Homeless is a term used to describe people who do not have a fixed place to live. This could mean living on the street, in a shelter or even sleeping on someone’s couch. Many people are unable to generate enough income to afford an adequate roof over their head, despite being employed. This is known as “hidden” homelessness. Many of these individuals may be able to rent rooms in motel or single room occupancy hotels, or move in with friends temporarily – this is known as “couch surfing”. However, they may not be able to access services that would help them find permanent housing and are therefore invisible to statistics. This group is also at risk of being harassed, which can further limit their ability to find safe and stable shelter.

In the United States, a large body of literature has developed on homelessness. Studies have been conducted in a variety of settings, including homeless shelters, parks, and single room occupancy hotels. Studies have also been conducted on subpopulations such as the homeless mentally ill and those who are addicted to drugs. There is, however, a general lack of research on the experiences and characteristics of homeless people in rural and suburban areas.

A major challenge for communities is how to best respond to the growing number of families experiencing homelessness. This is often a result of poverty and low wages, high cost of living, poor quality or insecure housing, and other factors that are beyond their control. The vast majority of families residing in homeless shelters are comprised of single parents with children. The majority of families experiencing homelessness are escaping abusive or neglectful relationships and are seeking safety and stability for their family unit. Efforts are being made to increase family-focused services and promote affordable housing for families across the country.

Families are less likely to utilize shelters than single adults, but they still make up a significant portion of the homeless population. In addition, there is a growing number of households that are “cost burdened,” meaning they spend more than 50 percent of their income on housing costs. A sudden loss of income or a problem with housing can cause these families to lose their homes, and without the assistance of services they may become homeless.

Although the definition of homelessness is complex, it generally consists of three elements: lack of permanent housing, limited or no income, and an absence of social support systems. Individuals can experience episodic homelessness, which is defined as three or more episodes of homelessness within a year. Chronic homelessness is more prevalent among older adults, and can result from long-term mental health issues, substance use disorders or other disabilities. It can also be caused by a number of other factors, such as family rejection due to a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. These individuals are at risk of being isolated and abused, and are more likely to become involved in the criminal justice system and face discrimination in the workforce.