About the Issues

What is homelessness?

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defines a homeless person as someone without a “fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence” who lives in a shelter, in transitional housing or somewhere “not designed for human habitation.” This definition also includes people who are exiting institutions such as hospitals and prisons who were homeless before they entered.

Other definitions account for people who “double up” with friends, relatives and loved ones because they have lost their homes.

Nationally, more than 3.5 million people are homeless in a given year, around 1% of the American population (Source: National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness).

Homelessness is divided into chronic and episodic homelessness.

Chronic homelessness is defined as a situation in which a person has been homeless for at least 12 months. It is often connected to mental health issues, substance abuse or veteran status. Many chronically homeless people need  services such as alcohol/drug rehabilitation, psychiatric care, medical care and casework before they are considered “housing ready.” Around 10% of homeless people are chronically homeless, and around 25% are veterans (Source: National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness).

Episodic homelessness describes instances of homelessness that are shorter than one year. 90% of cases are episodic. Most cases of episodic homelessness involve families losing their homes. Economic reasons such as unemployment, eviction and foreclosure are common causes. Domestic violence, natural disasters, relationship breakdowns and other factors can cause or aggravate episodic homelessness (Source: National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness).

About homelessness in Rhode Island

The rate of homelessness in the United States has skyrocketed as a result of the recent economic crisis. In Rhode Island, 4,447 people have used the shelter system the past 12 months (Source: Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless, 2014).

This graph from the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless illustrates the number of people who  are living on the street or in shelters. It does not include those who are “doubling up” with friends, relatives and loved ones, a group that includes approximately 20,000 Rhode Island residents (Source: Professor Eric Hirsch, Providence College).

In 2010, the distribution of homeless people in Rhode Island was as follows:

  • 51% experienced homelessness for the first time
  • 39% were families
  • 13% were children 5 years or younger (about 578 children)
  • 41% were female
  • 12% were employed