State leaders have significant flexibility in designing and implementing plans to address chronic homelessness within their borders. Chronic, or long-term, homelessness is one of three critical characterizations of the nation's homeless population; the other two are temporary and episodic homelessness. Recently, federal and state policymakers have focused more attention on the disproportionate consumption of resources by people in the chronic subgroup. Chronically homeless people make up only 10 percent of the homeless population, but as a group, they consume as much as 50 percent of the shelter system's resources. Both federal and state entities are devising new strategies to address and reduce chronic homelessness in America today.

This issue brief provides states with important information about the chronically homeless population and highlights examples from states that have been particularly innovative and successful in their efforts to combat it.

Between 2001 and 2003, nearly all states and territories participated in federally sponsored meetings on chronic homelessness, and as a result, they developed action plans that could assess the policies and types of resources needed to address chronic homelessness among their residents. A successful state plan crafted by one state may encourage other states to adopt similar policy strategies that they can tailor to meet their homelessness needs. Current successful state strategies often include:

  • Improving data collection and documentation to ensure an accurate assessment of the homelessness problem, determining costs of services, and monitoring outcomes
  • Coordinating multiple agencies and improving identification of social service resources
  • Expanding affordable housing opportunities to provide stability, encourage self-sufficiency, and reduce the cost burden of homelessness to the state
  • Emphasizing prevention and developing appropriate discharge strategies for people leaving correctional or inpatient facilities.