The Four Types of Homelessness

When we think of homelessness, images of people living in public spaces often come to mind; however, homelessness is far more complicated than asking whether or not someone is forced to live in public. There are over half a million Americans experiencing homelessness right now, so it is impossible to say that the experience is homogeneous across the population. Red Nose Day defined four general types of homelessness to provide clarity as to what exactly the experience looks like: transitional homelessness, episodic homelessness, chronic homelessness, and hidden homelessness. 
Transitional Homelessness

There is a popular misconception that homelessness is a long-term situation. This is a fair assumption due to the fact that many people often see the same few individuals experiencing homelessness on a day-to-day basis. Film and media often perpetuate this misconception by constantly portraying homelessness as a chronic situation; however, the most popular type of homelessness is actually transitional homelessness, which is a short-term form of the situation. 

According to Red Nose Day (2021), “Transitional homelessness is ‘a state of homelessness that is a result of a major life change or catastrophic event.’ These life changes might be job loss, a health condition, divorce, domestic abuse, a substance use disorder, or personal or family crisis, among many others, resulting in people being in unhoused situations for less than a year.” 

Those experiencing transitional homelessness may live in their cars or on the streets, couch surf, or be a part of a transitional housing program. Often, these people still have jobs, but simply can not afford housing or other basic expenses. The majority of the transitional homeless population is the youth. Many of the youth who are experiencing homelessness have more trouble accessing transitional housing or shelters. The first signs of homelessness for the youth include couch surfing and crashing at friends’ houses. These scenarios are generally seen as less serious, so there is a lack of help available for people in these situations; however, Red Nose Day (2021) says that on average, 550,000 people under the age of 24 and 380,000 people under the age of 18 are currently experiencing homelessness in the United States. 

Episodic Homelessness

Episodic homelessness is when an individual experiences phases of being housed and unhoused. Typically, people who face this type of homelessness endure at least three periods of homelessness within a year. 

Individuals that typically experience episodic homelessness are youth or those with some type of disabling condition. A disabling condition in this scenario includes both physical and mental health conditions, as well as substance abuse disorders. 

Those experiencing episodic homelessness often have seasonal or minimum wage jobs that make it difficult to maintain housing and afford basic necessities. This scenario can quickly and easily turn into chronic homelessness. 

Chronic Homelessness

Chronic homelessness is what we often see on the streets. Red Nose Day (2021) says, “A person experiencing chronic homelessness is defined as ‘an unaccompanied homeless individual with a disabling condition’ who has been homeless for more than one year.” 

Those that experience chronic homelessness are often unable to get out of it; they may have a debilitating condition that makes it difficult for them to secure a job or receive the help they need. 

The National Alliance to End Homelessness (2020) says that people experiencing chronic homelessness make up about 17 percent of America’s total population. These individuals tend to be older and live in spaces that are not safe or suitable for living, such as the streets, parks, or cars. 

Hidden Homelessness

Those who do not have a permanent home and temporarily live with others are considered to be a part of the hidden homeless population. Because these people seek help from friends, family, and neighbors rather than national housing support, there are no statistics on this group (thus making them “hidden”). Young people are believed to make up a large portion of the hidden homeless population, as these individuals often do not have a source of income to fully support themselves. Hidden homelessness can eventually turn into chronic homelessness if the person providing refuge no longer allows the individual experiencing homelessness to live with them.


Homelessness manifests in a variety of ways. There is no clear definition for the situation, as each person experiences homelessness uniquely. While these four types of homelessness demonstrate the complexity of the phenomenon, it is important to note that some experiences of homelessness may fall into several or none of these categories. 

If you or someone you know is experiencing homelessness, use the following link to find aid in your area:


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