What is Homelessness?
Homelessness is a condition that occurs when a person can no longer afford to pay for a place to live due to various reasons. Homelessness can be broken down into three subcategories: chronic, transitional, and episodic.
Chronic Homelessness refers to the condition of an individual with disability who has been continuously homeless for one year or more or has experienced at least four episodes of homelessness in the last three years where the combined length of homelessness on those occasions is at least 12 months.
On a single night in January 2019, there were 96,141 homeless individuals with chronic patterns of homelessness in the U.S, a number that represents 24 percent of the total population of homeless individuals. 65 percent of chronically homeless individuals were living on the streets and other places not meant for human habitation. Since 2007, the number of individuals with patterns of chronic homelessness has declined by 20 percent.
Transitionally homelessness is used to describe the condition of people who only rely on the shelter system for a short period of time, including a single-night stay. Transitional Housing Programs provide people experiencing homelessness a place to stay combined with supportive services for up to 24 months.
Episodic homelessness refers to the condition of people who are frequently transitioning in and out of homelessness due to chronic unemployment or medical, mental, or substance abuse disorders.
Who Experiences Homelessness?
Anybody can experience homelessness, but Some groups of people are more likely to experience homelessness than others. People currently living in poverty or from minority groups, such as African Americans are more likely to experience homelessness than their white counterparts. The majority of people experiencing homelessness in the United States are adults without children.
However, due to methodological and financial constraints, most studies are limited to counting individuals who are in shelters or living on the street. Current procedures continue to undercount this group by failing to visit locations with homeless populations. On top of that, different estimates and counts are given by different governmental agencies, making actual homelessness figures unclear.
Point In Time Statistics
- On a single night in 2019, about 568,000 people were experiencing homelessness in the United States.
- Nearly two-thirds (63%) were staying in sheltered locations—emergency shelters or transitional housing programs—and more than one-third (37%) were unsheltered and staying in places not meant for human habitation, such as abandoned buildings
- African Americans have remained considerably overrepresented among the homeless population compared to the U.S. population. African Americans accounted for 40 percent of all people experiencing homelessness in 2019 and 52 percent of people experiencing homelessness as members of families with children, despite being 13 percent of the U.S. population.
- 48 percent of all people experiencing homelessness were white compared with 77 percent of the U.S. population. People identifying as Hispanic or Latino (who can be of any race) are about 22 percent of the homeless population but only 18 percent of the population overall.
- On a single night in 2019, about 35,000 people were experiencing homelessness as unaccompanied youth—that is, people under the age of 25 experiencing homelessness on their own.
- In 2019, less than 172,000 people in families with children were experiencing homelessness, and most people experiencing homelessness in families with children were staying in sheltered locations (91%). A large part of the decline in family homelessness since 2007 has occurred among people staying in unsheltered locations.
- Nearly two-thirds of people experiencing homelessness were men or boys (61% or 343,187 men and boys), 39 percent were women or girls (219,911 women and girls), and less than one percent were transgender (3,255 people) or gender non-conforming (1,362 people). These gender characteristics reflect the high percentage of men among the homeless individual population.
- Nearly half of all people experiencing homelessness in the country were in three states: California (27% or 151,278 people); New York (16% or 92,091 people); and Florida (5% or 28,328 people).
Why are People Homeless?
The reasons why people become homeless are very complex and unique to each situation. Factors such as housing prices, domestic violence, mental illness, and addiction are some of the most common reasons for homelessness.
Increased housing prices along with a limited amount of housing assistance programs play a pivotal role in the current rate of homelessness. The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates that the 2014 Housing Wage is $18.92 per hour and is more than two-and-a-half times the federal minimum wage. These figures demonstrate that a full-time minimum wage worker cannot afford a one or two-bedroom rental unit at Fair Market Rent.
Homelessness and poverty are clearly linked together. People experiencing poverty are unable to afford sufficient housing, food, childcare, healthcare and education. When only a portion of these necessities can be afforded due to limited funds, it is often housing that is given up. In 2013, the official poverty rate was 14.5% or 45 million people living in poverty. In Baltimore City, population 600,000; roughly 27%, or 143,000 individuals, live at or under the poverty line.
Lack of Affordable Healthcare
A serious illness or disability that requires extensive and/or long term medical attention can be an overwhelming obstacle for families and individuals who struggle to pay rent. This can lead to things such as job loss, eviction and depletion of savings.
50% of cities that were surveyed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors identified domestic violence as a primary cause of homelessness. Domestic violence contributes to homelessness as victims of domestic violence often have to choose between an abusive relationship or a place to live.
Approximately 16% of the single adult homeless population suffers from some form of severe and persistent mental illness (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2005).
The relationship between addiction and homelessness is complex and controversial as many people who are addicted to alcohol and drugs never becoming homeless. However, it is clear that people who are stricken by poverty and struggling with addiction are at an increased risk of homelessness.