While a homeless cat and a feral cat look the same, there is a big difference. A feral cat is a cat that has reverted to its “wild” state. A feral cat may be either a cat that formerly had a home but was forced to become feral after being lost or abandoned, or a cat that was born and lived its entire life as a feral cat. A homeless or stray cat will still be friendly or comfortable around humans, whereas a feral cat will generally avoid contact with humans, and cannot usually be handled. Many feral cats do learn to accept food from kindhearted people who help care for them. With the exception of kittens that may still be socialized to accept human contact, most feral cats cannot be tamed or become a housecat.
Most shelters are overflowing with friendly, adoptable cats and do not usually have the capacity to accept feral cats. Because feral cats are so fearful of human contact, staying in a cage in a shelter is very stressful for the cat, and safely caring for a feral cat in a shelter environment is difficult. Therefore, many times the most humane option for feral cats is to trap, spay or neuter the cat, and release it back to its environment. This allows the cat to live where it is most comfortable, while preventing more feral cats from being born.