Recognizing what homeless really means

During the recent storm, thousands and thousands of people lost their homes either permanently or for an extended period of time. These people span the socioeconomic spectrum; many have assets, good jobs, and degrees from a university. They are, by definition, homeless.

The HUD definition of homelessness includes:

  • People who are living in a place not meant for human habitation, in emergency shelter, in transitional housing, or are exiting an institution where they temporarily resided. The only significant change from existing practice is that people will be considered homeless if they are exiting an institution where they resided for up to 90 days (it was previously 30 days), and were in shelter or a place not meant for human habitation immediately prior to entering that institution.
  • People who are losing their primary nighttime residence, which may include a motel or hotel or a doubled up situation, within 14 days and lack resources or support networks to remain in housing. HUD had previously allowed people who were being displaced within 7 days to be considered homeless. The proposed regulation also describes specific documentation requirements for this category.
  • Families with children or unaccompanied youth who are unstably housed and likely to continue in that state. This is a new category of homelessness, and it applies to families with children or unaccompanied youth who have not had a lease or ownership interest in a housing unit in the last 60 or more days, have had two or more moves in the last 60 days, and who are likely to continue to be unstably housed because of disability or multiple barriers to employment.
  • People who are fleeing or attempting to flee domestic violence, have no other residence, and lack the resources or support networks to obtain other permanent housing. This category is similar to the current practice regarding people who are fleeing domestic violence.

It is not only after environmental destruction that “stable” individuals enter homelessness. Anything could be a trigger: a health problem, a dangerous or failed relationship, poor investments, landlord issues… you name it. Homelessness is very real. It has a bad rap – homeless individuals are often called lazy, unmotivated, stupid, a waste of public dollars – that is not fair. Sure, some people are absolutely those things, homeless or not. But for most, homelessness was not an expected consequence of actions nor a desirable place to be. It removes stability, reduces quality of life, increases reliance on a system that is far from perfect, and makes maintaining a routine challenging. There are fewer comforts and luxuries, and it’s a downward spiral to staying afloat.

Supporting stronger housing infrastructure and nonprofits working to combat homelessness has always felt important to me, and I think a silver lining of widespread housing disaster is that the problem is more vividly illuminated. Empathy and withholding of judgement, at the very least, towards folks who are considered homeless is non-negotiable.

If you want to learn more about homelessness and initiatives to combat it, the National Alliance to End Homelessness, HUD, BRC, and the Somerville Homeless Coalition (a favorite organization of mine) are great places to start, or feel free to email me.

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