Finding a Home After Homelessness

More than half a million Americans are experiencing homelessness on any given night. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, most people who experience homelessness are single adults. However, families with children make up 35 percent of the homeless population and veterans make up around nine percent.1

On a single night in January, 2017, an estimated 57,971 families were homeless, and around 17,000 of them were living on the street, in a car or in another place not fit a human to live. That same night, around 40,056 veterans and nearly 41,000 youth were counted as homeless.

What Causes Homelessness?

Common misconceptions about homelessness include the belief that people experiencing homelessness are addicted to drugs or have severe mental problems.  The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimates that around half of the people living in supportive housing programs either had a substance use disorder, a mental illness, or both. The other roughly 50 percent of individuals are without a home due to other circumstances, including:

  • Deep poverty
  • Home foreclosures, which have increased by more than 30 percent over the past 10 years
  • Medical bills that lead to bankruptcy and foreclosure
  • Serious health problems or disabilities that leave little money for housing
  • A loss of employment or the inability to find a job
  • A decline in funding for public assistance programs
  • A lack of affordable housing
  • Increases in rental costs

Other common reasons for homelessness include domestic violence, reduced work hours and large, unanticipated bills that throw finances into turmoil.

The Good News

Percentages of the Homeless Population

The good news is that since 2007, homelessness has decreased by 14.4 percent overall and by 34.3 percent among veterans and 27.4 percent among people experiencing chronic homelessness. This is mostly due a shift in homeless assistance, which now puts focuses more on permanent housing solutions and less on transitional housing programs.

Types of Help for Finding a Home

The first step to getting help for homelessness is to get in touch with the shelter system in your community. Many communities have a 2-1-1 hotline with trained staff available around the clock to help people access emergency shelter, health care, food and other necessities. The Continuum of Care program is available in many communities and serves as the “front door” for homelessness services.

If your community doesn’t offer these programs, get in touch with your nearest Health and Human Services department for information and assistance. Different housing assistance programs have different requirements, but organizations that can’t help you will point you in the direction of those that can. A number of federal and state programs can help individuals and families find safe, affordable housing.

HUD makes it possible for apartment owners to offer lower rents to low-income tenants. Search online for subsidized housing, and apply for the lowered rent at the management office of the apartment complex. 2

Public housing is owned by the government and provides housing for people with low incomes. Public housing ranges from single family homes to high rise apartment buildings, and the rent is affordable for residents who qualify. Your local public housing agency will provide you with information about qualifying for and finding public housing.

HUD also offers a program that helps public housing residents become homeowners. A public housing authority may sell a residence or public housing development to eligible residents or organizations for the purposes of home ownership. Contact your local public housing agency for information about home ownership programs.

 An alternative to privately owned subsidized housing and public housing is the Housing Choice Voucher Program, previously referred to as Section 8, which allows you to find your own place to live and use a voucher to pay for some or all of the rent. Applications for the Housing Choice Voucher Program can be completed through your local public housing agency. If you currently experiencing homelessness, you may be able to be placed on a priority list, so make sure to include your current housing status when applying.

Throughout the country, HUD-approved housing counseling agencies provide advice to individuals concerning buying or renting a home, defaults, foreclosures, credit issues and homeless counseling.3  Funding may also be available depending upon availability and the housing agency.
Veterans experiencing homelessness can take advantage of a variety of resources to help find a home, including the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans, which offers confidential counseling around the clock for veterans at risk of homelessness.4 Additionally, the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans provides a directory of local providers of homeless services and offers help navigating the resources available.5

Young people who are at risk of homelessness can call the National Runaway Safeline for services and confidential help.6

People who are homeless and disabled can apply for disability benefits through Social Security Disability Insurance, or SSDI. 7 Indicate that you’re homeless during the application process for help accessing additional resources.

Coordinated Entry and Continuum of Care

What is Coordinated Entry?

Coordinated entry is a process developed by HUD to ensure that everyone experiencing homelessness has fair and equal access to housing.8 The purpose is to quickly identifiy people in need of housing, assess their needs and connects them to housing and housing assistance as quickly as possible. This ensures that people and families with the highest vulnerability and most pressing needs receive top priority in housing placement. All homeless assistance organizations are involved in the coordinated entry process and help people access the system. Mental health, substance abuse service providers and Veteran’s Affairs medical centers are among the institutions that can serve as an access point for coordinated entry.

What does the Continuum of Care do?

The Continuum of Care system was initiated by HUD in 1994 to promote a coordinated, strategic approach for programs that assist families and individuals experiencing homelessness.9 Communities that have a Continuum of Care system in place recognize the importance of prevention, outreach and assessment, and they help people into emergency shelter, transitional programs, supportive housing, permanent housing and a wide range of support services that help people succeed in housing. Continuum of Care systems use the coordinated entry process to ensure fair and equal access to housing for all people experiencing homelessness.

Housing First Policies: How They Help

What is “Housing First”?

Housing First is a HUD-directed approach to addressing homelessness that removes barriers and preconditions to entry. The old approach only addressed individuals’ housing problems once they have participated in and graduated from a short-term residential treatment program or met other conditions. Housing First is quickly replacing the previous path to permanent housing. Under the old approach, homeless individuals were only offered housing once they could demonstrate that they were “ready” for it.

How does “Housing First” help?

Housing First policies are followed by the coordinated entry process and Continuum of Care system and prioritize helping people find housing as soon as possible, depending on availability and need. Housing First is based on a number of principles, according to HUD:10

  • Homelessness is a housing crisis first and foremost
  • All homeless individuals can achieve housing stability, regardless of their housing history and duration of homelessness
  • Sobriety and compliance in treatment aren’t necessary to maintain successful housing. Everyone is “housing ready”
  • Achieving housing is shown to improve quality of life in the areas of physical and mental health, substance use and employment
  • People experiencing homelessness have the right to be treated with dignity and respect
  • The configuration of housing and services depends on the unique needs and preferences of the individual

Housing agencies using Housing First policies remove any preconditions and prerequisites that would bar someone from getting housing assistance. Supportive admissions policies are designed to screen in rather than screen out applicants, and a rapid and streamlined entry into housing reduces the anxiety of waiting for approval and assistance.

Reaching Out is the First Step

There’s a lot of help for homeless individuals at the city, state and federal levels. The first step to getting help for homelessness is to reach out to your local 2-1-1 hotline, Continuum of Care program, or contact the nearest Health and Human Services department. Programs for individuals experiencing homelessness provide emergency shelter to get people off the streets, and they assist with finding permanent, affordable housing. They provide access to a variety of services to address a range of problems that led to the housing emergency in the first place.

Homelessness takes a toll on your physical and emotional health, and getting help is essential for improving your safety, sense of wellbeing and quality of life. Getting back on your feet isn’t easy, but with the proper help, you can find your way back home.