The Changing Definition of Homelessness Doesn’t Bode Well for Cities

The Department of Housing and Urban Development published an update to its technical definition of “chronic homelessness” in December 2015. The final ruling on December 4 included updates that are meant to better assist HUD in its Continuum of Care Program and Consolidated Plan.

HUD’s Role in Homelessness Alleviation

The Continuum of Care Program and the Consolidated Plan are federal initiatives to help alleviate the issues driving homeless numbers in urban areas. The CoC is concerned with providing funding for programs related to community and urban development, more specifically non-profit state and city initiatives.

The Consolidated Plan is designed to help states and municipalities better assess data related to homelessness. Using this data, cities can apply for numerous grants aimed at improving and restructuring urban housing situations.


Changes made to Homelessness Definition

HUD released a new definition of chronic homelessness after extensive concerns were voiced for the previous model. The new definition states that for an individual to be considered chronically homeless:

  • They must suffer from a “disability” including substance abuse, mental illness or developmental disorder, physical disability or post-traumatic stress disorder
  • They must have been living in a place “not suitable for human habitation” for 12 consecutive months prior to the annual homeless count, or on at least four separate occasions over three years (as long as the total amount of time amounts to 12 months)
  • They cannot have been living in a long-term shelter for more than 90 days

The Definition’s Effect on Cities

Because less homeless individuals are able to be counted in a city’s yearly point-in-time survey under this new definition, many municipalities are encountering difficulties obtaining funding. In some cases, the homeless count has disappeared completely, resulting in a complete inability to receive federal aid for urban renewal.

The reality is homelessness is an issue the United States has not been able to effectively tackle. The solution proposed by many, most notably the state of Utah, is simply to give the homelessness homes. However, even the execution of that idea hasn’t yielded viable results.

America has a long way to go before the homelessness issue is solved completely, but HUD’s new ruling is a step backward in the process.



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