Modifying the Definition of Homelessness

written by naehblog
April 20, 2010

Today's guest post is from our Senior Policy Analyst Norm Suchar.

The definition has been a controversial issue for many years, but Congress managed to achieve enough of a compromise to pass a homelessness bill last year, the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing Act, a.k.a. the HEARTH Act. The HEARTH Act made several changes to the definition, but, as is usually the case, it left some of the operational details to HUD, and HUD published its draft of those implementing regulations for comment this week.


We're still analyzing the regulations, but on first read, they're about what we expected. Currently, HUD considers people homeless if they are in one of the following situations:

1. Their nighttime residence is an emergency shelter, transitional housing program, or a place not meant for human habitation (e.g. car, sidewalk, park).

2. They are exiting an institutional setting where they resided for up to 30 days and immediately prior to entering the institution, they were living in a place not meant for human habitation or an emergency shelter.

3. They are in housing but are being evicted within the next 7 days and have no other place to go and no resources or support networks to obtain housing.

4. They are fleeing domestic violence and have no other place to go and no resources or support networks to obtain housing.

The new definition makes a few changes.

• It extends the time a person could be living in an institutional setting (number 2 above) to 90 days,

• It extends the amount of time prior to being evicted that a person would be considered homeless (number 3) to 14 days,

• And it creates a new category of homeless families with children or unaccompanied youth who have not lived independently for more than 90 days, have moved frequently (at least 3 times in the last 90 days) and have a disability or multiple barriers to employment that make it likely that they will continue to remain in an unstable situation.

These changes are most relevant for people who will now be considered homeless who weren't before. They will be eligible for more assistance, particularly shelter, transitional housing and permanent supportive housing programs. However, the programs will not grow in size to meet the new demand, so the overall number of people served won't change.

Providers that operate HUD funded homeless assistance programs will also be affected. More people will be eligible for their programs, and they will have to collect different types of documentation. Overall, though, the effects will be modest.

The draft regulation is open for public comment for 60 days (until June 21). HUD will then issue the final regulations.