Homelessness is not new. It is age old and has been with us long before written history. The people living in homelessness are the same, single mothers, individuals with mental illness, underemployed or unemployed, children and old people. Over the centuries many different approaches have been tried to eliminate the presence of people who are homeless, with little success. The alms houses, work houses and poor houses plus attaching stigma to being homeless were all thought to trigger a desire to raise a person and their family to a higher state of existence, as though economic factors play no role in the ability of people to change their economic condition.

Each time a program was abandoned, a new program grew in its place with the belief that this would change the landscape; the new program was the cure that would treat the condition of poor people. Each attempt was flawed, leaving out the idea that social, economic and race structures play a large role in keeping people who are poor, poor.

In 1987, the McKinney Vento Act was passed creating 15 federal programs to end homelessness. The programs were designed to reduce the growing numbers of people forced to the streets through unemployment and mental illness. It was the prelude to closing state psychiatric facilities and forcing people with chronic mental illness to the streets. The number of people who were emptied onto the streets and who now resided in local jails, along rail lines, under bridges and in cardboard boxes swelled and overwhelmed the capacity of the federal programs to end homelessness.


Literally homeless

A homeless individual or family is defined as one who lacks a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence. It also means that the individual or family has a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not meant for human habitation or is living in a publicly or privately operated shelter designed to provide temporary living arrangements. This category also includes individuals who are exiting an institution where he or she resided for 90 days or less or who resided in an emergency shelter or place not meant for human habitation immediately prior to entry into the institution.

Imminent Risk of Homelessness

An individual or family who will lose (within 14 days) their primary nighttime residence is in imminent risk of homelessness, provided that no subsequent residence has been identified and the individual or family lacks the resources or support networks needed to obtain other permanent housing.

Homeless under other Federal Statutes

This refers to unaccompanied youth (under 25) or families with children and youth who do not otherwise qualify as homeless under this definition and are defined as homeless under another federal statute, have not had permanent housing during the past 60 days, have experienced persistent instability, and can be expected to continue in such status for an extended period of time.

Fleeing/Attempting to Flee DV

This refers to any individual or family who is fleeing, or attempting to flee from domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking.

Families were not included in the original definitions of the McKinney Vento Act of 1987. The HEARTH Amendment is broadened to include unaccompanied children up to 25 and the term we call couch surfing. It also includes children who are part of a family.

For persons in families, the three most commonly cited causes of homelessness, according to a 2008 U.S. Conference of Mayors study (pdf) are:

  • Lack of affordable housing
  • Poverty
  • Unemployment

For single people, the three most commonly cited causes of homelessness are:

  • Mental Illness
  • Lack of affordable housing
  • Substance Abuse


Recent data from The Housing Program at Shelter Care Ministries – In May of 2011, The Housing Program offered through Shelter Care Ministries had 42 families waiting for emergency housing. The Program determined it would be at least six months before any units became available. So even in the face of such great need, the program closed the list and stopped taking names from new families. Over the new six months, 10-20 families called each week seeking housing/shelter. These families were turned away.

In late October, two families gave notice that they would be moving on, so a screening day was set for December 6th from 9:00 am – 2:30 pm. Interested people would have to continue calling until they were put through to a case manager. No messages were taken and the phones were shut off promptly at 2:30pm. The report gives us some insight into how families feel about their homelessness and the additional impact of poverty on the family. The data does reflect some of the national data, with affordable housing and unemployment being the number one reason for their current homelessness.

Learn more about Idea/Ideal Prosperity and our Rockford Homeless Shelter