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What is the average length of time a person is homeless?


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July 21, 2011 12:15PM

Homelessness follows a "power law" curve.

The vast, vast majority of people who experience homelessness are homeless for a few days, maybe a week or two. This usually occurs in between moving apartments, getting kicked out after a breakup, getting evicted, etc. The problem with these people is that they tend to be invisible - either they can couch surf with friends, or they stay in a shelter one night or two, and nobody really knows they were there. When people go around and count all the homeless people, these are the ones that get missed.

On the other hand, there are some people who are homeless for 6 months, 1 year, 10 years. These are the chronically homeless, who - while few in numbers - are the ones that use all of the resources. They spend a lot of time in shelters, they go to food banks and soup kitchens every day, they take up a lot of time in case workers, they end up going to the emergency room and spending time in detox. These people can cost a city up to a million dollars per year, EACH (through using expensive services like ambulances, ER, and police custody).

The people who are chronically homeless skew the average for "average length of time a person is homeless." It's hard to say for sure, but the average length of time someone is homeless is about 1 week. Probably three quarters of everyone who becomes homeless is homeless for 6 weeks, and about 95% are homeless for less than 6 months.