Understanding Homelessness

Are you just one extra expense away from homelessness? What about your neighbor? It could be that simple.

All homelessness is characterized by extreme poverty coupled with a lack of stable housing.

Why are people Homeless?


A lack of affordable housing and the limited scale of housing assistance programs have contributed to the current housing crisis and to homelessness. Recently, foreclosures have also increased the number of people who experience homelessness.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates that the 2017 Housing Wage is $21.21 per hour, exceeding the $16.38 hourly wage earned by the average renter by almost $5.00 an hour, and greatly exceeding wages earned by low income renter households. In fact, the hourly wage needed for renters hoping to afford a two-bedroom rental home is $13.96 higher than the national minimum wage of $7.25.


Homelessness and poverty are inextricably linked. Poor people are frequently unable to pay for housing, food, childcare, health care, and education. Difficult choices must be made when limited resources cover only some of these necessities. Often it is housing, which absorbs a high proportion of income that must be dropped. If you are poor, you are essentially an illness, an accident, or a paycheck away from living on the streets.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the national poverty rate in 2016 was 12.7%. There were 40.6 million people in poverty. While the poverty rate has been slowly declining since 2014, a couple of factors account for continuing poverty:

1.Lack of employment opportunities; 2. Decline in available public assistance; 3. Lack of affordable health care; 4. Domestic violence; 5. Mental illness; 6. Addiction

It is more than someone sleeping and living on the streets. The main reason is lack of affordable housing.

Types of Homelessness


Persons most like the stereotyped profile of the “skid-row” homeless, who are likely to be entrenched in the shelter system and for whom shelters are more like long-term housing rather than an emergency arrangement. They also live on the street, in a car, park or other location on suitable for human habitation.

These individuals are like to be older, and consist of the “hard-core unemployed,” often suffering from disabilities, complex long-term health issues and substance abuse problems. Yet, such persons represent a far smaller proportion of the population compared to the transitionally homeless.


Transitional homelessness accounts for the majority of persons experiencing homelessness and has a higher rate of turnover.

These individuals and families generally enter the shelter system for only one stay and for a short period. Such persons are likely to be younger, are probably recent members of the precariously housed population and have become homeless because of some catastrophic event. They’ve been forced to spend a short time in a homeless shelter, on the street, in their car or live in a park before making a transition into more stable housing.


Those who frequently shuttle in and out of homelessness are known as episodically homeless. They are most likely to be young, but unlike those in transitional homelessness, episodically homeless individuals often are chronically unemployed and experience medical, mental health and substance abuse problems.


These individuals are known as ‘provisionally occupied’ and are experiencing what is known as ‘hidden homelessness.’ This specifically refers to individuals temporarily living “stealthily” in their cars, with others (or ‘couch-surfing’) without a guarantee that they will be able to stay long-term and without immediate prospects for acquiring permanent housing. This often describes people staying with friends or relatives because they lack other housing opportunities. This population is considered ‘hidden’ because they do not access homeless supports and services, despite their need for them. Many are working but cannot afford housing for various reasons. This group usually does not appear in standard homelessness statistics.

Many people do not understand how a homeless person can take care of their dog, cat or other pet.

Why do homeless people have pets?


Homeless people are often isolated and rejected by others. People treat them badly or pretend they don’t exist. Pets provide companionship, and during scary nights on the streets, they offer protection and comfort. Most homeless people make sure that their pets are well fed even if they are hungry themselves. They love their pets and treat them better than many people who live in houses treat their own pets.

These homeless individuals are the type of people we serve. They may not have homes, but they have dignity, compassion, love, and a need for relationship.

They are not second-class people. They are just like you and me.

Contributed by RunnersRefuge.org

Most families and youth who are homeless do not stay in shelters, transitional housing or on the streets.

  • 3.7% are unsheltered and 13% were staying in shelters. The rest were in motels or staying temporarily with others due to lack of alternatives.
  • Of the 13 – 17 year olds who experienced homelessness, nearly three quarters stayed with others while lacking a home of their own.


Resources: https://nhchc.org/understanding-homelessness/faq/; https://joinpdx.org/the-many-forms-of-homelessness/; http://nationalhomeless.org/about-homelessness/