Understanding Housing Emergencies and Available Housing Resources
Many people experience a housing emergency at some point in their lives. Learn about the causes, costs, and misconceptions about homelessness as well as where to find housing assistance.
More than half a million Americans are experiencing homelessness on any given night. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, most people who experience homelessness are single adults. However, families with children make up 35 percent of the homeless population and veterans make up around nine percent.(1)
On a single night in January 2017, an estimated 57,971 families were homeless, and around 17,000 of them were living on the street, in a car or in another place not fit a human to live. That same night, around 40,056 veterans and nearly 41,000 youth were counted as homeless.
What Causes Homelessness?
In 2017, 6.7 million households spent more than 50 percent of their income on rent. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimates that around half of the people living in supportive housing programs either had a substance use disorder, a mental illness, or both. The other roughly 50 percent of individuals are without a home due to other circumstances, including:
•Home foreclosures, which have increased by more than 30 percent over the past 10 years
•Medical bills that lead to bankruptcy and foreclosure
•Serious health problems or disabilities that leave little money for housing
•A loss of employment or the inability to find a job
•A decline in funding for public assistance programs
•A lack of affordable housing
•Increases in rental costs
•Other common reasons for homelessness include domestic violence, reduced work hours and large, unanticipated bills that throw finances into turmoil.
About 70 percent of the people experiencing homelessness are men.
33 percent of the people experiencing homelessness are families with children.
25 percent of people experiencing chronic homelessness are also struggling with a disability.
African Americans represent 12 percent of the general population but represent 40 percent of the homeless population. American Indian, Alaska Natives, Multiracial and Hispanic populations are also over represented in homelessness count numbers.
Young families are at risk: 51.3 percent of families with children who were homeless in 2016 were between the ages of 18 and 30.
10 to 15% of all people who become homeless will experience chronic homelessness.
The Good News
The good news is that since 2007, homelessness has decreased by 14. 4 percent overall and by 34. 3 percent among veterans and 27. 4 percent among people experiencing chronic homelessness. This is mostly due a shift in homeless assistance, which now puts focuses more on permanent housing solutions and less on transitional housing programs.
The Cost of Homelessness
Former U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan says the cost of ignoring homelessness is about $40,000 per person. This is the total spent on shelters, emergency rooms and jails for people experiencing homelessness. The cost to permanently house these people could be as low as $13,000 to $25,000- essentially cutting the cost for supporting people experiencing homelessness in half.
During a housing emergency there are many factors that influence the situation. It can be challenging to travel to and from work when experiencing homelessness as transportation may be limited.
In 2010, a third of college educated adults had jobs that did not pay a living wage. Leaving them vulnerable in cases of an unexpected cost like a car repair.
Around 25% of people experiencing homelessness are also employed. Shelter hours can also be very strict in some instances, making it challenging for working people without a home to secure a good nights sleep. Sleep deprivation can noticeable affect performance, including the ability to think clearly, react quickly and form memories. Lack of adequate sleep can also affect mood, irritability and anxiety. All of these factors can make it challenging to hold stable employment while also dealing with a housing emergency.
Homelessness can have a large impact on developing children. Homelessness can become a barrier to education, health, a sense of safety, and overall development in children. Children experiencing homelessness more frequently:
•Struggle with emotional and behavioral problems
have serious health problems
•Experience a separation from family
•Repeat a grade, drop out of school or have other educational challenges
Types of Help for Finding a Home
Housing First Policies
What is “Housing First”?
Housing First is a HUD-directed approach to addressing homelessness that removes barriers and preconditions to entry. The old approach only addressed individuals’ housing problems once they have participated in and graduated from a short-term residential treatment program or met other conditions. Housing First is quickly replacing the previous path to permanent housing. Under the old approach, homeless individuals were only offered housing once they could demonstrate that they were “ready” for it.
How does “Housing First” help?
Housing First policies are followed by the coordinated entry process and Continuum of Care system and prioritize helping people find housing as soon as possible, depending on availability and need. Housing First is based on a number of principles, according to HUD.10
Housing agencies using Housing First policies remove any preconditions and prerequisites that would bar someone from getting housing assistance. Supportive admissions policies are designed to screen in rather than screen out applicants, and a rapid and streamlined entry into housing reduces the anxiety of waiting for approval and assistance.
What is Coordinated Entry?
Coordinated entry is a process developed by HUD to ensure that everyone experiencing homelessness has fair and equal access to housing.8 The purpose is to quickly identifiy people in need of housing, assess their needs and connects them to housing and housing assistance as quickly as possible. This ensures that people and families with the highest vulnerability and most pressing needs receive top priority in housing placement. All homeless assistance organizations are involved in the coordinated entry process and help people access the system. Mental health, substance abuse service providers and Veteran’s Affairs medical centers are among the institutions that can serve as an access point for coordinated entry.
What does the Continuum of Care do?
The Continuum of Care system was initiated by HUD in 1994 to promote a coordinated, strategic approach for programs that assist families and individuals experiencing homelessness.9 Communities that have a Continuum of Care system in place recognize the importance of prevention, outreach and assessment, and they help people into emergency shelter, transitional programs, supportive housing, permanent housing and a wide range of support services that help people succeed in housing. Continuum of Care systems use the coordinated entry process to ensure fair and equal access to housing for all people experiencing homelessness.
Reaching Out is the First Step
There’s a lot of help for homeless individuals at the city, state and federal levels. The first step to getting help for homelessness is to reach out to your local 2-1-1 hotline, Continuum of Care program, or contact the nearest Health and Human Services department. Programs for individuals experiencing homelessness provide emergency shelter to get people off the streets, and they assist with finding permanent, affordable housing. They provide access to a variety of services to address a range of problems that led to the housing emergency in the first place.
Homelessness takes a toll on your physical and emotional health, and getting help is essential for improving your safety, sense of wellbeing and quality of life. Getting back on your feet isn’t easy, but with the proper help, you can find your way back home.