Overview of Homelessness


Homelessness is a complex issue with each individual experiencing homelessness for a multitude of reasons and the solution being just as varied as the individual or family.

The following questions begin to offer context and provide an overview and understanding of homelessness.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defines homelessness in four categories:

  • Individuals and families who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence and includes a subset for an individual who resided in an emergency shelter or a place not meant for human habitation and who is exiting an institution where he or she temporarily resided.
  • Individuals and families who will imminently lose their primary nighttime residence and has not identified a subsequent residence.
  • Unaccompanied youth under 25 years old and families with children and youth who are defined as homeless under other federal statutes who do not otherwise qualify as homeless under this definition.
  • Individuals and families who are fleeing, or are attempting to flee, domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking, or other dangerous or life-threatening conditions that relate to violence against the individual or a family member.

Additionally, the definition from the Department of Education includes children and youth who are sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason as well as children who are living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camping grounds due to the lack of alternative adequate accommodations.

Additional definitions and acronyms used throughout the Continuum of Care.

There is not one cause of homelessness in our region, and there are many factors that can lead to a person experiencing homelessness. Loss of income, unexpected debt, a sudden illness or accident, medical conditions, and domestic violence are just a few factors that can lead to homelessness. There is no stereotypical homeless individual. Homelessness can affect people from all income levels, backgrounds, ethnicities, religions, and ages. Learn more about common stereotypes. In a study of why people are experiencing homelessness, an NYU professor dug into the 12 Biggest Myths about Homelessness in America.

Collecting and analyzing data related to homelessness is challenging. However, there are a myriad of data gathering strategies through a variety of sources. To learn more about how data is collected in the Maricopa Regional Continuum of Care, visit our data page.

The Continuum of Care (CoC) Program is a structure defined by HUD to promote communitywide commitment to the goal of ending homelessness. It provides funding for efforts by nonprofit providers and state and local governments to quickly rehouse homeless individuals and families while minimizing the trauma and dislocation caused to homeless individuals, families, and communities by homelessness, as well as other identified goals related to housing and supportive services.

The Maricopa Regional Continuum of Care has been staffed by the Maricopa Association of Governments since 1999 and has received over $500 million of funding and now supports more than 31 homeless assistance programs in 11 different agencies.

We can work together to ensure that homelessness is brief, rare, only occurs once, and that everyone in our community has a safe place to call home. Innovative solutions require increased collaboration at every level in the region. Local and tribal governments, nonprofit organizations, faith-based communities and many more are working together to address homelessness throughout the region, but one person can make a difference.

To learn more about the work of partners addressing homelessness and resources within the homeless response system, visit our Resources & Training page.

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