Homelessness Glossary

Affordable Care Act (ACA)—A healthcare law, passed in 2010, that guarantees that most Americans can buy or receive health care. Also known as Obamacare. Most people experiencing homelessness are eligible for free healthcare under the ACA.


Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)— Adverse or traumatic childhood experiences that harm the developing brain and lead to changes in how individuals respond to stress. ACEs damage an individual’s immune system profoundly, and the effects are evident decades later. ACEs are said to cause many chronic diseases and mental illnesses. ACEs are being implemented in some trauma-informed care practices with people experiencing homelessness, to better understand the root of an individual’s mental or physical illnesses.

Acuity Scale – Measurement of intensity of nursing care required by a patient. 

Adequate housing – Housing that does not require any major repairs. Adequate housing includes enough privacy, security, lighting, ventilation, basic infrastructure, and accessibility to work and basic facilities, all at a reasonable cost. Housing that is inadequate may have excessive mold, inadequate heating or water supply, significant damage, etc. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, “international human rights law recognizes everyone’s right to an adequate standard of living, including adequate housing.”

Addiction treatment programs—Recovery programs for people experiencing addiction to alcohol or drugs. May take place in residential program, at a sober living house, or in an outpatient program.

Affordable housing – Any type of housing for which the monthly rent, including basic utilities, amounts to no more than 30% of a household’s monthly income.


Apple Health—Washington’s version of Medicaid. Provides preventative care, screenings, treatments, and other services for low-income individuals and families.

At risk of homelessness – people who are not homeless, but whose current economic and/or housing situation is precarious or does not meet public health and safety standards.

Asset based approaches - include a wide-range of projects and initiatives that promote savings and the acquisition of assets among people with low incomes, including welfare recipient. 

Basic shelter—Location with limited hours and services based on basic needs and respite. Generally provide mats on the floor and a restroom.



Best practices - Generally accepted, informally-standardized procedures, methods, or techniques that have proven their effectiveness over time and are often seen as the standard of a particular practice.

Busking – Performing music or other forms of entertainment in public for voluntary donations. A subsistence strategy often associated with people experiencing homelessness..

Capacity – The ability of people, organizations and society to manage their affairs successfully. 

Capacity development - The process through which people, organizations, and society unleash, strengthen, adapt, create, and maintain capacity overtime. 

Case management – A collaborative, client-centered approach to service provision for individuals and, when applicable, families experiencing homelessness. In this process, a case worker assesses the needs and when appropriate, arranges coordinates and advocates for delivery and access to a range of programs and services to promote quality, cost-effective outcomes. 

Case studies – In terms of service provision, detailed examples of particular agencies, programs, systems or activities that highlight the development and/or success or failure of their implementation, as well as lessons learned. 

Child Poverty – Children living in a family with an income below the federal poverty threshold. 21% of all children in the USA live in poverty; however, under other measurements that take into consideration the unique costs of family expenses, that number is said to be as high as 43%. Childhood poverty can impede a child’s ability to learn, and is correlated with social, emotional, behavioral, and mental and physical health problems both during childhood and later in life. These problems may increase a person’s risk for experiencing homelessness as adults.

Chronic disease – A disease that persists for at least three months, and cannot be prevented by vaccines or cured by medicine. According to a 2014 report, over 80% of people who are experiencing homelessness suffer from chronic conditions, which may be the result or the source of the housing vulnerability. Homelessness complicates an individual’s ability to manage otherwise-treatable chronic diseases, and may lead to worse outcomes than those of people with the same disease, who are housed.

Chronic homelessness—Defined by the HUD as “either (1) an unaccompanied homeless individual with a disabling condition who has been continuously homeless for a year or more, OR (2) an unaccompanied individual with a disabling condition who has had at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years.”


City-Permitted Villages—the City of Seattle and the Low Income Housing Institute collaborate to operate “a place for unsheltered people to find stability and connect to housing resources.” The villages provide a locking tiny house structure, access to hygiene services, case management, a kitchen,and a managed community.

Collaborative network – A term used to describe loosely affiliated networks as well as more formal partnerships between people working across departments, organizations, or sectors. Collaboration does not require formal infrastructure to merge work processes across organizational sites. Homeless services are working increasingly toward collaboration in order to provide comprehensive services for clients.

Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR)—A "collaborative approach to research that equitably involves all partners in the research process and recognizes the unique strengths that each brings. CBPR begins with a research topic of importance to the community, has the aim of combining knowledge with action and achieving social change to improve health outcomes and eliminate health disparities."

Community mapping—A research tool that can be used to reveal how community members feel about their geographic system. Data collected through community mapping can be used to inform the improvement of social services, community spaces, and safety measures, as well as identify “hot spots” that can be useful in targeting interventions.


Community services – Unpaid work, typically through nonprofit or faith-based organizations, intended to help people in a particular area or demographic. Many homeless resources are based out of community services.


               Companion Animal

               Companion Animal

Companion animal—A pet or other domestic animal. Unlike service animals, companion animals are not trained to perform a specific task or do work.


Compassion fatigue—a state experienced by those helping others in distress without practicing self-care. Compassion fatigue is characterized by extreme tension and preoccupation with the suffering of others, and can create secondary traumatic stress for the helper. Apathy, bottled up emotions, substance abuse, and isolation are associated with compassion fatigue.

Co-occurring Disorders (Dual Diagnosis) – Conditions in which mental and substance abuse disorders occur in the same person, at the same time. People experiencing homelessness are more likely to experience this, and less likely to have access to integrated care treatment. This can lead to chronic homelessness and deterioration in mental and physical health.

Also called dual diagnosis or concurrent disorders.

Cooperation - refers to expressions of interest and support between organizations. 


Coordinated Entry (CE)-- A systems-level approach for providing centralized, standardized access to housing and other community resources for people experiencing a housing crisis, including homelessness. This entails a low-barrier approach, a Housing First orientation, and a person-centered approach.


Coordinated Entry for All (CEA)—King County’s approach to Coordinated Entry. CEA attempts to streamline the path to housing by identifying, evaluating, and connecting people in a housing crisis to support services and housing resources.

Coordinated intake - a standardized approach to assessing a person’s current situation, the acuity of their needs and the services they currently receive and may require in the future, and takes into account the background factors that contribute to risk and resilience, changes in acuity, and the role friends, family, caregivers, community and environmental factors. 

Couch surfing/Doubling up—A term commonly used to describe staying temporarily in other people’s homes, often making use of improvised sleeping arrangements.


Day/Hygiene center—Provides a place to rest during the day and basic needs such as restroom, hygiene, and laundry.


De-escalation—Verbal and emotional skills to prevent a potentially dangerous situation from escalating into physical confrontation or injury. De-escalation trainings are often included or encouraged for people who work with the homeless population.


Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)—a Cabinet department in the Executive branch of the US government. The Community Planning and Development program under HUD administers many major affordable housing and homelessness programs.


Discharge planning - preparing someone to move from an institutional setting (child welfare system, criminal justice system, hospital etc) into a non-institutional setting either independently or with certain supports in place. 

Discrimination - Intentional or unintentional actions that negatively affect people, based on biases and prejudices. People are often discriminated against based on race, age, sex, and housing status.

Diversion—Services offered to people or families who are experiencing homelessness but have not yet entered or are new to the shelter system. Includes one-time financial assistance or services to find creative solutions to the individual’s challenges. This may include family reunification, landlord mediation, or short-term rental payment.


Domestic minor sex trafficking (DMST)—recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining minors under the age 18 to perform commercial sex acts (see “sex work” and “sex trafficking”). DMST is increasingly becoming a risk factor for American youth, particularly youth experiencing homelessness.


Domestic violence (DV) (also called intimate partner violence (IPV), domestic abuse or relationship abuse)—A pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in an intimate relationship. DV can affect anyone regardless of race, age, gender, or sexual orientation. It may manifest as physical or sexual violence, threats, intimidation, controlling behaviors, emotional abuse, or economic deprivation. DV is a common reason for people to become homeless, and resources are available. The number for the National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-7233.

Emergency Response – providing emergency supports like shelter, food and day programs while someone is homeless. 

Emergency shelter—Any space primarily designated for overnight temporary or transitional shelter for people experiencing homelessness. Individuals and care providers can access emergency shelter information in Seattle by dialing 2-1-1.

Emerging practice – interventions that are new, innovative and hold promise based on some level of evidence of effectiveness or change that is not research-based and/or sufficient to be deemed a ‘promising’ or ‘best’ practice. 

Hooverville in Seattle, 1937. See: Encampment

Encampment—Gathering or community of people residing out of doors. Some sites are unauthorized by the city and subject to removal by the Navigation Team; others are supervised by a sponsor or temporary agency.


Enhanced shelter—May have 24/7 service hours and/or extend services to include meals, hygiene, storage, case work, housing navigation, etc.

Executive Director (ED) – also known as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) in larger organizations, this title refers to the most senior staff position within an organization. 

Fair Chance Housing—A legislation passed in August 2017 by the City of Seattle to help prevent unfair bias in housing against renters with a past criminal record.

Family reconnection (and reunification) - client-driven case-management approach that seeks to identify and nurture opportunities to strengthen relationships and resolve conflicts between young people who leave home and their caregivers. 

Food Stamps/Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—Monthly benefits for qualifying individuals to buy food. Most people experiencing homelessness qualify for this benefit.


Foster Care—a temporary situation wherein a child is separated from their family, generally with the goal of reunification.


Fresh Bucks—a healthy food initiative that matches, dollar for dollar, SNAP benefits at Farmer’s Markets. Fresh Bucks may only be spent on fresh produce at participating Markets.


General Educational Development (GED)—A group of four subject tests that, when passed, provide the equivalent of a high-school diploma. Can be taken at any time.


Gentrification-- Gentrification is the process of renewal and rebuilding that accompanies the influx of middle-class or affluent people into lower-class, often deteriorating, neighborhoods.  It is a phenomenon that actively changes the physical, socioeconomic, and demographic characteristics of neighborhoods—most specifically by displacing poorer residents, often resulting in homelessness.  Changes brought about by gentrification usually include higher housing and rental prices, property taxes, and residential incomes.  

Hard skills – refers to marketable skills (such as carpentry, computer repair, restaurant work) that increase the employability of people wanting to get jobs. See also: Soft skills

Harm Reduction – a set of practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing negative consequences associated with drug use, such as safe use spaces and needle exchanges. Harm Reduction is also a movement for social justice built on a belief in, and respect for, the rights of people who use drugs.

Health Promotion – According to World Health Organization, health promotion is defined as the process of enabling people to increase control over and to improve their health. It moves beyond a focus on individual behavior towards a wide range of social and environmental interventions.

Hidden homelessness – refers specifically to persons who live temporarily with others without the guarantee of continued residency or immediate prospects for accessing permanent housing. 

Historical trauma— cumulative emotional and psychological wounding over the lifespan and across generations, emanating from massive group trauma experiences such as genocide, slavery, and war. More likely to be experienced by oppressed groups. Historical trauma is associated with mental and physical health risks in subsequent generations. Similar to intergenerational/transgenerational trauma, but on a communal level.

Homelessness –describes the situation of an individual or family without stable, permanent, appropriate housing, or the immediate prospect, means and ability of acquiring it. Most people do not choose to be homeless, and the experience is generally negative, unpleasant, stressful and traumatic. 

Homeless State of Emergency—an official declaration of crisis in response to persistent and growing homelessness. While in a state of emergency, public officials can suspend payments on other government services in order to fund additional staff to address the crisis. The declaration also allows public officials to act faster in connecting people with behavioral health services and placing them in shelters. The declarations also raise public awareness about homelessness. King County declared a Homeless State of Emergency in November 2015.


Housing Choice Voucher Program--  the federal government's major program for assisting very low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled to afford housing in the private market. Participants are able to find their own housing, including single-family homes, townhouses and apartments. Housing choice vouchers are administered locally by public housing agencies (PHAs). The PHAs receive federal funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to administer the voucher program.

Since the demand for housing assistance often exceeds the limited resources available to HUD and the local housing agencies, long waiting periods are common.


Housing exclusion - the failure of society to ensure that adequate systems, funding and support are in place so that all people, even in crisis situations, have access to housing. 

Housing First – an approach to quickly and successfully connect individuals and families experiencing homelessness to permanent housing without preconditions and barriers to entry, such as sobriety, treatment or service participation requirements. Permanent supportive housing models that use a Housing First approach have been proven to be highly effective for ending homelessness, particularly for people experiencing chronic homelessness who have higher service needs.

Housing Insecure—a condition in which individuals or families experience uncertainty in their living situation. This can be a result of having to spend more than half of income on housing, substandard housing (living in a home that lacks basic upkeep or services), or overcrowding.

Housing policies - refers to the actions of government, including legislation and program delivery, which have a direct or indirect impact on housing supply and availability, housing standards and urban planning. 

Human trafficking-- The recruitment, transportation, harboring, provision, or obtaining of a person for sex work (see “sex trafficking”), labor or other services, through the use of force, fraud or coercion. Victims are subjected to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage or slavery. Individuals experiencing homelessness are particularly vulnerable to being trafficked. 


Hygiene Center—Generally offer people experiencing homelessness a place to use the restroom, take a shower, and do laundry. Usually open on drop-in basis during the day.

Individual and Relational Factors – apply to the personal circumstances of an individual, and may include: traumatic events, personal crisis, mental health and addictions challenges which can be both a cause and consequence of homelessness and physical health problems or disabilities. Relational problems can include family violence and abuse, extreme poverty, addictions, and mental health problems of other family members. Individual and relational factors contribute to an individual’s predisposition to experiencing homelessness, and are important to consider in client relations.

Infectious disease/Communicable disease - illnesses caused by viruses or bacteria that are spread between people or from animals to people. Researchers on homelessness and infectious disease often focus their investigation on Hepatitis A, B and C, tuberculosis, HIV/ AIDS and a range of sexually transmitted infections. Outbreaks of infectious diseases, due to crowded conditions and lack of access to sanitation, are a major concern among King County public health officials.

Informal economy - economic activities that fall outside the formal labor market and regulation of the state. Generally refers to production, distribution and consumption of goods and services that are not accounted for in formal measurements of the economy. 


Inpatient treatment – a voluntarily-entered, secure facility in which intensive drug and alcohol treatment programs are the focus of daily activities. Programs last a minimum of 28 days, and patients reside within the facility. Detox services may or may not be included in the residential program. Also known as residential treatment programs. Programs can be expensive, but some are covered under Medicaid/Medicare.

Institutional/systemic/structural racism-- “the systematic distribution of resources, power and opportunity in our society to the benefit of people who are white and the exclusion of people of color.” This form of racism contributes significantly to the disproportionately large number of people of color who experience homelessness.

Integration – Please see System integration. 

Intergenerational poverty—the poverty induced by socioeconomic challenges of an individual’s parents. Children growing up in low-income households are more likely to be deprived of access to services and opportunities, and to experience homelessness as adults.


Intergenerational transmission of trauma/transgenerational trauma—trauma transferred from the first generation of survivors to subsequent generations of offspring. Trauma may be transferred through behavior, attachment, and epigenetics (expression of DNA), and is associated with mental and physical health risks.


Intervention— common descriptor for action taken to improve a situation and prevent harm. This can apply to a medical or mental health disorder or life crisis such as homelessness.


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Life skills – skills that are essential for living independently, such as managing money, shopping, cooking, etc. Life skills classes may help previously-homeless individuals maintain residential stability.

LGBTQIA+—the acronym commonly used to encompass lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex, asexual, allied and others on the spectrum of sexual and gender expression.

Low-barrier shelter— provides people with shelter, without requiring sobriety or ID, and often allowing pets.

Meaningful engagement - has a few different meanings for work with homeless persons. This type of engagement includes involving homeless persons in community-based research, creating participatory evaluations or providing supports and activities that foster growth, independence and full participation in society. 

Measuring integration – refers to efforts in assessing the degree to which clients are receiving appropriately integrated services and/or used to improve coordination efforts. 

Motivational Interviewing – an evidence based practice in working with in which service provider allows the client to direct the change rather than telling the client what they need to do. This method is often used to address addiction and management of physical health conditions, and is often used with people experiencing homelessness. Research indicates that this intervention may be useful for motivating individuals who may start off unmotivated or resistant to change.

Narcan/Naloxone—The only FDA-approved nasal spray for the emergency treatment of a known or suspected opioid overdose. Regular citizens can take trainings to carry and administer Narcan.


Navigation center—a dormitory-style living facility that provides people experiencing homelessness with hygiene services, laundry, dining facilities, and storage. Additionally provides round-the-clock case management, mental and behavioral health services, and connections to benefit programs and housing. *NOTE* This term has different meanings in different cities and different agencies


Navigation team—“a specially trained team comprised of outreach workers paired with Seattle Police Department (SPD) personnel, to connect unsheltered people to housing and critical resources, while helping address pervasive challenges around the issue of homelessness in Seattle.” Navigation teams have been considered controversial, as they are associated with housing sweeps (see “Sweeps”).

NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) – describes the phenomenon in which residents of a neighborhood designate a new development (e.g. shelter, affordable housing, group home) or change in occupancy of an existing development as inappropriate or unwanted for their local area, but do not raise concerns about this development in other areas. 

Opioid epidemic/Opioid overdose crisis—Describes the prevalent misuse of and addiction to opioids that kills an average of 115 people per day in the United States. Many opioid addictions began with a medical prescription of opioid pain relievers, before evidence indicated that these medications could be highly addictive. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, opioid addiction is a risk factor in homelessness, and opioid use disorders disproportionately impact homeless individuals.


Outpatient treatment—Addiction treatment that provides a support network for patients in the form of support groups, individual counseling, and family counseling, if applicable. Patients are not housed within the facility.

Outreach programs – Involves service representatives moving outside the walls of the agency to engage people experiencing homelessness who may not otherwise seek out or receive services. Outreach models often operate with the intention of creating a bridge to care, so that clients may know how to sustainably seek services in the future.


Panhandling – a subsistence strategy that refers to publicly asking others for money, food and other items. The activity is considered to be part of informal economy and is commonly associated with homelessness. 

Participatory evaluation – refers to an evaluation process whereby the people who are being studied or who make up the users of the project are included in development, design and other stages of the evaluation. 

Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) – A program in which residents receive comprehensive supportive services and affordable housing, and they may stay permanently. PSH residents are primarily single, chronically homeless adults with a disabling medical condition.


Permitted Village—Offer tiny house living structures, community

Point In Time (PIT) counts (One Night Count/Count Us In)- provide a “snapshot” of the number of people experiencing homelessness on a specific date (usually one day, occasionally up to a week) in a community.  

Prevalence counts - provide an alternative to the PIT counts and are often used in some small and rural communities. They determine how many people were homeless over a set period in time. 

Prevention – Services used to assist people who are at risk of homelessness. Programs may help people remain in their homes with one-time financial assistance or case management.

Primary prevention – refers to working upstream to reduce risks of homelessness for individuals and families and typically involves universal interventions directed at whole communities. 


Program for Assertive Community Treatment (PACT)—Individualized treatment program offering intensive services 24 hours a day. Teams are composed service providers that assist clients with a range of services, including employment, housing, independent living, and social skills.

Project coordinator – this position generally holds responsibility for a specific program, project, or series of programs and projects with an organization. The position is called Program Manager is some organizations. 

Program manager – this position generally holds responsibility for a specific program, project, or series of programs and projects with an organization. Occasionally this position is of a more senior level than a Project Coordinator position. The two titles are used interchangeably in some organizations. 

Rapid Rehousing – Offers rental assistance and supportive services for individuals for up to one year, so they may quickly exit the homeless system and enter permanent housing.


Rental Assistance Program— “supports income-qualified families and individuals who are dealing with back rent, facing an end to other rent subsidies, or dealing with unsafe housing situations. Rental Assistance funds, which are paid directly to landlords, are generally prioritized based on need as determined by a housing counselor and can help for up to six months, depending on the situation.”

Residential mobility—a condition in which an individual is not living on the street, but has to move every few months for economic or safety reasons.

Residential treatment programs—see “inpatient treatment”

Resource center—a place where those in need can access social services and community support.


Safe lot/safe parking program—a parking lot designated for overnight stays for people sleeping in their cars. As of 2018, Seattle has three safe lots.


Safe Place—“Safe Place is a national youth outreach and prevention program for young people under the age of 18 (up to 21 years of age in some communities) in need of immediate help and safety. As a collaborative community prevention initiative, Safe Place designates businesses and organizations as Safe Place locations, making help readily available to youth in communities across the country. Safe Place locations include: libraries, YMCAs, fire stations, public buses, various businesses, and social service facilities.”

Designated Safe Place locations display the Safe Place sign, a yellow diamond with “Safe Place” written in the middle. In order to receive help, all a young person needs to do is ask an employee. Youth may also text SAFE and their current location to 4HELP (44357).

Scattered Site Housing – housing that is provided at individual locations, usually in the private rental market, as opposed to an affordable housing building or project. Seattle Housing Authority owns and manages several hundred Scattered Sites properties, located throughout the city, including multi-family buildings and apartment buildings that are generally smaller than typical Low Income Public Housing properties. They are most often located near transit, with easy access to shopping, parks, schools, and neighborhood services that meet the needs of low-income residents.


School to prison pipeline-- a series of policies and practices that push youth (particularly youth of color and youth with disabilities) out of schools and into the juvenile and adult criminal justice systems. Many people who are released from the criminal justice systems become homeless, which may result in further criminal prosecution.


Secondary trauma—see “Compassion fatigue”

Secondary prevention – typically refers to strategies that target people who are clearly at risk of, or who have recently become homeless.

Section 8 Housing—see “Housing Choice Voucher Program”

Self-care – the process of maintaining and promoting one’s health, wellbeing and development to meet the everyday challenges and stressors. Self-care practices are recommended for anyone in the homeless community, including care providers.

Service animal— In the state of Washington, “an animal that is trained for the purpose of assisting or

accommodating a sensory, mental, or physical disability of a person with a disability.”

Severe housing needs – when a household spends more than 50% of its pre-tax income on housing costs. 

Severe mental illness - defined as a serious and persistent mental or emotional disorder (e.g. schizophrenia, mood-disorders, schizo-affective disorders) that interrupts people’s abilities to carry out a range of daily life activities such as self-care, interpersonal relationships, maintaining housing, and employment or school. 

Sex work – as defined by the WHO, “the provision of sexual services for money or goods. Sex workers are women, men and transgendered people who receive money or goods in exchange for sexual services, and who consciously define those activities as income generating even if they do not consider sex work as their occupation.” Sex workers may be involved in their work voluntarily, or may have been trafficked (see “sex trafficking).


Sex trafficking-- a form of modern-day slavery in which individuals perform commercial sex through the use of force, fraud, or coercion. People experiencing homelessness, especially minors and young adults, are particularly vulnerable to being sex trafficked. The number for the National Human Trafficking Hotline is 1-888-373-7888.

Shelter inventories - counts the number of beds available in a shelter system (which may or may not include Violence Against Women shelters) and determines what percentage of these beds are occupied on a given night. 

Shelter workers (Residential Counselor) – refers to individuals working in a shelter who provide support to the residents to help maintain order in the shelter and to help the residents achieve success in transitioning to housing. 

Social enterprise - revenue-generating businesses with a focus on creating social related good. Also called social entrepreneurship.

Social Security—monthly cash benefits provided by tax payers for retired people or those with inadequate income.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)—pays benefits to disabled adults and children who have limited income and resources, as well as people 65 and older without disabilities who meet the financial limits. SSI differs from SSDI (see below) in that it is available to low-income individuals who have either never worked or who haven’t earned enough work credits to qualify for SSDI.


Social Security Disability Income (SSDI)—cash benefit program for individuals with disabilities. SSDI is available for individuals over age 18 who have earned enough work credits to qualify.


Social work—the National Association of Social Workers (1973) defines social work as "The professional activity of helping individuals, families, groups or communities enhance or restore their capacity for social functioning or creating societal conditions favorable to that goal.” Social workers commonly work with and advocate for the homeless community.

Soft skills – refers the range of skills that help someone obtain and maintain employment such as resume preparation and job search. It also refers to “life skills” training such as shopping, cooking and managing money. 

Strength-based approaches—empowerment-based approaches that focus on a person’s skills and talents that they can use to improve their situations. Strength-based approaches can be used when working with people experiencing homelessness.

Structural Factors – are economic and societal issues that affect opportunities and social environments for individuals. 

Substance abuse - refers to all types of excessive or dependent drug and alcohol use.  According to a 2003 estimate, 38% of homeless individuals had a substance abuse disorder. Substance abuse can be a cause or result of homelessness.

Substance use prevention - interventions that seek to delay the onset of substance use, or to avoid substance use problems before they occur. 

Substandard housing—a living space that lacks basic upkeep and services, such as proper heating, clean water, decaying walls/floors, or mold. Living in substandard housing is one condition for housing insecurity: if authorities find grounds to condemn the property, inhabitants may be asked to leave.


Sweeps—a city-funded practice whereby police officers and a Navigation Team gives an unsanctioned encampment a 72 hour eviction notice. After the 72 hours is surpassed, officials will clear out the encampment, sometimes including the use of a bulldozer. Items deemed “valuable” will be stored for a determined length of time; others will be thrown away.

Though this practice is controversial, since victims of the sweeps usually have no place to go, the City of Seattle continues to allocate $1 million in funds per year to homeless sweeps.


Tent city— a temporary housing facility made using tents or other temporary structures. Informal tent cities may be set up by the homeless community with or without permission from the city.

Tertiary prevention – refers to strategies intended to improve quality of life and slow the progression of and treat a preexisting condition. It also refers to rehabilitation efforts to reduce the recurrence of the problem. 

Tiny house villages—low-barrier communities funded by the County and private donations to quickly get people off the streets and into safe, private environments with a locking door, electricity, and heat. Tiny houses are 8-by-12-feet, large enough for a bed and a family of two to three people. Common areas include a full kitchen and bathroom facilities.

Tiny house villages are often run democratically, and generally include volunteer hours and other participatory criteria. These villages are only seen as a temporary solution for getting people into safety, on their way to permanent housing.

Transitional housing (TH)– Supportive, yet temporary accommodation that is meant to bridge the gap from homelessness to permanent housing by offering structure, supervision, support, life skills, education, etc. Services can last up to two years, and are best suited for young adults, people fleeing domestic violence, and those in recovery. Residents in transitional housing are still considered homeless by federal standards, but do not qualify for other homeless housing programs. 

Trauma - an event outside the range of usual human experiences that would be markedly distressing to almost anyone and cause victimization. 

Trauma-informed care—an overarching philosophy and approach, or set of universal precautions, designed to be both preventive and rehabilitive in nature. Trauma-informed care is based on the understanding that many clients have suffered traumatic experiences. The provider is responsible for being sensitive to this fact, regardless of whether a person is being treated specifically for the trauma. The practitioner notes and addresses the relationship among environment, triggers, and perceived dangers.

Using trauma informed care to approach individuals experiencing homelessness is a common practice, as homelessness is an inherently traumatizing experience.

The letter U in ASL

The letter U in ASL

Unsheltered – living on the streets or in places not intended for human habitation. 


Underemployment—a major cause of poverty. May refer to (1) overqualification or overeducation, in which an employee’s skill set is not being used in current position; (2) “Involunatary part-time work,” in which the worker would like to be employed full-time but can only find part-time work; or (3) “overstaffing,” “hidden employment,” or “disguised employment,” in which businesses employ workers who aren’t fully occupied, i.e. seasonal labor.


Victim blaming—devaluing act where the victim of a crime, accident, or abuse is held as fully or partially responsible for the conduct committed against them. This may manifest as negative social reactions from legal or medical professionals, from the media, and from family or social network. People experiencing homeless are often blamed for their situation, when the cause of their homelessness may be far more complex, often related to being a victim of abuse.

Vulnerability Index – a tool for identifying and prioritizing the street homeless population for housing according to the fragility of their health.


White privilege-- an institutional (rather than personal) set of benefits granted to those whom, by race, resemble the people who dominate the powerful positions in institutions. One of the primary privileges is that of having greater access to power and resources than people of color do. White privilege is a large contributor to disproportionate representation of people of color in the homeless population.


World Health Organization (WHO)—a specialized agency of the United Nations concerned with international public health. The WHO creates international guidelines around issues including housing and homelessness.

Wrap-around – refers to a service delivery model that is a team-based, collaborative case management approach. May involve members of different areas of support (e.g. family counseling, housing, healthcare) communicating to provide the most thorough and effective care for an individual.


Youth homelessness –refers to young people between the ages of 13 and 24 who are living independently of parents and/or caregivers, and importantly, lack many of the social supports deemed necessary for the transition from childhood to adulthood.


Youth who leave home - refers to youth who choose to leave home/parents/caretakers for various reasons. This is the term the COH uses instead of "runaway youth."


Youth and Young Adults (YYA)—Individuals aged 13-26, often grouped together in social services due to shared vulnerabilities.

*Many thanks to JuneBaby for the inspiration! 

Researched and written by Anna Humphreys, 7/25/18.*