Situational vs. Chronic Homelessness

August 29, 2022

Homelessness is often misunderstood, with many misconceptions surrounding the people who experience it. Homelessness doesn’t just happen, but rather, there is always at least one underlying cause. People experiencing homelessness have usually experienced a trauma such as domestic violence, job loss, addiction or health issue, family tragedy, or Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

Understanding the two types of homelessness – situational and chronic – helps us break down the assumptions made and see beyond a person’s circumstances. 

Situational Homelessness

Non-profit Shelters to Shutters defines situational homelessness as “the status of being forced to live without housing due to a life-altering event, such as job loss, domestic violence, medical emergency, or natural disaster.” It can also be called “transitional homelessness.”

Many of these circumstances are fairly common – you may have even experienced one of these events yourself. Once we have that perspective, it’s easy to see how one can quickly fall into situational homelessness. 

In 2021, the National Alliance to End Homelessness found that out of the 580,466 Americans who experience homelessness in a year, 81% are situationally homeless. Many of these cases are considered youths or young adults.

Chronic Homelessness

Chronic homelessness is when there is a pattern of experiencing homelessness. 

The Department of Housing and Urban Development defines chronic homelessness as when a person resides in a place not meant for human habitation, a safe haven, or in an emergency shelter, and has lived this way for at least 12 months or on at least four separate occasions in the last three years. These individuals often have a disability or mental health issue, have served prison time, or struggle with substance abuse. 

While this is the prevalent perception of homelessness, it is actually less common than situational homelessness. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, North Carolina has over 9,000 people without shelter on any given night. In 2020, only about 13% of these individuals were considered chronically homeless.

The Mission’s Approach to Homelessness

At Raleigh Rescue Mission, most of the New Life Plan clients experience situational homelessness. Our clients have a variety of backgrounds – they are veterans, college graduates, parents, previous homeowners, and experienced professionals. 

The New Life Plan is designed to meet people where they are. We offer stability by meeting basic needs, as well as provide opportunities to heal and grow emotionally, spiritually, and physically. The client has a chance to rebuild their life, no matter their prior situation.