How Homelessness Works

Homeless person asleep on cardboard boxes
Understand how homelessness works. Cecile Faure / Getty Images

Today, Christopher Gardner is the owner and CEO of Christopher Gardner International Holdings, Inc., an investment company with offices in New York, Chicago and San Francisco. By some estimates, he’s worth $65 million.

Two decades ago, Gardner’s situation was far different. He and his young son were living on the streets of San Francisco, forced to sleep in homeless shelters, wash in public bathrooms and eat at soup kitchens because they couldn’t afford an apartment.


Gardner’s rags-to-riches story is the stuff of movies; in fact, it was the subject of the 2006 Will Smith film, “The Pursuit of Happyness.” But for millions of American homeless, there is no movie deal and no success story. For them, the struggle to find food, clothing and a warm bed to sleep in at night doesn’t end.

By definition, being homeless is not having anywhere to call home, although it also can mean living in a place that was never intended to house human beings, such as a bus depot or highway underpass. In this article, you’ll learn how people become homeless, see the devastating effects homelessness can have on individuals and families, and find out what you can do to help.