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» Additional Resources » Clarification on the Definition of Homelessness

Currently, there are two definitions of homelessness used by the federal government, its agencies, and its programs: the education definition and the HUD definition.

Education Definition

Up until the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act and the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Improvements Act, the HUD definition was the governing definition of homelessness for education purposes. The definition of homelessness for educational purposes has been expanded beyond the HUD definition by the McKinney-Vento Act that went into effect on July 1, 2002.

Subtitle B of Title VII of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. 11431 et seq.) is now amended to read as follows:

Subtitle B—Education for Homeless Children and Youths

The term `homeless children and youths'—
(A) means individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence (within the meaning of section 103(a)(1)); and
(B) includes—
  • (i) 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;
  • (ii) 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 103(a)(2)(C));
  • (iii) children and youths who are living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations, or similar settings; and
  • (iv) migratory children (as such term is defined in section 1309 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965) who qualify as homeless for the purposes of this subtitle because the children are living in circumstances described in clauses (i) through (iii).

HUD Definition

The HUD Definition is referred to as such because it is the definition of homelessness used by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. This definition is found in the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act, and is still used by many of the federal and state housing and other assistance programs. The definition is found in USC 42 11302(a) as follows:

11302. General definition of homeless individual:

(a) In general
For purposes of this chapter, the term "homeless" or "homeless individual" or homeless person includes:
(1) an individual who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence; and
(2) an individual who has a primary nighttime residence that is—
  • (A) a supervised publicly or privately operated shelter designed to provide temporary living accommodations (including welfare hotels, congregate shelters, and transitional housing for the mentally ill);
  • (B) an institution that provides a temporary residence for individuals intended to be institutionalized; or
  • (C) a public or private place not designed for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings.
(b) Income eligibility
(1) In general
  • A homeless individual shall be eligible for assistance under any program provided by this chapter, only if the individual complies with the income eligibility requirements otherwise applicable to such program.
(2) Exception
  • Notwithstanding paragraph (1), a homeless individual shall be eligible for assistance under the Job Training Partnership Act (29 U.S.C. 1501 et seq.).
(c) Exclusion
For purposes of this chapter, the term "homeless" or "homeless individual" does not include any individual imprisoned or otherwise detained pursuant to an Act of the Congress or a State law.
A fixed residence is one that is stationary, permanent, and not subject to change. A regular residence is one that is used on a regular (i.e., nightly) basis. An adequate residence is one that is sufficient for meeting both the physical and psychological needs typically met in home environments. According to the McKinney Act, individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate residence are considered homeless.