What does being “homeless” really mean?

While probably everyone has some idea of what it means to be homeless, in the context of service delivery and the development of strategies to prevent and end homelessness, it’s important to be precise.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), there are four categories of homelessness:

Literally Homeless – An individual or family who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence, meaning:

  • Has a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not meant for human habitation;
  • Is living in a publicly or privately operated shelter designated to provide temporary living arrangements (including congregate shelters, transitional housing, and hotels and motels paid for by charitable organizations or by federal, state and local government programs); or
  • Is exiting an institution where (s)he has resided for 90 days or less and who resided in an emergency shelter or place not meant for human habitation immediately before entering that institution.

Imminent Risk of Homelessness – An individual or family who will imminently lose their primary nighttime residence, provided that:

  • Residence will be lost within 14 days of the date of application for homeless assistance;
  • No subsequent residence has been identified; and
  • The individual or family lacks the resources or support networks needed to obtain other permanent housing.

Homeless under other Federal statutes – Unaccompanied youth under 25 years of age, or families with children and youth, who do not otherwise qualify as homeless under this definition, but who:

  • Are defined as homeless under the other listed federal statutes;
  • Have not had a lease, ownership interest, or occupancy agreement in permanent housing during the 60 days prior to the homeless assistance application;
  • Have experienced persistent instability as measured by two moves or more during the preceding 60 days; and
  • Can be expected to continue in such status for an extended period of time due to special needs or barriers

Fleeing/Attempting to Flee Domestic Violence – Any individual or family who:

  • Is fleeing, or is attempting to flee, domestic violence;
  • Has no other residence; and
  • Lacks the resource or support networks to obtain other permanent housing.

How many people are homeless in Texas?

According to the most recent Annual Homeless Assessment Report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), there were 19,177 persons homeless in Texas in 2014, meaning that approximately 7 out of every 10,000 persons in Texas are homeless (down from 12 out of every 10,000 in 2013).”

How many people are homeless in the U.S.?

According to the most recent Annual Homeless Assessment Report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), there are more than 578,000 people experiencing homelessness on any given night in this country.

What are the major contributing factors to homelessness in the U.S.?

While circumstances can vary, the main reason people experience homelessness is because they cannot find housing they can afford. It is the scarcity of affordable housing in the United States, particularly in more urban areas where homelessness is more prevalent, that is behind their inability to acquire or maintain housing. (Source: National Alliance to End Homelessness)

A variety of additional factors can contribute to the problem; chief among these are poverty, a decline in levels of public assistance, lack of affordable health care, mental illness and addictive disorders.

How does homelessness affect families and children?

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, families experiencing homelessness are similar to other, housed families living in poverty. In fact, many poor families—homeless or not—share similar characteristics: they are usually headed by a single woman with limited education; are usually young; and have high rates of domestic violence and mental illness.

Some families living in poverty fall into homelessness, usually due to some unforeseen financial challenge, such as a death in the family, a lost job, or an unexpected bill, creating a situation where the family cannot maintain housing.

Fortunately, homelessness among families is typically not a long-term experience. About 75% of families who enter shelter are able to quickly exit with little or no assistance, and never return. Some families, however, require more intensive assistance.

One of the most important strategies for lifting families from homelessness is rapid re-housing. The more quickly families are connected with permanent housing, the more quickly their homelessness can be solved and their lives can return to relative stability. Similarly, prevention strategies—in the form of cash assistance, housing subsidies, and other services—can avert homelessness before it starts.

How are services for the homeless funded?

The federal government’s primary response to homelessness is embodied in the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants program within the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). It funds proven solutions to homelessness. The bipartisan HEARTH Act of 2009 reauthorized the program to increase its emphasis on using outcomes and research to drive programmatic decisions.

The Homeless Assistance Grants appropriations account funds two programs: the competitive Continuum of Care (CoC) program and the Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) block grant program. The HEARTH Act consolidated several previous programs into the CoC program, which funds proven interventions, like cost-effective permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless people. The ESG block grant funds emergency shelter and adds a new focus on the cost-efficient interventions of homelessness prevention and rapid re-housing.

I notice a lot of abbreviations and acronyms in information about homelessness. Do you have definitions for these?

Here are explanations of some of the most commonly used abbreviations and acronyms that are relevant to local efforts to prevent and end homelessness:

AHAR Annual Housing Availability Report
APR Annual Performance Report (Annual Progress Report for homeless programs)
CDBG Community Development Block Grant (CPD Program)
CHDO Community and Housing Development Organization. Non-profit housing provider receiving minimum of 15% of HOME Investment Partnership funds
CoC Continuum of Care approach to assistance to the homeless
Continuum of Care Federal program stressing permanent solutions to Homelessness
Con Plan Consolidated Plan, a locally developed plan for housing assistance and urban development under the Community Development Block Grant and other CPD programs
CPD Community Planning and Development (HUD Office of)
Data Warehouse Information system storing HUD program and operational data
EC Enterprise Communities
ESG Emergency Solutions Grants (CPD program; formerly Emergency Shelter Grants)
Fair Housing Act 1968 act (amended in 1974 and 1988) providing HUD Secretary with fair housing enforcement and
investigation responsibilities
FEMA Federal Emergency Management Administration
FHA Federal Housing Administration (HUD Office of Housing)
FHAP Fair Housing Assistance Program (FHEO program). Program assisting State/local govt with process fair housing complaints.
GPRA Government Performance and Results Act. Requires Federal Agencies to establish performance
standards and report on results.
HEARTH Act Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing Act
HMIS Homeless Management Information System
HOME Home Investment Partnerships (CPD program)
HOPWA Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (CPD program)
HUD U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
LIHTC Low Income Housing Tax Credit
MOU Memorandum of Understanding
NOFA (HUD) Notice of Funding Availability
PHA Public Housing Authority
PSH Permanent Supportive Housing
PULSE The Homelessness PULSE project
RFP Request for Proposals. Used to solicit proposals for contracts under the negotiated procurement method.
Section 8 Housing Assistance Payment Program (Housing and Community Development Act of 1974)
Section 202 Loans for construction/rehab of housing for the elderly or handicapped
Section 202/811 Programs for housing assistance to the elderly and people with disabilities
SRO Single-Room Occupancy. Mortgage insurance under Section 221(d) for single room apartments.
Super NOFA HUD’s consolidated approach to issuance of Notices of Funding Availability
TANF Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. Click here for a glossary of terms related to this program.
TDHCA Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs
VA Veterans Affairs (U.S. Department of)

A more extensive list of abbreviations associated with HUD programs is available here