As we unpacked in a post earlier this week, the ‘whole person‘ concept of security clearance determinations means individuals with a variety of backgrounds are welcomed into the national security community. With the exception of current, ongoing drug use, there are no issues that are always going to result in security clearance denial. That said, for many applicants with an interesting past, filling out the 100+ pages of the SF-86 becomes exponentially more challenging.
A ClearanceJobs reader recently asked us to weigh in on how to list homelessness on the SF-86. The application asks for residences going back 7-years, including someone who knew you well at that address. But what if you don’t have an address to list?
How Many People are Homeless?
Nearly half a million people are homeless in America on any given night, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. While most of those individuals are in shelters or some forms of transitional housing, there are a number of people who are truly homeless for a given time, for a variety of reasons.
Years ago a young man trying to enlist in the Army noted he’d lived in his car for two years while in school, in an effort to save money. It’s not just the poor or students who find themselves living in their cars to save cash. In Silicon Valley – where a nice starter home can go for $600,000, city officials are dealing with a growing population of individuals living in cars, RVs and minibuses.
Millennials with wanderlust have coined their own term for living without strings – it’s called couchsurfing. Generally applied during a time of residential transition, some individuals report spending months or more surfing from couch to couch – without an address to call ‘home.’
How to List Homelessness on the SF-86
But back to the crux of the problem – if you were homeless for 2 weeks or 2 years, how should you list it on the SF-86? Be as direct, and specific as possible (if you were a couch-surfer, list any specific couches you can recall). If you were living on the streets due to financial stress or other issues, list the location where you were living, and a contact who knew you there. The ability of another individual to verify why you were homeless and your general whereabouts will be significant. If you have lengthy periods where you can’t account for your location – and no one else can either – you may have issues of trustworthiness and responsibility that will be difficult to mitigate.
The circumstances of homelessness are certainly a factor. A security clearance applicant who had been homeless for four years, and arrested 29 times, was denied a security clearance. The homelessness was almost certainly not a factor – but the arrests, and the fact the applicant lied about both on her initial SF-86 – were.
Similarly, if you’re working in Silicon Valley and living in your car, your physical address (or lack thereof) will not be the issue. Just make sure the location of your car camp out is one you’re allowed to be in – if you’re trespassing or parking in a location without authorization, breaking the law is the security clearance issue – not your lack of four walls and a doormat.
The general guidance is to not provide more information on the SF-86 than is necessary. But when you have a potential problem that will create issues for both the investigator and adjudicator, it is in your best interests to provide supporting documentation, character statements, or other information that outlines why you were homeless, the exact periods of time, and why you’re leading a different lifestyle today.
Much about the clearance process resembles the Pirate’s Code: “more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules.” This case-by-case system is meant to consider the whole person, increase process security, and allow the lowest-risk/highest-need candidates to complete the process. However, it also creates a lot of questions for applicants. For this reason, ClearanceJobs maintains ClearanceJobsBlog.com – a forum where clearance seekers can ask the cleared community for advice on their specific security concerns. Ask CJ explores questions posed on the ClearanceJobs Blog forum,emails received, and comments from this site.
If you have a security clearance question, post it on ClearanceJobsBlog.com.