Jean Kim

  • HUD’s Definition of Physical Homelessness

I look at homelessness from the multidimensional perspectives:

  • Emotional Homelessness
  • Social Homelessness
  • Spiritual Homelessness

HUD’s Definition of Physical Homelessness

There is more than one “official” definition of homelessness. Health centers funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) use the following:

A homeless individual is defined in section 330(h)(5)(A) as “an individual who lacks housing (without regard to whether the individual is a member of a family), including an individual whose primary residence during the night is a supervised public or private facility (e.g., shelters) that provides temporary living accommodations, and an individual who is a resident in transitional housing.” A homeless person is an individual without permanent housing who may live on the streets; stay in a shelter, mission, single room occupancy facilities, abandoned building or vehicle; or in any other unstable or non-permanent situation. [Section 330 of the Public Health Service Act (42 U.S.C., 254b)]

An individual may be considered to be homeless if that person is “doubled up,” a term that refers to a situation where individuals are unable to maintain their housing situation and are forced to stay with a series of friends and/or extended family members. In addition, previously homeless individuals who are to be released from a prison or a hospital may be considered homeless if they do not have a stable housing situation to which they can return. A recognition of the instability of an individual’s living arrangements is critical to the definition of homelessness. (HRSA/Bureau of Primary Health Care, Program Assistance Letter 99-12, Health Care for the Homeless Principles of Practice)

Programs funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) use a different, more limited definition of homelessness [found in the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing Act of 2009 (P.L. 111-22, Section 1003)].

  • An individual who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence;
  • An individual who has 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;
  • An individual or family living in a supervised publicly or privately operated shelter designated to provide temporary living arrangements (including hotels and motels paid for by Federal, State or local government programs for low-income individuals or by charitable organizations, congregate shelters, and transitional housing);
  • An individual who resided in a shelter or place not meant for human habitation and who is exiting an institution where he or she temporarily resided;
  • An individual or family who will imminently lose their housing [as evidenced by a court order resulting from an eviction action that notifies the individual or family that they must leave within 14 days, having a primary nighttime residence that is a room in a hotel or motel and where they lack the resources necessary to reside there for more than 14 days, or credible evidence indicating that the owner or renter of the housing will not allow the individual or family to stay for more than 14 days, and any oral statement from an individual or family seeking homeless assistance that is found to be credible shall be considered credible evidence for purposes of this clause]; has no subsequent residence identified; and lacks the resources or support networks needed to obtain other permanent housing; and
  • Unaccompanied youth and homeless families with children and youth defined as homeless under other Federal statutes who have experienced a long-term period without living independently in permanent housing, have experienced persistent instability as measured by frequent moves over such period, and can be expected to continue in such status for an extended period of time because of chronic disabilities, chronic physical health or mental health conditions, substance addiction, histories of domestic violence or childhood abuse, the presence of a child or youth with a disability, or multiple barriers to employment.

Emotional Homelessness

I have seen so many people who are so abused, hurt, broken, and deserted by their families, friends and society. When these people lose the meaning and purpose of life, and being drowned in a “no-good” self-image, hatred, rage, despair and a destructive life style, they can become emotionally homeless. Often times, physical homelessness causes emotional homelessness and vice-versa. They affect one another. Many physically homeless men and women I served were emotionally homeless as well. Once people fell in to physical homelessness their motivation, desire and hope to live and move forward are all go down the drain.

Declaration of Trauma Informed Care and other resources illustrate the impact of emotional homelessness as follows: 1) The event of becoming homeless – of losing one’s home, neighbor, routines, accustomed social roles, possible even family members – may itself produce symptoms of psychological trauma in some victims. 2) The ongoing condition of homelessness – living in shelters with such attendant stressors as the possible loss of safety, predictability, and control – may undermine and finally erode coping capabilities and precipitate symptoms of psychological trauma. 3) Becoming homeless and living in shelters may exacerbate symptoms of psychological trauma among people who have histories of victimization.” [1]

Someone said that when the emotional pain is too great to bear a person’ mind goes out of their body in to outer world. That is mental illness which can be termed as emotional homelessness.

        Kierkegaard calls such deep despair “sickness unto death.”[2] Dr. May, MD calls this despair “a sin; theologically, sin is what turns us away from love – away from love for ourselves, away from love for one another, and away from love for God. The worst sin is losing hope because it denies God who is the source of hope.” [3]

        Trauma, left untreated, can devastate both the individual and our community: The financial burden to society of undiagnosed and untreated trauma is staggering. Untreated trauma significantly decreases productivity in the workplace, increase reliance on public welfare, and incarceration rates. The economic costs of untreated trauma-related alcohol and drug abuse alone were estimated at $160.7 billion in 2,000.[4]

[1] Declaration of Trauma Informed Care: Homelessness as Psychological Trauma: Broadening Perspective, 1991.
[2] Soren Kierkegaard. Sickness unto death (Wilder Publications, 2008), 9.
[3] Gerald G. May, M.D., Addiction and Grace (New York: HarperCollins Publisher, 1988), 2.
[4] The Economic Costs of Drug Abuse in the United States, 1992-1998.

Social Homelessness

I see many homeless men and women I serve don’t have any family members nearby, estranged by them or spouses or grown children and vice versa. Most of them have no friends they associate with or can count on. When I helped nearly 40 people for free cell phones from government assisted cell phone program. One condition to get the free phone was presenting physical address of self or someone. More than half of them couldn’t come up with “anyone” who could allow them to use their physical home addresses. I asked them, “any friend, relative and family members” whose address they could use. Answer was amazing “NO.” No one invites them. They have no place to go. They mostly waste time because no one gives them work. They are nowhere and everywhere on the streets. They seem to be very lonely, isolated, alienated, belong nowhere, no body. They are alone, with no one’s care and attention. Some, of course, have drinking or drug bodies who often use, abuse and exploit each other. They don’t call themselves friends for each other.

I have a homeless man who waited for low income housing for 5 years and finally got it and moved in. We wanted to shout to the whole world about this good news and have a celebration. At our surprise, he shouted a clear “NO” because he knew that other homeless people will come, use, abuse, exploit his new home and soon he will be evicted from the housing. He was a man with no single friend in this society. He was so abused and trust NO ONE in this world, he said. Millions of people are out there. Huge wealthy society is out there. There are millions of doors of millions of building. But he has nothing to do with them and vice versa. He has no single door he can walk through. He belongs nowhere. These people have fear, mistrust, and hatred toward this cruel society and world. I call this “social homelessness.”

A scholarly concept of Social isolation refers to a complete or near-complete lack of contact with people and society for members of a social species:

It is usually involuntary, making it distinct from isolating tendencies or actions consciously undertaken by a person, all of which go by various other names. It is also not the same as loneliness rooted in temporary lack of contact with other humans. Social isolation can be an issue for anyone despite their age, each age group may show more symptoms than the other as children are different from adults. Social isolation takes fairly common forms across the spectrum regardless of whether that isolation is self-imposed or is a result of a historical lifelong isolation cycle that has simply never been broken, which also does exist. All types of social isolation can lead to staying home for days or weeks at a time; having no communication with anyone including family or even the most peripheral of acquaintances or friends; and willfully avoiding any contact with other humans when those opportunities do arise. Even when socially isolated people do go out into public and attempt social interactions, the social interactions that succeed — if any — are brief and at least somewhat superficial. The feelings of loneliness, fear of others, or negative self-esteem can produce potentially very severe psychological injuries. True social isolation over years and decades tends to be a chronic condition affecting all aspects of a person’s existence. These people have no one to turn to in personal emergencies, no one to confide in during a crisis, and no one to measure their own behavior against or learn etiquette from — referred to sometimes as social control, but possibly best described as simply being able to see how other people behave and adapt oneself to that behavior. Lack of consistent human contact can also cause conflict with the (peripheral) friends the socially-isolated person might occasionally talk to, or might cause interaction problems with family members. It may also give rise to uncomfortable thoughts and behaviors within the person. [1]

Some homeless people might have developed social isolation prior to their homeless experience. But many others seemed to fall into social isolation during their homeless life as a result of being robbed, physically sexually and emotionally abused, used, and exploited, and intentionally they cut off all association with people as a man I mentioned above. They usually superficially related to people at meal programs.

[1] From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: Social Isolation.

Spiritual Homelessness

When abused children grow up identifying God with their abusive parents and run away from them and God all together, they can become spiritually homeless. Economic suffering can become the root cause of people’s spiritual homelessness when it results in hunger, homelessness, profound hopelessness and despair that make them feel that God punishes and deserts them. Consequently, their life style and behaviors can become destructive to themselves and others and easily walk away from God and their own life and become spiritually homeless. They might also believe the Church and God side with their oppressors when the Church is denying their access to the house of God just because they are dirty, smelly, disheveled and at times act strange. Therefore, the behavior of the church can lead the homeless as well as themselves to spiritual homelessness.
My point is that those who consider themselves as devoted Christians with regular spiritual rituals – attending church, bring offerings, pray, and fast all regularly – can also become spiritually homeless as described in the Scriptures: I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt-offerings and grain-offerings, I will not accept them; take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream (Amos 5: 21-24): Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1: 17).

Because we practice all these rituals we think we are acceptable to God but God doesn’t seem to think so.

I remember a story that I heard in Florida: One day Jesus was walking down the street. He saw a woman crying outside a church building. He asked “Why are you crying, sister? She looked up and answered, “Because this church wouldn’t let me in as I am badly smelling homeless woman.” Jesus replied, “Don’t worry, sister, they wouldn’t let me in either.” This story reminds us of Matthew 25: 43, 45: Jesus said, “I was a stranger and you did not welcome me. Just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”

According to this verse the church that didn’t welcome her refused Jesus as well and can become spiritually homeless; physically in church but spiritually not in God’s heart. My point is that even homed, well-to do ordinary devoted Christians too can be spiritually or emotionally homeless depending on what they experience and/or how they relate to God and treat “the oppressed, orphans and widows,” who are the homeless people in our day.

I myself had been all these places: In a refugee life from North to South Korea and in Korean War I experienced physical homelessness. When I lost a child of age 17, I was so devastated and hopeless that I fell into the dark valley of death with strong suicide ideation asking God to cancel my life, kill me, nullify my existence from this world and abandon me; and when I pushed God away with all my strength I was emotionally and spiritually homeless. This means I am not different from those homeless friends I serve who go through what I went through.

In short, anyone can experience physical or emotional, social or spiritual homelessness one time or another during our life time. Therefore, it is not just someone else’s experience but can be our own too. All four types of homelessness are all intertwined with each other and affect one another.