Who really becomes homeless? Anyone who does not have a fixed, adequate, and regular residence for the overnight hours qualifies as being homeless under definitions set by Congress. In a recent survey of homelessness in the United States, more than 610,000 people were counted under the definition that has been set.
35% of those who are homeless do not even have access to a shelter for the overnight hours.
The good news is that the overall population of homeless has started to decline. In 2007, the overall count exceeded 670,000. In the meantime, those without an overnight home who are staying in a shelter has remained relatively the same. This means fewer people are outside on the streets every night.
Who Are the Homeless?
- Fewer than 10% of the US homeless population are military veterans, but 40% of homeless veterans do not seek help from a shelter.
- 1 in 6 people who are homeless is consider part of a “chronic” population as they have been counted in surveys multiple times.
- There are 3x more children who are homeless in the US compared to military veterans – more than 170,000 kids do not have a home.
- Although overall homelessness has gone down in the US, 20 different states saw increases in their homeless populations between 2012-2013.
- California has the largest homeless population, with an estimated 136,000 people living without an overnight residence.
- Almost 47,000 unaccompanied children were counted in the US homeless surveys of 2013, although only 13% of this group was under the age of 18.
This data has some good news and it has some bad news. The good news is that people are continuing to find their way into shelters as they work toward getting off the street. In the last decade, there has been an almost 25% drop in the total number of people who qualify as being homeless in the US. The bad news is that some of the most vulnerable populations, namely children and veterans, make up more than one-third of the homeless population. This means they are likely under-served for their needs and vulnerable to harm right now.
The Ethnicity of Homelessness
- In a 2004 survey of 27 cities regarding the ethnicity and culture of those who were homeless, 49% of the total population was African-American.
- In comparison, just 35% of the population was Caucasian and 13% was Hispanic.
- African-American homelessness occurs most often in urban areas. Homelessness for Caucasians and Hispanics occurs most often in rural areas.
- Only 1% of the respondents in the 27 city survey were Asian.
- 1 in 5 parents who happens to be homeless states that they moved out of a relationship that was violent to protect their children.
When homelessness becomes more attractive than the current living environment because of domestic violence, then something needs to be done to stop this issue. When it is a mother and her child [or children] on the streets, there is a 50% chance that they are there because the mother’s partner was violent with her or her children in the recent past. Many pundits described homelessness as a choice that can be fixed, but sometimes the situation is more complex than that.
The Health of the Homeless
- About 16% of the known homeless population has at least one mental health issue that is severe and chronic in nature.
- 5-7%. That’s the percentage of those with a mental illness who would need to have 24/7 care to help them with their disorder.
- Approximately 30% of the homeless population is suffering from some form of an addiction, usually alcohol or drugs, but smoking is also rather common.
- For those who are homeless in urban areas, the average homeless individual would need to work 89 hours per week at minimum wage to afford a two-bedroom apartment.
- PTSD is a major concern within the homeless population, especially if the individual is a military veteran. Up to half of those with PTSD and are homeless have never sought out any help for their health.
- Recent surveys in multiple cities have found that up to 1 in 4 people who are homeless are actually employed.
Here’s the issue: if you’re working full-time, you should be able to afford a home. For single parents escaping domestic violence, they are working full-time and have no place to go. This puts them and their children at risk for harm. Add in the other health issues that are associated with these demographics of homelessness and this population is clearly under-served. Sometimes people panhandle for cash because they don’t want to hold down employment, but sometimes the woman holding a sign that says “Anything helps, especially food” might have hungry children that have nothing to eat. Rather than assume, maybe we should just act upon the opportunities presented to us to begin making changes.