How Do You Define Homelessness?

Your Cincinnati car donation can help those in need

When she was a seventh grader growing up in California, Shahera Hyatt’s family lost their apartment for the first time. They were able to put together the $40 to pay for hotels and motels—but living in poverty made it impossible to save enough money for first and last month’s rent and a deposit. And, because they had multiple evictions on their record, it was even harder to convince a landlord to rent to them.

However, under Ohio's broad definition of homelessness, Shahera's family could have gotten help. Unlike some states, anyone in Ohio with an unstable living environment, including couchsurfing and living in hotels, is covered under the legal definition of homelessness.

But how does Ohio define homelessness?

Ohio’s definition of homelessness

In order to qualify for programs designed to help the homeless, an individual must first meet the actual definition of homeless. Ohio follows the definition which was put in place by The Department of Housing andUrban Development in November 2011. These guidelines break down the definition of homeless into four categories:

1. Individuals or families who are literally homeless, defined as: 

An individual or family who lacks a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence, meaning: 

  • Sleeping in a place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation 
  • Living in a shelter designated to provide temporary living arrangements 
  • Exiting an institution with no subsequent residence identified where they resided for 90 days or less and were residing in emergency shelter or place not meant for human habitation immediately before entering institution 

2. Individuals or families who will, within 14 days, lose their primary nighttime residence with no secondary residence, resources, or support networks to fall back on  

3. Unaccompanied youth or families with children/youth who meet the homeless definition under another federal statute and three additional criteria 

4. Individuals/families fleeing or attempting to flee domestic violence with no subsequent residence, resources or support networks

The people who are left behind

While these guidelines may seem to be fairly inclusive, there are still people and circumstances that slip through the cracks. For instance, while ‘imminently homeless’ is someone who will lose their place of residence within 14 days, one doesn’t always know when they are imminently homeless. An argument with a roommate or sudden unexpected shortage of cash can leave an individual without a place to stay in a matter of days.

Additionally, there are more rules and limitations for homeless families and individuals if they are able to pay for motel rooms. Hyatt, who is now the director of the California Homeless Youth Project, explained part of the problem.

“Certain federal-level definitions don’t consider families homeless if they are able to pay for their hotel and motel,” she said. “That’s really problematic because that means that families aren’t eligible for some of the programs that could actually end their homelessness.”

Participate in our Cincinnati car donation program to help

At Volunteers of America, our goal isn’t to establish strict boundaries on who we will or won’t help. Our goal is to accommodate anyone and everyone who truly needs our assistance and support.

If you have an unused vehicle and want to help Ohio’s homeless, donate it to Volunteers of America of Greater Ohio in Cincinnati. We’ll accept almost anything with a motor, from boats and tractors to motorcycles and golf carts–even if it isn’t running. We can arrange free same-day towing, and you might even get more for your vehicle as a tax-deductible donation than you would selling it through the classifieds.

With your donation, you’ll be helping all of those in need in all of the Ohio communities we serve, so contact the Car Donation & Auction Office at 614-870-7511 if you have any questions, or fill out the car donation form.