Homelessness is an unfortunate affliction of every society. It would be easy to chalk the issue up to mere poverty, but there are dozens of different root causes.
Sadly, it is often the most vulnerable among us who end up on the streets.
Despite all manner of relief efforts, the problem seems to get worse and worse, even in the wealthiest areas.
Below are 10 facts about homelessness—a compendium of tragedy with just a dash of hope.
Fact 1: Over half a million people are homeless.
On any given night, there are over 600,000 homeless people in the U.S., according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Most people are spending the night either in homeless shelters or in some sort of short-term transitional housing.
Slightly more than a third are living in cars or under bridges or are in some other way living unsheltered.
Fact 2: One quarter of homeless people are children.
HUD reports that on any given night, over 138,000 of the homeless in the U.S. are children under the age of 18.
Thousands of these homeless children are unaccompanied, according to HUD.
Another federal program, No Child Left Behind, defines “homeless children” more broadly and includes not just those living in shelters or transitional housing but those who are sharing the housing of other persons due to economic hardship; living in cars, parks, bus or train stations; or awaiting foster-care placement.
Under this definition, the National Center for Homeless Education reported in September 2014 that local school districts reported there are over 1 million homeless children in public schools.
Fact 3: Tens of thousands of veterans are homeless.
Over 57,000 veterans are homeless each night, according to HUD. Sixty percent of them are in shelters, the rest unsheltered. Nearly 5,000 are female.
Fact 4: Domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness among women.
According to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (NLCHP), more than 90 percent of homeless women are victims of severe physical or sexual abuse, and escaping that abuse is a leading cause of their homelessness.
Fact 5: Many people are homeless because they cannot afford rent.
The lack of affordable housing is a primary cause of homelessness, according to the NLCHP. HUD has seen its budget slashed by over 50 percent in recent decades, resulting in the loss of 10,000 units of subsidized low-income housing each and every year.
Fact 6: There are fewer places for poor people to rent than before.
According to the NLCHP, one eighth of the nation’s supply of low-income housing has been permanently lost since 2001.
The U.S. needs at least 7 million more affordable apartments for low-income families, and as a result, millions of families spend more than half of their monthly income on rent.
Fact 7: In the last few years millions have lost their homes.
Over 5 million homes have been foreclosed on since 2008; that’s one out of every 10 homes with a mortgage. This has caused even more people to search for affordable rental property.
Fact 8: The government does not help as much as you think.
There is enough public rental assistance to help about one out of every four extremely low-income households.
Those who do not receive help are on multi-year waiting lists. For example, Charlotte just opened up their applications for public housing assistance for the first time in 14 years, and over 10,000 people applied.
Fact 9: One in five homeless people suffers from untreated severe mental illness.
While about 6 percent of the general population suffers from severe mental illness, 20 to 25 percent of the homeless suffer from severe mental illness, according to government studies.
Half of this population self-medicate and are at further risk for addiction and poor physical health.
A University of Pennsylvania study tracking nearly 5,000 homeless people for two years discovered that investing in comprehensive health support and treatment of physical and mental illnesses is less costly than incarceration, shelter and hospital services for the untreated homeless.
Fact 10: Cities are increasingly making homelessness a crime.
A 2014 survey of 187 cities by the NLCHP found that 24 percent of cities make it a city-wide crime to beg in public, 33 percent make it illegal to stand around or loiter anyplace in the city, 18 percent make it a crime to sleep anywhere in public, 43 percent make it illegal to sleep in your car, and 53 percent make it illegal to sit or lie down in particular public places. And the number of cities criminalizing homelessness is steadily increasing.
There are lots of great organizations working to help prevent and end homelessness and hunger across the country. Search NCH’s Directory of Member and Advocacy programs, or find further resources below.
National Directories and Resources:
Health Care providers | Shelters allowing pets | Homeless Shelter Directory | Women’s Shelters | Shelter Listings | Transitional Housing | Food Pantries | HUD Resources | HUD Local Offices | SAMHSA Information and Research Portal