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Take 10 minutes to send Congress an email today. Decisions are being made, and we need more money to serve 40,000 more people next year. Your voice can help secure that funding. Use our easy tools to reach out. 


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The National Alliance to End Homelessness is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to solving the problem of homelessness and preventing its continued growth.
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Are All Persons Sleeping in Vehicles Homeless and Should They Be Included in Homeless Counts?

Are All Persons Sleeping in Vehicles Homeless
and Should They Be Included in Homeless Counts?

Joe Colletti, PhD

The lack of affordable housing has resulted in more persons living in vehicles according to recent media reports. As rents have increased, so has the number of persons who are sleeping in vehicles.
With the next nationwide homeless count just a couple of weeks away, the number of persons counted as homeless may increase significantly if everyone who is sleeping in a vehicle other than a car is counted as homeless, especially on the west coast (see media reports noted below). Most vehicles are not designed to be a place to sleep overnight. However, more and more people are designing a vehicle to be used as a place to sleep overnight as reported by the media. 

            Defining Homelessness 

Designing a vehicle as a place to sleep overnight brings into question the phrase "meant for human habitation," which is part of the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) definition of homelessness that is used to determine if a person is chronically homeless and included in the nationwide count. The definition for chronically homeless includes an individual who "is homeless and lives in a place not meant for human habitation."
HUD's definition of homeless has included a "place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings, including a car . . ." as noted below:

"Homeless means:
(1) An individual or family who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence, meaning:
(i) An individual or family with a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings, including a car, park, abandoned building, bus or train station, airport, or camping ground;"
Thus, persons living "in a place not meant for human habitation" and a "private place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings" should be counted as homeless.

            Persons Sleeping Overnight in Cars Are Homeless
HUD has provided guides to counting unsheltered persons and has stated that persons sleeping in cars are homeless, as noted on page 55 of the 2006 guide and page 56 of the 2008 guide. Cars are "not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation" as noted on page 18 of the 2014 guide.
In addition, they are not conducive for redesigning as a place to sleep.
Persons Sleeping Overnight in Vehicles No Longer Designed or Not Redesigned Are Homeless
Persons sleeping overnight in vehicles once designed but no longer intended to be a place for human habitation are homeless according to HUD and should be included in homeless counts. These vehicles have not been repaired or redesigned for human habitation. 

Page 55 of the 2006 guide and page 56 of the 2008 guide state that
"If, however, the trailer was simply abandoned on its site and people are occupying it temporarily and without permission, they are probably literally homeless. Substitute an unreconstructed school bus for the trailer--that is, a school bus that has not been stripped and remade as a dwelling-and the occupants are definitely literally homeless. There would be no difference between the school bus in a rural area and squatting in an abandoned building or living in an abandoned car on the streets of a city--both are situations of literal homelessness."
            Are Persons Sleeping Overnight in Redesigned Vehicles Homeless?
Variations of vans, trucks, and RVs can be conducive for redesigning as a place to sleep. They generally have larger interior space that can be designed to sleep on an on-going basis. In fact, according to recent media reports, owners of such vehicles are redesigning interior space to make it livable for them or doing so in order to charge rent to occupants.
One media story noted that there were an increasing number of persons buying motor vehicles and trailers equipped with living space and amenities found in a home and parking them along streets in Portland. The typical asking price is under $10,000. 
Los Angeles vehicle-owners renting a growing fleet of box trucks and RVs after cleaning them up was the focus of another recent story. A "bunk in the RV goes for $200 per week, a whole RV goes for $1,000 a month, and box trucks for $500 per month."

Thus, counting people sleeping in a vehicle as homeless, according to the HUD definition noted above, is becoming increasingly questionable as the size of interior space increases because the redesigned vehicle: 
  • is intended to be a place for human habitation; and
  • is designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings. 

Deciding If Persons Sleeping Overnight in Redesigned Vehicles Are Homeless

The HUD guides to counting unsheltered persons have been consistently clear that each jurisdiction (continuum of care)1  must have a homeless count plan and a homeless count committee to effectively plan and manage their homeless counts as noted on pages 21 and 22 of the 2014 guide

                        Gleaning Guidance
The HUD guides also provide guidance to help decide whether to include persons sleeping overnight in redesigned vehicles in a homeless count. A car is one type of vehicle. Other types of vehicles include variations of vans, trucks, and RVs, which have more interior space to redesign as a habitable place to sleep overnight.
                        Cars and Vans
In the HUD definition for homeless, cars are "not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation." Though vans are not mentioned, generally speaking, they are "not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation." Thus, persons sleeping overnight in cars or vans are homeless. 

                      Trucks and RVs
Trucks and RVs have more interior space than cars and vans and the space can be designed, or redesigned, as a habitable place to sleep overnight. RVs are larger than trucks and are more likely to have interior space that include core elements of habitability like access to electricity, running water, plumbing, and heat. Thus, persons sleeping overnight in a habitable RV are not likely to be homeless. Conversely, persons sleeping in an RV without core elements of habitability are likely to be homeless. 

Trucks, however, have not been historically designed to be habitable like RVs. Nevertheless, many have large interior spaces that are being redesigned as a habitable place to sleep overnight, according to recent media reports. Thus, whether to consider persons sleeping overnight in such vehicles as homeless is becoming increasingly questionable. Do some of the trucks include core elements of habitability or not?
Including persons sleeping in trucks in the jurisdictional counts this January seems like the prudent thing to do. This issue, however, should be revisited well before the 2019 homeless count. 
1. Continuums of care are the planning body responsible for meeting the goals of the continuum of care program as outlined in the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing: Continuum of Care Interim Rule.  

Did artist housing spark Times Square turnaround?

Tuesday, January 9, 2018
In this Issue: Can Rowhouse Repairs Make Philly Healthier?GOP Tax "Reform" Endangers Community InvestmentDid Artist Housing Spark Times Square Turnaround?Also: Jobs ● Shelter Shorts ● Industry News ● Opportunity +
Keli A. Tianga, Shelterforce
A new documentary explores the stories behind a bold idea in the 1970s to create a subsidized housing community for artists in one of New York City's most challenging neighborhoods. Read Full Article
Ryan Briggs, reporter 
In Philadelphia, roughly 125,000 homeowners may be in danger of losing their homes due to unaffordable maintenance costs. Poorly maintained homes exacerbate asthma and other chronic health conditions. That’s why health care professionals and housing advocates are working together to… Read Full Article
Ted Wysocki, Institute of Cultural Affairs-USA
Apparently there wasn’t one Republican Senator who was willing to stick up for the idea that tax reform supposedly aimed at growing our economy should augment, not diminish, community investment. Read Full Article
Looking for a Job? Scroll Down...
Shelter Shorts

2018 Housing predictions // Gentrification News // Local Resistance // Unlikely inspiration for planners // NCRC’s smart move. Again. Read them all (and more) here.
Industry News
Pamela Benoit is the new chief operating officer at REACH Community Development. She previously served as CFO for the organization. Benoit has also served as CFO with Human Solutions and AHC Inc., senior vice president for finance and administration at Catholic Charities USA, and as vice president and director of finance at Montgomery Housing Partnership Inc.
Kevin Davenport is the new director of membership and organizing for the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC). Since September 2015, Davenport has served as NCRC’s senior regional organizer and organizing and advocacy manager. Prior to his roles with NCRC, Davenport worked to increase the minimum wage in Illinois, directed various GOTV campaigns, and organized a coalition of 250 faith-based institutions around Affordable Care Act enrollment.
Joan Serviss has become the new executive director of the Arizona Housing Coalition. Serviss formerly led the Arizona Coalition to End Homelessness, which merged with the Arizona Housing Alliance last year. Serviss and Val Iverson, Arizona Housing Alliance's director, served as co-executive directors of the new organization from July 1 until the end of 2017, when Iverson retired. Iverson led the Alliance for nine years until its merger.
Deadline Approaching for Annual Organizing Awards Nominations Friday, January 12 is the deadline for National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) members to submit nominations for the annual Organizing Award. Awards will be presented at the 2018 NLIHC Housing Policy Forum in March. Special consideration will be given to nominations that incorporate tenant- or resident-centered organizing.
In 2018, the Bank of America Charitable Foundation will issue two requests for proposals (RFPs) on the priority focus areas of: 

To attend a webinar on Jan. 23 that will explain the application process, click here. To apply for the RFPs online, click here.  
Help support Shelterforce, the voice of community development!
You Said It!

A long, and sometimes heated, discussion about middle-income housing took place in response to a Twitter post about our most-read article of 2017, which was written by Rick Jacobus. 

My personal opinion is that rent control is a bad thing—conferring a benefit on long-time renters, at the expense of new renter movers to the neighborhood, generally with a zero-sum effect on… —Charlie Wilkins, more

If more rentals were cooperatively owned by the residents rent control could become obsolete and the industry could look to the cooperatives to determine what it costs operate a… —Herb Fisher, more

I am concerned about continuing to use the 30 percent threshold as a definer of affordability. For families at the lowest end of the income spectrum, 30 percent may be too high a portion of their income to spend on housing; but, for more moderate-income families, spending up to 40-45 percent on housing may not be… —Chris, more

Editor Reply
Chris, We agree that the 30 percent standard is a very broad brush. You might be interested in this series of articles we published in last year’s Spring issue about it. (And likewise that gentrification means many things.) —Miriam Axel-Lute
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