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About Homelessness

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General Definition of Homelessness

Homelessness is defined by the federal government as the condition in which an individual is residing in a place not meant for human habitation or emergency shelter, and lacks the resources needed to obtain permanent housing.

According to federal guidelines, the criteria for defining homelessness is as follows:

Category 1

Literally Homeless 

Individual or family who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence, meaning:

  • Has a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not meant or human habitation;
  • Is living in a publicly or private operated shelter designated to provide temporary living arrangements (including congregate shelters, transitional housing, and hotels and motels paid for by charitable organizations or by federal, state, and local government programs); or
  • Is exiting an institution where he/she has resided for 90 days or less and who resided in an emergency shelter or place not meant for human habitation immediately before entreating that institution.

Category 2

Imminent Risk of Homelessness

Individual or family who will imminently lose their primary nighttime residence, provided that:

  • Residence will be lost within 14 days of the date of the application for homeless assistance;
  • No subsequent residence has been identified; and
  • The individuals or family lacks the resources or support networks needed to obtain other permanent housing.

Category 3

Homeless Under Other Federal Statutes

Unaccompanied youth under 25 years of age, or families with children and youth, who do not otherwise qualify as homeless under this definition, but who:

  • Are defined as homeless under the other listed federal statutes;
  • Have not had a lease, ownership interest, or occupancy agreement in permanent housing during the 60 days prior to the homeless assistance application;
  • Have experienced persistent instability as measured by two moves or more during in the preceding 60 days; and
  • Can be expected to continue in such status for an extended period of time due to special needs or barriers.

Category 4

Fleeing/Attempting to Flee Domestic Violence

Any individual or family who:

  • Is fleeing, or is attempting to flee, domestic violence;
  • Has no other residence; and
  • Lacks the resources or support networks to obtain other permanent housing.


Examples of homelessness include individuals of families residing in a car, park, abandoned building, bus or train station, airport, or camping ground; or in a supervised publicly or privately operated shelter designated to provide temporary living arrangements.

Individuals considered at-risk for homelessness include motel dwellers with insufficient resources to secure long-term housing.

Statistics on Homelessness

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, there are 633,000 people who experience homelessness in the United States on any given night.

In Orange County, the 2015 Homeless Count and Survey Report revealed 4,500 county homeless residents on any given night, signifying a five percent increase in the homeless population between 2013 and 2015.

A similar study conducted by Vanguard University in 2012 revealed 117-122 unsheltered homeless individuals in Costa Mesa. 

Causes of Homelessness

There are many causes that can contribute to homelessness, including mental illness, substance abuse and/or addiction, job loss, physical disability, and other life events which may prevent individuals from being self-sufficient.

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