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Rough Sleeping

What is Rough Sleeping?

Rough sleeping is a form of homelessness that refers to anyone who is living without a safe shelter because they have no home. This could mean someone is sleeping in the streets, parks, abandoned buildings, etc. Also called street homelessness, those who rough sleep have no sense of security and are some of the most vulnerable members of society.


Key Takeaways

  • Rough Sleeping is only one kind of homelessness.

  • Rough sleeping is the most critical form of homelessness.

  • Approximately half a million people rough sleep in the US on any given night.


Understanding Rough Sleeping

When defining homelessness in terms of housing accommodations there are four types: street homelessness/rough sleeping, statutory homelessness, hidden homelessness, and concealed households. Some are more critical than others but all can have a negative impact on a person's rights, health, and well-being.


Street homelessness is the most visible and critical type of homelessness, as it refers to someone without a secure shelter. Statutory homelessness includes those living in temporary, emergency or unsuitable housing and in need of a long-term solution. Hidden homelessness includes those without a home, such as someone who couch surfs, lives in their car, or stays with friends or family on a temporary basis. Concealed households refer to people who share housing accommodations and would prefer to live independently but can’t afford to.


There are many reasons that a person would resort to rough sleeping which can be divided into two categories: structural factors and individual factors. Structural factors are the broader societal forces that impact a person's access to housing, such as poverty, lack of affordable housing, lack of employment opportunities, or lack of access to social security programs. Individual factors include the personal circumstances and vulnerabilities that lead to homelessness, including but not limited to poor physical or mental health, fleeing from violent situations, struggles with addiction, relationship breakdown, or a criminal record.


As previously mentioned, many people become homeless due to preexisting health issues, addiction, or trauma. Sleeping rough takes an enormous toll on the body, not only exacerbating health problems but also creating new ones. People who sleep rough over a long period of time are more likely to die prematurely to the point that the average life expectancy is 44 years for men and 42 for women. The most common causes of death are accidents, suicide, and disease.


The poor health outcomes that rough sleeping creates can be the result of poor living conditions, difficulty in maintaining personal hygiene, poor diet, high levels of stress, and

drug and alcohol dependence. Those experiencing homelessness also have difficulty receiving health care for these conditions due to lack of an address, lack of health insurance, or immigration status.


It is difficult to obtain an accurate count of how many people are rough sleeping as various factors affect the number on any given night. These can include the availability of emergency shelters or other alternatives, weather, location, and the date and time chosen for the count. This means that overcrowded shelters could lead to someone fluctuating between being classified as rough sleeping or statutory homelessness on any given night. That said, it is estimated that as of 2020 the number of people who are either street homeless or statutory homeless in the United States is over half a million.


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