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Table of Contents


What is Homelessness?

What is homelessness? 

In the simplest terms, homelessness can be defined as an extreme form of poverty characterized by housing instability. 

However, homelessness remains multifaceted

In the end, the definition of homelessness is as complex and varied as those individuals who experience it.

Are poverty and homelessness the same thing?

While poverty and homelessness are strongly related, the two words have distinct connotations.


Poverty refers to a state or condition in which a person or community lacks the financial means for a minimum standard of living. Poverty means that the income level from employment is so low that basic human needs such as food, healthcare and, yes, sometimes even emergency shelter, can’t be met. 

In the United States, the Census Bureau’s definition of poverty is an individual who earns less than $36 per day or a family of four with income less than $72 per day.


Homelessness is a situation in which an individual or family lacks a stable, permanent residence such as those living in shelters or sleeping on the streets. This definition includes people who are absolutely homeless and living in streets, in cars, in canyons, and underpasses, people staying temporarily in shelters or hotels, and “couch surfers” (people staying temporarily with friends or family). 

In most cases, homelessness is ultimately caused because an individual or family cannot afford stable or permanent housing. 

The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defines people experiencing homelessness in these terms:

  • An individual who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence;
  • An individual who has 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, including a car, park, abandoned building, bus or train station, airport, or camping ground;
  • An individual or family living in a supervised publicly or privately-operated homeless shelter designated to provide temporary living arrangements;
  • An individual who resided in a shelter or place not meant for human habitation and who is exiting an institution where he or she temporarily resided;
  • An individual or family who will imminently lose their adequate housing (usually due to an eviction).

While homelessness is a type of poverty, they do not share the same definition. Economic insecurity is most often the underlying cause of homelessness, and people experiencing poverty are at an increased risk of becoming homeless. 

What are the four types of homelessness?

1. Chronic Homelessness

People who are considered chronically homeless are those that have been homeless off and on for a year or more due to disabling mental health conditions, substance abuse disorder or physical disabilities. 

2. Episodic Homelessness

Episodic homelessness refers to people who are currently homeless and who have experienced three episodes of homelessness within a year. A person who experiences episodic homelessness has a greater chance of becoming chronically homeless.

3. Transitional Homelessness

People who are transitionally homeless are those that have sought temporary residency through shelters or transitional housing. Transitional homelessness is usually, but not always, a result of major life changes or catastrophic event and, if the individual or family does not enter the cycle of homelessness and receive adequate resources, is not a reoccuring event

4. Hidden Homelessness

Hidden homelessness is more complex and encompasses individuals and families who don’t have stable, permanent housing but are not currently living on the streets or in shelters. 

This includes people forced to live in motels, or cars or RVs parked in places not designed for or ordinarily used for that purpose, or the homes of friends or family. 

This segment of the population is harder to document because they rarely seek support or services from homeless service providers, and are thus considered “hidden” when compared to people living on the streets.

Homelessness by the numbers:

Are there more men or women experiencing homelessness?

While currently there are more men experiencing homelessness than women, the number of unsheltered women is rising. In fact, compared to other industrialized nations, the United States has the largest number of women and children experiencing homelessness. Single mothers and their children are more likely to be homeless than any other type of family.

Homelessness for women is unique from men’s experiences as women’s experiences are governed by violence, gender inequality, and stigma. Approximately one homeless woman in four is homeless mainly because of her experiences with domestic violence. 

Often, the trauma of abuse compounded with the stress and shame of homelessness can be overwhelming for women leading to increased occurrences of mental illness

How does Father Joe’s Villages help people experiencing homelessness?

Now, Father Joe’s Villages’ work is more critical than ever as we serve our community’s most vulnerable through life-saving affordable housing and programs tailored to the needs of each individual. 

In an effort to end homelessness, Father Joe’s Villages restores dignity, renews hope and changes people’s lives through comprehensive services including housing and shelter, medical, dental and behavioral health care, employment supportive services and vocational training, therapeutic childcare and more.  

In the last 10 years, Father Joe’s Villages has served more than 60,000 people. Of those, we served nearly 3,200 families and close to 7,000 children. 

In the last 10 years, we have helped 11,500 people move off the streets and into permanent affordable housing, successfully ending their homelessness and ensuring a brighter future for all of San Diego.

Want to be part of the solution? Help us continue our work giving hope to our neighbors in need and ending homelessness one life at a time. Donate today.