Table: Youth considered homeless under policies of three federal agencies [1]

Department of Education Department of Housing and Urban Development Department of Health
and Human Services [2]
Source of
definition
McKinney-Vento EHCY Act HEARTH Act Runaway and Homeless Youth Act
Living in unsheltered locations Yes Yes Yes, if youth cannot live with relatives and has no safe alternative
Living in emergency shelters or transitional housing Yes Yes Yes, if youth cannot live with relatives and has no safe alternative
Living in motels or hotels Yes, if no alternative adequate accommodations No, with the following exceptions:

  • Paid for by a government program or charitable organization
  • Lacks resources to stay > 14 days, and has no subsequent residence identified; and lacks the resources or support networks needed to obtain other permanent housing
  • Fleeing domestic violence or threatening conditions in current housing situation with no other residence and no resources to obtain permanent housing
  • Unaccompanied youth or families defined as homeless under other Federal statutes who have experienced (1) a long period without permanent housing and (2) persistent instability as measured by frequent moves and are expected to continue in that status for an extended period; and (3) 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
Yes, if youth cannot live with relatives and has no safe alternative
Staying with others Yes, if no fixed, regular, and adequate residence due to a loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason No, with the following exceptions:

  • Imminent loss of housing (< 14 days) including housing shared with others and  has no subsequent residence identified; and lacks the resources or support networks needed to obtain other permanent housing
  • Fleeing domestic violence or threatening conditions in current housing situation with no other residence and no resources to obtain permanent housing
  • Unaccompanied youth or families defined as homeless under other Federal statutes who have experienced (1) a long period without permanent housing and (2) persistent instability as measured by frequent moves are expected to continue in that status for an extended period; and (3) 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

And, a limited amount of HUD resources may be dedicated to activities serving youth that meet these criteria, and the applicant must justify prioritization of this inclusion in its proposal (including how it has met the needs of all other categories of definition) and receive approval.

Yes, if youth cannot live with relatives and has no safe alternative
[1] Morton, M., Dworsky, A., & Curry, S. (2017). National prevalence study of youth homelessness: VoYC component report to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Chicago, IL: Chapin Hall.

[2] Notably, there are two programs administered by HHS that use ED’s definition of homelessness: Head Start and Child Care. These are important programs for unaccompanied youth who are pregnant and parenting as well as for homeless families.

Federal Laws: Defining Homelessness

Runaway and Homeless Youth Act

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

The Runaway and Homeless Youth (RHY) Act (42 USC 5701 § 387) defines “homeless youth” as individuals who are not more than 18 years of age if seeking shelter in a Basic Center Program, or not more than 21 years of age or less than 16 years of age if seeking services in a Transitional Living Program, and for whom it is not possible to live in a safe environment with a relative, and who have no other safe alternative living arrangement.

McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act

U.S. Department of Education

The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (42 USC 11302) defines children and youth as homeless if they “lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence,” including sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or similar reasons; living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or campgrounds due to lack of alternative accommodations; living in emergency or transitional shelters; and living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations, or similar places.

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

The Homeless Emergency and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act of 2009 amends and reauthorizes the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act with substantial changes, including an expansion of HUD’s definition of homeless:

  1. An individual or family who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence; is living in a place not meant for human habitation, in emergency shelter, in transitional housing, or is exiting an institution where they temporarily resided. The primary change from existing practice is that people will be considered homeless if they are exiting an institution where they resided for up to 90 days (previously 30 days), and were homeless immediately prior to entering that institution;
  2. An individual or family who is losing their primary nighttime residence, which may include a motel or hotel or a doubled-up situation, in 14 days (previously seven days) and lacks resources or support networks to remain in housing;
  3. Unaccompanied youth and families who are homeless under other federal statutes (such as the education definition or the RHY Act definition) who have experienced a long-term period without living independently in permanent housing, have experienced persistent instability as measured by frequent moves, and can be expected to continue in such status for an extended period of time due to chronic disabilities, chronic physical health or mental health conditions, substance addiction, histories of childhood abuse, the presence of a disability, multiple barriers to employment, or other dangerous or life-threatening conditions that relate to violence against an individual or a family member;
  4. Individuals and families who are fleeing, or are attempting to flee, domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking, or other dangerous or life-threatening conditions that relate to violence against the individual or a family member.