How do you define “homeless?”

How do you define the homeless? This may seem obvious – you are probably thinking “anyone without a home is homeless.” However, that loose description may not accurately define the many unique situations surrounding homelessness. For example, where would the thousands of families living in weekly motels fit into that description? They are without a permanent home but have some sort of a roof over their heads. Does that make them homeless? What about people doubling or tripling-up with other families because they have nowhere else to stay? Are these individuals and families considered homeless?

Earlier this month, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) proposed to alter the current definition of homelessness in order to accurately define what situations categorize someone as homeless. Although a definition already exists in the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act, these revisions will settle many of the details surrounding homelessness that that have been confusing for legislation and operational details in the past.

The four categories of homelessness, taken from a National Alliance to End Homelessness posting, are described below. Although three of the four have been previously used by HUD, one category is entirely new (exciting, right?)! In addition to explaining this new category, the National Alliance has included a brief description of the proposed revisions to existing categories.

According to the proposed revisions, the homeless are:

  • People who are living in a place not meant for human habitation, in emergency shelter, in transitional housing, or are exiting an institution where they temporarily resided. The only significant change from existing practice is that people will be considered homeless if they are exiting an institution where they resided for up to 90 days (it was previously 30 days), and were homeless immediately prior to entering that institution.
  • People who are losing their primary nighttime residence, which may include a motel or hotel or a doubled up situation, in 14 days and lack resources or support networks to remain in housing. HUD had previously allowed people who were being displaced within 7 days to be considered homeless. The proposed regulation also describes specific documentation requirements for this category.
  • Families with children or unaccompanied youth who are unstably housed and likely to continue in that state. This is a new category of homelessness, and it applies to families with children and unaccompanied youth who have not had a lease or ownership interest in a housing unit in the last 91 or more days, have had three or more moves in the last 90 days, and who are likely to continue to be unstably housed because of disability or multiple barriers to employment.
  • People who are fleeing or attempting to flee domestic violence, have no other residence, and lack the resources or support networks to obtain other permanent housing. This category is similar to the current practice regarding people who are fleeing domestic violence.

Are you shocked at the number of details included in these brief definitions? For many, defining the homeless may seem more difficult than they anticipated. At the Coalition, we know that the complex situations surrounding stable housing make defining the homeless in just one category difficult. It seems there are as many types of homelessness as there are homeless individuals, so the more descriptive a definition, the better.

Want to learn more about HUD’s proposal to alter the definition of homelessness? Find more info here!

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