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Defining Homelessness

Thu, Jun 21, 2012

Jim LoBianco

Department of Housing and Urban Development has released new or revised definitions for homelessness. The definitions where released in conjunction with the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act, signed by President Obama in 2009. It is a much anticipated update to the previous federal regulation on homelessness, known as McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. Among issues addressed in the HEARTH Act are:

– A change in HUD’s definition of homelessness and chronic homelessness;
– An increase in prevention resources; and,
– An increase in the emphasis on performance.

Homeless service providers are hopeful that the HEARTH Act will make it easier to serve the homeless and those at-risk of homelessness. The four definitions below reduce some of the bureaucratic blocks from getting the people the help they need. The Chicago Alliance to End Homelessness composed this summary of the key definitions and their changes:
Literally Homeless: 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 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 in shelter or a place not meant for human habitation immediately prior to entering that institution.

Imminently Homeless: People who are losing their primary nighttime residence, which may include a motel or hotel or a doubled up situation, within 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.

Youth Homelessness: Families with children or unaccompanied youth who are unstably housed and likely to continue in that state.

This is a new category of homelessness, which applies to families with children or unaccompanied youth who have not had a lease or ownership interest in a housing unit in the last 60 or more days, have had two or more moves in the last 60 days, and who are likely to continue to be unstably housed because of disability or multiple barriers to employment.

Fleeing Domestic Violence: 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.

The most significant impact of the new and revised definitions is that it will allow agencies and local governments to serve more people in crisis. Changing definitions is always a tricky endeavor for government because officials risk the perception that somehow there are now more people in need than there were before; however, that is a rhetorical argument best left for election debates. The truth is that there are too many people in need already. The revised definitions will just make it easier to serve them from the beginning.

By Jim LoBianco
StreetWise Executive Director

I would greatly appreciate your thoughts and suggestions. You are welcome to contact me at either jlobianco@streetwise.org or (773) 334-6600 (ext. 22).

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