How is homelessness defined?
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defines a homeless person as someone who is:
- Sleeping in an emergency shelter;
- Sleeping in places not meant for human habitation, such as cars, parks, sidewalks, or abandoned or condemned buildings;
- Spending a short time (30 consecutive days or less) in a hospital or other institution, but ordinarily sleeping in the types of places mentioned above;
- Living in transitional/supportive housing but having come from streets or emergency shelters;
- Being evicted within a week from a private dwelling unit and having no subsequent residence identified and lacking the resources and support networks needed to obtain access to housing; or
- Being discharged from an institution and having no subsequent residence identified and lacking the resources and support networks needed to obtain access to housing.
How many people are homeless in the United States?
This question is often asked and widely answered in a variety of ways in terms of numbers, time periods, and public and private sources of information. Due to the circumstances of homelessness, it is very difficult to come up with a reliable number of people who experience homelessness. The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness and the National Alliance to End Homelessness report that “between 700,000 and 800,000 people are homeless on any given night in America.” “Over the course of a year between 2.3 and 3.5 million people will experience homelessness in this country.”
In a March 2003 published report entitled “Ending Chronic Homelessness: Strategies for Action” the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services (DHHS) stated that “each year, approximately one (1) percent of the U.S. population, some two to three million individuals, experience a night of homelessness.” DHHS also notes that their estimate is conservative for it does not include those who do not contact a homeless assistance provider, e.g. those who may be taken in by a friend or spend the night in their car, etc. DHHS also notes in the report that “somewhere between four (4) to six (6) percent of the poor experience homelessness” on any given day.
How do people become homeless?
How do people become homeless?
The National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH) cites a number of factors that contribute to homelessness, including:
- Poverty and the lack of affordable housing: current levels of housing costs, coupled with low-wage jobs and the recent economic downturn, push even the working poor out of their homes;
- Divorce, domestic violence and lack of family support;
- Chronic health problems;
- Mental illness;
- Drug and alcohol addiction; and
- Natural disasters.
NAEH has identified several factors that have affected the growth of homelessness over the last three decades including:
- Housing has become more scarce for those with limited incomes
- Earnings from employment and benefits have not kept pace with the cost of housing for people with limited incomes
- Services that every family needs for support and stability have become harder for poor people to access and afford
According to NAEH, in 1970 there were 300,000 more affordable housing units available than there were low-income households needing to rent them. By 2002, there were over 5 million fewer affordable units than low-income households that needed them.
What is chronic homelessness?
HUD defines a chronically homeless person as “an unaccompanied individual with a disabling condition” who has been continuously homeless for a year or more, or has had at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years.
Chronic homelessness may be caused by substance abuse, mental illness, or physical disabilities. Due to the nature of homelessness, it is very difficult to measure the number of chronically homeless individuals across the country. Using the best available data and research, NAEH estimates that between 10 to 20 percent of homeless single adults are chronically homeless; this translates into between 150,000 and 200,000 chronically homeless people.