Defining Homelessness

When we think of people experiencing homelessness our mind conjures up images of people sleeping on park benches, people pushing around shopping carts of all their worldly possessions and people begging for change on the street corner.


Usually we have a preconceived idea that a homeless person is a middle aged man, has an addiction, and has mental health issues. He desperately needs a shower, he’s too lazy to work, and would rather spend welfare money on drinking then food or a home.


Let’s dispel the idea that homelessness is anything short of a disease of our society.


Homelessness defined


According to the Canadian Definition of Homelessness, homelessness is “the situation of an individual, family, or community without stable, safe, permanent, appropriate housing, or the immediate prospect, means and ability of acquiring it.”(1)


The four types of homelessness


Chronic


Chronic homelessness is refers to an individual, usually with a disabling condition such as chronic physical or mental illness and/or substance abuse problems. This individual will have been homeless for six months or more in the past year. They will live in places like shelters, public lands (parks) or other places not fit for human habitation.


This individual is who we think of when we imagine a homeless person. Shelters are used as long-term housing rather than temporary emergency accommodations. They are usually older, chronically unemployed, some form of physical or mental disability and have substance abuse problems. This individual represents the smallest portion of those experiencing homelessness but will need the most intervention to reintegrate back into stable housing and the workforce.


Episodic


Episodic homelessness is refers to an individual, usually with a disabling condition such as chronic physical or mental illness and/or substance abuse problems. This individual will have experienced three or more episodes of homelessness in the past year. They will live in places like shelters, public lands (parks) or other places not fit for human habitation. They will experience breaks from being homeless that will last at least 30 days before becoming homeless again.


They are usually younger, chronically unemployed, some form of physical or mental disability and have substance abuse problems. Their episodes of homelessness will usually be interrupted by periods of time in supported or transitional housing. It will be easy for this person to slip back into homelessness without adequate support.


The definitions also include individuals exiting institutions (e.g. child welfare system, mental health facilities, hospitals, and correctional institutions) who have a history of chronic and episodic homelessness and cannot identify a fixed address upon their release.


More information on chronic and episodic homelessness can be found on the Government of Canada website.


Transitional


Transitionally homeless individuals usually only experience homelessness for a short period of time. They tend to be younger and precariously housed. There will usually be a triggering event that has forced them into a shelter before they are able to transition into stable housing.


This individual will oftentimes be employed or a student. They may become homeless due to a relationship breakdown, abuse, inability to find affordable housing, unemployment or illness. This person makes up the majority of those who seek services and will usually be able to transition back into stable housing once the underlying cause has been addressed.


Hidden


Hidden homelessness refers to the segment of the population that falls under the category of provisionally accommodated. It refers to people who temporarily live with others, without the guarantee of continued residency or immediate prospect of permanent housing. Hidden homelessness also refers to individuals who lack stable and/or permanent housing and those who are in eminent risk of becoming homeless.


This individual is often known as someone who is couchsurfing. They will live with friends and relatives for short periods of time, often bouncing from one home to another. They will also find short term housing in hotels and in their cars.


Individuals who are at risk for this category of homelessness are usually experiencing poverty, abuse, illness or other socio-economic conditions that will create housing instability. These individuals are considered hidden because they have yet to access services that are available to those experiencing homelessness and are therefore not counted in the statistics. It is estimated that for every 1 person experiencing some form of homelessness there are another 3.5 people who are hidden homeless.


More information on hidden homelessness can be found on Homeless Hub.


(1) Definition from https://www.homelesshub.ca/about-homelessness/homelessness-101/what-homelessness


Cover image coutesy of Pixbay