Los Angeles is the least affordable rental market in the United States, according to the Harvard University Joint Center for Housing Studies. The homeless rate in California is the highest of any state in the union, with a majority of those people living in Los Angeles County and elsewhere in Southern California.

With so many people lacking homes in Los Angeles, and the surrounding communities, an important question is how do homeless people survive. The answer to this question is complicated and requires the recognition of two broad categories of homeless people recognized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. According to HUD, homeless people can be placed into one of two broad categories:

  • Sheltered
  • Unsheltered

As the monikers indicate, a sheltered homeless person is an individual that at least has some type of roof over his or her head, at least on a fairly regular basis. On the other hand, an unsheltered homeless person is an individual with no reliable roof over his or her head with any regularity. These individuals are “living” in areas not designed for human habitation. This includes coming together with other homeless individuals in the ever-increasing number of homeless encampments found in Los Angeles in this day and age.

One alarming statistic associated with homelessness in Los Angeles is that only about one-third of the homeless population in the city and county are sheltered. The vast majority are unsheltered. And, of this number, many gravitate to homeless encampments, which can prove to be dangerous and unhealthy.

How Sheltered Homeless People Survive

Sheltered homeless people have at least some tools and resources to protect their interests and lay a foundation for moving forward and out of the cycle of homelessness. There are two primary reasons why sheltered homeless people are able to survive – and even make progress to a better life.

Take Advantage of Programming Offered Through Homeless Shelters

A primary reason sheltered homeless people survive rests in the fact that they have at least a transitional or temporary roof over their heads. They are able to access shelter, in addition to different types of support services in many cases, at centers and through organizations like the Union Rescue Mission in Downtown Los Angeles.


The Union Rescue Mission reports that about one-third of its guests are employed. These individuals are underemployed, inasmuch as they are not making enough money to meet their basic needs. However, the fact that they are earning at least some money assists them in surviving. The combination of at least some type of employment, coupled with a transitional or temporary roof over their heads at least lays something of a foundation not only for survival but for moving onward in life and out of the cycle of homelessness in some cases.

How Unsheltered Homeless People Survive

Unsheltered homeless people oftentimes need to resort to less than ideal strategies and practices in order to survive. There are some unsheltered homeless people who are able to glean at least some employment. However, this is only a fraction of the population of homeless women and men.


Scavenging is an example of a strategy used by unsheltered homeless people to survive. This includes digging through trash cans for remnants of food.

Day Labor

As noted, some unsheltered homeless people are able to obtain and even maintain employment. But, as was also noted, this is a definite minority of the unsheltered homeless population. Many employed homeless people, including those that are unsheltered, take advantage of day labor opportunities as a means of survival.

Makeshift Shelter

Unsheltered homeless people are quite ingenious at creating shelter for themselves. This includes coming together with other homeless individuals and creating homeless encampments. In this day and age, homeless encampments can be seen in locations across Los Angeles. This includes hardscrabble neighborhoods, but also some of the most affluent enclaves in the city and county of Los Angeles.


Of the approximately 600,000 homeless people in the United States, about 200,000 have pets. Homeless people actually garner a great deal from their pets, including the fact that these companion animals give them hope and assist them in surviving without places to live. Many experts on homelessness have concluded that pets provide homeless people with at least some sense of hope and aid in the survival of these unsheltered individuals.


A criminal activity represents another way in which homeless people in Los Angeles, and elsewhere, survive. Common types of criminal activity engaged in by unsheltered homeless people include theft, drug sales, and prostitution.

Homeless Young Adults

The National Coalition for the Homeless reports that one out of every five young people that arrive at homeless shelters on their own have just left foster care. In other words, they reached the age at which they no longer can remain in foster care and have absolutely nowhere else to go but to a homeless shelter.

Survival on the streets of Los Angeles is particularly hard for younger homeless people. These individuals lack even rudimentary experience when it comes to employment. Thus, they tend to lack the skills necessary to obtain gainful employment.

A striking number of youthful homeless people turn to criminal activity to survive. This activity particularly includes drug sales and prostitution.


Emily Kil

Co-Owner of Eco Bear Biohazard Cleaning Company

Together with her husband, Emily Kil is co-owner of Eco Bear, a leading biohazard remediation company in Southern California. An experienced entrepreneur, Emily assisted in founding Eco Bear as a means of combining her business experience with her desire to provide assistance to people facing challenging circumstances. Emily regularly writes about her first-hand experiences providing services like biohazard cleanup, suicide cleanup, crime scene cleanup, unattended death cleanup, and other types of difficult remediations in homes and businesses.