I live in the state of MA. It is a very liberal state and as I understand it homeless people across the country to one extent or another sort of direct or suggest to other homeless people that MA is the place to go if your homeless. I was also homeless myself for 2 months about 20 years ago and lived in homeless shelters. So I got to know the homeless intimately from the 'inside'. I also worked in a homeless shelter for several months and have continued to work with various populations such as people in recovery from substance abuse, the homelss, formerly incarcerated men, adults with major mental illness, etc. There is a LOT of crossover between these various groups.
Prior to becoming homeless I knew nothing about homeless shelters or any government programs set up to supposedly help the disenfranchized. Living in a homeless shelter was quite an eye opener. It was culture shock for me. I learned that a fair % of those living there were basically drug addicts who were also criminals and would steal every day to get money for drugs, eventually get caught, do some time in jail, then return to living in homeless shelters upon release. Another portion of them were alcoholics/drug addicts that didn't do crimes to support their habits but begged to get money for their stuff.
Another things I learned: People who are homeless and do not seek or have a way out through work will almost always wind up on SSI or SSDI (disability). People in the shelters here help them apply and help them get it. It takes 6 months minimum to be approved. If someone is obviously very mentally ill they easily get approved. If someone has some degree of mental/emotional problems (most all do to one extent or another) they can and often do initially get denied. BUT, if they continue to live in a homeless shelter, and see a psychiatrist regularly and report symptoms such as hearing voices they will be prescribed meds and whether or not they actually hear voices or actually take the meds...simply because they continue to reside at a homeless shelter, at least in MA, they virtually ALL eventually get approved.
One appauling factor is that once you apply the clock starts ticking. So if your denied 2x and 'win' the 3rd time and it's been 20 months since the date you orignially applied... you are entitled to and receive a check equal to what would be your monthly ammt your 'entitled' to x20. So people get these 'retro' (retroactive) checks equal to 6 months or more disability income. In MA the minimum is around $750/month. So people get their first check for $4,500 to possibly up to 20K or something if they have a work history where their income was of a reasonable ammt (you know, everyone gets each quarter from the SS admin a letter saying "if you become disabled today your montly income would be x) the more you earn yearly the more you would get, up to a maximum ammt). Now immagine and alcoholic, or especially a drug addict, being handed a check for 5-10 grand.
So most 'chronically' homeless, in addtion to receiving food stamps (which in MA they don't need because the shelters as well as soup kitchens give out free meals so they can all eat 3 squares a day, at least in MA...they also recieve a check from the soc sec admin of several hundred a month (and the shelters are free to live in, they can get free clothing, they hand out tooth brushes and put tooth paste on your brush, you get soap to shower with). So the only money a homeless person really needs in MA if they live in an urban area is a little for food (covered more than enough by stamps) and maybe some for bus fare. Medical care is free, medications might cost the homelss a few dollars per prescription or they might get it for free, I'm not sure on that one. But there is no co pay to see doctors, etc.
The way to tell if a homeless person is addicted to alcohol and/or drugs is to see when the first of the month comes around if they are at their usual spot begging. People get their SSI checks on the 1st of the month, SSDI checks on the 3rd. If they are drug addicts they just 'scored' so they are not begging for dollars, they are out spending their hundreds on coke or heroin or whatever. Some of them even rent hotel rooms for a night or 2 to live in luxury while they do their drugs for those 1-3 days. Then they come back to the homeless shelter broke. No money for cigarettes if they smoke, spending the rest of the month begging for money for cigarettes (if they smoke) or alcohol or drugs. Supporting an alcohol habbit by begging is easy, a pint or quart of vodka doesn't cost much. Begging to support a crack or heroin habit is much harder because of the higher cost, hense more of them will shoplift and some will do robberies.
If you have the opportunity, and are so inclined, you can pay attention to the beggars you see and pay attention the first few days of the month to see if they are there. If they are, they are NOT drug addicts. (the SSI, SSDI checks do some the friday before if the 1st or 3rd comes on a Sunday or holiday (not sure on Sat) but has to do with the mail and non mail days). So this way you can learn if your giving your money to a drug addict.
There are homeless who don't drink or use drugs too. Some are elderly and burnt out by life and/or have medical problems and no family to take care of them. But these people generally don't go begging. They are also allowed to stay inside the shelters during the daytime when shelters kick everyone out.