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Continuum of Care (CoC)

Continuum of Care (CoC) Programs are tasked to track and manage the homeless community in their area. The CoC Program is designed to promote:

  • communitywide commitment to the goal of ending homelessness;
  • provide funding for efforts by nonprofit providers, State and local governments to quickly rehouse homeless individuals and families while minimizing the trauma and dislocation caused to homeless individuals, families, and communities by homelessness;
  • promote access to and effect utilization of mainstream programs by homeless individuals and families;
  • and optimize self-sufficiency among individuals and families experiencing homelessness.

One of the most important activities entrusted to CoCs is the biannual count of the homeless population and an annual enumeration of emergency systems, transitional housing units, and beds that make up the homeless assistance systems. These counts provide an overview of the state of homelessness in a CoC, and offer the information necessary to redirect services, funding, and resources as necessary.

These numbers come from Point-in-Time Counts, (PIT) which are conducted, community by community, on a single night in January every year. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires communities to submit this data every other year in order to qualify for federal homeless assistance funds. The most recent data from HUD can be found in the agency's 2016 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress.

Of the homeless population
14 percent
are considered "chronically homeless” individuals.

By the numbers:

  • In January 2016, 549,928 people were homeless on a given night in the United States.
  • Of that number, 194,716 were people in families, and 335,212 were individuals.
  • About 14 percent of the homeless population - 77,486 - are considered "chronically homeless” individuals.
  • About 2 percent - 8,646 - are considered "chronically homeless” people in families.
  • About 7 percent of homeless people- 39,471 - are veterans.

Four Specific Groups Experiencing Homelessness

Homeless families are similar to other poor families. Typically, families become homeless as a result of some unforeseen financial crisis - a medical emergency, a car accident, a death in the family - that prevents them from being able to hold on to housing. Most homeless families are able to bounce back from homelessness quickly, with relatively little public assistance. Usually, homeless families require rent assistance, housing placement services, job assistance, and other short-term, one-time services before being able to return to independence and stability.

Young people often become homeless due to family conflict, including divorce, neglect, or abuse. A large majority of young people experience short-term homelessness, returning back home or to family/friends. Youth homelessness presents a particular challenge for several reasons, including the fact that there is very little definitive data on the population, as this group often doesn’t interact with standard homeless assistance programs or government agencies. Moreover, the solutions that have been identified for homelessness in general are often not applicable to minors (who are, for example, ineligible to rent an apartment). These special challenges mean that solutions to youth homelessness require innovation. There has been specific interest to the LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness who have specific needs and are at heightened risk of harm as compared to their heterosexual homeless youth counterparts.

Veterans often become homeless due to war-related disabilities. For a variety of reasons – physical disability, mental anguish, post-traumatic stress, etc. – many veterans find readjusting to civilian life difficult. Difficulties readjusting can give rise to dangerous behaviors, including addiction, abuse, and violence, which, coupled with the difficulties, can lead to homelessness. Preventive measures, including job placement services, medical services, housing assistance, and the like, can mitigate the risk of veterans experiencing homelessness.

Chronic Homelessness
Chronic homelessness is often the public face of homelessness. "Chronic" has a specific definition, involving either long-term and/or repeated bouts of homelessness coupled with disability (physical or mental). People experiencing chronic homelessness often end up living in shelters and consume a plurality of the homeless assistance system’s resources. 

It’s a common misconception that this group represents the majority of the homelessness population. Rather, they account for less than 15 percent of the entire homeless population on a given day.

Fortunately, there has been significant progress to address chronic homelessness in the last decade. The number of individuals experiencing chronic homelessness has declined by 35 percent since 2007.

What is continum of Care?

The Big Picture

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