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The Different Types of Homelessness

Updated: Mar 1, 2021

Homelessness typically refers to a person who does not have a place to stay overnight. But that definition doesn’t break down the myriad of ways that homelessness actually presents in our communities. In fact, there are different categories of homelessness that can help us better understand what it actually is.

How is Homelessness Defined?

The Department of Housing and Urban Development keeps a list of definitions of homelessness to help those who work with homeless populations find the proper resources for clients. Literally Homeless. A person who is literally homeless does not have a fixed nighttime residence and instead might sleep overnight in a temporary shelter or place not meant for human habitation. Imminent Risk of Homelessness. A person at imminent risk of homelessness will soon lose their primary nighttime residence, doesn’t have another place to go, and doesn’t have the resources to get another residence. Homeless Under Other Federal Statutes. These individuals include youth or families with youth who haven’t had permanent housing in the last two months, have unstable housing, and have needs or barriers that will prevent them from accessing housing. Fleeing or Attempting to Flee Domestic Violence. A person fleeing domestic violence who has no other residence and doesn’t have resources to obtain permanent housing. These definitions help workers document and determine the care needed for homeless clients.

What are the Categories of Homelessness?

Homelessness definitions can be further broken down into categories based on the amount of time an individual has been homeless. Chronic Homelessness. A person who has been homeless for more than a year or has had frequent episodes of homelessness within the last couple of years. Most frequently they suffer from long-term health conditions such as mental illness, substance use disorders, disabilities, or medical conditions. Lack of healthcare access can make these conditions worse. Episodic Homelessness. A person who has on-and-off periods of homelessness in their life or has been homeless three times or more within the last year. Like chronic homelessness, many who are episodically homeless struggle with medical issues, mental illness, or substance use disorders. Transitional Homelessness. A person who is homeless for a short time because of a crisis or unforeseen event. They often enter shelters or temporary housing for a single stay. This is the most common type of homelessness.


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