What Do Homeless People Do All Day, Anyway?

what do homeless people do

They’re definitely not “just sitting around”

You may wonder to yourself as you pass the same person on the same corner every day on your lunch break, “just what do homeless people DO all day?”

Your imagination may run wild with possibilities, but the truth is far more mundane.

What do homeless people do all day?

The same thing most of us do – try and improve their lives.

Granted, the ways we each go about doing that can look a lot different. But in a lot of cases, they’re surprisingly similar.

So what exactly does the average homeless person do in a day?

You’re about to find out!

Go to Work or Look for Work

This one definitely falls under the “similar” category. It’s something that most of us do every day, yet it can be surprising to find out that homeless people also work. That’s largely because of the common misconception that homeless people can’t or won’t work to make ends meet.

“Get a job!” is a favorite refrain of bigots on the street. But most of them don’t realize that many homeless people actually have jobs already, and many that don’t are trying very hard to get one.

Of course, that’s not an easy task when you’re homeless (practically nothing is.) Even if you manage to overcome people’s personal stigmas surrounding homeless people, you still have to navigate the logistics of submitting an application, showing up for an interview looking nice, and getting yourself back and forth on time.

Unfortunately, getting a job, or even several jobs, isn’t a guaranteed ticket out of homelessness. Wages have not kept up with the skyrocketing costs of housing. Trying to scrape together a rental deposit while navigating the difficult and surprisingly expensive world of homelessness is extremely difficult.


Even though most homeless people never panhandle, the ones that do are the most visible, and likely what springs to mind when you think of a typical homeless person.

The reason that most homeless people choose not to panhandle is that it is difficult and dangerous work. It’s difficult, both mentally and physically to travel around the city to be in the right place at the right time talking to the right people. Emotionally, it takes a lot of vulnerability and hardiness to open yourself up and ask for help from people that can often respond with disgust or hostility, if they respond at all.

This hostility is also what makes it dangerous. It’s all too common for panhandlers to be subjected to all sorts of taunts, jeers and even physical attacks.

For all these reasons and more, the typical homeless person avoids panhandling unless it’s absolutely necessary for survival. Please keep that in mind whenever you see someone asking for money.


This is a big one. Walking to and from the places you need to go takes up a ton of time and energy when you’re homeless.

Everything that housed people could do just by walking into another room of their house usually requires homeless people to travel several miles. Between showering, eating, working, sleeping, using the bathroom, and being told to move along, you could easily be on your feet all day.


What’s usually quite a straightforward daily task for those of us with housing becomes 100 times harder for those without.

However much you may hate cooking, you still benefit from a multitude of labor-saving devices that come standard in the average kitchen. The fridge keeps your food cold and fresh, and when you want to heat it up you can use the oven, stove, or microwave. And hey, if you don’t feel like cooking today, just order some delivery.

These conveniences are not usually an option for homeless people. They tend to rely on social programs that provide meals, fast food, prepared foods from grocery stores and gas stations, and other foods that store well and don’t require cooking. As you can imagine, this can easily lead to a fairly limited, not particularly nutritious diet.

Seek Shelter

What most people take for granted about their homes is that they provide a built-in place you can go back to any time of day or night where you can just be. At home, you’re out of the public eye, away from scrutiny, judgment, and unwanted interactions.

Of course, it provides safety, comfort, and security as well.

Shelter is one of our most basic needs, but when you don’t have one set aside to go back to, you have to spend a lot of time and effort securing and re-securing simple shelter every day.

For those sleeping on the streets, care needs to be taken in finding a secure spot where you’ll be able to sleep uninterrupted, if possible.

Homeless shelters are not always a sure thing. If they have more people than beds, they may draw names each day to determine who will get a bed that night. Or, it may be on a first-come-first-served basis.

Whatever the system, just finding out if you have a place to sleep or not can take several hours out of each day. And, if you find out you won’t be able to stay that night, you need to scramble to make other arrangements.

Even if you carry your own shelter in the form of a tent, for instance, it will often need to be taken down each day by a certain time and put up again each night before bed.

If you find a secluded place to leave a tent or other shelter in place full time, you may still need to remain nearby or check back frequently to keep an eye on it and make sure your camp hasn’t been removed by police or stolen from by thieves.

Stay Busy

This is just a list of the most common activities that occupy a homeless person’s time. As you can see, there’s quite a lot to do. Things that take 5 or 10 minutes for you may take several hours for a homeless person to accomplish.

Now, instead of wondering what homeless people do all day, you may start wondering how they can accomplish everything that needs to be done in just one day!

Kayla Robbins

Kayla Robbins


Kayla Robbins is a freelance writer who works with big-hearted brands and businesses. When she's not working, she enjoys knitting socks, rolling d20s, and binging episodes of The Great British Bake Off.

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