The Facts—and Faces—of Homelessness
Accurate statistics on the homeless population of America is understandably difficult to obtain. It's a bit like asking someone to count all the invisible people in a room. Even American census records are tied to physical, permanent home addresses rather than human identifiers. The system would seem to be saying we are not human without a home. We do not count.
Studies are periodically performed to evaluate the homeless crisis by surveying a given night in a geographic area. Those numbers can be quite different than if the data collection is made on a recurring basis. For example, according to the 2015 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) produced by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, 564,708 people were "homeless on a given night. Most (69%) were staying in residential programs for homeless people, and 31% were found in unsheltered locations." What are the chances that ALL those in "unsheltered locations" were found and surveyed? Were the shelters counted by official beds available or how many humans were actually there? How many were turned away from the shelters on the day of the survey and kept moving, never being counted by being in a congregation of people at "an unsheltered location"? How many were long-term or chronically homeless as opposed to homeless for a week or two, which is surprisingly common? Many sources, including the Washington Post, place the number of true homeless into the millions per year.
While the data can be difficulty to compile, the track records of who, why, and how people become homeless have developed observable patterns.
Homelessness disproportionately affects people of color
23% of homeless people are under the age of 18
Teen homelessnesses is often a result of fleeing abuse at home. The Urban Institute estimates that nearly 1 in 5 teens under 18 will run away at least once. 10% of runaway teens are pregnant. As many as 46% cite being forced to leave home by negative familial reaction to sexual orientation.
25% of homeless people suffer mental illness
Most common are schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Mental health patients are often discriminated against in standard real estate practice due to their illnesses or related issues that stem from them like criminal records. In many cases the cost of healthcare and medication is a catalyst to homelessness.
36% of homeless population are families with children
While most homeless families are sheltered, 10% of families are unsheltered and found under bridges, in cars, or in abandoned buildings when counted. 64% are homeless population are individuals and 43% of them are unsheltered.
Only 15% of homeless people are considered chronically homeless by HUD
Chronic homelessness is commonly defined by an individual with a disabling condition, living in either sheltered or unsheltered homelessness consistently for more than a year or more than 3-4 times over the last three years.
"The most common length of time that someone is homeless is one or two days, and half the people who enter the homeless shelter system will leave within 30 days, never to return."—Washington Post
This illustrates the need for a bridge for people unaccustomed to the risks and dangers of street life.
Homeless people are 3x more at risk of death than the general population
Young homeless women are up to 31x more at risk of death than the general population
Average age of death for homeless people is 50 while 78 is the norm for most Americans
Veterans make up 11% of the homeless population in the Unites States
91% are men. 3% are veteran families. The good news is, we're on the right path to ending veteran homelessness. After increasing for years, in 2010 the total number of homeless vets began a steady decrease, proof that focused effort makes a difference.