After 33 years of experience in serving the unhoused and at-risk of homelessness, JOURNEYS is well-versed in what homelessness is and looks like. However, not everyone agrees on how to define homelessness.
According to the Oxford Encyclopedia of Social Work, homelessness is defined as “the situation where someone lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence." This definition, unfortunately, is not specific enough for all tracking agencies to record homelessness in the same way, causing disparities in accounting for homelessness to arise.
For instance, Chicago’s homelessness count for 2020 was interpreted in two drastically different ways: the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless counted doubled-up households, which are two or more households sharing a single residence, in their count and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) didn’t. While HUD only excluded one population, the contrast between the two organization’s final numbers is shocking. HUD totaled 5,390 people experiencing homelessness, but the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless reported 65,611.
After adding the doubled-up households’ population to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless’ final estimate, their count included significantly more people than HUD’s, creating a very different picture of what homelessness looked like in January of 2020. Without the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless’ report, doubled-up households would not be considered as a population that needs support from government and homelessness agencies. This discrepancy is concerning since doubled-up households were the largest subpopulation recorded in 2020’s homelessness count for Chicago.
Recording homelessness is thus variable due to its loose definition, which causes misinformation to spread on the state of homelessness. Since HUD’s definition of homelessness excludes doubled-up households, people are left to believe that there are only 5,390 people needing homelessness support in Chicago, but this is not the full picture according to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.
This lack of congruity ultimately creates a problem for those tasked with eradicating homelessness since help cannot be administrated to all housing insecure people if some populations are being excluded. The question of whether or not doubled-up households should be included in the definition of homelessness is currently being debated, meaning there could be room for them in Oxford’s definition. If included, doubled-up households would also be eligible to receive homelessness support from the government and homelessness agencies focused on serving the unhoused in their area, just like any other homeless population.
Understanding which categories should make up the homelessness population is crucial in order to possess the right tools to fight homelessness. JOURNEYS ǀ The Road Home understands this importance, giving all of its potential clients the opportunity to receive the services they need, no matter how they are experiencing homelessness. Our case managers communicate with our clients in order to alert JOURNEYS about their current needs as trends regarding homelessness support are always changing.
JOURNEYS ǀ The Road Home promises to serve people enduring housing insecurities within its service area of 37 north and northwest suburban Cook County, and JOURNEYS will continue to work with its clients inclusively so they may receive the help they need.
To get involved or donate to JOURNEYS’ mission, visit our website: journeystheroadhome.org and follow us on Facebook.
Written by Baily Kearney, Grant Associate, edited by Roxanne Gentry, Marketing Associate
JOURNEYS is dedicated to assisting all people in our service area experiencing homelessness or at risk of becoming homeless. This means that sometimes we work with children and their families who are facing hardship, instability, and housing insecurity.
All too often, homelessness and discrimination go hand-in-hand. One of the unique problems that unhoused or at-risk youths face is the sudden instability not only of shelter and basic needs, but also of their education. When youths and/or their families become unhoused, they often seek refuge outside their immediate community. This movement can exacerbate transportation issues or become at odds with a school district’s residential boundaries. Students may even lack the necessary documentation to become registered at a school due to unstable housing or frequent moves.
Luckily, the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act helps to ensure that students can maintain access to their education regardless of their housing status. Passed in 1987, the Act is federal, bipartisan legislation that helped to crystallize homelessness as a "national problem requiring a national response" (National Coalition for the Homeless).
One of the major affordances of the Act is that it allows students to attend their school of origin—the school they attended before they began experiencing homelessness—regardless of their current residence in that district. This measure is important because access to a familiar learning environment has benefits on a student’s social-emotional learning. Furthermore, the Act requires that schools provide transportation to all students—regardless of their residence in the school district they are attending—to make attendance possible, a significant measure since many unhoused and at-risk families lack reliable transportation.
JOURNEYS operates the School Advocacy Program in compliance with the McKinney-Vento Act to ensure that each unhoused and at-risk youth has equal access to the same free, appropriate public education as their housed peers. JOURNEYS serves 29 local school districts.
The first goal of JOURNEYS’ School Assistance Program focuses on enrollment and attendance. It is critical to ensure that children experiencing housing insecurities do not fall behind academically. The first step to ensure their success is enrolling them in school. Through the School Advocacy Program we are able to waive school fees, secure transportation, and remove red tape to get each child learning as soon as possible.
The second goal is to maintain continuity for students. Due to financial hardships, families that are housing unstable may have to stay outside of the school district’s geographic area temporarily. The School Advocacy Program ensures district residency restrictions are lifted so that each child can stay in a familiar learning environment, avoiding the trauma of bouncing from school to school.
The third goal is maintaining open communication between the school and family. School officials and teachers are often unaware of the hardships that a student may be facing both inside and outside of school when a family is housing insecure. Challenges can often manifest as poor academic performance, social exclusion, chronic absenteeism, and behavioral troubles. Case managers work with the school to make sure that issues are addressed and resolved quickly.
The JOURNEYS community works to support children and keep them in school. We believe that every child is deserving of the same opportunities and resources regardless of circumstances beyond their control.
To get involved or donate to JOURNEYS' mission, visit our website: journeystheroadhome.org.
Written by Roxanne Gentry, Marketing Associate & Amanda Stocchetti, Grant Associate
Our blog contains original writing on issues related to homelessness, community happenings, and unique agency stories.