The Hidden Face of Homelessness (2009)

Looking beyond the stereotype to reveal the true face of homelessness.

Who are the homeless? Do they really fit our stereotypes?
Foe example, did you know…

  • 80-90% of the homeless population are working people!
  • Only 10-20% of the homeless population are chronically homeless.
  • Rhode Island is 2nd only to Nevada in terms of percentage of population that is homeless.
  • Most agencies know how to end homelessness in our state, yet it is still a growing problem!

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Basic Facts About Homelessness

Every year, close to 7,000 people enter into the shelter system in Rhode Island. According to a national report by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, cited by CBS news in 2007, Rhode Island is second only to Nevada in terms of percentage of population that is homeless.

The official figures, however, do not represent the total number of homeless in our state, but only those who are serviced by a shelter. Many homeless individuals and families never even set foot in our shelters. Some keep moving from friend to friend, sleeping on couches, on inflatable beds in basements and other make-shift arrangements. Others sleep in their vehicles, moving from one parking lot to another. A few find shelter in the woods, or in campgrounds that are closed for the season.

Homelessness is indeed a growing problem, not only in Rhode Island but across this nation. According to the National Policy and Advocacy Council on Homelessness, admissions into Rhode Island shelters have been increasing and more first-time clients are among the working poor. The situation is not improving.

The recent mortgage and financial crisis have precipitated many serious housing issues, complicated by a lack of legislation to adequately protect paying tenants from eviction due to foreclosures. The number of working families who have lost their home has consequently continued to increase. The Rhode Island Emergency Food and Shelter Board has reported that rising housing costs and lack of adequate income have been the two main reasons for homelessness for several years now.

The annual reports of the Rhode Island Emergency Shelter Information Project state that

Homelessness in Rhode Island can be effectively addressed through full implementation of the state’s strategic plan to end homelessness. This involves creation of subsidized family apartments and permanent supportive housing for single adults through programs like housing first programs and the Neighborhood Opportunities Program; creative use of rental subsidies and apartment based shelter programs such as First Step; homelessness prevention efforts; use of existing mainstream government programs such as income support and health insurance programs; and coordination of all helping agency efforts.

As one of our interviewees stated, we know what the solution to homelessness is. But if we know how to resolve homelessness, then why is it getting worse?

When all is said and done, it is still a matter of will. The will of our leaders, of our neighborhoods, and our own. Are we willing to set aside the greed and the prejudices that are undermining these solutions? Are we willing to really work together to implement solutions that have been proven feasible and more economical for our society than the current state of things? The answer is important, but it is not provided by others. It is up to us, individually and collectively, to be moved by compassion and to make a difference.

Will we?

Glossary of Commonly Used Terms

Here is a glossary of terms that are commonly used in reference to homelessness:

Affordable Housing
Housing and utilities that cost no more than 30% of a household’s adjusted gross income. (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development)

Case Manager
A person who develops a working relationship with individuals or households who are seeking services and who engages those individuals and families in identifying goals, developing a plan for self-sufficiency, and accessing services.

Chronic Homelessness
A person who is “chronically homeless” is an unaccompanied homeless individual with a disabling condition who has either been continuously homeless for a year or more, or has had at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years. In order to be considered chronically homeless, a person must have been sleeping in a place not meant for human habitation (e.g. living on the streets) and/or in an emergency shelter. A disabling condition is one defined as a diagnosable substance use disorder, serious mental illness, developmental disability, or chronic physical illness or disability including the co-occurrence of two or more of these conditions. A disabling condition limits one’s ability to work or perform one or more activities of daily living. (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development)

Community Land Trust
A non-profit community based organization that sustains housing affordability by purchasing property and holding land in perpetuity and selling housing on the property to qualified people though a long-term renewable “ground lease” that balances the interests of the lessee as a homeowner with the long-term interests of the community. The buyer owns the home while the community land trust continues to own the land.

Department of Human Services (DHS)
The State Department that is primarily responsible for meeting the basic financial, medical, and social needs of people who are unable to provide for themselves; providing services that promote self-sufficiency through skill building, opportunity enhancement, and family-focused services; and protecting children and vulnerable adults from abuse, neglect, exploitation, and endangerment.

A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, such as caring for oneself (speaking, walking, seeing, hearing, or learning).

Emergency Shelter
Temporary housing for individuals and families who are homeless over one night or several nights, typically up to a maximum of 30 days.

H.O.M.E. Funding
H.O.M.E. is the largest Federal block grant to State and local governments designed exclusively to create affordable housing for low-income households.

Homeless Person
A person who lacks a fixed, regular and adequate night-time residence or has a primary night-time residence that is: a) a publicly-supervised or privately-operated shelter designed to provide temporary living accommodations; b) an institution that provides a temporary residence for individuals intended to be institutionalized; or c) a public or private sleeping place not designed for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping place for human beings. (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development)

Homeless Prevention
Efforts to assist individuals and families at risk of becoming homeless to stabilize their housing situation and provide supports necessary to help them retain their housing and avoid homelessness.

Housing Choice Voucher
A rent subsidy instrument used to supplement what low income families can afford to pay for housing in the private market. These vouchers – often called Section 8 vouchers – are funded by HUD and administered by public housing agencies.

Housing First
An approach that alleviates homelessness by moving individuals and families who are homeless into permanent housing as quickly as possible.

HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development)
The federal agency responsible for overseeing government-subsidized housing programs.

McKinney Vento
The primary federal law that targets federal funds to homeless individuals and families. Funded programs include outreach, transitional and permanent housing, primary health care services, mental health, alcohol and drug abuse treatment, education, job training, and child care. Several different federal agencies, including HUD, are responsible for administering this Act.

Point-in-time Count
A one day count of all homeless people in a defined geographic area.

Substandard Housing
Housing that is dilapidated, unsafe, and unsanitary or that has environmental hazards such as lead-based paint or infestation.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
A public assistance cash benefit for persons with disabilities.

Supportive Housing
Housing that is affordable to residents and linked to support services such as mental health care, employment or job training assistance, or other services that support independent living.

Transitional Housing
Housing that provides temporary shelter (up to two years) to persons who are transitioning out of homelessness. Supportive housing services to promote self-sufficiency and to help people obtain permanent housing are often a component of transitional housing.

Wraparound Services
Services that are coordinated to meet the needs of a person in permanent housing in order to successfully retain the housing.

About the Documentary

Not many people know that 80 to 90% of the homeless population does not fit the stereotype generally portrayed by the media. Many of these homeless are employed, normal people you encounter in the store or in an office, only they don’t have a place they can call “home” to go back to at night.

Aired on PBS and various other TV channels, the documentary addresses the heavy prejudice and the often insurmountable challenges faced by these “invisible” homeless. Through interviews with experts as well as the homeless themselves, the “Hidden Face of Homelessness” is finally brought to light. You may be surprised to hear who some of these homeless people are.

Primarily based in Rhode Island, the documentary addresses issues that are typical of most US cities. Luciano Cozzi, the director and producer of the documentary, is the owner of Cozzi Video Productions, a small production business in Rhode Island. He started his career in the mid ’70s as a photojournalist in Italy and is now producing documentaries and corporate videos in New England.

The documentary is available in two versions:

Home Edition:
This edition if for home viewing only.

Institutional Edition:
This edition includes a license for institutional use, like libraries, schools, non-profits, colleges, etc.

This license grants the right to use the video with groups (i.e.: a class) within the institution, and it includes a special copy of the DVD containing the full video as well as separate chapters (at the end of each chapter the video returns to the menu instead of playing on). This facilitates class or group discussions in shorter segments where needed. The total length of the documentary is about 60 minutes, and it is divided in 10 chapters (plus ending credits).

This license also includes a study guide (also organized by chapters) with discussion questions and ideas, which can be used to facilitate group discussion and activities.

This license does not include broadcast, fundraising events and/or public performance rights, and it is limited to one location (i.e.: one campus).


You managed to get a very effective impression of a complex issue to help the viewers understand homelessness. Effective, thoughtful representation of this issue in Rhode Island.

Jim Ryczek, Executive Director
Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless

Very well done. I was able to make connection with those in the video. This documentary is important because it gives a good understanding of the issue of homelessness.

Russell Partridge, Program Director
Warm Shelter, Westerly

A very personal, honest and moving documentary, giving an in-depth look into homelessness. It brings awareness to the myths, truths and possible solutions to homelessness.

Kathryn Hickey, Social Work Intern
Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless

Very well done, and very enlightening. I learned that the problem is much broader than the small percentage of the population that we see at our mission. Excellent script, footage and progression.

Charles Nault, Executive Director
The Artic Mission

Very professionally and compassionately done! Thank you! It’s definitely worth seeing!

Linda Watkins, Vice President
Amos House

I highly recommend this documentary. Homelessness is a significant problem in our nation today. One that is all to often glossed over in the news and soon forgotten when it is reported on. This documentary puts a human face on this tragic situation. You see and feel the hoplessness of those experiencing homelessness and also the joy and thankfulness of those who have overcome. This should be required viewing for all of our public officials.

R. Kadlecik, Viewer Review

 This documentary gets to the heart of homelessness and without a doubt will move you. There are poignant interviews with previously homeless and currently homeless individuals who share their stories of how easily they went from hard-working citizens with stable incomes, to having no place to sleep at night. Beyond the stories, there are substantial interviews with local experts, people who work for organizations like Amos House and Crossroads, here in Rhode Island. They explain statistics and facts and dispel many myths and stereotypes surrounding homelessness. If you live in Rhode Island, I highly recommend that you watch this film and educate yourself on an epidemic happening RIGHT HERE at home. And if you live elsewhere– this is most certainly a worthwhile documentary to watch, if for no other reason than to understand the core issues of homelessness and to understand how easy it would be for any of us to slip into the world of homelessness.

Kristin Costa, Viewer Review

This video spoke to my heart, reminding me that we should be thankful everyday. Just waking up is a blessing. Being homeless is not something that just happens to “that other person”. It can happen to any of us at any time. This video opened my eyes to not only my situation, but to see more clearly, the face of the homeless. It is so encouraging to know that there is a solution. We just need to activate ourselves and our civic leaders to step up to the plate and provide what our homeless need. I know it’s not quite that simple, but it’s not that hard either. This is a great video, not only because it opens our minds to what is going on around us (to us), it also gives a viable solution. I thank the Cozzi’s for persevering and presenting the Hidden Face of Homelessness.

Naomi Bone, Viewer Review

This DVD shows that many homeless are actually educated individuals that may well be part of your current, everyday community. For all outward appearances, they look like you and I – they don’t stand apart – except that at the end of the day, they have no home to return to. The documentary successfully dispels an old myth that the homeless are largely a population that can’t help themselves. It features poignant interviews that go to the heart without being sappy: these homeless people are well-educated, once proud individuals who were willing to show this director their vulnerabilities, fears, and hopes. It’s a fabulous DVD to watch and discuss with your family. I learned a lot from watching this, and highly recommend it to anyone who is willing to challenge their own prejudices. You won’t regret it.

L. Czirjak, Viewer Review

Find Out More on Homelessness

National Alliance to End Homelessness