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Defining terms: Homelessness

Tents lining a street in the Zone homeless encampment in downtown Phoenix
Tim Agne/KJZZ
Tents lining a street in “The Zone” homeless encampment in downtown Phoenix in March 2023.

Below are key terms used by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development to define homelessness. These definitions are important because they determine who can receive help from certain programs, and keep data consistent across areas. However, some agencies’ definitions may differ from HUD’s.

Listen to sociologist Dr. Amy Donley at the University of Central Florida explain more about types of homelessness.

Homeless - A person who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence. View HUD’s four categories of homeless and how they’re determined here.

Chronically Homeless - An individual with a disability who has been continuously homeless for 1 year or more or has experienced at least four episodes of homelessness in the last 3 years where the combined length of time homeless in those occasions is at least 12 months. Learn more here.

Sheltered Homeless - People who are staying in emergency shelters, transitional housing programs, or safe havens.

Unsheltered Homeless - People whose primary nighttime residence is a public or private place not designated for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping accommodation for people (for example, the streets, vehicles, or parks).

At Risk of Homelessness - An individual or family that has an annual income below 30% of median family income for the area AND meets the following criteria listed here.

Annika Cline was a producer for KJZZ's The Show from 2014 to 2019.