Chronic Homelessness - Policy

Strengthening federal commitment – through an investment in permanent supportive housing programs – can end chronic homelessness.

On a single night in 2016, 77,486 homeless individuals were considered chronically homeless. Since 2007, that number has declined by 35 percent due – at least in part – to an increase in the amount of permanent supportive housing in the country.

A chronically homeless individual is someone who has a disability and has experienced homelessness for a year or longer, or someone who has a disability and has experienced at least four episodes of homelessness in the last three years. A homeless family with an adult member who meets this description would also be considered chronically homeless.

Many people experiencing chronic homelessness live with serious mental illnesses like schizophrenia and may struggle with alcohol or drug addiction.

The solution to chronic homelessness is permanent supportive housing. Permanent supportive housing is cost-effective: a landmark study of homeless individuals with serious mental illness in New York City found that, on average, more than $23,000 was saved to publicly-funded systems for each constructed unit of permanent supportive housing.

Key federal programs to prevent and end chronic homelessness include:

  • HUD's McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants Programs;
  • Mainstream housing programs;
  • Services and income (including Supplemental Security Income and Medicaid); and
  • Mainstream systems, including mental health, health care, substance abuse treatment, criminal justice, and other community-based service programs.


Library Resources

Federal Policy Brief | January 18, 2012
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has issued a final regulation to implement changes to the definition of homelessness contained in the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act. The new definition is outlined here.
Webinar | May 6, 2011
Listen to a recording of Talking Medicaid, the May 4 webinar sponsored by the Alliance. The slide presentation is also available for downloading.
Solutions Brief | January 19, 2007
This two-page brief highlights three cities - New York, NY, Denver, CO, and Portland, OR - that have done studies of the cost effectiveness of providing supportive housing for homeless people with mental illness and/or addictions. The studies demonstrate that the cost of providing supportive housing is about the same or less than the cost of allowing them to remain homeless.