Here’s What You Need to Know About the Largest Portion of the Homeless Population

written by Martena Reed
August 6, 2014

Often what most people think of when they think “homeless” is someone experiencing chronic homelessness: a disabled individual who has been homeless for longer than a year or more, or who has experienced at least four episodes of homelessness in the last three years. But the truth is that such individuals account for a small percentage of the overall population. (On a given night in 2013, they made up just 18 percent.)

In fact, as most people working in the homeless field are already aware, the largest segment of the homeless population is made up of non-chronically homeless single adults. A non-chronically homeless single adult is not homeless as part of a family and is either transitionally homeless (experiencing homelessness once and never returning) or episodically homeless, experiencing multiples episodes of homelessness and more likely to have a substance abuse or mental health issue.

In 2014, there were about 280,000 non-chronically homeless single adults—making up more than half of the total homeless population. The size of the sub-population may be surprising, but it’s actually not that different than what we have seen in previous years. Every year since we began using Point-in-Time Counts to track the numbers of people experiencing homelessness, non-chronically homeless single adults have made up the majority of the homeless population.

Despite the size of this segment of the population, resources and research have not focused on them. At our National Conference last week, a panel of experts gathered to discuss the scope of this subpopulation, potential crisis response system strategies, and possible intervention strategies for single, non-chronic adult homelessness.

In case you missed it, here’s a quick breakdown of some of the significant points of discussion that speakers on the panel covered during the workshop.

The average person experiencing homelessness is not homeless for a long period of time, and is a young adult or middle-aged.

  • 37 percent of homeless individuals are homeless for a week or less, and 66 percent are homeless for 30 days or fewer.
  • Between 2007 and 2013, homelessness among single adults ages 18 to 30 and 51 to 61 increased. In 2013, almost half of sheltered individuals were either 18 to 30 or 51 to 61 years old.

Most homeless individuals with a disability are NOT chronically homeless.

  • Almost all homeless single adults who live with a mental illness, medical condition, or substance abuse problem are actually not chronically homeless: 74 percent are temporarily homeless, and 11 percent are episodically homeless.
  • Between 2007 and 2014, non-chronic single adults have continuously represented about half of the total homeless population.

We can end homelessness for single, non-chronically homeless adults, too.

  • Rapid re-housing works. An evaluation of SSVF rapid re-housing showed that just one year after receiving rapid re-housing, 84 percent of single adults had not returned to homelessness.
  • We can assume most are employable. Since the group tends to be homeless for a month or less, immediate help searching for and securing employment could speed up their return to housing.

What can communities do to help this subpopulation?

  • Analyze your community data;
  • Use your community data to inform strategies; and
  • Be innovative.

Columbus, Ohio recently analyzed their local data and is now transforming the city’s crisis response system for single adults based on the results. Communities should be using their data to answer questions like, ‘what is the average length of stay for single adults in your community?’ And, ‘how quickly do the majority of them exit homelessness?’ Then, use the data to try some strategies.

Consider what will work for those who do not exit homelessness on their own. And, don’t be afraid to try something you haven’t tried before.