workers.
- Beier, A. L., and Paul Ocobock, eds. Cast Out: Vagrancy and Homelessness in Global and Historical Perspective (2009), international perspective excerpt and text search
- DePastino, Todd. Citizen Hobo: How a Century of Homelessness Shaped America. (2003). 325 pp. scholarly history focused on images and impact on the non-homeless excerpt and text search
- Kusmer, Kenneth L. Down and Out, on the Road: The Homeless in American History (2002). 368 pp. scholarly history excerpt and text search
- Link, B. et al. "Lifetime and five-year prevalence of homelessness in the United States" American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 1995 online edition
- Marcus, Anthony. Where Have All the Homeless Gone? The Making and Unmaking of a Crisis (2005), 166pp based on interviews with 110 homeless men
- Rossi, Peter. Down and out in America: the origins of homelessness, (1989) excerpt and text search
- See Link (1995)
- CBS News
- Encarta World English Dictionary, (2004)
- Peter Fearon, "Relief for Wanderers: the Transient Service in Kansas, 1933-35," Great Plains Quarterly 2006 26(4): 245-264,
- Jordan Ervin, "Reinventing Downtown San Diego: a Spatial and Cultural Analysis of the Gaslamp Quarter," Journal of San Diego History 2007 53(4): 188-217,