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No Place to Call Home: Chronic Homelessness

OPB | Oct. 12, 2009 9 a.m. | Updated: Sept. 10, 2013 9:02 p.m.

Lee Nachtigal

I see the same people on the streets every day on my way to work. They hold signs at intersections and on-ramps, collecting change from passing cars. A lot of them have been working the same spots for over a year. If it’s been that long since they had a roof over their head, these people fit the government’s definition of chronically homeless. The definition is a subject of some debate among homeless advocates, but it basically amounts to a label for people who have multiple barriers to housing, such as mental illness, substance abuse, a criminal record or a physical disability. Though they make up 10-20% of the homeless population (depending on where you are and who you ask), the chronically homeless use a disproportionate amount of resources. That’s why counties, states, and the federal government have made chronic homelessness a big part of their 10 year plans to end homelessness.

Many of these plans focus on the “housing first” model, which aims to get people off the streets immediately and then address the various reasons behind their homelesness. This plan obviously focuses on the longterm problem, but the current economic crisis has put a strain on many of the services set up to help people out of homelessness, from emergency shelters to rental assistance. The next in our series No Place to Call Home will examine chronic homelessness.

Have you ever been homeless? What challenges did you face in trying to get off the streets? Do you work with people who are homeless? What do you see as the best way to address chronic homelessness?

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