The State of Homelessness in the US – 2020

Despite the efforts to provide adequate housing, homelessness statistics reveal that they haven’t been enough. Look here to learn more about the situation.

As Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez put it: no person should be homeless if you have public structures and public policies that allow people to have homes, food, and lead a dignified life in the US. Unfortunately, homelessness statistics reveal that there is still a lot of work to be done.

At the moment, there is a lot of talk about the social and geographic disparity, the leading causes of homelessness, the current trends, and the homeless assistance that is available in North America. However, before we can do any of this, it’s extremely helpful knowing the exact scope of homelessness in the US. 

To find out more, just keep on reading.

The Most Interesting Homelessness Facts (Editor’s Pick):

  • The average life expectancy of a homeless person is just 50 years.
  • 39.8% of homeless persons are African-Americans.
  • 61% of homeless persons are men and boys. 
  • 20% of homeless persons are kids. 
  • 42% of street children identify as LGBT.
  • New York City has one-fifth of all US sheltered homeless. 
  • The homeless problem is on a downward trend.
  • Permanent housing interventions have grown by 450% in 5 years.

How Many Homeless People Are There in America?

Homelessness is not a novelty in the US. It’s become a source of concern as early as the 19th century as urbanization projects exposed those most vulnerable. However, keeping track of the US homeless rate is only a recent process. 

  1. Approximately 17 people per 10,000 experience homelessness each day.

(Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Perhaps not the best figure when looking at the bigger picture. However, when you translate these into overall numbers, things begin to look a lot different. 

  1. The number of homeless in the US is estimated at 552,830.

(Whitehouse)

With around half a million individuals living in a state of homelessness, things are not looking great. Still, on the bright side, it is a small percentage compared to the overall US population — which counts over 327.2 million. 

  1. Percentage-wise: 0.2% of the American population lives in a state of homelessness.

(Whitehouse)

While the low percentages don’t make the fact any less serious, in the grand scheme of things, these figures show that the US homeless problem could be managed adequately with some proper structures in place. Though, monitoring the exact number of the homeless population in the US is no easy task. Seeing how there are no fool-proof ways of identifying them, there could be even more of them on the streets. 

  1. Every year, roughly 13,000 homeless people die in the US.

(National Homeless)

Approximately 2.4% of homeless persons die every year — about 13,000 out of half a million. When you think about it, homelessness is a significant health risk for individuals. Having a roof above your head becomes a matter of life and death, according to homeless statistics.

  1. Homeless people have an average life expectancy of just 50 years.

(National Homeless)

In a country where an increasing number of people are becoming centenarians, it is evident that homelessness is still a long way from that — if not medieval. Plus, aside from the rough living conditions, a lot of people who become homeless already struggle with various health issues.

 

Homeless Demographics and Disparities

Homelessness affects population groups in different ways based on their gender, age, sexual orientation, race, etc. So, let’s dive straight in and see what the stats have to say about these disparities.

  1. 89.7% of homeless persons are 24 years old or more.

(Forbes)

When it comes to age, almost 9 out of 10 people who live in the streets or shelters are adults aged 24 or more. Meaning, homelessness predominantly affects adults and not children, which is a fair assessment of the situation. Indeed, housing and social policies are specifically designed to protect children, making sure they stay safe and sheltered even when they don’t have a home. 

  1. Stats on homeless demographics reveal: age disparities are a common occurrence on the street — only 15.6% of homeless are aged 51–61.

(National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty) 

When you consider that living in a state of homelessness can put your health at risk, it’s easy to understand why less than 16% of the homeless are aged 50–60. Many adults can’t find the support they need to recover from dramatic life changes after their 50s, in terms of unemployment, health costs, or even divorce. But, more importantly, long-term homeless individuals face extreme challenges to stay healthy in their old age. 

  1. Only 3.2% of homeless individuals are aged 62 or more, according to statistics on homelessness.

(National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty) 

Indeed, their rough living situation makes it almost impossible for homeless people to experience old age. Homeless persons tend to be older individuals who, for health or income reasons, find themselves without a home.

  1. Over 70% of homeless persons are young adults below the age of 50.

(National Law Center on Homeless & Poverty)

As terrifying as it sounds, homelessness is more likely to affect people aged 24–50; hence, the homeless population is comparatively younger than the total US population. This means two things. Firstly, with the appropriate support, these individuals could rebuild their lives. Secondly, prolonged exposure to rough living conditions on the street will aggravate health problems and reduce the percentage of seniors among the homeless. 

  1. 20% of homeless individuals are, in fact, kids.

(Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Child homelessness stats paint a tragic image. More and more children are victims of unhappy family or household circumstances. Whether they have to flee their home to escape unfair treatment or they are left in limbo when their parents can’t cope with payments; as such, homeless children account for approximately 1 in 5 homeless individuals. Thankfully, they are more likely to be placed in shelters than left on the streets. 

  1. 42% of street children identify as LGBT.

(Street Kids)

The youth living on the streets are more likely to be homeless after a conflict with their parents. In over 4 out of 10 cases, their sexual orientation is a detrimental factor of their homelessness. Parents who reject LGBT children tend to accentuate the phenomenon — hence the high number of the homeless LGBT population among the youth. 

  1. 58% of homeless individuals in Texas, California, and Florida entail youth, homelessness statistics from 2018 reveal.

(AHAR)

Homeless youth stats reveal that a high rate of young individuals among these 3 states are, in fact, homeless. Hence, it just goes to show that these states lack sufficient facilities and policies to help young people thrive; especially those down on their luck. 

  1. 58,000 students identified as homeless in 2013.

(AC Online)

For an increasing number of US students, going to college is a financial challenge. Without supportive families or sufficient student loans, many don’t have a place to call home, homelessness facts reveal. There isn’t enough student aid to help everyone, which makes it hard for the most vulnerable individuals. 

But if you thought that age was the only differentiating factor, you’re wrong. Homelessness is also a racial issue, as per our next stat: 

  1. According to the latest stats, only 48% of homeless individuals in the US are white.

(Forbes)

Almost half of all the homeless people in America are white. While it might seem like a lot, when you consider that 72% of the US population is, in fact, Caucasian, things become clear as day. 

  1. 39.8% of homeless individuals in the US are African-American.

(Forbes)

Yes, that means that 4 out of 10 people living on the street are black. It’s a huge disparity, especially when you consider that the African-American population only represents 13% of the total US population. In other words, there are 3 times more homeless African-Americans than their overall percentage of the total population. 

  1. Native Americans make up 2.8% of all the homeless, homelessness statistics reveal.

(Forbes)

For comparison, Native Americans only represent roughly 1.5% of the total US population. However, they’ve almost doubled their representation when it comes to homelessness. Hence, many Native Americans fail to make a living in a country that still fails to recognize their culture, needs, and rights. 

  1. 13% of the homeless are of Hispanic origin.

(Forbes)

Hispanics and Latinos represent around 8% of the total US population. Their share of homelessness is significantly higher, showing that disparities are a significant problem when it comes to tackling homelessness. 

  1. According to homeless demographics, 61% of homeless individuals are male.

(Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

6 out of 10 individuals who live on the street are male. The stats reveal that men are not only more likely to be affected but they are also less likely to live in a shelter, putting them at an even greater risk. 

  1. 40% of all homeless men are veterans.

(PBS)

An army career is one of the most significant factors of homelessness in men. It’s a testimony to the failure of the government to establish supportive structures for people who join the military forces. 

  1. 8% of homeless veterans are women.

(AHAR)

The current percentage of women veterans is a little over 8%, making their representation in the homeless population a one-to-one translation. While it doesn’t seem that gender discrimination is affecting this particular veteran demographic, it highlights the need for more support and programs to help these people integrate back into society once they are done with their line of duty.

Homeless Population by State 

Homelessness disparities exist within the US, as some areas are more densely populated by homeless people. It’s important to understand that these stats highlight the lack of support in some areas (particularly cities) for homeless individuals. 

  1. The 5 areas with the most homeless are the District of Columbia, New York, Hawaii, Oregon, and California.

(Whitehouse)

The rates of homelessness are higher in those states by up to 5.8 times the average US rate of homelessness. 

Indeed, the District of Columbia has a rate that is 5.8 times higher, New York is 2.8 times higher, Hawaii is 2.7 times higher, Oregon is 2 times higher, and California is 1.9 times higher. 

  1. According to homelessness statistics, these 4 states and DC make up 45% of the entire population of homeless in the US.

(Whitehouse)

You can find almost half of all homeless in the District of Columbia, New York, Hawaii, Oregon, and California. What is more alarming is the fact that combined, those regions only account for 20% of the total US population.

  1. 47% of unsheltered homeless live in California.

(Whitehouse)

You’ll find almost half of all unsheltered homeless in one state only — California. This begs the question as to why California remains known for its Hollywood scenes when the state is struggling to manage the homelessness situation.  

  1. Boston, New York City, and Washington DC are cities with the most homeless.

(Whitehouse)

As a reminder, the rate is 17 per 10,000. Yet in Boston, New York City, and Washington DC, the homeless rate is well over 100 per 10,000. 

  1. One-fifth of sheltered homeless live in NYC.

(Whitehouse)

New York City has the highest rate of sheltered homeless people in the US. With around 20% of all sheltered individuals living in NYC, it’s fair to say that the homeless rate is exceptionally high in the Big Apple.

The Most Common Causes of Homelessness in America

A variety of factors can cause homelessness. However, some common issues can be identified: 

  1. 38.6% of sheltered homeless individuals are disabled.

(National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty)

Disability is one of the most commonly overlooked factors. With almost 4 out of 10 sheltered homeless people being disabled, the US needs to do some serious work on improving its support policies, homelessness statistics from 2018 reveal.

  1. Only 30% of affordable housing is available to people with extremely low income.

(National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty)

The promise to provide ELI populations with affordable housing fails to meet expectations. With only 30% of availability, most ELI households are pushed into homelessness with no other way out. 

  1. 25% of renters have ELI.

(National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty)

Why are people homeless? Well, a quarter of the renting population struggle with extremely low income, making them more vulnerable to financial imbalance, where the ratio wages vs house price is disturbed. 

  1. 25% of homeless people have mental illnesses.

(PBS)

Mental illness is one of the most common causes of homelessness, especially among single people. With a whopping quarter of the homeless population struggling with mental health, there is no doubt that mental illness and homelessness are connected.  

  1. 23% of the US homeless population is chronically homeless.

(PBS)

Almost a quarter of homeless individuals are unaccompanied homeless with a disabling condition ranging from substance abuse to disability and mental illness. These people have been continuously homeless for at least a year or have had repeated episodes of homelessness, according to HUD’s definition. 

  1. Substance abuse and homeless: 38% alcohol abuse & 26% drug abuse.

(PBS)

Substance abuse, often driven by stress as a result of another condition, is a common occurrence among the homeless in America. Almost 4 out of 10 have alcohol issues, while a quarter of the homeless experience drug abuse. This highlights the lack of specialist support. 

  1. 61% rise in homeless since 2008 via foreclosures.

(National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty)

This occurs when mortgage payments can’t be met, for any reason. In essence, foreclosures have affected the homeless numbers dramatically. 

  1. 71% of the homeless live in central cities, homelessness statistics reveal.

(PBS)

Urbanization affects the most vulnerable first by increasing the cost of renting and urban life dramatically; meaning, fewer people can make ends meet. 

  1. There were 1.6 million homeless during the Great Recession.

(HUD)

As terrifying as it might sound, the US has not yet hit another recession as devastating as the Great Recession. Nevertheless, there are still lessons to be learned from the past that could help improve the homelessness situation. 

  1. There’s a downward trend for homelessness in the US.

(Our World In Data)

Over the past decade, the homeless situation has been steadily decreasing; there’s been a drop in veteran homelessness, chronic homelessness, and overall family and single homelessness.

What Is Homelessness Assistance and What’s It Like in the US?

Dedicated assistance for the homeless still needs improvement, but, even so, it continues to play a significant role in helping people stay safe and off the street. 

  1. 70% of homeless people can receive temporary beds.

(End Homelessness)

The support is available from Emergency Shelters, Transitional Housing, and Safe Haven, ensuring that 7 out of 10 homeless individuals can get a bed to sleep in a given night. 

  1. One promising statistic on homelessness states that permanent housing intervention has grown by 450%.

(End Homelessness)

Permanent housing interventions have experienced a 450% growth over the past 5 years, providing rapid and effective support to families and individuals in need. By keeping them sheltered and off the street, the assistance can dramatically decrease the risk of homelessness. 

  1. Over 65% of the homeless population in America is in homeless shelters.

(Whitehouse)

Homeless shelter stats show that, on any given day, shelters can welcome 65% of the entire population of homeless people, ensuring they can have a safe and warm place to stay at night. More often than not, shelters also help them find public housing.

Bottom Line

In conclusion, stats reveal that there are still racial, gender, age, and geographic disparities across the US. Moreover, even though the current services lack the capacity to support all the individuals, such as veterans or those with mental illnesses, the overall homeless problem has been steadily decreasing as a result of more and more effective homeless assistance in America, as recent homelessness statistics indicate.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What percentage of the population is homeless?

On a single night, more than half a million Americans go homeless, which represents 0.2% of the US population. Of those homeless persons, 65% are sheltered whereas 35% are living on the streets.

2. Which state has the highest rate of homelessness?

Almost half of the entire US homeless community lives in California. This is hardly surprising as the Golden State is home to four of the 10 cities with the highest homeless rate in America — Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and San Jose. 

3. What country has the most homeless people?

Countries define homelessness differently. So, determining which nation has the highest rate of homelessness may be difficult. Nevertheless, in Asia, the Philippines seems to have the most number of homeless persons at around 4.5 million; 3 million of them being in the city of Manila. Also, according to reports, roughly 250,000 Filipino children are found on the streets every night. With a fifth of the entire population living below the national poverty line, the Philippines is certainly not the best place to be homeless

4. What is the average age of a homeless person in America?

Although some reports say that the state of homelessness can be experienced as early as the age of 9, that’s not the average age of a homeless person in the US. In fact, most homeless people are young adults — not more than 50 years old. For comparison, kids only account for 20% of the population, according to recent homelessness in America statistics.

5. What are the 3 types of homelessness?

The National Coalition for the Homeless categorizes homelessness into three types — chronic, transitional, and episodic. Chronic homelessness refers to people who consider shelters as their permanent home rather than just an emergency arrangement. Transitional homelessness, on the other hand, pertains to those who go to shelters for a short period of time before transitioning into a more stable home. And lastly, the episodic type refers to individuals who go in and out of the homeless situation due to their personal problems regarding mental health, unemployment, and substance abuse, as revealed by homelessness statistics.

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