Who Are the Homeless?

On a single night in January 2014, 578,424 people were experiencing homelessness in the United States—meaning they were sleeping outside, in an emergency shelter or in a transitional housing program.

There are two central types of homelessness that individuals face — chronic and episodic. Chronically homeless individuals compose about 15% of the overall homeless population. They have a disabling condition and have been continuously homeless for 1 year or more or have experienced at least 4 episodes of homelessness in the last 3 years. Because of these factors, these individuals spend more nights in jail, in emergency rooms, and in shelters than the episodically homeless. This smaller group within the homeless population costs state and federal governments substantially more money than the episodically homeless so government programs tend to target helping the chronically homeless over the episodically homeless. Episodically homeless individuals usually have places to call home for the majority of the year and are only homelessness for short periods of time due to financial, social, or health issues.

Factors That Lead to Homelessness

In looking at the causes of homelessness, literature usually falls into two camps: personal and structural causes. Structural proponents argue that poor housing markets, economic conditions relating to deindustrialization, a lack of a safety net, and discrimination, lead to the high rates of homelessness found in the United States. Personal proponents argue that issues such as mental illness, substance abuse, age, incarceration, marital status, and domestic violence are the central causes of homelessness.

While it is difficult to pinpoint the central causes of homelessness, there is a common trajectory in a homeless person’s life where financial instability forces them to lose their own home, they then move in with a family and friend, and then a personal conflict or financial restraint forces the family or friend to ask the person to leave their home, thus becoming homeless.

A Short List of Government Programs

Opening Doors, started in 2009 by the Obama Administration, is the nation’s first comprehensive federal strategy to prevent and end homelessness. Its goals are to prevent and end homelessness among Veterans in 2015 (they’ve taken strides but haven’t reached their goal yet) and end chronic homelessness by 2017.

The HEARTH Act, passed in 2009, placed a greater emphasis on permanent supportive housing and rapid re-housing as permanent housing solutions to homelessness. The shift away from transitional housing as a response to homelessness began to be seen in 2013 and continues today.

Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness (PATH) is a formula grant program that distributes funds to states to support local organizations providing services for people with serious mental illness (including those with co-occurring substance use disorders) who are homeless or at imminent risk of becoming homeless.

Section 8 Housing Vouchers: A family or individual that is issued a housing voucher is responsible for finding a suitable housing unit of the family’s choice where the owner agrees to rent under the program. A housing subsidy is paid to the landlord directly by the PHA on behalf of the participating family. The family then pays the difference between the actual rent charged by the landlord and the amount subsidized by the program.

Homelessness In Connecticut

In 2015, there were around 4,000 experience homelessness each night in Connecticut. 1,418 people were in a shelter, 994 were in transitional housing, and 626 were unsheltered. This represents an overall decrease of nine percent statement from 2014 in homelessness, and a ten percent decrease from 2007. Around 700 of these homeless live in New Haven. In 2014, New Haven underwent an 100-day-challenge to house 100 homeless in New Haven as well as streamline the application process for homeless to enter shelters and find housing.

The Shelters We Visit

Columbus House

The shelter that we visit provides beds, meals, and case management for 81 adult men and women daily. However, Columbus House also offers shelter services, transitional housing, permanet supportive housing, and income and housing security to its clients in residences throughout the greter New Haven Area. They have a maximum stay of 2 years. People in the two year program, pay 30% of monthly income after deducting medical expenses, childcare expenses, court-ordered payments; an additional $20 for basic phone, cable and Internet.

Martha’s Place

Martha’s Place has 33 beds homeless, and 18 specifically for single women. They offer Emergency housing for single women (or women with children) with a substance abuse problem or mental disability with a limit on 60-day stays.

Fellowship Place

Fellowship Place provides a permanent and affordable home for 26 individuals. All tenants are eligible for case management and support services to help them be successful. Rents are subsidized by The Housing Authority of the City of New Haven. Fellowship Place is a full-service psycho-social center, open 365 days a year, providing a broad range of housing, support, rehabilitation and employment services to help adults with chronic mental illness.