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
10/6/2022 12:39:50 pm
That is a big discrepancy in those two numbers. Thanks for pointing out those different definitions.
11/30/2022 12:43:49 am
Thank you for pointing out that the inconsistency ultimately poses a challenge for those charged with ending homelessness because assistance cannot be provided to all individuals who are homeless if certain groups are excluded. My sister is researching homelessness for her senior project. I'll advise her to discover a blog on homelessness so she may learn more about the reality of the problem.
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