Definition of Homelessness

The 2016 definition of “homelessness” provided by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development provides that Chronic Homelessness is defined as:

1. An individual who:

  • Is homeless and lives in a place not meant for human habitation, a safe haven, or in an emergency shelter; and
  • Has been homeless and living or residing in a place not meant for human habitation, a safe haven, or in an emergency shelter continuously for at least 12 months or on at least four separate occasions in the last 3 years, where the cumulative total of the four occasions is at least 12 months. Stays in institutions of 90 days or less will not constitute as a break in homelessness, but rather such stays are included in the cumulative total; &
  • Can be diagnosed with one or more of the following conditions: Substance use disorder, serious mental illness, developmental disability (as defined in section 102 of the Developmental Disabilities Assistance Bill of Rights Act of 2000 (42 U.S.C. 15002)), post- traumatic stress disorder, cognitive impairments resulting from brain injury, or chronic physical illness or disability;

2. An individual who has been residing in an institutional care facility, including a jail, substance abuse or mental health treatment facility, hospital, or other similar facility for fewer than 90 days and met all of the criteria in paragraph (1), before entering that facility; or

3. A family with an adult head of household (or if there is no adult in the family, a minor head of household) who meets all of the criteria in paragraph (1), including a family whose composition has fluctuated while the head of household has been homeless.

For children, the federal government has defined homelessness through the McKinney-Vento Act, which defines homeless children as “individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.” Some examples of children who would fall under this definition include:

  • Children sharing housing due to economic hardship or loss of housing;
  • Children living in “motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camp grounds due to lack of alternative accommodations”
  • Children living in “emergency or transitional shelters”
  • Children “awaiting foster care placement”
  • Children whose primary nighttime residence is not ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation (e.g. park benches, etc.)
  • Children living in “cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations…”