The New Age Definition of Homelessness

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A Homeless man stands beside a dumpster | By Ashley Strange

By Ashley Strange

Trinity Washington University

Journalism Class Student

On June 30, 2015, The Young Women’s Project, along with representatives from Sasha Bruce Youthwork, sat on a panel in front of funders to discuss youth homelessness and to figure out the correct definition of homelessness.

According to the National Health Care for the Homeless Council (NHCHC), someone who is homeless is defined as someone who “lacks housing, including an individual whose primary residence during the night is a supervised public or private facility.” The NHCHC also references the term “doubled-up” to describe a person in a situation where they are forced to live with friends or family members.

Having a clear definition of homelessness and how it is caused is crucial, especially during this time of year as we enter freeing cold temperatures. Albert Townsend, Project Manager at People for Fairness Coalition, and his team organize the annual Homeless Person’s Memorial 2-day event to remember the homeless who have died on the streets each year. Townsend knows all too well how it feels to be homeless since he was once “unhoused” himself.

Many of the unhoused live in communities known as Tent City. Organizations such as People for Fairness Coalition are aware of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Encampment Sweeps. Per a press release by the Executive Office of the Mayor in 2015, Bowser plans to end homelessness by 2025. There have been many concerns with how she is going about ending homelessness. “When you separate Tent City, you separate people’s lives,” Townsend said. When the homeless have their tents thrown away they lose many personal items that may be in the tent, and for many those items represent their entire lives.

Although Mayor Bowser has been criticized for her methods of ending homelessness, some think that ending homelessness by 2015 is possible. Joseph Gavrilovich, policy analysis at the DC Alliance for Youth Advocates (DCAYA) believes that the Mayor’s plan is “attainable and that it’s important for the community to get behind the mayor’s goal and have meaningful input into the process.” Housing instability, according to Gavrilovich, “is caused by residential factors, economic factors and or family factors.” Homelessness, which Gavrilovich separates from housing instability, is a result of housing instability. It “takes many forms,” he says. It starts from “staying temporarily with family and friends to sleeping in community shelters to being out on the street, and it can be a temporary or permanent experience.”

Gavrilovich believes that nontraditional forms of homelessness, such as couchsurfing and doubling up should be included in the overall definition of homelessness. He says that “without connections to resources, those who are couchsurfing [or] doubling up are at greater risk of living in shelters or on the street.”

Many youth in DC are experiencing these nontraditional forms of homelessness, many youth like Jeremiah Lashley. His story is a perfect representation of what homeless youth experience every day. Lashley has been homeless since the age of 17, going in and out of countless shelters. “It was an experience,” Lashley stated. He defines homelessness as having “nowhere to go.” He talked about how hard it was for him to find employment due to being homeless. When you are homeless, “there’s nothing left. If you don’t have anything, you can’t get a job”

Lashley is aware of Mayor Bowser’s plan to end homelessness. “Whatever plans and bills she has in place,” he says, “I hope that it will help.” Despite all that he has been through since the age of 17, he still thinks that he has been blessed because he is still alive. Lashley has a message to share; “anybody who knows a homeless person should advocate and reach out to help them in anyway possible.”

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About Ashley Strange

I am studying Communications and English at Trinity University In Washington, D.C. I spent five years in the D.C. foster care system after my mother passed. Life for me has always been a struggle. Specifically, school. I thank God that I was able to graduate despite being told I wouldn't. My learning disability seemed to be too much for teachers to handle; so, I was casted away and did not learn much. After entering foster care I began to go to school everyday and managed to graduate with a 2.7 GPA. I consider myself an advocate and an example for foster youth and for those who were told to basically give up. To this day, I find it amazing that I got my High School Diploma, and will soon be a college graduate. My advice to people like me is to never give up and always strive for success!
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