We hear the word “homeless” all the time, but what does it really mean? At the most basic level, homeless means to be without an adequate home or shelter. But, like most things, the condition itself is more complicated than that. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), homelessness falls into four main categories:
- Individuals and families who lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence;
- Individuals and families at high risk of losing their primary nighttime residence;
- Unaccompanied youth and families with children and youth defined as homeless under federal statutes but who do not qualify as homeless under this definition;
- And individuals and families fleeing or attempting to flee domestic or dating violence, sexual assault, stalking or other dangerous or life-threatening situations.
The National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH) says the largest population that experiences homelessness in America are single adults. The most vulnerable of these adults are those considered chronically homeless.
What is chronic homelessness?
The chronically homeless are individuals who have been without a home continuously for at least a year or on four separate occasions in the last three years. In many cases, they are substance users, struggling with serious mental illness or have a physical disability. The latest data from NAEH shows there were 96,141 homeless individuals with chronic patterns of homelessness on a single night in 2019. That reflects nearly a quarter of the total population of homeless individuals in the U.S. Once a person becomes homeless – and especially if they have complex or long-term health issues – it can be difficult to get back on their feet. By focusing on critical needs like housing, transportation, employment, substance abuse counseling, mental health treatment and job skills, communities can address not only the effects of homelessness but why people end up there in the first place.
How about short-term homelessness?
In some cases, people end up temporarily homeless due to a catastrophic event, such as a medical emergency, job loss, domestic situation, etc. This is called event-based or situational homelessness, and it includes most families with children. It is also the most common type of homelessness in Huntsville. There are several local agencies, including First Stop, doing important work to help our homeless population better themselves and not just sustain. First Stop, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) grant-based organization, provides free hot meals, basic healthcare, showers, mail and laundry services, transportation and much more to its clients. They also employ full-time case managers to work personally with homeless residents to address obstacles, find employment and ultimately transition into permanent housing. Whether you’re chronically or situationally homeless, First Stop and its partner agencies are working diligently to meet your needs and provide resources to help you achieve sustainable, independent living.
How to help
If you’re an individual, business, nonprofit or church looking to give back, First Stop accepts volunteers as well as monetary and food donations to meet its clients’ needs. Nonprofit agencies, community organizations, corporations and churches can also make a difference by using online CharityTracker software administered by Expect Little Miracles (ELM) to identify what other local groups are doing to help the homeless.