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How Do You Get Proof of Homelessness?

How Do You Get Proof of Homelessness?

When you’re homeless and you can’t provide proof of address, you may be asked to provide proof of homelessness instead. This can be important to securing benefits like food stamps, cash benefits, housing and even employment… but how do you do it?

There are several ways that you can provide proof of homelessness. In this article, we’ll walk you through a few of the easiest and most common options.

What is proof of homelessness?

Because so many services require you to prove where you live, they may ask you to provide proof of homelessness if you cannot provide a stable address. This can be overwhelming and difficult, because it’s very hard to prove a negative.

There are many situations that may require you to provide proof of homelessness. Some of these situations include (but are not limited to):

  • Living in a shelter
  • Couch-surfing with friends or family
  • Living in a car, park, sidewalk, or abandoned building
  • Unhoused after discharge from a hospital, facility, or jail/prison
  • Fleeing domestic violence

When will you need it?

Basically, you’re expected to supply an address to apply for all the important stuff: identification card, driver’s license, housing, jobs, financial aid, medical care, a bank account, and more. This seems normal and ordinary but it quickly becomes complicated when you don’t have a permanent address. After all, many of these organizations will not accept a PO Box or other alternative address.

Proof of homelessness may be needed when you access additional benefits and services that can make your life easier. These include:

  • The Continuum of Care (CoC) Homeless Assistance Program offered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  
  • Grant programs and services through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which provide screening and diagnostics, rehabilitation services, mental health services, alcohol and drug treatment services, referrals for job training, and much more.
  • Free library card that can help you access resources and a safe place to charge your phone
  • Waived fees for copies of some vital documents like birth certificates and death certificates. It varies by state, so check with your county clerk’s office.
  • Waived or reduced fees for identification cards. It varies by state, so check with the DMV in your state. 
  • Federal student aid using the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

How do you get proof of homelessness?

Since you won’t have a lease or other documentation to show where you do live, you may have to rely on alternatives.

As you evaluate this list, please remember that certain organizations will accept one form of proof but not another. The type of evidence you need will depend on your individual circumstances and the requirements of the organization that you are working with.

Fill Out a Form

Sometimes, the organization you’re working with will require you to fill out a specific form. This is especially true when you’re working with specific government agencies. For example, those service providers may require a declaration known as a Declaration of Homelessness Status form, a Homeless Verification Form, or something similar.

If you were evicted, you may be asked to provide additional documentation, such as an eviction notice. You may also be asked to provide proof that you don’t have enough income to obtain housing.

You can save yourself a lot of time by asking right away if there is a specific form that you need to use to declare your situation.

Get a Signed Statement

Another easy way to provide proof of your situation is to get a signed statement from someone you’ve been working with, such as a caseworker, outreach worker or someone who works at a service organization.

If you’ve been staying in a homeless shelter, a letter from the shelter staff should suffice. If you’ve accessed any services, there may be someone there who can sign a statement indicating that they are familiar with your situation. If you’ve been living with family or friends, that is considered transitional homelessness and they could write a statement on your behalf. Homeless students may be able to receive letters from their schools.

In many cases, these agencies will use a form or provide certification on letterhead as they are likely familiar with the process of providing proof of homelessness for others as well.

Any letter should include your name and as many relevant details as possible. It should also be signed and dated by the person who wrote the letter. Ask them to include their contact information so that the authenticity of the letter can be easily verified.

Make a Self-Declaration

People will generally favor statements made by others but you can also make one of your own. If all else fails, write your own statement and include as much evidence as you can.

This statement could include a description of what circumstances led to your homelessness, where you’ve been staying and how you’ve been surviving. You could include pictures of your belongings or where you’ve been staying. Include anything relevant that could reinforce or verify your claims.

However, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, operators of emergency shelters can accept self-certification as the primary method of establishing homeless eligibility to admit a family or individual if there is no other documentation available.

Get a PO Box

For some services, getting a PO Box can help you avoid the entire hassle of needing proof of homelessness. As parcel deliveries have become more popular, post offices have begun to allow users to use the street address of the post office with the box number listed like an apartment number. To people who are not familiar with the post office’s address, it can look exactly like an apartment.

For example, instead of writing it like this:

PO Box 62
City, State 55555

You would write it like this:

111 Street Name Dr. #62
City, State 55555

When my family was homeless and living in a hotel, we regularly used the street address of our post office in order to access services. For example, our local library would not accept a PO Box but did not have a problem accepting the street address of the post office.

If you cannot afford a PO box, you may be eligible for general delivery. General Delivery is a mail service for low income, homeless individuals. You will need identification and you will need to talk to the postmaster in your area before you can use this service. You can find more information about General Delivery on the USPS website.

Use an Alternative Address

Many shelters, day centers and other low income resources offer mail services for homeless people in their area. You can send mail to their address and pick up there.

Alternatively, you may be able to use the address of a friend or family member to receive your mail. If you have a signed statement from that friend or family member indicating that you do not live on the property, it can help reinforce your proof of homelessness.

Speak to a Supervisor

Many people and organizations who ask for proof of homelessness don’t even really understand what they are asking or why it is complicated. In some cases, you may be able to bypass the need for proof of homelessness by speaking to a supervisor and explaining your situation. However, you should always approach the supervisor calmly. If you’re upset, it’s less likely to work.

What does a verification letter or statement need?

A verification letter or statement verifies that the person or family is/was, in fact, homeless as described in the conditions indicated. It should mention current and previous living conditions. There are three types:

1. A third-party verification letter comes from an agency or shelter operator. Click here for a sample from Alameda County, CA.

2. An observing outreach worker can prepare a letter or statement that include dates or a date range the participant was observed in conditions they describe. 

3. A self-declaration of homelessness letter/statement would need to have current and previous living conditions and other information that supports the declaration, like lack of finances. Click here for a sample from Brevard County, FL.

What else do you need to know?

You can’t be turned down from an emergency shelter and their services for the lack of third-party documentation of homelessness. In fact, HUD explains it like this: “Under no circumstances must the lack of third-party documentation prevent an individual or family from being immediately admitted to emergency shelter, receiving street outreach services or being immediately admitted to shelter or receiving services provided by a victim service provider.”

You can’t be turned down for SNAP benefits even if you live on the streets and don’t have a mailing address. You can still get food stamps even if you’re homeless. You can get SNAP benefits even without having a kitchen or place to cook your food. If you live in a shelter, bring a letter from a shelter employee that says you live there when you apply. If you live in certain states, you may even be able to use your SNAP benefits at certain fast food restaurants.

Is There a Way to Simplify the Process?

Although space doesn’t allow for details on requirements for each county and state here, you can simplify the process by reaching out to an intake worker, a shelter director or an agency representative in your area.

Getting the things you need to deal with your long-term or temporary circumstances is not impossible when you have the right tools. And proof of homelessness is a tool that opens so many doors!

Nicole leads the Low Income Relief team with over 20 years of professional research and writing experience. Nicole started Low Income Relief after a personal experience with poverty. When her husband was medically discharged from the US Army, their family experienced tremendous financial hardship. Nicole was able to gather help from multiple community agencies and move into a nearby low income housing unit in just two weeks! Since then, Nicole has been dedicated to helping low income families in crisis. She regularly spends hundreds of hours combing through countless resources to make sure that Low Income Relief has the most comprehensive and complete resource directories on the internet today. Prior to starting Low Income Relief, Nicole worked as a novelist, journalist, ghostwriter and content creator. Her work has been featured in various print and online publications, including USA Today, eHow, Livestrong, Legal Beagle, The Daily Herald, The Chronicle and more.