Homeless family sleeping in the streets of Kolkata, India (top); a homeless man in Paris, France (bottom)

Homelessness is defined as living in housing that is below the minimum standard or lacks secure tenure. People can be categorized as homeless if they are: living on the streets (primary homelessness); moving between temporary shelters, including houses of friends, family and emergency accommodation (secondary homelessness); living in private boarding houses without a private bathroom and/or security of tenure (tertiary homelessness).[1] The legal definition of homeless varies from country to country, or among different jurisdictions in the same country or region.[2] According to the UK homelessness charity Crisis, a home is not just a physical space: it also provides roots, identity, security, a sense of belonging and a place of emotional wellbeing.[3] United States government homeless enumeration studies[4][5] also include people who sleep in a public or private place not designed for use as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings.[6][7] People who are homeless are most often unable to acquire and maintain regular, safe, secure and adequate housing due to a lack of, or an unsteady income.[8] Homelessness and poverty are interrelated.[1]

In 2005, an estimated 100 million (1 in 65 at the time) people worldwide were homeless and as many as 1 billion people live as squatters, refugees or in temporary shelter, all lacking adequate housing.[9][10][11] In Western countries, the majority of homeless are men (50–80%), with single males particularly overrepresented.[12][13][14] However, current data suggests similar rates of homeless males and females.[15] In 2015, the United States reported that there were 564,708 homeless people within its borders, one of the higher reported figures worldwide.[16] These figures are likely underestimates as surveillance for the homeless population is challenging.

When compared to the general population, people who are homeless experience higher rates of adverse physical and mental health outcomes, which renders them vulnerable to health conditions associated with changes in climate. Chronic disease severity, respiratory conditions, rates of mental health illnesses and substance use are all often greater in homeless populations than the general population.[17][18] Homelessness is also associated with a high risk of suicide attempts.[19] People experiencing homelessness have limited access to resources and are often disengaged from health services, making them that much more susceptible to extreme weather events (e.g., extreme cold or heat) and ozone levels. These disparities often result in increased morbidity and mortality in the homeless population.

There are a number of organizations who provide help for the homeless.[20] Most countries provide a variety of services to assist homeless people. These services often provide food, shelter (beds) and clothing and may be organized and run by community organizations (often with the help of volunteers) or by government departments or agencies. These programs may be supported by the government, charities, churches and individual donors. Many cities also have street newspapers, which are publications designed to provide employment opportunity to homeless people. While some homeless have jobs, some must seek other methods to make a living. Begging or panhandling is one option, but is becoming increasingly illegal in many cities. People who are homeless may have additional conditions, such as physical or mental health issues or substance addiction; these issues make resolving homelessness a challenging policy issue.

Homeless people, and homeless organizations, are sometimes accused or convicted of fraudulent behaviour. Criminals are also known to exploit homeless people, ranging from identity theft to tax and welfare scams.[21][22][23] These incidents often lead to negative connotations on the homeless as a group.[24][25]

Definition and classification

United Nations definition

In 2004, the United Nations sector of Economic and Social Affairs defined a homeless household as those households without a shelter that would fall within the scope of living quarters due to a lack of or a steady income. They carry their few possessions with them, sleeping in the streets, in doorways or on piers, or in another space, on a more or less random basis.[26]

In 2009, at the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe Conference of European Statisticians (CES), held in Geneva, Switzerland, the Group of Experts on Population and Housing Censuses defined homelessness as:[27]

In its Recommendations for the Censuses of Population and Housing, the CES identifies homeless people under two broad groups:
(a) Primary homelessness (or rooflessness). This category includes persons living in the streets without a shelter that would fall within the scope of living quarters;
(b) Secondary homelessness. This category may include persons with no place of usual residence who move frequently between various types of accommodations (including dwellings, shelters, and institutions for the homeless or other living quarters). This category includes persons living in private dwellings but reporting 'no usual address' on their census form.
The CES acknowledges that the above approach does not provide a full definition of the 'homeless'.

Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted 10 December 1948 by the UN General Assembly, contains this text regarding housing and quality of living:

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.[28]

European typology

Homelessness is perceived and addressed differently according to country. The European Typology of Homelessness and Housing Exclusion (ETHOS)[29] was developed as a means of improving understanding and measurement of homelessness in Europe, and to provide a common "language" for transnational exchanges on homelessness. The ETHOS approach confirms that homelessness is a process (rather than a static phenomenon) that affects many vulnerable households at different points in their lives.

The typology was launched in 2005 and is used for different purposes: as a framework for debate,[30] for data collection purposes, for policy purposes, monitoring purposes, and in the media. This typology is an open exercise which makes abstraction of existing legal definitions in the EU member states. It exists in 25 language versions, the translations being provided mainly by volunteer translators.

Other terms

The terms unsheltered and unhoused refer to that segment of a homeless community who do not have ordinary lawful access to buildings in which to sleep; the latter term is defined by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as describing persons occupying "place not designed for ... sleeping accommodation for human beings". Such persons frequently prefer the term houseless to the term homeless. Recent homeless enumeration survey documentation utilizes the term unsheltered homeless. The common colloquial term street people does not fully encompass all unsheltered people, in that many such persons do not spend their time in urban street environments. Many shun such locales, because homeless people in urban environments may face the risk of being robbed or beaten up. Some people convert unoccupied or abandoned buildings ("squatting"), or inhabit mountainous areas or, more often, lowland meadows, creek banks and beaches.[31] Many jurisdictions have developed programs to provide short-term emergency shelter during particularly cold spells, often in churches or other institutional properties. These are referred to as warming centers, and are credited by their advocates as lifesaving.[32]

HUD requires jurisdictions which participate in Continuum of Care grant programs to count their homeless every two years. These counts have led to a variety of creative measures to avoid undercounting. Thus teams of counters, often numbering in the hundreds in logistically complex volunteer efforts, seek out the unsheltered in various nooks and crannies.[33] These counts include people sleeping in official shelters and people sleeping in parks, alleys and other outdoor locations.

A portion of the homeless population are generally in transit, but there is no generally accepted terminology to describe them; some nomenclature is frequently associated with derogatory connotations, and thus the professional and vernacular lingo to describe these persons is both evolving and not lacking in controversy. Much of the concern stems from the European situation, where homeless persons of Roma, Sinti and other ethnic descent have rejected the term gypsy, which they view as a racial slur. Other terms which some use regarding in-transit persons are: transient, vagabond, tramp or drifter. Occasionally, these terms are interchanged with terms not necessarily implying that the person is a traveler, e.g. hobo. The pejorative term bum is used for persons who are alleged to be lacking a work ethic. The term transient is frequently used in police reports, without any precise definitions across jurisdictions.

Other Languages
Afrikaans: Haweloosheid
azərbaycanca: Evsizlik
български: Бездомник
Boarisch: Sandler
català: Sensesostre
Чӑвашла: Килсĕррисем
čeština: Bezdomovec
Cymraeg: Digartrefedd
dansk: Hjemløs
eesti: Kodutus
emiliàn e rumagnòl: Barbòṅ
español: Sinhogarismo
Esperanto: Senhejmeco
euskara: Etxegabe
français: Sans-abri
Gaeilge: Easpa dídine
galego: Sen teito
한국어: 노숙자
हिन्दी: बेघर
hrvatski: Beskućništvo
Bahasa Indonesia: Tunawisma
italiano: Senzatetto
עברית: חסר בית
Latina: Domo carens
Lëtzebuergesch: Wunnengslosegkeet
Bahasa Melayu: Tuna wisma
Nederlands: Dakloze
日本語: ホームレス
norsk nynorsk: Uteliggjar
polski: Bezdomność
português: Sem-teto
română: Om al străzii
русский: Бездомные
Simple English: Homelessness
slovenščina: Brezdomstvo
српски / srpski: Бескућништво
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Beskućništvo
svenska: Hemlöshet
Türkçe: Evsizlik
українська: Безпритульні
اردو: بے گھری
Tiếng Việt: Vô gia cư
walon: Sins-toet
ייִדיש: באם
中文: 露宿者