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Frequently Asked Questions

Ending and preventing homelessness is complex: causes, experiences, and solutions are multifaceted and equally important. We won't pretend there is a one size fits all approach to ending and preventing homelessness statewide (or nationwide). This complex social issues requires complex compassionate solutions. 

In that vein, we know understanding all of these complexities can be daunting. We've put together a series of questions and answers that we hope will resolve some of your curiosities. There are no "dumb" questions in the learning process.  So if you've been wondering about something, and your answer cannot be found here submit your question and we'll put together a comprehensive answer for you. 

Frequently asked questions

Why do people experience homelessness?


There is a chronic lack of affordable housing in the United State. Housing costs are increasing, yet incomes have remained relatively stagnant. The main reason a person may become homeless is because they cannot find housing they can afford. Housing affordability directly contributes to homelessness, and those living in poverty are the most at risk of homelessness and housing instability. A majority of low income families and individuals spend more than half of their income on housing, which leaves insufficient income to pay for necessities such as food, medicine, transportation, or childcare. As wealth inequality soars, and unemployment rises more and more Americans become closer to homelessness than they may think: by some estimates, 40% of Americans are only one missed paycheck away from losing their home. To take a more accurate and wider lens: the chronic lack of affordable housing is a direct result of a system plagued by racist policies. Systemic racism deliberately allows for discriminatory policies around housing, land use, property rights, criminal justice, and health care, which has made homeownership and wealth accumulation inaccessible for many people of color. Government policies, such as redlining, cause structural racism in our housing system. The racial wealth gap also contributes to these disparities-the typical white household has about 10 times more wealth than the typical Black family, and seven times that of the typical Latinx family. Today, households of color remain less likely to own their own homes when compared with white households, even after controlling for protective factors such as education, income, age, geographical region, state, and marital status. As a result of racist economic and housing policies, communities of color have always disproportionately experienced homelessness and housing insecurity. Most minority groups—especially Black and Indigenous peoples— make up a larger share of the homeless population than they do of the general population. Black Americans make up 13 percent of the general population but account for 40 percent of people experiencing homelessness and half of homeless families with children. Indigeinous peoples also are overrepresented in the homeless population.




Who is experiencing homeless in RI?


On a single night in January of 2020 a “point in time” count (PIT) was conducted that counted the total number of persons currently experiencing homelessness. This count was conducted before the COVID-19 pandemic was first identified in the States and two months prior to the first case reported in Rhode Island. Figures for the 2021 PIT, which will measure homelessness at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, will be released in late 2021. As the lead for the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), the Coalition plans, coordinates, and carries out the annual PIT count. After the count is completed, the HMIS team at the Coalition cleans, validates, analyzes, and submits the data to HUD. Then, the HMIS compiles the data into a visualization, which is published here for your information. The 2020 PIT found a total of 1,104 persons experiencing homelessness—1 08 of whom were living in places not meant for human habitation (read: unsheltered outdoors, in cars, etc.). This is an increase of 71 persons over the course of the last 5 years. Of those 1,104 people, 381 of them were in families, and 723 of them were on their own as individuals. Young adults accounted for 48 persons experiencing homelessness. There were 92 U.S. Veterans experiencing homelessness.




What is the cost of homelessness?


According to the most recent estimates from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), each unstably housed individual accrues over $40,000 per year in public resource expenses. Individuals experiencing homelessness are frequent utilizers of emergency departments especially hospital emergency rooms. It is estimated that 80% of these emergency room visits are for an illness that could have been treated with preventative care. Of the 5,300 individuals that have interacted with the shelter system during calendar years 2015 and 2016 a subset of 125 to 175 individuals incur a disproportionate amount of criminal justice, Medicaid, and shelter costs. These “high utilizers” incur on average $31,000 per year in Medicaid costs; $11,000 per year in criminal justice costs; and $2,100 per year in shelter costs. By housing these high utilizers with Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) there is an estimated annual savings of $15,000-$20,000 per individual for the system. This cost could be halved by simply providing permanent supportive housing to these ~125 persons (that’s why our innovative Pay for Success program is so important).




What is panhandling? What is the criminalization of homelessness?


Panhandling refers to a person's public solicitation for food or money (i.e. the person standing on a curb with a sign asking people in cars for “anything they can spare”). Laws that criminalize behaviors of those experiencing homelessness, such as panhandling, function to criminalize homelessness. Examples of laws that criminalize homelessness include, the restriction of public places in which sitting or sleeping are allowed, prohibiting panhandling, and law-enforcement removal of individuals from specific areas. In Rhode Island anti-panhandling measures have been introduced in the past, these laws would impose a fine on motorists who give money to a panhandler from their car, similar laws have been struck down.




What is source of income discrimination? Who does it affect?


Source of income discrimination occurs when tenants are denied renting or treated differently by a landlord because their lawful livelihoods come from sources other than a paycheck. Individuals who financially rely on child support, alimony, social security, veteran’s benefits or housing assistance vouchers (commonly known as “Section 8”) may encounter this kind of discrimination when trying to lease an apartment, even though they are willing and able to afford renting. Our neighboring states, Massachusetts, Maine, Connecticut and Vermont all prohibit source of income discrimination in recognition that it restricts housing opportunities for families and individuals.




What does it mean to “end” homelessness?


The “Functional Zero” describes a situation wherein homelessness has become manageable within a community. This means that the availability of services and resources match or exceed the demand for them from the target population (think about it as a balance between the supply and demand).




What is Housing First?


“Housing First” is an evidence-backed services program created by Sam Tsemberis that has five principles:

  1. Housing: Immediate access to housing with no readiness conditions
  2. Choice: Consumer choice and self-determination​
  3. Recover: Oriented to support recovery from substance use, trauma, etc.
  4. Support: Individualized and person-driven supports
  5. Community: Social and community integration
The Coalition, in partnership with BH Link, hosts a multi-week training on the Housing First model. Click here to view our upcoming training offerings. Watch this short video that explains the fundamentals of the Housing First model.