What is the definition of homeless?
That depends on who you ask. Each agency that works with the homeless will develop and implement it’s own definition of the word.
Can you see how this causes problems for homeless people looking for help? And how this causes problems for the people trying to help the homeless?
Hopefully soon a single definition will be decided on. Even if it is a less than perfect definition, having only one will make the search for help less difficult, and will help organizations to see where they need to make improvements in services. And as time goes on, that one definition can be improved – as more knowledge of homelessness is gained.
I do think that HUD’s definition of “Homeless” is the most correct, so I will include it here. (People can find themselves in a many different living situations. Deciding which meets the definition of homeless can be difficult as the variables are often subjective.)
An individual who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence;
An individual who has a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings, including a car, park, abandoned building, bus or train station, airport, or camping ground;
An individual or family living in a supervised publicly or privately operated shelter designated to provide temporary living arrangements (including hotels and motels paid for by Federal, State or local government programs for low-income individuals or by charitable organizations, congregate shelters, and transitional housing);
An individual who resided in a shelter or place not meant for human habitation and who is exiting an institution where he or she temporarily resided;
An individual or family who will imminently lose their housing [as evidenced by a court order resulting from an eviction action that notifies the individual or family that they must leave within 14 days, having a primary nighttime residence that is a room in a hotel or motel and where they lack the resources necessary to reside there for more than 14 days, or credible evidence indicating that the owner or renter of the housing will not allow the individual or family to stay for more than 14 days, and any oral statement from an individual or family seeking homeless assistance that is found to be credible shall be considered credible evidence for purposes of this clause]; has no subsequent residence identified; and lacks the resources or support networks needed to obtain other permanent housing; and
Unaccompanied youth and homeless families with children and youth defined as homeless under other Federal statutes who have experienced a long-term period without living independently in permanent housing, have experienced persistent instability as measured by frequent moves over such period, and can be expected to continue in such status for an extended period of time because of chronic disabilities, chronic physical health or mental health conditions, substance addiction, histories of domestic violence or childhood abuse, the presence of a child or youth with a disability, or multiple barriers to employment.