Homelessness in America - National Coalition for the Homeless (2023)

Read below for some basic facts about homelessness. For more information, check out these resources:

(Video) National Coalition for the Homeless 2021

  • Further Issues that can lead to homelessness, or that face specific populations of people experiencing homelessness.
  • NCH Reports and Publications on topics ranging from Criminalization to Homeless Counts.
  • Archives of historical NCH Reports and resources collected by NCH relating to Homelessness and Poverty.
  • Reasons People Become Homeless

  • Types of Homelessness

  • Demographics of Homelessness

  • Geography of Homelessness

  • Links/Resources

  • Why Are People Homeless?


    A lack of affordable housing and the limited scale of housing assistance programs have contributed to the current housing crisis and to homelessness. Recently, foreclosures have also increased the number of people who experience homelessness.

    The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimatesthat the 2017 Housing Wage is $21.21 per hour, exceeding the $16.38 hourly wage earned by the average renter by almost $5.00 an hour, and greatly exceeding wages earned by low income renter households. In fact, the hourly wage needed for renters hoping to afford a two-bedroom rental home is $13.96 higher than the national minimum wage of $7.25.

    Homelessness and poverty are inextricably linked. Poor people are frequently unable to pay for housing, food, childcare, health care, and education. Difficult choices must be made when limited resources cover only some of these necessities. Often it is housing, which absorbs a high proportion of income that must be dropped. If you are poor, you are essentially an illness, an accident, or a paycheck away from living on the streets.

    (Video) HOMESHOW - National Coalition for the Homeless

    According to the United States Census Bureau, the national poverty rate in 2016 was 12.7%. There were 40.6 million people in poverty. While the poverty rate has been slowly declining since 2014, a couple of factors account for continuing poverty:

    • Lack of Employment Opportunities – With unemployment rates remaining high, jobs are hard to find in the current economy. Even if people can find work, this does not automatically provide an escape from poverty.
    • Decline in Available Public Assistance – The declining value and availability of public assistance is another source of increasing poverty and homelessness and many families leaving welfare struggle to get medical care, food, and housing as a result of loss of benefits, low wages, and unstable employment. Additionally, most states have not replaced the old welfare system with an alternative that enables families and individuals to obtain above-poverty employment and to sustain themselves when work is not available or possible.

    Other major factors, which can contribute to homelessness, include:

    • Lack of Affordable Health Care – For families and individuals struggling to pay the rent, a serious illness or disability can start a downward spiral into homelessness, beginning with a lost job, depletion of savings to pay for care, and eventual eviction.
    • Domestic Violence – Battered women who live in poverty are often forced to choose between abusive relationships and homelessness. In addition, 50% of the cities surveyed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors identified domestic violence as a primary cause of homelessness (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2005).
    • Mental Illness – Approximately 16% of the single adult homeless population suffers from some form of severe and persistent mental illness (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2005).
    • Addiction – The relationship between addiction and homelessness is complex and controversial. Many people who are addicted to alcohol and drugs never become homeless, but people who are poor and addicted are clearly at increased risk of homelessness.
  • There are three types of homelessness – chronic, transitional, and episodic – which can be defined as follows:

    (Video) What's behind rising homelessness in America?

    Chronic Homelessness

    • Persons most like the stereotyped profile of the “skid-row” homeless, who are likely to be entrenched in the shelter system and for whom shelters are more like long-term housing rather than an emergency arrangement. These individuals are likely to be older, and consist of the “hard-core unemployed”, often suffering from disabilities and substance abuse problems. Yet such persons represent a far smaller proportion of the population compared to the transitionally homeless.

    Transitional Homelessness

    • Transitionally homeless individuals generally enter the shelter system for only one stay and for a short period. Such persons are likely to be younger, are probably recent members of the precariously housed population and have become homeless because of some catastrophic event, and have been forced to spend a short time in a homeless shelter before making a transition into more stable housing. Over time, transitionally homeless individuals will account for the majority of persons experiencing homelessness given their higher rate of turnover.

    Episodic Homelessness

    • Those who frequently shuttle in and out of homelessness are known as episodically homeless. They are most likely to be young, but unlike those in transitional homelessness, episodically homeless individuals often are chronically unemployed and experience medical, mental health, and substance abuse problems.
  • Who Experiences Homelessness?

    Persons living in poverty are most at risk of becoming homeless, and demographic groups who are more likely to experience poverty are also more likely to experience homelessness. Yet because of methodological and financial constraints, most studies are limited to counting persons who are in shelters or on the street. While the Census Bureau has taken a series of innovations to better incorporate the homeless population, these procedures continue to undercount this group by failing to visit many locations with homeless populations. Additionally, different governmental agencies often present different estimates/counts, making the figures on homelessness inconclusive.

    Housing and Urban Development’s Point-in-Time Count, 2016:

    (Video) SEASONS PSA - National Coalition for the Homeless

    • HUD found 549,928 individuals to be homeless on a single night in January 2016. Most homeless persons (65%) are individuals while 35% of homeless persons are in family households.
    • The number of families experiencing homelessness has increased significantly from past years. For example, in 2013 only 15% of homeless persons were in family households.
    • 31% ofallhomeless people were youths under the ageof 24.
    • Close to 40,000 veterans were homeless on a single night in January 2016.66% were residing in shelters or transitionalhousing programs, while 33% were without shelter.
    • The number of those in homeless shelters or transitional housing was split almost equally between people in families (47%) and individuals (53%).
    • Five states, California (22%), New York (16%), Florida (6%),Texas (4%), and Washington (4%),accounted for more than half of the homelesspopulation in the United States in 2016.
  • Where Do People Experience Homelessness?

    Homelessness is often assumed to be an urban phenomenon because homeless people are more numerous, more geographically concentrated, and more visible in urban areas. However, people experience the same difficulties associated with homelessness and housing distress in America's small towns and rural areas as they do in urban areas.

    In urban areas, estimates commonly rely on counts of persons using services. However, by this measure, homeless persons in rural areas are likely substantially under-counted due to the lack of rural service sites, the difficulty capturing persons who do not use homeless services, the limited number of researchers working in rural communities, and the minimal incentive for rural providers to collect data on their clients.
    Rural homelessness, like urban homelessness, is the result of poverty and a lack of affordable housing, and research has shown:

    (Video) What is it like to be homeless?

    • The odds of being poor are between 1.2 to 2.3-times higher for people in non-metropolitan areas than in metropolitan areas
    • 1 in 5 non-metro counties is classified as a ‘high poverty’ county (having a poverty rate of 20% or higher), while only 1 in 20 metro counties are defined as such
    • Homeless people in rural areas are more likely to be white, female, married, currently working, homeless for the first time, and homeless for a shorter period of time
(Video) National Coalition for the Homeless


What is the best solution to homelessness? ›

  • A Coordinated Approach. To end homelessness, a community-wide coordinated approach to delivering services, housing, and programs is needed. ...
  • Housing as the Solution. The solution to homelessness is simple – housing. ...
  • Assistance for the Most Vulnerable. ...
  • Designing a Crisis Response. ...
  • Increasing Employment and Income.

How can we solve the homeless crisis in America? ›

  1. Housing. ...
  2. Integrate Health Care. ...
  3. Build Career Pathways. ...
  4. Foster Education Connections. ...
  5. Strengthen Crisis Response Systems. ...
  6. Reduce Criminal Justice Involvement. ...
  7. Build Partnerships.

What are 5 facts about homelessness? ›

Fact 5: Homelessness is a Human Rights issue

For example the severe stress of finding cardboard to sleep on each night and being provided inadequate emergency bedding impacts on the human rights of street sleeping homeless people: the right to health. the right to personal safety. the right to privacy.

What state helps the homeless the most? ›

Based on this data, we found that Colorado, Georgia and Oregon have the overall best homeless assistance, and Oklahoma, Arkansas and West Virginia have the worst.
Key findings:
StateHomelessness rate changeHomelessness per 10K
New York0.7%47
North Dakota2.5%7
New Jersey-5.4%10
46 more rows
Jan 12, 2021

What is the single biggest thing that could be done to reduce homelessness? ›

Housing-Based Solutions. Since modern homelessness began more than thirty years ago, research and experience have overwhelmingly shown that investments in permanent housing are extraordinarily effective in reducing homelessness — as well as being cost-effective.

What is the main cause of homelessness? ›

There are social causes of homelessness, such as a lack of affordable housing, poverty and unemployment; and life events which push people into homelessness. People are forced into homelessness when they leave prison, care or the army with no home to go to.

Why should homelessness be solved? ›

Longer time spent without a home is linked to higher levels of mental distress and more damage from coping behaviors like substance use. This devastation to people's lives is why homelessness in California is a crisis that requires urgent attention by federal, state, and local leaders.

What is causing the homeless crisis? ›

Homelessness experts mostly attribute the rise to precipitous drops in earnings during the pandemic among Californians already teetering on the edge. They also point to a worsening housing affordability crisis that is decades in the making.

What are 10 common reasons that people become homeless? ›

10 Causes of Homelessness
  • ADDICTION. Probably the most common stereotype of chronically homeless people is that they are drug and alcohol addicts — with good reason. ...

What factors have the biggest impact on a person becoming homeless? ›

Key factors can include the lack of adequate income, access to affordable housing and health supports and/or the experience of discrimination.

Which cities have the most homeless? ›

Research found that an estimated 71.7 per cent of the homeless in California are unsheltered, compared to just 4.4 per cent in New York City. With 432 homeless people per 100,000 residents, Eugene in Oregon has by far the highest per capita rate of homelessness.
4 more rows

What are the 4 types of homelessness? ›

CoC and ESG Homeless Eligibility
  • Category 1: Literally Homeless.
  • Category 2: Imminent Risk of Homelessness.
  • Category 3: Homeless Under Other Federal Statutes.
  • Category 4: Fleeing/Attempting to Flee Domestic Violence.
  • At Risk of Homelessness.
  • Documentation Requirements.

What are three causes of homelessness? ›

Causes of homelessness

Homelessness can be caused by poverty, unemployment or by a shortage of affordable housing, or it can be triggered by family breakdown, mental illness, sexual assault, addiction, financial difficulty, gambling or social isolation.

Why is homelessness a problem in society? ›

Social Impacts

Without social support systems, people experiencing homelessness live in the shadowy edges of society. Homelessness puts people a higher risks for victimization, poor health, loneliness, and depression, which can lead to chemical dependency, crime, and a host of other issues.

Where is the best place to live if you are homeless? ›

In a Homeless Shelter

Homeless shelters offer shelter, food, and supplies for homeless men, women, and families. Many people find support to transition from homelessness to permanent housing at homeless shelters, others, however, choose to live on the streets.

Does the US government give money to the homeless? ›

Each year, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) awards Homeless Assistance Grants to communities that administer housing and services at the local level.

Which US state has the least homeless? ›

California, New York, and Florida have the largest homeless populations in the nation. Those states alone comprise nearly half of the total U.S. homeless population. On the other hand, North Dakota, Wyoming, and South Dakota have the smallest homeless populations, according to the LendingTree analysis.

Which country has no homeless? ›

However, what is certain is that Japan is the only country in the world with a homeless population rate of around 0%.

Where is homelessness the worst in the US? ›

Over the years, the city of Chicago, Illinois has gained a reputation as the city with the most homeless people, rivaling Los Angeles and New York City, although no statistical data have backed this up.

What does Japan do with homeless? ›

Many areas of Japan have a high cost of living, making housing inaccessible to poorer Japanese people. Other than homeless shelters, many Japanese people who experience poverty live in districts called doya'gai, which translates to “flop house town.” These are low-cost, male-only areas of Japan.

How can we prevent homelessness? ›

Homelessness is solved by providing an adequate supply of safe, appropriate and affordable housing and for those who require it, supportive housing with tenancies that have intentional community services.

Which country has the most homeless people? ›

Syria has the world's highest homeless rate with one-third – roughly 29.6% – of the country's 22 million population being homeless.
  • Population: 22.1 million.
  • Homeless: 6.56 million.
Feb 28, 2023

Why is there so much homelessness in America? ›

A lack of affordable housing and the limited scale of housing assistance programs have contributed to the current housing crisis and to homelessness. The gap between the number of affordable housing units and the number of people needing them has created a housing crisis for poor people.

Why can't we end homelessness? ›

One problem is that we haven't scaled effective solutions to meet the demand. Another is that we haven't held ourselves and our communities accountable to the goal of ending homelessness. We too often measure ourselves by outputs rather than outcomes.

Why is homelessness a serious problem in America? ›

Living in the streets, people are exposed to more crime, violence and bad weather, including extreme heat. They can lose their job in the chaos of homelessness, and they often struggle to find another one without access to the internet or a mailing address.

Is homelessness a big problem in the world? ›

Homelessness is a global challenge. The United Nations Human Settlements Program estimates that 1.6 billion people live in inadequate housing, and the best data available suggest that more than 100 million people have no housing at all.

What percent of homeless are on drugs? ›

Most research shows that around 1/3 of people who are homeless have problems with alcohol and/or drugs, and around 2/3 of these people have lifetime histories of drug or alcohol use disorders. According to SAMHSA, 38% of homeless people abused alcohol while 26% abused other drugs.

How bad is homelessness in America? ›

Every night, more than 300,000 men, women and children in the U.S. stay in homeless shelters. An additional 200,000 or so spend each night unsheltered, whether on the street or in other locations (subway trains, vehicles, etc.).

Why do people ignore homeless people? ›

Most people ignore them for whatever reason, whether they have nothing to give or they just gave to someone else, or maybe they fear the person who they feel is accosting them. Whatever the reason, the panhandler is still ignored. Some panhandlers get angry when they get no response.

Who is most likely to end up homeless? ›

Black and Native Americans are more likely to become homeless than other racial and ethnic groups in the U.S. Although Black people comprise 13 percent of the general population and 21.4 percent of those living in poverty, they account for 40 percent of the homeless population.

What people are more likely to become homeless? ›

Persons living in poverty are most at risk of becoming homeless, and demographic groups who are more likely to experience poverty are also more likely to experience homelessness.

Where is the lowest rate of homelessness? ›

Japan has the lowest rate of homelessness in the world, followed closely by Thailand, then Switzerland and Costa Rica.

Why is homeless so bad in California? ›

Key Takeaways. California's homeless crisis is associated with high housing costs, inadequate shelter spaces, deinstitutionalization, and changes in the criminal justice system.

What is the homeless capital of the US? ›

It is relatively small Santa Cruz, California. Santa Cruz County has a population of 273,000 and according to a 2022 homeless census has 2,229 self-identified homeless residents for a rate of 852.9 per 100,000 – placing it at the top of a list of 15 cities nationally.

Why is it good to stop homelessness? ›

We considered four categories of benefits arising from ending homelessness: avoided costs to local authorities and the Exchequer through reduced use of public services such as NHS, increased earnings and improved wellbeing from ability to work and obtaining secure housing.


1. What is it like to be homeless?
(National Homeless)
2. Homeless crisis: 30% of U.S.'s unhoused in California
3. 2021 National Coalition for Homeless Veterans Annual Conference (Virtual)
(U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs)
4. How homelessness compares in the country's four most populous states
(CBS 8 San Diego)
5. VISTA at the National Coalition for the Homeless
(National Homeless)
6. How to Fix America's Worsening Homeless Crisis
(Bloomberg Originals)
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