Chronic Homelessness: Causes and Solutions

Chronic Homelessness: Causes and Solutions
Learn what causes chronic homelessness and how you can make a difference and help your community.


Every day, homeless individuals try to find a way off of the streets. They’ll locate a shelter, receive treatment and begin to rebuild their life.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t always go as planned, and despite their attempt to turn things around, they can end up back on the streets in less than a year.

This is what’s known as "chronic homelessness." According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), someone is defined as chronically homeless if they have experienced homelessness for a year or longer, or if they have experienced at least four episodes of homelessness in three years or less. Over88,640 individuals experienced long-term homelessness in 2018, according to HUD.

Learn more about the complex causes of chronic homelessness, some of the solutions that are in place in communities and what action you can take to help your neighbors in need. 

Causes of chronic homelessness

There are several circumstances that can cause an individual to repeatedly end up on the streets after multiple attempts to regain control of their life. Some of the major factors that contribute to chronic homelessness include:

  • Poverty: The poverty cycle is a difficult one to break. Once an individual falls below a certain income level, it becomes more and more difficult to acquire the resources needed to get a better job or a better education.
  • Disability: Many chronically homeless individuals suffer from some sort of injury or disability that prevents them from working various jobs. Without sustainable employment, they fall back into the poverty cycle.
  • Mental illness: When depression, schizophrenia, and other mental illnesses go untreated, it can be nearly impossible for a homeless individual to function in normal society. This is especially true for homeless veterans who suffer from PTSD. 
  • Substance addiction: When a homeless individual becomes addicted to drugs or alcohol, most of the money they can come up with goes to pay for their addiction, rather than clothes or other means of bettering their lives.

Solutions to chronic homelessness

Since we know most of the root causes behind chronic homelessness, it’s our responsibility to make sure enough funding and support is given to the following relief programs:

  • Drug and alcohol abuse services: Making these life-changing services and treatments readily available to homeless individuals suffering from substance addiction gives them a greater chance to recover and begin the path back to a normal, stable life.
  • Affordable medical treatment: Homeless individuals with mental disorders or physical disabilities have a better chance at recovery if they can get professional, affordable treatment.
  • Permanent supportive housing: This is by far the most effective means of preventing chronic homelessness. Supportive housing provides a safe, healthy environment for homeless individuals to feel secure in as they become a productive member of the community.  While here, they can be connected to other life-saving community resources, such as Volunteers of America Ohio & Indiana. Connected to these resources, they can more easily find job training, mental health treatment, personal development services and counseling services. 
  • Housing First model: This is an approach in which housing is offered to people
    experiencing chronic homelessness without requiring sobriety, mental health
    treatment, or a minimum income threshold. The goal is rapid housing placement and stabilization in permanent housing. This is a model that both Volunteers of America and HUD have been advocating for. 

How you can help: 

The good news is that outreach, intervention, treatment and prevention efforts are having a positive effect on the state of chronic homelessness. In fact, chronic homelessness declined in 2018 by 16 percent (or 17,422 persons) since 2010. However, these programs need your help and donations in order to keep helping the chronically homeless get back on their feet.

If you’d like to help, and you have an old vehicle you’re not using, please donate your car to Volunteers of America. We’ll take just about anything with a motor, including cars, boats, ATVs, RVs, motorcycles, and tractors—running or not. What’s more, we offer free same-day towing, and you might even get more for your vehicle as a tax-deductible donation than you would by selling it via personal ad or Craigslist.

And remember, when you donate your vehicle to Volunteers of America, the benefits help us fund our social programs and shelters for the homeless in all of the Ohio communities we serve.

Help the homeless in your area by donating a car to Volunteers of America

Just fill out our online vehicle donation form or call us at (800) 225-0732.

DONATE YOUR CAR