What to do for a homeless family member? Recovery tools for a loved one in a crisis

What do you when an addict or alcohol you love is facing life on the streets? 3 tips for a crisis here.

minute read

The distressed phone call

Recently a friend contacted me because her daughter, Laura, and her boyfriend had broken up. They had been sharing a tiny apartment with his relatives and now she was asked to leave. Laura, who was drinking heavily, was stranded in a rural area with no car, no friends, and few resources, except for her monthly disability check and a dog she dearly loved.

Laura lived out of state. Because of poor health, Laura’s mom wasn’t free to leave and rescue her daughter once again. And she didn’t want her to return home to regroup.

Truly faced with homelessness: What to do?

This wasn’t the first time that Laura’s back was against the wall. It had happened before. Each time, my friend agonized over what to do and what not to do. Facing the reality that one’s child might become homeless is daunting. We live a dangerous world. What’s a mother to do?

I suggested that my friend contact social services in the county where her daughter currently resides. I also reminded her that tools of a twelve-step program for loved ones could help her navigate these muddy waters. Here are a few that might help.

Tool #1: Think

In a panic mode during a crisis, it’s easy to overreact. Visions of a son or daughter sleeping under a bridge, scavenging for food, or getting into a fight are downright scary.

The urge to prevent these risky events is powerful. After all, parents are programmed to protect their children. However, rather than react, it might be best to exert self-control. Do and say nothing until things calm down.

Tool #2: Pray

Better to think before one speaks and pray before one acts. The “Serenity Prayer” almost always provides solace.

Tool #3: Easy Does It

This tool can help prevent an explosion of angry words and recriminations. It can guide a loved one toward a less frantic state of mind. It can slow down the pace of worry and obsession. Reaching out to others for support is a form of self-care that rescues a loved one from drowning in an emotional tsunami.

Tool #4: Just for Today

Several years ago, when I faced a crisis with my adult son, my sponsor gave me a “Just for Today” bookmark. (I keep it handy at all times.) Several sentences are relevant during a crisis.

  • “I will try to live through this day only, and not tackle all my problems at once. I can do something for twelve hours that would appall me if I felt that I had to keep it up for a lifetime.”
  • “I will have a quiet half hour all by myself and relax.”
  • “I will have a program. I will save myself from two pests: hurry and indecision.”

Other slogans such as “Let Go and Let God,”  “Keep an open mind,” and “One day at a time,” help lift a loved one’s  thoughts and emotions out of a confused state in order to better endure a family crisis.

Are you faced with a difficult time?

Please let us know about it. We’ll do our best to respond to you promptly. But we always try to reach out personally. Please share with us your hopes, concerns, and what you’re going through. We’re here to help.

About the author
Fran Simone is a Professor Emeritus from Marshall University, South Charleston Campus in West Virginia. Recently her memoir, Dark Wine Waters: a Husband of a Thousand Joys and Sorrows was published by Central Recovery Press. She can be reached through the Dark Wine Waters website or at darkwinewaters [at] gmail.


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  1. Hello I’m 25 with 3 boys 7,8 & 1 years old I have a cousin who is battling with addiction and is homeless unfortunately I can’t offer her shelter because she consumes drugs. She recently contacted me asking for a place to stay I can only offer her a warm meal and shower and some money. How do I tell her she can’t stay with me ? I don’t want to upset her or lose contact with her.

  2. My brother has had problems with addiction, depression, been in jail for possession and dealing drugs. Most recently my sister and I bailed him out of jail and he has been staying here at my sisters apartment on weekends because he has an officer come visit him on Fridays. Problem is he is homeless and has been very abusive to me. Verbally, emotionally. Yet my sister lets him stay because he can’t or doesn’t want to stay at a “friends” house. After his last outburst towards me, my sister told him he couldn’t stay here after the officer comes to visit him, but he doesn’t seem to care. My brother is 48 but emotionally he is 17. My question is , am I dealing with codependency here and what can I do to keep myself safe. I have decided I don’t want a relationship with him any longer.
    Reaching out,

    1. Hi J. The most important person to you is you, and only you. Choose the tings that are healthy to you. If your brother wants help from you, you may help him, but if he verbally abuses you, then he doesn’t deserve your help. You may talk together to find him a shelter, and therapy.

  3. Hi Monique. I feel for you. Your brother must be in a very difficult place in his life and it is my hope that he gets the help that he needs. One thing that you can do is to learn about his mental illness. Get online and learn all that you can. Another thing you can do is to consult with a social worker. Sometimes, knowing the options for care can help you recommend supervised living, treatment, or can give him hope. Does that help?

  4. Hello and thank you for listening to me. I have a brother who is 24 years old on meth and also diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. His paranoia kicked in first when he was about 21 and it has been so hard for him and our family ever since. I’m at a loss on what to do because I love my brother with all my heart and would literally do anything for him but I dont want to rescue him every time he gets into some mess with meth because I don’t think heirs helping him. He calls me in the middle nights to come get him , he says he doesn’t have a problem with drugs, he doesn’t need help and his excuse for doing it is because he doesn’t want to “Feel that feeling” which I’m assuming means the withdrawls. I have an older sister and a mom. My dad has never been in our lives and is also a paranoid schizophrenic which is where I think my brother inherited that from. It’s so sad to witness my brother going down a bad path and it breaks my heart more than anything. I am writing this because me and my family are lost and don’t know where to go from here. My brother will be homeless in less than a week and he is not taking it serious and trying to help himself. Please help in anyway you can , even if that just means some words of encouragement because for me just talking to someone can help. Thank you very much.

  5. Hello, I’m the only family member near my dad. Everyone else lives on the other side of the country and doesn’t care about what happens to my dad it seems. He’s an alcoholic. He doesn’t get enough money from the state to survive on his own. Like he couldn’t even qualify for low income housing but section 8 has been closed for about 8 years now. So he’s been staying with me. I had enough and sent him to rehab. I’m barely 30 yrs old. He’s been put of rehab 2 months now and relapses every chance he gets but knowing my dad this is not what he wants for his life. He used to be a pastor and lost his way and then my mom died. That was 3 yrs ago. I don’t want to have anything to do with him but seeing as how my mom was a social worker I just can’t put him out on the streets. I tried. Legally the cops said I’d have to take him to court. I could never live with myself if he was homeless. It’s freezing here. And I can’t seem to get any state help. I’ve worked with more than 4 state social workers who can’t seem to find a solution. When he goes to the hospital they just drop him off in a neighborhood he used to live. He’s disabled and also has some mental issues but can live mostly on his own. I’m so lost. I can’t live with the guilt of putting him out but I can’t live with him either. I don’t see a solution.

    1. Hi Marissa. Call a toll-free Alcohol Helpline on 1-888-675-1820 to find a high-quality alcohol addiction treatment program.

  6. Hello Roberta. Have you looked into family therapy or models of intervention like CRAFT? It might be helpful to focus on the family unit instead of the sick member; this way she can join you all once you get better.

  7. My daughter is homeless and most of the time sleeping in her car she keeps asking her ex husband and me her mother for money food etc and rooms to stay in due to it being winter. She refuses to get help denies any addiction which we know she has. She will keep texting begging until you give in. We can’t keep financial ly give anymore. We try not to give money just pay for stuff. She can’t live at home. Did that one time before just don’t know what to do anymore. Running out of ideas and stressing the rest of family unit

  8. I have recently left my husband of 20 years due to going through the cycle of recovery/relapse/financial destruction for too long. He is now weeks from being homeless and is going to lose everything. He is 800 miles from me now, and has nobody nearby that he can call on for help. I feel torn by the decision to leave, but 7 years out of 20 have been extremely out of control addiction, with me taking care of all expenses. I was enabling him indirectly because I was doing what I should do to keep myself and our children housed, fed, clothed, etc. I am struggling with extreme levels of guilt and doubt now, as I wanted our leaving to be that which shined light on reality for him. Sadly, his reality is clear to him but he feels hopeless and doesn’t know what to do to fix his life. I don’t know how to find peace or happiness from this far away, but I never knew when I was close by either. I don’t want to see him self-destruct, but I do not want to bring him back into our home again, either. When is it time to let the bottom fall out, and how do you settle yourself in the choice to stop helping when they might destroy themselves while alone and stranded?

  9. I so relate to everyone here. My brother an alcoholic has been homelessness for 6 years and doesn’t seem any closer to changing things. I’m afraid he will die on the streets the pain is unbearable when I see him. I go to al anon and while that helps when I see him I feel so sad. And guilty that I don’t take him in to stay with me. The hardest part is the feeling this situation is never going to end I so sympathize with all others in same situation

  10. Hello:
    I don’t know whether I regret helping my brother when he has an addiction problem and is homeless. I took him in every now and then but lately he’s been showing up at my door expecting me to let him sleep here, and that’s not something my housing situation allows. It’s almost the winter season here and I don’t know what to do now that he’s been showing up at my door. It major crises mode, anybody have any suggestions if so please feel free to offer advice that might help.

  11. My only brother is 2 years older than me. It’s been almost a year he has been living on the streets. Growing up our parents didn’t give us a good example not support.they would always put my brother down and always had a rude comment about his weight. He grew isolating himself after high school he did ok. He worked and stayed out of trouble then hard times came for him. He began using drugs and alcohol. He had a lot of anger towards us. He was depressed and lonely. One night he was so frustrated he hit our mom. We kicked him out of the house. He now lives in the streets and he looks like a crazy person. His eyes look lost and he doesn’t accept our help. I’m very sad and scared for him. My mom had gotten depressed and my dad every now and then gives him money and clothes and food. I don’t know what to do I don’t want to see him like this I love him. Yes we all fail as a family . We didn’t catch on time or cared to see him depressed and isolated. I want to see him happy again and for him to have a normal life.

  12. I broke up with my live-in boyfriend of 10 years becasue he is schizophrenic and stopped taking his medication and started doing methamphetamine. It was a year ago and he is now homeless – for one yea r. I live with a roommate now because it is the only way for me to survive. He can not stay with me even temporarily even though he is sober. i do not know where to begin to help. He has been all over southern california. Sometimes I hear from him. Sometimes not for months. I am saving as much as I can to get my own place and moving out of los angeles – rent is so expensive here $1200.00 for a one bedroom apartment. I am afraid he is going to die. I saw him a month ago. He lost 70 lbs in 8 months. No one or agency can help me or him and he is now maybe in Long Beach, CA. He is on social security. why can’t I get him off the streets? He told me he hates it – of course. He has accepted death.

    1. Hi Stephanie. Call the helpline you see on the website to speak with a trusted treatment consultant.

  13. My brother is 54 years old and has been using since high school, with some long sober periods over the years. I don’t talk to him very often now, but I just heard that once again, he’ll be homeless soon. In the past, he’s lived in his car, been in jail, lived at a rescue mission, and also managed to rent various apartments over the years, only to not pay rent and subsequently be evicted.
    So here we go again. I don’t understand why he has been repeating this cycle for nearly all of his adult life. I don’t know why he falls back down this hole of addicting over and over, and it breaks my heart. I don’t know what, if anything I can or should do or say.
    And sometimes I feel guilty that I’m living a nice, stable, happy life and he’s not. And angry that I don’t “have” a big brother, and angry that my mother has enabled him to the extreme.

    Thank you for allowing me to post my thoughts here.

  14. I have a family member that is homeless and keeps getting arrested for being homeless. Arrested for sleeping under a bridge, arrested for sleeping in a field, arrested for sleeping, period. It makes me angry to see this.

  15. My father was arrested in May of 2015 for being under the influence and having drugs on him. It has sort of spiraled down from there. He is almost 50, and has never really got hold of his life, and continues to blame his un-normal childhood. This ultimately led to him now being homeless, or so he says. Cocaine has been a issue for the past 10 years. He doesn’t talk about it, and kinda blames everything else. I am his daughter, I know it would be unsafe for him to live with me, I don’t know who he owes or what his real situation is. I know he needs help, but whether he want’s to admit that. He has manipulated me for most my life and the stress is starting to exhaust. This is very unknown territory since I was raised by my mom with a loving family. I just want to know he isn’t going to die on the streets. But then again, these are decisions he will have to make.

  16. Hi, I made a Youtube video in memory of my brother Daniel, who tragically passed away 9 years ago in an ongoing battle for addiction. This video is in dedication to Daniel, and was also made to help spread awareness for addiction. If you are, or know someone, who is struggling with addiction, please share this with them. My hope is that no family will have to endure the pain my family has felt for these past 9 years. Please take some time out of your day to share with others and to help spread awareness!! Together we can truly shatter the stigma and stop the silence. Enjoy the video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6afkpgmHK6w

    1. Hi Brandon. Thank you for sharing your video here and I’m very sorry for your loss. I hope this video helps others avoid the kind of pain you, your family and everyone who knew and loved Daniel suffered.

  17. Hi I have a few problems. First is I’m addicted to crack. Second is where I live it’s everywhere. I was living together with my girlfriend but after 8 years she said enough. She didn’t use. Anyway obviously i can’t save money being around here. I was doing SO well not living around here. I went to the salvation army and it wasn’t fot me. I need to work.I have a awesome job and just need to get outa this area. Is there any agencies for men? I know there are for women. Please help me.

    1. Hi Tony. Click on this link to access SAMHSA’s treatment locator, select your State, area, town, type of treatment needed, health insurance, payment options and everything that fits you needs. I hope this helps!

  18. My brother is going to be homeless soon.He is 6,000 miles away from me. I told him ,he could live here with me but he could not drink here. Did I do the right thing? What can I do if he drinks?

    1. Hi Veronica. That was a very wise decision that would move things towards helping him and not dragging you into co-dependence. This is not an easy and one-way-to-go process, so I suggest you join a network or support group for families of alcoholics to learn the right coping skills and know how to handle situations.

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