Understanding Homelessness

One of the first things we do when people visit Barlett Housing Solutions, whether volunteers, or donors, or the community, we ask them, “What do you think of when you hear homeless?”.

Nearly all will answer or describe the stereotypical images of someone sleeping under bridges, living on the streets, and shut off to the world. And while this is certainly a very real scenario, this is just one category of homelessness, and an extreme one, at that. The reality is that homelessness takes many forms and can affect numerous people on a variety of levels, often less obvious and less noticeable.

While the Federal government uses multiple definitions to describe homelessness, including HUD’s Definition of Homelessness, the best way to better understand Homelessness is broken down into three categories:

  • chronic
  • episodic
  • transitional

Chronic Homelessness is used to describe people who have experienced homelessness for at least a year – or repeatedly – while struggling with a disabling condition such as a serious mental illness, substance use disorder, or physical disability. Often, these individuals live on the street, in a car, park, or other location that is not suitable for human habitation. They are most commonly older with long-term healthcare issues.

Episodic homelessness is used to describe individuals who are currently homeless but have also experienced at least three periods of homelessness in the previous year. These individuals are often younger and suffer from some type of disabling condition, such as substance abuse, mental illness, and/or medical problems.

Transitional homelessness, or also referred to as situational homelessness, is actually used to describe the most common type of homelessness. These individuals are also likely to be younger and generally enter a shelter or temporary housing system for only one brief stay. This situation could be the result of a catastrophic event or sudden life change.

So what are some of the leading causes of homelessness?

While there are numerous reasons that one could find themselves homeless, the National Alliance to End Homelessness has listed these as the leading causes of homelessness in the United States.

  • Lack of affordable housing
  • Low income or loss of job
  • Health issues including mental health and disability
  • Escaping violence, such as domestic abuse
  • Impact of racial disparities