Homeless is defined under Section 11302 of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act as an individual who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate night-time residence or a person who resides in a shelter, welfare hotel, transitional program or place not ordinarily used as regular sleeping accommodations, such as streets, cars, movie theatres, adandoned buildings, etc. People in jail are not homeless. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s definition of homeless includes a person who has no place to go, no resources to obtain housing, and is either being evicted within a week, discharged within a week from an institution, such as a hospital, or is fleeing domestic violence. The U.S. Department of Education's definition includes children and youths “who are sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or similar reason”
Homelessness has been attributed to a variety of factors, with lack of affordable housing, low-paying jobs, unumployment, prison release, substance abuse, mental illness being some of the leading causes. Many issues are involved in legal disputes involving the rights of homeless persons, including the right of law enforcement officers to stop and question a homeless person, voting rights, and eligibility for free post office boxes, among others.
Laws have been enacted, such as camping or sidewalk ordinances, which are often aimed at controlling homeless persons. The following are examples of local camping and sidewalk ordinances:
"Unlawful Camping. It shall be unlawful for any person to camp, occupy camp facilities or use camp paraphernalia in the following areas, except as otherwise provided:
(a) Any street;
(b) Any public parking lot or public area, improved or unimproved. "
"Those sidewalk activities proscribed within the specified zone include riding a bicycle, scooter, roller skates, or skateboard; unloading or loading a vehicle where safety does not necessitate obstructing the sidewalk; lying on the sidewalk or placing any object on the sidewalk, sitting on the public sidewalk or on any object on the sidewalk for more than one hour in any two-hour time period; placing or maintaining a bench without a license; leaving any belongings unattended; allowing dogs, guard cats, or pigs to go without a leash; allowing snakes outside of a cage; and not muzzling any animal with a “vicious propensity.”