Definitions of homelessness pertaining to families differ, depending upon whether HUD’s or the Department of Education (ED) McKinney-Vento criteria are being used.
The HUD definition of homelessness (below) is used to determine qualification for participation in HUD programs. It does not include individuals living doubled-up or in hotels/motels, situations in which homeless children often are found. According to the HUD definition, an individual who is homeless:
- lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence; and
- has a primary nighttime residence that is —
- a supervised publicly or privately operated shelter designed to provide temporary living accommodations (including welfare hotels, congregate shelters, and transitional housing for people with mental illness);
- an institution that provides a temporary residence for individuals intended to be institutionalized; or
- a public or private place not designed for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings.
The ED definition is broader than HUD's as it includes children in the HUD definition plus those who are living doubled up due to economic distress. According to the ED definition (U.S. Code, Title 42, Chapter 119, Subchapter I, § 11301), the term “homeless children and youths”:
- means individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence (within the meaning of section 11302 (a)(1) of this title); and
- includes —
- children and youths who are sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason; are living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camping grounds due to the lack of alternative adequate accommodations; are living in emergency or transitional shelters; are abandoned in hospitals; or are awaiting foster care placement;
- children and youths who have a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings (within the meaning of section 11302 (a)(2)(C) of this title);
- children and youths who are living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations, or similar settings;
- migratory children (as such term is defined in section 6399 of title 20) who qualify as homeless for the purposes of this part because the children are living in circumstances described in clauses (A) through (C).
Many families begin their journey through homelessness by staying temporarily with other people or in a motel to avoid sleeping outdoors in public spaces and in cars. Doubled-up situations are often overcrowded and unstable. Motel rooms, also crowded, rarely include cooking and appropriate food storage facilities, making adequate nutrition difficult. Many localities lack adequate room in family shelters, including domestic violence shelters, and some areas lack family shelters altogether. In these circumstances, families find alternatives, most often temporary housing with others. The ED homeless definition includes these children.
Other federal agencies also use definitions of homelessness to determine eligibility of children for programs and services. Table 1 (below) indicates the federal program that serves homeless children, the agency responsible for the program, and the “overnight” eligibility criteria for each program.
Definitions of Homelessness Used by Federal Programs Serving Children