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What is Unsheltered?

Unsheltered refers to individuals living on the streets or in places not intended for human habitation. Street homeless is a phrase that is also used when referring to the unsheltered.

Individuals who are unsheltered live on porches, in tents, in abandoned buildings, in doorways and alleys downtown, in cars, or at bus stops.

Key Takeaways

  • Understanding the difference between sheltered and unsheltered individuals

  • Why it’s important to differentiate types of homelessness

  • Maintaining unsheltered homelessness is more expensive than providing shelter

Understanding Unsheltered

When our unsheltered friends are faced with severe weather (hurricanes, extreme heat, freezing temperatures, etc.) emergency shelters are sometimes opened up for them or they are bussed to adjacent towns where churches and community centers open their doors.

During this short time, they are no longer considered unsheltered.

Those who seek shelter from the elements in abandoned buildings and at covered bus stops are still considered unsheltered.

The phrase unsheltered homeless may feel redundant when used, however, it is an important distinction when discussing the various types of homelessness.

A person can be homeless and sheltered. Here are a few classifications for the homeless who have shelter:

  • hidden homelessness is when an individual or family couch surfs, lives with relatives or friends, geo baches in the military, or lives in a motel

  • concealed households refer to people who share housing accommodations and would prefer to live independently but can’t afford to

  • statutory homelessness includes those living in temporary, emergency or unsuitable housing and in need of a long-term solution

Types of Homelessness: Unsheltered vs. Others

It’s important to differentiate because the types of services and the pathway into sustainable housing will look very different for those who are sheltered and those who are not.

The chronically homeless fall into the category of unsheltered more often than those experiencing transitional homelessness.

The transitional homeless have resources, friends, and a community that can help them get back on their feet. The financial cost to the community is minimal because it is temporary.

The unsheltered are often living in a car or at a bus stop because they either do not have resources available or do not know how to access them. They lack an advocate who can come alongside them and help them navigate the complexities of their situation.

At the end of the day, their day-to-day care falls onto the shoulders of community members and taxpayers.

The cost is higher due to

  • hospital stays for preventable illnesses,

  • habitual use of emergency services for follow-up care

  • Inability to access and implement preventive healthcare

  • arrests for trespassing when seeking out safe spaces to sleep

Ending unsheltered homelessness is THE fiscally responsible move.

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