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4 Types of Homelessness & How to Get Help

4 Types of Homelessness & How to Get Help

Despite misconceptions, there are 4 types of homelessness that affect people in a variety of different ways.

While these types of homelessness go by different names — episodic, transitional, chronic, and hidden — each presents its own set of challenges that people must overcome to find a permanent home. A lack of affordable housing, rampant poverty, waning public assistance programs, domestic abuse, mental illness, and other major factors contribute to homelessness in the United States. 

In this article, we’ll discuss homelessness in the United States, what the 4 types of homelessness are, how to distinguish their forms, and provide relevant resources for people experiencing them.

Homeless person 4 types of homelessness 4 types of homelessness

Homeless in the United States

There are many contributing factors to the United States’ high rates of homelessness, which has grown by about 3 percent in the last three years. What’s more, 2019 marked the third year in a row with an increase in homelessness, according to the most-recent annualized data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Seventeen out of every 10,000 people in the United States — 567,715 people in total — were experiencing homelessness on a single night in January 2019, according to HUD’s Annual Point-in-Time Count

Particular subpopulations are prevalent in homelessness data, the National Alliance to End Homelessness finds. Individuals — defined as those who are living on their own or in the company of other adults — represent about 70 percent of people experiencing the 4 types of homelessness.

Males are also significantly represented as about 60 percent of all people experiencing homelessness are men. Among individuals experiencing homelessness, about 70 percent are men and unaccompanied male youth.

Those without shelters are also heavily represented in U.S. homelessness. About 200,000 people — or 37 percent — experiencing homelessness are without a shelter, sleeping outside in tough conditions unsuitable for humans. Among individuals, the figures are more distressing as about 1 in 2 people are unsheltered.

Twelve states — Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, New York, Massachusetts, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington — have homeless populations of more than 10,000 people, according to the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness.

As homeless populations have grown and budgets for social programs slashed, the U.S. has largely failed to keep up with helping its homeless citizens. In 2019, the bed shortage in the U.S. states — the number of homeless people vs. the number of available beds — reached 192,793, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

people working a food bank 4 types of homelessness
Photo by: Joel Muniz

Transitional homelessness 

Many people wrongly assume that most homeless people have been without a home for a long period of time. In reality, most people are not chronically homeless but rather experiencing transitional homelessness. This is one of the most misunderstood of the 4 types of homelessness.

Transitional homelessness is generally regarded by housing experts as the most common form of homelessness. Transitional homelessness is defined as a state of homelessness that’s a result of a major life change or catastrophic event. Those life events could include losing a job, a medical condition, divorce, domestic abuse, and more. People experiencing transitional homelessness have been homeless for less than a year. 

Individuals experiencing transitional homelessness are more likely to be young people and may enter a transitional housing system for a limited stay. This group also can include families that are temporarily homeless and sleeping in cars or outside. Oftentimes, these people still have jobs but they are unable to afford rent and other expenses. 

Resources for transitional homelessness

The resources available to people experiencing transitional homelessness vary from state to state. A good way to start is to visit the National Alliance to End Homelessness’s 4-step process to get help.

The alliance’s process begins with contacting the Continuum of Care program, which is a vast resource that helps provide homelessness services across the United States. Contact your community’s Continuum of Care program to learn about access to shelter, housing, and other important resources that can help those experiencing any type of homelessness. You can find contact information information on specific resources in your area by looking at this map.

If you’re experiencing transitional homelessness, transitional housing may offer tremendous relief as you’re getting back on your feet and looking for permanent housing. Transitional housing is a step between an emergency crisis shelter and permanent housing. It aims to help people move from transitional homelessness to permanent housing by offering support, a structure to successfully exit homelessness, and at times, education and training for employment opportunities.

Two homeless people 4 types of homelessness
Photo by: Zac Durant

Episodic homelessness

Episodic homelessness refers to a person currently experiencing homelessness and has had at least three periods of homelessness in the last year. If a person experiences four episodes of homelessness within a year, they are classified as chronically homeless.

People experiencing episodic homelessness often skew younger and suffer from a type of disabling condition, such as substance abuse, mental illness, and/or medical problems. Without proper resources and help, episodic homelessness can eventually become chronic homelessness, another of the 4 types of homelessness.

Resources for episodic homelessness

Resources for episodic homelessness mirror those that are available to transitional homelessness. An important first step is to visit the National Alliance to End Homelessness’s 4-step process to get help. 

Through that process, you’ll contact your area’s Continuum of Care program, which provinces resources that will align you with resources to find housing, job opportunities, support for addiction, and more. A 2-1-1 hotline is also available in many communities, offering professional staff that can help people find services like a shelter, food, health care, and access to other social programs.

Another helpful resource for chronic or episodic homelessness is the National Coalition for the Homeless.

Homeless tents 4 types of homelessness
Photo by: Nathan Dumlao

Chronic homelessness

Chronic homelessness is defined as “an unaccompanied homeless individual with a disabling condition” experiencing homelessness for more than one year. Frequently, people experiencing chronic homelessness are facing a battle — such as a disability, mental health issue, addiction, and/or more — that’s thwarting their ability to permanently exit homelessness.

People experiencing chronic homelessness are often older and represent about 17 percent of the homeless population, according to National Alliance to End Homelessness. These people often have complex, long-term health issues and may live on the street, in a park, a car, a park, or another location that’s unsuitable for a human. Of the 4 types of homelessness, this is the one people are usually most familiar with.

Resources for chronic homelessness

People experiencing chronic homelessness are often harder to reach and may face additional challenges — such as access or the skills to use the Internet — in finding resources to help them exit homelessness.

Again, a good first step to overcome chronic homelessness is to visit the National Alliance to End Homelessness’s 4-step process to get help. This map can help you find contact information for resources in your area. Or look out this map to locate homeless shelters in the United States. 

If your area doesn’t have many resources, try contacting your County Department of Human or Social Services. Consider looking at nearby churches, social service non-profits, the library, or a food pantry to find more information on resources that can help. For more urgent needs, such as food, try this food bank locator that can connect you to resources in your area.  

If you are a veteran, call the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans at 1-877-424-3838. If you’re experiencing domestic violence, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. For young people, contact the National Runaway Safeline at 1-800-786-2929.

Couch surfing 4 types of homelessness
Photo by: Benjamin Combs

Hidden homelessness

Hidden homelessness is defined as individuals that are temporarily living with other people without plans for permanent housing. They are “hidden” because they do not access homelessness support resources and are not included in national statistics on homelessness because they cannot be easily identified. That’s why it’s so easy to forget that this is one of the 4 types of homelessness.

People experiencing hidden homelessness rely on friends, family, or neighbors for a home in which to live. These people are often unable to pay rent or afford other living expenses. Because they do not access homeless resources, it is nearly impossible to account for the number of people that are experiencing hidden homelessness. Experts contend that many in this population are younger people that can experience a variety of trauma and challenges as a result.

Resources for hidden homelessness

Hidden homelessness is remarkably common. Yet because these people do not access homelessness resources, we cannot understand the scale of the challenge.

If you are experiencing hidden homelessness, visit the National Alliance to End Homelessness’s 4-step process to get help. Through that, you can find a variety of resources and organizations in your area that can understand your situation and help you on the path to securing work, overcoming health challenges, and/or finding permanent housing.

In conclusion

We hope through this piece you’ve learned more about the state of homelessness in the United States, the 4 types of homelessness — episodic, transitional, hidden, and chronic — as well as some of the resources for people that are homeless.

Remember, you are not alone. There are many smart, compassionate people, programs, and organizations that want to help you on the path to exiting homelessness and finding your permanent home. 

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