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50 facts about homelessness in America

Written by:
December 8, 2020

50 facts about homelessness in America

Since the first year that data on American homelessness was gathered, the numbers have fallen. Fewer people are homeless now than in 2007, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. The United States has seen a drop of 12%, although there has been an uptick in recent years. Now, advocates worry that the coronavirus pandemic will erase the progress. Protecting against the spread of the coronavirus is particularly tricky, if not impossible, for people without homes or anywhere to isolate or socially distance.

Despite the overall decrease in numbers, there remain many people without homes. More than half a million were recorded during the national count in January 2019. Of those, 70% were individuals, but the remainder included families with children, per the NAEH. More than a third had no shelter at all and were sleeping on streets, in parks, and in other similar locations. California and New York have the highest percentages of homeless people.

Some communities have formed a network to find solutions to the problem. Started by an organization called Community Solutions in 2015, the effort concentrated at first on trying to end homelessness for veterans and the chronically homeless. So far, by its standards, 13 communities have accomplished the goal. The federal government, using different criteria, has credited more than 80 communities and three states with success. The government ordered a halt to evictions during the coronavirus pandemic, but the ban expires at the end of the year. Advocates are urging the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to extend the protections until next year.

Stacker examined data from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the National Alliance to End Homelessness, and other such groups, university studies, news reports, and other documents to compile this list of 50 facts about homelessness in the United States.

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More than 500K are homeless

There were 567,715 people who were homeless on a particular night in January 2019, when the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development conducted its annual count. While some groups are more likely to be homeless than others, the survey included every demographic in the country. The United States has the highest number of homeless people among industrialized countries, according to a 2015 study by The Bassuk Center on Homeless and Vulnerable Children & Youth.

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Families with children make up 30% of homeless

In the 2019 nationwide tally, most homeless people were individuals (70%) but there were also families with children with no homes. There were 396,045 individuals, 171,670 people who were part of families, 96,141 chronically homeless people, 37,085 veterans, and 35,038 young people on their own. Pervasive homelessness of parents with children is a new phenomenon over the last 30 years.

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More men than women are homeless

Men are far more likely to be homeless than women, making up 60% of the total. When just the individuals are counted, men and unaccompanied young men account for 70% of the group. In 27 states and Puerto Rico, the percentage of individual men is even higher; 82% in Louisiana for example.

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37% of homeless people lack shelter

Among the total number of homeless people, 200,000 (37%) are sleeping outside or in spots not meant for living. Among individuals who are on their own, half do not have any shelter. Men are a little more likely to be in this category than women, 49% to 45%. What is known as unsheltered homelessness has become more prevalent in recent years.


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California leads with the highest percentage

California has far and away the highest percentage of homeless people at 26.73%: a total of 151,278 people, most of whom (41,557) are chronically homeless individuals. New York is next with 16.27%, or 92,091 people, followed by Florida with 5.01% (28,328), and Texas with 4.57% (25,848).

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Delaware has the smallest percentage

At the other end, Delaware has the lowest percentage of homeless people at 0.16%, followed closely by Vermont with 0.19% and Mississippi at 0.21%. Among the Delaware tally were 168 individuals who were chronically homeless: 116 families, 65 veterans, and 42 young people ages 18 to 24.


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California tops all states in number of homeless students

California has the greatest number of homeless students, 263,058, and Texas is next with 231,305, followed by New York with 153,209. Children were included in the count if they were homeless at any time in the 2017–18 school year. The state reporting the most children without shelter is Texas, at 56,174.

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Half of homeless with no shelter are in California

California also has almost half of all homeless people who are sleeping in parks, on sidewalks, in cars, or in other places not meant to shelter people, at 47%. The five states with the most people without shelter, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington, have milder winters.

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Homeless people face tough choices

Homelessness is frequently tied to poverty and the inability to pay for both housing and other necessities such as food, health care, and child care. Housing can be the most expensive of necessities, and thus the first to be taken away.

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Poverty rate stands at 10.5%

The poverty rate was 10.5% in 2019, and although it marked a decrease from 11.8% in 2018 and the fifth consecutive drop, there were still 34 million poor people in the country. Historically, impoverishment has affected Black and Hispanic residents more than white residents. Both groups are overrepresented among those in poverty in relation to their numbers in the population. White residents, meanwhile, are under-represented.

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White residents still have lowest poverty totals

Though the poverty rate for Blacks fell by 2.0 percentage points in 2019, it remained at 18.8%. For Hispanics, the rate was 15.7%, a decrease of 1.8 percentage points, while for whites, the rate fell 1.0 percentage point to 9.1%. For Black and Hispanic residents, those poverty rates were historically low.

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Jobs are key to staving off homelessness

The availability of jobs is a key to decreasing homelessness, the National Coalition for the Homeless says. The coronavirus pandemic sent unemployment skyrocketing in the spring of 2020. With the resumption of some businesses, the rate fell but remained at 6.9% for October 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That adds up to 11.1 million people.

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Coronavirus pandemic sent unemployment soaring

The jobless rate and the number of unemployed workers both fell for six months in a row, but they remain at about twice their February 2020 levels—6.9% versus 3.55% and 11.1 million unemployed versus 5.8 million without jobs. The number of people laid off temporarily dropped to 3.2 million, below April’s high of 18.1 million, but still 2.4 million above February.

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Lack of health insurance adds to risk

Low access to affordable health care also drives homelessness, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless. A serious illness can result in enormous health care bills, as well as the loss of a job, savings, and eventually a home. Twelve states have not expanded Medicaid as they could have under Obamacare, among them Florida and Texas.

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Addiction can raise likelihood of homelessness

People who are addicted to drugs or alcohol and who are poor are at a heightened risk of homelessness. If mental illness is added, the danger is even greater. Mentally ill people often pay more than half their income for a home, according to the Harvard Medical School.

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Severe mental illness affects up to one third

Another cause of homelessness is mental illness. A quarter to a third of homeless people in the country has a severe mental illness. They generally have schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or severe depression, according to the Harvard Medical School.

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The prevalence of mental illness has increased

The proportion of homeless people who also are mentally ill has risen. A 2004 study found that the rate of illness among those without homes in St. Louis, Missouri, had increased over 20 years. Among those with mental illness, the addition of homelessness can result in more interactions with police officers and with the courts.

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Mentally ill people are uncomfortable in shelters

Mentally ill people often avoid shelters, as the noise and the crowds can be unbearable for them, and they are afraid of becoming the victims of theft or even violence, according to the Harvard Medical School. One study reported on by Harvard found that half of those applying to stay at a shelter who also had been in a psychiatric hospital had, as children, been institutionalized or were in foster care.



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Former prisoners are at particular risk

Among mentally ill people, those who have served time in jail or prison are even more susceptible to finding themselves without a home. They may have added trouble finding a home because of their records. Once released from incarceration, they must re-establish benefits such as Social Security just as they need housing.


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Pacific Islanders, Native Americans are most at risk

The racial or ethnic groups most at risk of losing their homes in the United States are Pacific Islanders and Native Americans. Of the former, about 160 of 10,000 become homeless far, and for the latter, 67 of 10,000 have no home—both groups being far above the national average of 17.


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African Americans are more likely to become homeless

African Americans also are more likely to become homeless than white Americans. For Black Americans, the rate is 55.2 per 10,000 compared to 11.5 for white Americans. Least at risk are Asians Americans at 4.1. There were 225,735 African Americans who were homeless compared to 270,607 white Americans.

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Homlessness has been falling across the country

The number of people becoming homeless has fallen since 2007, the first time data was gathered from across the country. The drop is 12%, though the total has been increasing recently. The 2019 count showed a 3% increase, the third consecutive year the rate has risen.

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Domestic violence leads to homelessness

Poor women in abusive relationships must sometimes leave their homes to be safe. Domestic violence was a major reason for the loss of a home for families with children, according to 28% of cities surveyed in 2012. Women are often discriminated against when they try to find new homes.


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Women, children report physical violence

Among not only homeless women but also children, half reported physical violence. Among homeless mothers, a shocking 92% said they had been physically or sexually assaulted. One study in Minnesota in 2012 found that almost half of homeless women and more than a quarter of young women on their own had stayed in abusive relationships or had returned because they had nowhere else to go.

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Domestic violence especially likely for single women

Single women with children are much more likely to be the victims of domestic violence when compared to married women with children. A 2012 report from the National Law Center found that their risk was 13 times greater. Their risk compared to single women without children is also greater by seven times.

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Women, girls without shelter increases

The number of women and girls who had no shelter, whether sleeping in parks, on streets, or elsewhere, increased by 12% from 2018 to 2019, according to the 2019 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress. That meant an additional 6,513 women and girls were without shelter, an increase greater than that among men (7%).

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3 states account for half of country’s homeless

When the annual count was done in January 2019, almost half of the country’s homeless people were in three states, according to the report presented to Congress: California, New York, and Florida. The number of homeless people rose in 13 states and the District of Columbia from 2007 to 2019. New York and California saw the largest absolute increases, 29,490 in New York and 12,292 in California.

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California, New York have high numbers and rates

California and New York recorded both the greatest number of homeless people and the highest rates in 2019. Hawaii and Oregon had very high rates, while Florida and Texas had high absolute numbers but lower rates than the national average of 17 people per 10,000.

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Five states shelter most homeless people

In five states, almost all homeless people were able to find shelter, at least 95%: North Dakota, New York, Massachusetts, Maine, and Nebraska. Conversely more than two-thirds of chronically homeless people were sleeping on the streets, in parks, or other such places in six states: Hawaii, California, Oregon, Mississippi, Florida, and Arkansas.


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New Africa // Shutterstock

Families need more than just shelter

Housing alone is not enough for some families. They might also need food, education, jobs, transportation, childcare, health care, and other services—all needs that can become direr when they are also homeless, according to The Bassuk Center’s report, "Services Matter: How Housing & Services Can End Family Homelessness."

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Juan Llauro // Shutterstock

California sees the largest absolute increase

Among the states with the largest increases from 2018 to 2019—California, Oregon, Georgia, Minnesota, and New Mexico—California’s was the greatest in terms of the number of people— 21,306 or 16.4%. New Mexico saw the highest percentage increase at 27%, or 690 people.

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Florida records largest absolute decrease

Florida had the largest absolute decrease in the number of homeless people in that time period, 2,702 (a 8.7% decrease). Connecticut saw the biggest percentage drop (23.7% or 943 people). They were among 29 states and the District of Columbia that saw declines in homelessness even as nationwide the number increased.

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New York’s homeless numbers rise over time

Over time, New York has had the largest increase in homeless people as both an absolute number and a percentage. From 2007 until 2019, the number of homeless people increased 29,490 or 47.1%. Twenty-one states recorded increases in the number of homeless residents in the year between 2018 and 2019.

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Billy F Blume Jr // Shutterstock

Florida, Georgia homeless numbers fall over time

As far as decreases over time, from 2007 until 2019, Florida saw the most as an absolute number, 19,741. New Jersey had the largest as a percentage, 48.8%. Over that period of time, the number of homeless people increased in 13 states plus the District of Columbia.

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More supportive housing is available

The amount of supportive housing has jumped between 2007 and 2019. There were 144,000 more beds for people who are chronically homelessness in 2019 than there were in 2007. That is a 380% increase, according to the 2019 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress.

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36 / 50

Emergency shelters, transitional housing have fewer beds

The number of beds that are available temporarily, including those in emergency shelters and transitional housing, fell by 9% over the last five years. On the night that the annual count was conducted, year-round beds were available for everyone in a family but only about half of the homeless adults on their own.

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Communities ban evictions during coronavirus pandemic

As the coronavirus pandemic devastated the U.S. economy through 2020 and left millions without jobs, 43 states plus Washington D.C. banned evictions. Officials feared that as many of 40 million people would otherwise have been displaced. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES Act, protects most tenants in federally subsidized or federally backed housing from eviction and late fees.


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Coronavirus spreads when eviction bans lift

As those bans expired and evictions were allowed to take place, the spread of the coronavirus increased, according to one study, CNBC reported. There were 433,700 additional cases of COVID-19 between March and September, researchers found. An additional 10,700 people died.

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US implements a national eviction ban

To slow the spread of the coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September stopped most evictions for nonpayment of rent across the country through the end of 2020. Advocates are urging the national ban to be extended to 2021. Tenants may still be evicted for violating the terms of their lease.

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Rent rises foreshadow homelessness

Places where residents spend more than 22% of their income will see an increase in the number of people who become homeless, 2018 research sponsored by Zillow found. Increases in income have fallen behind increases in rent. The study showed that when the share of income people spend on rent passes particular thresholds, the number of homeless people rises quickly.

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Halfpoint // Shutterstock

Additional increases spark quick rise in homeless population

When people exceed 32% of their income on rent, that portends a quick rise in the number of homeless people, the 2018 Zillow research found. The places most prone to increasing rents, unaffordable housing, and poverty are also the ones with 47% of the people who are homeless.

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Residents are at risk in these cities

The Zillow study identified the following cities as places where people are most in danger of becoming homeless: New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Seattle, Las Vegas, St. Louis, and Anchorage. It argued that the annual homeless counts are imprecise and that the numbers collected by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development are most likely too low.

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Communities end homelessness for veterans

Some places have been able to end homelessness for veterans, according to federal benchmarks. Those include 81 communities and three states—Connecticut, Delaware, and Virginia. They prevent homelessness when possible, and when it is not, make sure that it is rare and brief.

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Stephm2506 // Shutterstock

Communities also end chronic homelessness

Four communities have ended both homelessness for veterans and chronic homelessness: Lancaster city and county, Pennsylvania; Rockford, Illinois; Bergen County, New Jersey; and Southwest Minnesota Continuum of Care. Continuum of Care, as defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, is a local or regional network for providing housing and services for people who are homeless or about to become homeless.

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Susan Montgomery // Shutterstock

Number of homeless veterans cut in half

The number of veterans who were homeless fell by almost 50% in the decade between 2009 and 2019. In the year between 2018 to 2019, the number dropped by 2%. Almost all veterans were on their own, as individuals, and a quarter were chronically homeless, but about 60% were in some sort of shelter.

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San Francisco Chronicle/Hearst Newspapers // Getty Images

Built for Zero works to end homelessness

The network of communities focused on ending homelessness, Built For Zero, was started in 2015 by Community Solutions. The efforts began with addressing chronic homelessness and veterans who became homeless. Of the 84 communities that are participating, 46 of them have achieved what the group called measurable reductions.


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MediaNews Group/Long Beach Press-Telegram // Getty Images

Community Solutions uses tougher standards

By Community Solutions’ standards, only 13 communities have ended veteran or chronic homelessness. Of those, three have ended both: Rockford, Illinois, Bergen County, New Jersey, and Abilene, Texas. More than half of the other cities and counties have reduced the number of veterans who are homeless and those who are chronically homeless.

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Alpha_Lyrae // Shutterstock

Community Solutions emphasizes building systems

To meet the Community Solutions’ standard, a community must have fewer homeless veterans in one month than it can place in permanent housing. The focus is on using data about the total number of people who are homeless and encouraging collaboration among such organizations as the Veterans Administration, the local housing authority, and other government agencies

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More permanent housing is available

The country is geared toward ending homelessness by making permanent housing available rather than shelters. The number of permanent beds have increased by 20% over five years. Some groups advocate providing housing quickly through short-term rental help and other services without making demands about sobriety, income, or other such preconditions.

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Coronavirus pandemic poses new problems

Abiding by stay-at-home orders can be impossible when you do not have a home. Experts are expecting rising numbers of cases of COVID-19 among people experiencing homelessness. Cities such as New York and Los Angeles are likely to face the most difficult circumstances.

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