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How many people are homeless in the US?
Estimates of the number of homeless in the United States range from half a million on any given night to seven million who experience homelessness at some time in their lives.

Those in shelters are the most likely to be counted, but those turned away or those in rural areas without shelters may be left out of these estimates and constitute the "hidden homeless".

Why is homelessness increasing?
Two trends are leading to increased homelessness, and both are growing:

  • Shortage of affordable housing
  • Poverty

More than the minimum wage is required to rent a 1-2 bedroom apartment at fair market rent, so that even the many shelter residents who work full-time at low-paying jobs cannot find permanent housing.
It is very low wage jobs that are expanding fastest in our economy, offering little help in escaping homelessness. Cash aid programs are disappearing due to welfare reform. Housing subsidies, such as section 8, which pays part of the rent for low-income people, have long waiting lists.


"Homeless people are mostly young single male drifters and alcoholics (or drug addicts)."

  • Today 40% are families with children, and this segment of the homeless population is among the fastest growing
  • Children account for 25% of the homeless population, with unaccompanied youth at 3%
  • Homelessness breaks up families: A Chicago study of homeless adults found that 54% of homeless adults were parents, but 91% of these were separated from their children. In addition to factors already discussed, domestic violence plays a role in the loss of a home for many of these families.
  • The elderly also comprise a substantial fraction of the homeless as their fixed incomes fail to cover increased housing, medical and other costs.
  • Addiction alone does not seem to explain homelessness, though addicts in poverty have a difficult time re-establishing permanent housing.

"De-institutionalized mental patients comprise a large part of the homeless."

  • The movement to close large mental institutions occurred in the 1950's and 1960's, but homelessness did not grow dramatically until the 1980's.
  • While 20-25% of today's homeless suffer from severe and persistent mental illness, only 5% need to be institutionalized; the rest can live in the community with appropriate supportive housing.

From publications of National Coalition for the Homeless,
Edited and published by Unitarian Universalists for Social Justice
1448 E. 52nd St. #144 Chicago, IL 60615
Phone and fax 773-643-8122 email uusj@sbcglobal.net