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Definition of Homelessness

There is more than one “official” definition of homelessness. Health centers use the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) definition of homelessness:

A homeless individual is defined in section 330(h)(5)(A) as “an individual who lacks housing (without regard to whether the individual is a member of a family), including an individual whose primary residence during the night is a supervised public or private facility (e.g., shelters) that provides temporary living accommodations, and an individual who is a resident in transitional housing.”

A homeless person is an individual without permanent housing who may live on the streets; stay in a shelter, mission, single room occupancy facilities, abandoned building or vehicle; or in any other unstable or non-permanent situation. [Section 330 of the Public Health Service Act (42 U.S.C., 254b)

Global Homelessness

Homelessness is a global issue that needs global attention. Global homelessness is caused by four primary reasons: a) economic crisis; b) war or political turmoil; c) natural catastrophe; and d) socio-psychological problem.

Economic crises include declining personal incomes, the increasing cost of living, shrinking retirement benefits, reduced social services, job loss, the reduced purchasing power of public support payments, and etc.

Crises emerged from war or political turmoil can result in political refugee, exile or poor immigrant homeless — displaced people who become homeless all over again in their new homeland. Also, sudden natural disasters and catastrophic events will result in natural catastrophe refugees. The statelessness, loss of national identity and citizenship are key features of homelessness for both types of refugees.

Chronic Homelessness

Among people who experience homelessness, there is a subset of individuals with disabling health conditions who remain homeless for long periods of time — some for years or decades. As the AUAR report shows, there are 905 chronically homeless people in Long Beach and the number reaches to 12,356 in Los Angeles city and county (2015 AUAR Report). These men and women experiencing chronic homelessness usually have a combination of mental health problems, substance use disorders, and medical conditions that worsen over time and too often lead to an early death. Without access to the right types of care, they cycle in and out of hospital emergency departments and inpatient beds, detox programs, jails, prisons, and psychiatric institutions, all at a high public expense.

Homelessness in California

According to the 2015 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress released by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (DUH), there is a total of 564,708 homeless people nationwide in the U.S., among which 31% of them are unsheltered. Although the nation’s homeless rate is decreasing, Southern California contains the largest homeless population in the country overall. There is a total of 115,738 homeless in California, of which 64% are unsheltered.

Long Beach is ranked as the fourth-highest rate of unsheltered homeless among major cities in the nation in the 2015 AHAR Report. There are a total of 2,345 homeless by the year of 2015, among whom 1,513 are unsheltered and 832 are sheltered, according to the data released by the Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services Homeless Services Division (for details, see 2015-AHAR-Part-1.

According to the 2015 AHAR report, Long Beach also has the second-highest population of unsheltered homeless people in families with children in major cities with a number of 408 individuals, followed by Los Angeles city and county, which is ranked on the top with a number of 7,505 individuals.

The report also found that there were 905 chronically homeless people in Long Beach and 12,356 chronically homeless people in Los Angeles city and county — the highest population listed in the report. A chronically homeless individual is defined as an individual who has been continuously homeless for one year or at least four times in the past three years and has a disabling condition, such as a substance use disorder or a mental illness, according to the DUH.

Although the HDX report shows that there are decreases in the number of homeless from the year 2013 to 2015, health and social problems of homeless remain a significant concern for Long Beach city.