Understanding Transitional Homelessness

transitional homelessness

Credit Image: © Monica Herndon/Tampa Bay Times via ZUMA Wire

Homelessness is difficult to quantify, though we know it exists. At some point in our lives, each of us has been touched by it. Whether we witnessed it through a friend or family member, saw it happen to a kindly stranger on the street, or experienced firsthand the harrows of living unhoused, it was likely an experience we won’t soon forget.

While the solution to homelessness is not nearly as complex as it appears, the state of homelessness grows ever more complicated by the minute. This unpleasant state of life can take on many different forms. It could emerge in the struggle of a full-time minimum wage employee living in the back of a broken-down van because they don’t make enough to afford a one-bedroom apartment in any state nationwide. This person is a member of the “working homeless” community.

It could show up as an unsheltered war veteran whose flag is now waving from the side of a vinyl tent. This person is experiencing veteran homelessness, which exhibits its own unique challenges.

Today, we zero in on transitional homelessness. This variant is ranked as the most common kind of unhoused living. This is important because transitional homelessness is also the kind of homelessness most likely to happen to you.

Transitional Homelessness in Brief

Transitional homelessness is “a state of homelessness that results from a major life change or catastrophic event.”

While most homelessness is transient because the person experiencing it has to move from place to place, not all homelessness is transitional, having spawned from major upheaval. Some of the most common reasons a person or family might find themselves in the predicament of transitional homelessness include:

Sudden loss of income, support, or a combination of the two

This could mean the loss of a spouse, partner, or family member who was contributing a large portion of the financial or emotional support. It could mean the death of a loved one, an unanticipated divorce, or a massive family disagreement. It could also mean a sudden or unexpected loss of employment. Given that in post-pandemic America, a jaw-dropping 59% of workers are one missed paycheck away from homelessness, losing a job could be a fatal blow.

Sudden loss of home

Another way a person or family can fall into transitional homelessness is if they suddenly and unexpectedly lose their home in the wake of a natural disaster. This could be a flood, hurricane, earthquake, wildfire, or another kind of storm. According to Brookings, approximately 250 million people have been displaced over the past four centuries due to volatile storms. This number is projected to trend way up as climate change, and global warming wreak havoc on our planet. Unnatural disasters, namely wars, can also cause people to lose their homes as internal displacement through violence continues sweeping the globe.

Uninhabitable living conditions

Even if your job and home are fully intact, other external factors can unexpectedly come into play, making it difficult or impossible for a person or family to remain in their home. One current example is the Jackson, Mississippi water crisis, which has left 150,000 people without access to safe drinking water. If your city, town, or rural residence is suddenly overcome by conditions that make it unsafe or unlivable, your risk for transitional homelessness will increase.


Much like the above-listed circumstances, illness is neither planned nor easy to prepare for. It happens almost out of the blue – that seemingly harmless lump that winds up being cancer, that strange tingling feeling that turns out to be a stroke, the tightness in the chest that is actually a chronic heart condition, and so forth. Illness strikes without prejudice or warning. It can cause a downward spiral leading to loss of employment, loss of social status, and eventually, the devastating loss of a home.

Fleeing violence

Another common reason people experience transitional homelessness is fleeing a domestic violence situation. For many, it takes a great deal of courage and strength just to leave an abuser. The plan on what to do afterward might be sketchily drawn out, at best. If things don’t go exactly according to that plan, a domestic violence victim can wind up on the streets fortuitously.

Suddenly Homeless: The Untold Truth

“All of a sudden, things went downhill,” former telemarketer Cardelia Corley explained in a riveting interview with Penn Live.

Following an unexpected employment loss where her hours were drastically reduced, the 65-year-old single mother went from putting her kids through college to sleeping on a train and washing in a public bathroom.

Once on the streets, she learned that her story was actually quite common. Herein, she encountered nurses, schoolteachers, and other individuals from all walks of life who never expected they’d wind up on the streets.

Misconceptions About Transitional Homelessness

The media would have you believe that homelessness is a slippery slope, a rock-bottom one can only hit after a series, perhaps even a lifetime, of poor decisions. In reality, homelessness can happen instantaneously and at the most unexpected times of our lives.

It can rush through with a flood or be ushered in through a life-threatening illness. It can be delivered through the blows of an abuser or wash up in the wake of a loved one’s death.

The fact that transitional homelessness is the most common form proves that homelessness can happen to anyone, even you.

Another dangerously common misconception about transitional homelessness is that it’s not as dangerous because it’s more sporadic than other variations, such as chronic homelessness.

Do not be fooled by this misconception. The truth is once someone becomes unhoused, they are at an increased risk for the following:

  • Violent attacks
  • Rape
  • Murder
  • Robbery
  • Arrest
  • Loss of documents
  • Loss of life-saving medications
  • Loss of children
  • Loss of pets
  • Loss of freedom

Urge Your Local Legislators to Make Housing a Human Right

Losing your home means losing everything you ever thought was familiar. The most common route to this state of affairs is a significant life change or catastrophic event.

The irony is that all of us will have to face a life-altering force at one point or another. It’s impossible to predict who will end up homeless and who will narrowly escape it. Data suggests that if things continue on the current trajectory, more people will wind up homeless in the future.

Talk to your local legislators about preventing that by making housing a human right for all.

Cynthia Griffith

Cynthia Griffith


Cynthia Griffith is a freelance writer dedicated to social justice and environmental issues.

Related Topics

Get the Invisible People newsletter


Elderly homeless woman in Grants Pass, Oregon


Homeless woman on the sidewalk in Miami


Miami homeless man arrested for being homeless and lost his job


80 years old and homeless veteran in Los Angeles needs help



Social Workers and Homeless services

Systemic Failures and Poor Funding Undermine Vital Homeless Services

municipal IDs for Homeless People

Wichita’s Fight for Homeless Identification Solutions

homelessness grows as solutions stall

Criminalization of Homelessness Grows as Solutions Stall

protest against homeless shelter

Unveiling Prejudices: The Brooklyn Homeless Shelter Dispute

Get the Invisible People newsletter