Chronic Homelessness

What is the nature and extent of chronic or long-term homelessness?

HUD defines a chronically homeless person as “an unaccompanied individual with a disabling condition” who has been continuously homeless for a year or more, or has had at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years.

Chronic homelessness may be caused by substance abuse, mental illness, or physical disabilities. Due to the nature of homelessness, it is very difficult to measure the number of chronic homeless across the country.

The National Alliance to End Homelessness estimates that on any given night between 700,000 and 800,000 men, women and children are homeless in America. Most homeless people are homeless only once or twice and only for a brief time.  About 10-20 percent, however, spend long periods without a place to call home (see Estimates of Chronic Homelessness by State for state-by-state estimates).

Chronic homelessness is costly.  People who are chronically homeless survive within the shelter system, or in a combination of shelters, hospitals, on the streets or in jail.

A congressionally mandated Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) to count the homeless is producing annual data about the number of homeless individuals. View their 2007 report here.