Homelessness in the United States

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A homeless man outside the United Nations building in New York with the American flag in the background.

Homelessness is a social crisis in the United States of America. According to McKinney–Vento Homeless Assistance Act, a person is considered homeless if he, she, or they "lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence."

Homelessness emerged as a national issue in the 1870s.[1] Many homeless people lived in emerging urban cities, such as New York City. Into the 20th Century, the Great Depression of the 1930s caused a devastating epidemic of poverty, hunger, and homelessness. There were two million homeless people migrating across the United States. In the 1970s, the de-institutionalization of patients from state psychiatric hospitals was a precipitating factor which seeded the homeless population.

The number of homeless people grew in the 1980s, as housing and social service cuts increased. After many years of advocacy and numerous revisions, President Reagan signed into law the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act in 1987—this remains the only piece of federal legislation that allocates funding to the direct service of homeless people. Over the past decades, the availability and quality of data on homelessness has improved considerably. About 1.56 million people, or about 0.5% of the U.S. population, used an emergency shelter or a transitional housing program between October 1, 2008 and September 30, 2009.[2] Homelessness in the United States increased after the Great Recession in the United States.

One out of 50 children or 1.5 million children in United States of America will be homeless each year.[3] In 2013 that number jumped to one out of 30 children, or 2.5 million.[4] There were an estimated 57,849 homeless veterans estimated in the United States during January 2013; or 12 percent of all homeless adults. Just under 8 percent of homeless U.S. veterans are female. Texas, California and Florida have the highest numbers of unaccompanied homeless youth under the age of 18; comprising 58% of the total homeless under 18 youth population [5]

Because of turnover in the homeless population, the total number of people who experience homelessness for at least a few nights during the course of a year is thought to be considerably higher than point-in-time counts. A 2000 study estimated the number of such people to be between 2.3 million and 3.5 million.[6][7] According to Amnesty International USA, vacant houses outnumber homeless people by five times.[8]

Causes of homelessness in the United States includes lack of affordable housing, mental illness, substance abuse, lack of needed services, and low-paying jobs. Homelessness in the United States affects many segments of the population, including families, children, veterans and others. Efforts to assist the homeless have included federal legislation, non-profit efforts, increased access to healthcare services, affordable housing, among others.

Historical background[edit]

Pre-colonial and colonial periods[edit]

Following the Peasants' Revolt in England, constables were authorized under 1383 English Poor Laws statute to collar vagabonds and force them to show support; if they could not, the penalty was gaol.[9] Vagabonds could be sentenced to the stocks for three days and nights; in 1530, whipping was added. The presumption was that vagabonds were unlicensed beggars.[9] In 1547, a bill was passed that subjected vagrants to some of the more extreme provisions of the criminal law, namely two years servitude and branding with a "V" as the penalty for the first offense and death for the second. Large numbers of vagabonds were among the convicts transported to the American colonies in the 18th century.[10]


The Bowery Mission at 36 Bowery in New York City in the 1880s

Homelessness emerged as a national issue in the 1870s.[1] There are no national figures documenting the homeless demography at this time.[1] Jacob Riis wrote about, documented, and photographed the poor and destitute, although not specifically the homeless, in New York City tenements in the late 19th century. His ground-breaking book, How the Other Half Lives, published in 1890, raised public awareness of living conditions in the slums, causing some changes in building codes and some social conditions.

The growing movement toward social concern sparked the development of rescue missions, such as America's first rescue mission, the New York City Rescue Mission, founded in 1872 by Jerry and Maria McAuley.[11][12] In smaller towns, there were hobos, who temporarily lived near train tracks and hopped onto trains to various destinations. Especially following the American Civil War, a large number of homeless men formed part of a counterculture known as "hobohemia" all over America.[13][14]

During this time, many towns and cities had an area which contained the homeless. In New York City, for example, there was an area known as "the Bowery." Rescue missions offering "soup, soap, and salvation", a phrase introduced by The Salvation Army,[15] sprang up along the Bowery thoroughfare, including the oldest one, The Bowery Mission. The mission was founded in 1879 by the Rev. and Mrs. A.G. Ruliffson.[16]

20th Century[edit]

Unemployed men outside a soup kitchen opened by Al Capone in Depression-era Chicago, Illinois, the US, 1931.

The Great Depression of the 1930s caused a devastating epidemic of poverty, hunger, and homelessness. There were two million homeless people migrating across the United States.[17] Many lived in shantytowns they called "Hoovervilles". Residents lived in shacks and begged for food or went to soup kitchens. Authorities did not officially recognize these Hoovervilles and occasionally removed the occupants for technically trespassing on private lands, but they were frequently tolerated out of necessity.

A 1960 survey by Temple University of Philadelphia's poor neighborhoods found that 75 percent of the homeless were over 45 years old, and 87 percent were white.[18]

The Community Mental Health Act of 1963 was a pre-disposing factor in setting the stage for homelessness in the United States.[19] Long term psychiatric patients were released from state hospitals into Single Room Occupancies and sent to community health centers for treatment and follow-up. It never quite worked out properly and this population largely was found living in the streets soon thereafter with no sustainable support system.[20][21] In the United States, during the late 1970s, the deinstitutionalization of patients from state psychiatric hospitals was a precipitating factor which seeded the homeless population, especially in urban areas such as New York City.[22]

Great Fire of 1911 with homeless man

1980s and 1990s[edit]

Homeless Advocate Mitch Snyder, Actor Martin Sheen, Mayor Raymond L. Flynn

The number of homeless people grew in the 1980s, as housing and social service cuts increased and the economy deteriorated. The United States government determined that somewhere between 200,000 and 500,000 Americans were then homeless.[23] There were some U.S. federal initiatives that aimed to help, end and prevent homelessness, however, there were no designated homeless-related programs in the Office of Management and Budget.[24]

The History of the United States (1980–1991) illustrates that this was a time when there was economic distress, high unemployment, and was the period when chronic homelessness became a societal problem. In 1980, federal funds accounted for 22% of big city budgets, but by 1989 the similar aid composed only 6% of urban revenue (part of a larger 60% decrease in federal spending to support local governments).[25] It is largely (although not exclusively) in these urban areas that homelessness became widespread and reached unprecedented numbers. Most notable were cuts to federal low-income housing programs. An advocacy group claims that Congress halved the budget for public housing and Section 8 (the government's housing voucher subsidization program) and that between the years of 1980 and 1989 HUD's budget authority was reduced from $74 billion to $19 billion.[25] Such alleged changes is claimed to have resulted in an inadequate supply of affordable housing to meet the growing demand of low-income populations. In 1970 there were 300,000 more low-cost rental units (6.5 million) than low-income renter households (6.2 million). By 1985, the advocacy group claimed that the number of low-cost units had fallen to 5.6 million, and the number of low-income renter households had grown to 8.9 million, a disparity of 3.3 million units[26]

In response to the ensuing homelessness crisis of the 1980s, concerned citizens across the country[who?] demanded that the federal government provide assistance. After many years of advocacy and numerous revisions, President Reagan signed into law the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act in 1987—this remains the only piece of federal legislation that allocates funding to the direct service of homeless people. The McKinney-Vento Act paved the way for service providers in the coming years. During the 1990s homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and other supportive services sprouted up in cities and towns across the nation. However, despite these efforts and the dramatic economic growth marked by this decade, homeless numbers remained stubbornly high. It became increasingly apparent that simply providing services to alleviate the symptoms of homelessness (i.e. shelter beds, hot meals, psychiatric counseling, etc.), although needed, were not successful at solving the root causes of homelessness. The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH),a federal agency contained in the Executive Branch, was established in 1987 as a requirement of the McKinney-Vento Act of 1987.

21st Century[edit]

Homeless Veteran in New York.jpeg

Improved data[edit]

Over the past decades, the availability and quality of data on homelessness has improved considerably, due, in part, to initiatives by the United States government. Since 2007, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development has issued an Annual Homeless Assessment Report, which revealed the number of individuals and families that were homeless, both sheltered and unsheltered.[27] In 2009, There were about 643,000 sheltered and unsheltered homeless persons nationwide. About two-thirds of those stayed in emergency shelters or used transitional housing programs, with the remaining living on the street in abandoned buildings or other areas not meant for human habitation. About 1.56 million people, or about 0.5% of the U.S. population, used an emergency shelter or a transitional housing program between October 1, 2008 and September 30, 2009.[2] Around 44% of homeless people were employed.[28]

According to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development's 2008 Annual Homeless Assessment Report, the most common demographic features of all sheltered homeless people are: male, members of minority groups, older than age 31, and alone. More than 40 percent of sheltered homeless people have a disability. At the same time, sizable segments of the sheltered homeless population are white, non-Hispanic (38 percent), children (20 percent), or part of multi-person households (33 percent). Approximately 68 percent of the 1.6 million sheltered homeless people were homeless as individuals and 32 percent were persons in families.[29]

In 2008 more than 66 percent of all sheltered homeless people were located in principal cities, with 32 percent located in suburban or rural jurisdictions. About 40 percent of people entering an emergency shelter or transitional housing program during 2008 came from another homeless situation (sheltered or unsheltered), 40 percent came from a housed situation (in their own or someone else's home), and the remaining 20 percent were split between institutional settings or other situations such as hotels or motels. Most people had relatively short lengths of stay in emergency shelters: 60 percent stayed less than a month, and a 33 percent stayed a week or less.[29]


"In 2004 the United States Conference of Mayors... surveyed the mayors of major cities on the extent and causes of urban homelessness and most of the mayors named the lack of affordable housing as a cause of homelessness.... The next three causes identified by mayors, in rank order, were mental illness or the lack of needed services, substance abuse and lack of needed services, and low-paying jobs. The lowest ranking cause, cited by five mayors, was prisoner reentry. Other causes cited were unemployment, domestic violence, and poverty."

The major causes of homelessness include:[30][31][32][33]

  • The failure of urban housing projects to provide safe, secure, and affordable housing to the poor.[30][31][32][33] Additionally, many workers cannot afford to live where they work, and even in moderately priced communities housing costs require a large portion of household income.[34]
  • The deinstitutionalization movement from the 1950s onwards in state mental health systems, to shift towards 'community-based' treatment of the mentally ill, as opposed to long-term commitment in institutions.[30][31][32][33] There is disproportionally higher prevalence of mental disorders relative to other disease groups within homeless patient populations at both inpatient hospitals and hospital-based emergency departments.[35]
  • Redevelopment and gentrification activities instituted by cities across the country through which low-income neighborhoods are declared blighted and demolished to make way for projects that generate higher property taxes and other revenue, creating a shortage of housing affordable to low-income working families, the elderly poor, and the disabled.[30][31][32][33]
  • The failure of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to provide effective mental health care and meaningful job training for many homeless veterans, particularly those of the Vietnam War.[36]
  • Deprived of normal childhoods, nearly half of foster children in the United States become homeless when they are released from foster care at age 18.[37][38]
  • Natural disasters that destroy homes: hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, etc. Places of employment are often destroyed too, causing unemployment and transience.[39]
  • People who have served time in prison, have abused drugs and alcohol, or have a history of mental illness find it difficult to impossible to find employment for years at a time because of the use of computer background checks by potential employers. See prisoner reentry.[40]
  • According to the Institution of Housing in 2005, the U.S. Government has focused 42% more on foreign countries rather than homeless Americans, including homeless veterans.[30][31][32][33]
  • People who are hiding in order to evade law enforcement.[30][31][32][33]
  • Adults and children who flee domestic violence.[30][31][32][33]
  • Teenagers who flee or are thrown out by parents who disapprove of their child's sexual orientation or gender identity. A 2010 study by the Center for American Progress shows that a disproportionately high number of homeless youth (between 20–40%) identify as LGBTQ.[41]
  • Overly complex building code that makes it difficult for most people to build. Traditional huts, cars, and tents are illegal, classified as substandard and may be removed by government, even though the occupant may own the land. Land owner cannot live on the land cheaply, and so sells the land and becomes homeless.[30][31][32][33]
  • Foreclosures of homes, including foreclosure of apartment complexes which displaces tenants renting there.[42]
  • Evictions from rented property.[42]
  • Lack of support from friends or family.[30][31][32][33]
  • Individuals who prefer homelessness and wish to remain off the grid for political and ideological purposes. Often self-identified as Gutter Punks or Urban Survivalists. The Department of Housing and Urban Development rarely reports on this counter-cultural movement since Gutter Punks and similar individuals often refuse to participate in governmental studies and do not seek governmental assistance for ideological or political purposes.[43]
  • Lack of resources in place in the communities to help aid in prevention of homelessness before it becomes a crisis.[30][31][32][33]
  • Neoliberal reforms to the welfare state and the retrenchment of the social safety net.[44]

Federal legislation[edit]

In response to the Great Recession in the United States, President Obama signed several pieces of legislation that addressed the homelessness crisis. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 addressed homelessness prevention, in which he allocated an additional $1.5 billion to HUD for the "Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Rehousing Program (HPRP)." The purpose of HPRP was to assist individuals and families who are otherwise healthy and not chronically homeless in escaping homelessness or preventing homelessness of the vulnerable population.[45][46] On May 20, 2009, President Obama signed the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act into Public Law (Public Law 111-22 or "PL 111-22"), reauthorizing HUD's Homeless Assistance programs. It was part of the Helping Families Save Their Homes Act of 2009. The HEARTH act allows for the prevention of homelessness, rapid re-housing, consolidation of housing programs, and new homeless categories.[47][48][49] [50]

In the first year of the new decade, the Federal government launched of Opening Doors: The Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness.[51][52] Opening Doors is a publication of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, which worked with all Federal agencies and many state and local stakeholders on its creation and vision, setting a ten-year path for the nation on preventing and ending all types of homelessness. This Plan was presented to the President and Congress in a White House Ceremony on June 22, 2010.[53]

Continued crisis[edit]

Homeless man soliciting employment, Ypsilanti, Michigan

According to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the demand for emergency shelter in 270 U.S. cities increased 13 percent in 2001 and 25 percent in 2005.[30][31] 22 percent of those requesting emergency shelter were turned away.

Into 2016, homelessness is considered an epidemic in several United States of American cities. "Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and seven of the 15 City Council members announced they would declare a state of emergency and try to find $100 million to cure what has become a municipal curse." [54] Homelessness in New York City has tripled since January 2000, from approximately 20,000 people using provided nightly shelter services to more than 60,000 in January 2015.[55] These counts do not include those persons who choose to stay away from shelter providers.


Main article: Homeless shelter

Millions of American homeless do not have a bed where to go to sleep every night most of the time or years and have to sleep on public benchs or under bridges in order avoid from rain, snow or insects with the risk of being molested, assaulted or getting sick.[56][57][58]

Even when more than 80 % of US territory is not urbanized the United States does not have politics to create permanent shelters for homeless nor even centers where homeless people could sleep nightly on a bed are when they do not have a home since they are human beings. In most of states are enabled temporary shelters during winter or from November to March (during winter season) and are closed after winter and American homeless return again to the live and sleep on the streets, on public benchs or under bridges.[59] Some homeless that are unable to move by themselves, or does not speak English or are mentally ill (or a combination of those three situations) usually do not received assistance on winter and die frozen.[60]

Definitions and categories[edit]

Homeless man in the East Village, New York City.

The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development acknowledges four categories of people who qualify as legally homeless: (1) those who are currently homeless, (2) those who will become homeless in the imminent future, (3) certain youths and families with children who suffer from home instability caused by a hardship, and (4) those who suffer from home instability caused by domestic violence.[61]

According to the Stewart B. McKinney Act, 42 U.S.C. § 11301, et seq. (1994),[62] a person is considered homeless if they "lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence and ... has a primary nighttime residency that is: (A) a supervised publicly or privately operated shelter designed to provide temporary living accommodations... (B) an institution that provides a temporary residence for individuals intended to be institutionalized, or (C) a public or private place not designed for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings." Human Rights Watch (2010) identified emancipated teenagers in California as a new homeless population.

Homeless women[edit]

Homeless woman with dogs, Haight Street, San Francisco, CA

Women and families represent the fastest growing groups of the homeless population nationally. Approximately half of the homeless population are families with children. Among homeless families, 90 percent are female-headed. However, between 60-80% of all homeless persons are men. Approximately 72% of the chronically homeless are male.[63] If a young single-mother is responsible for raising her child or children without familial support and material resources typically heads a homeless family.[64]

Some of the major factors of homelessness amongst American females include domestic violence, of which women are the overwhelming victims, poverty, healthcare and family planning, and the role of women as the primary caregivers of children and the income and housing implications which ensue, divorce, decline of the welfare state, and the lack of affordable housing. Additionally, the poor mental health of women is both a precursor and consequence of homelessness amongst the female population that should be addressed.

Homeless veterans[edit]

Marines and Sailors sort and organize hundreds of clothing items at the New England Center for Homeless Veterans. Best friend shirts The service members spent the day serving meals and eating with many of Boston’s veterans during Boston Navy Week. Boston Navy Week is one of 15 signature events planned across America in 2012. The eight-day long event commemorates the Bicentennial of the War of 1812, hosting service members from the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard and coalition ships from around the world. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Marco Mancha/Released)

Homeless veterans are persons who have served in the armed forces who are homeless or living without access to secure and appropriate accommodation. There were an estimated 57,849 homeless veterans estimated in the United States during January 2013; or 12 percent of all homeless adults. Just under 8 percent of homeless U.S. veterans are female. Texas, California and Florida have the highest numbers of unaccompanied homeless youth under the age of 18; comprising 58% of the total homeless under 18 youth population [65]

Throughout the 21st Century, homeless service providers and the Federal government have been able to reduce chronic homelessness and homelessness among Veterans with targeted efforts and interagency cooperation on initiatives like the HUD-VASH program.[66]

Homeless youth[edit]

Homeless children in the United States[67] The number of homeless children reached record highs in 2011,[68] 2012,[69] and 2013[70] at about three times their number in 1983.[69]

The number of homeless children in the US grew from 1.2 million in 2007 to 1.6 million in 2010. The United States defines homelessness per McKinney–Vento Homeless Assistance Act.[71][definition needed]The number of homeless children reached record highs in 2011,[68] 2012,[69] and 2013[70] at about three times their number in 1983.[69] An "estimated two million [youth] run away from or are forced out of their homes each year" in the United States.[72] The difference in these numbers can be attributed to the temporary nature of street children in the United States, unlike the more permanent state in developing countries.

One out of 50 children or 1.5 million children in United States of America will be homeless each year.[73] In 2013 that number jumped to one out of 30 children, or 2.5 million.[74]

Street children in the United States tend to stay in the state, 83% do not leave their state of origin.[75] If they leave, street children are likely to end up in large cities, notably New York City, Los Angeles, Portland, Oregon, and San Francisco.[76] Street children are predominantly Caucasian and female in the United States, and 42% identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT).[77]

The United States government has been making efforts since the late 1970s to accommodate this section of the population. The Runaway and Homeless Youth Act of 1978 made funding available for shelters and funded the National Runaway Switchboard. Other efforts include the Child Abuse and Treatment Act of 1974, the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, and the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act.[78] There has also been a decline of arrest rates in street youth, dropping in 30,000 arrests from 1998 to 2007. Instead, the authorities are referring homeless youth to state-run social service agencies.[79]

College youth[edit]

The homeless college youth accounts for over one million of the young homeless population.[80] According to the Free Application Federal Student Aid, also known as FAFSA, in 2013, over 58,000 students identified as homeless on their application.[81] "The federal government defines these unaccompanied homeless youth (UHY) as individuals who do not have “fixed, regular and adequate” housing and who are “not in the physical custody of a parent or adult.”[82] The McKinney Vento Act is considered the key piece of federal legislation pertaining to educational support for homeless children and teens.[83] The causes of homelessness varies from student to student. There are two types of homeless college students: 1. students that are homeless upon entering college and 2. students who become homeless during college.[84] For the youth that become homeless upon entering college, this situation represents the students that are having trouble sustaining housing due to job loss of their parent or guardian, the lack of a parent or guardian or because youth has been asked to leave the home or decided to runaway.[85] The reasons for a college youth to become homeless while attending college are as follows: unable to sustain the financial expenses for housing and food. Second, by having the financial support given by family revoked.[86] Fortunately, there are programs available at state colleges and universities that provide students with the necessary resources to obtain financial and housing stability and sustainability. There are also organizations such as the National Association For The Education Of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY) that advocate for a higher education so the children and youth can fulfil their dreams.[87]

LGBT youth[edit]

Research shows that a disproportionate amount of homeless youth in the United States identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, or LGBT.[88] Researchers suggest that this is primarily a result of hostility or abuse from the young people's families leading to eviction or running away. In addition, LGBT youth are often at greater risk for certain dangers while homeless, including being the victims of crime, risky sexual behavior, substance abuse, and mental health concerns.

Homeless families[edit]

The 2000s saw a new population of those experiencing homelessness: families with children. While an emerging problem at the beginning of the decade,[89] the problem continued to persist through 2010. At the close of the decade the trend continued unabated, with the number of individuals in homeless families increasing from 431,541 in 2007 to 535,447 in 2009.[66]

Juxtaposition of homeless and well off is common on Broadway, New York City.

Efforts to assist the homeless[edit]

Helping the homeless.jpg

The homeless community of the United States is aided by governmental and non-governmental organizations.


Homeless individuals report a lack of affordable housing as the number one reason for becoming homeless.[90] Many non-profit organizations are in operation to serve this need—for example, the National Low Income Housing Coalition—but most lack the funding necessary to create enough housing. Several proposed policy measures are designed to secure such funding, such as the National Housing Trust Fund, but these have not been signed into law.

The two main types of housing programs provided for homeless people are transitional and permanent housing. Transitional housing programs are operated with one goal in mind – to help individuals and families obtain permanent housing as quickly as possible. Transitional housing programs assist homeless for a fixed amount of time or until they are able to obtain housing on their own and function successfully in the community, or whichever comes first.[91][92][93]

Some shelters and associated charitable foundations have bought buildings and real estate to develop into permanent housing for the homeless in lieu of transitional Housing.[94]

The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development and Veterans Administration have a special Section 8 housing voucher program called VASH (Veterans Administration Supported Housing), or HUD-VASH, which gives out a certain number of Section 8 subsidized housing vouchers to eligible homeless and otherwise vulnerable US armed forces veterans.[95] The HUD-VASH program has been successful in housing many homeless veterans.[96]

Housing First has met with success since its initial implementations in 2009 by providing relatively no strings-attached housing to homeless people with substance abuse problems or mental health issues. Housing First allows homeless men and women to be taken directly off the street into private community-based apartments, without requiring treatment first. This allows the homeless to return to some sense of normalcy, from which it is believed that they are better-poised to tackle their addictions or sicknesses. The relapse rate through these types of programs is lower than that of conventional homeless programs.[97][98]

Housing First was initiated by the federal government's Interagency Council on Homelessness. It asks cities to come up with a plan to end chronic homelessness under the assumption that if homeless people are given independent housing immediately with some social and financial support, then there will be reduced needs for emergency homeless shelters.[99][100]

Comprehensive health care[edit]

Homeless individuals report mental illness as being the number three reason for becoming or staying homeless.[90] Such illnesses are often closely linked with the fourth reason—substance abuse—and therefore it is generally accepted that both of these issues should be treated simultaneously. Although many medical, psychiatric, and counseling services exist to address these needs, it is commonly believed that without the support of reliable and stable housing such treatments remain ineffective. Furthermore, in the absence of a universal health-care plan, many of those in need cannot afford such services. Proposed legislation such as the Bringing America Home Act are intended to provide comprehensive treatment for many homeless mental and substance abuse patients.


There are several policies dealing with homelessness. In 1980 the government decided to start sending funding to the homeless, but it was not until 1984 that shelters were built to accommodate and feed them. As it was shown though seventy percent required the homeless to attend a religious ceremony and spend only a couple of nights there. In the 1987 McKinney Act the problem with homelessness became known as a huge social problem. Later on, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (P.L. 107-110) amended the program explicitly to prohibit states that receive McKinney-Vento funds from segregating homeless students from non-homeless students, except for short periods of time for health and safety emergencies or to provide temporary, special, supplementary services. The Chronic Homelessness Initiative. The George W. Bush Administration established a national goal of ending chronic homelessness in ten years, by 2012. The idea of a 10-year plan to end chronic homelessness began as a part of a 10-year plan to end homelessness in general adopted by the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH) in 2000. The following year, then-Secretary Martinez announced HUD's commitment to ending chronic homelessness at the NAEH annual conference. In 2002, as a part of his FY2003 budget, President Bush made "ending chronic homelessness in the next decade a top objective." The bi-partisan, congressionally mandated, Millennial Housing Commission, in its Report to Congress in 2002, included ending chronic homelessness in 10 years among its principal recommendations. By 2003, the Interagency Council on Homelessness had been re-engaged and charged with pursuing the President's 10-year plan. The Administration has recently undertaken some collaborative efforts to reach its goal of ending chronic homelessness in 10 years. On October 1, 2003, the Administration announced the award of over $48 million in grants aimed at serving the needs of the chronically homeless through two initiatives. The "Ending Chronic Homelessness through Employment and Housing"[101] initiative was a collaborative grant offered jointly by HUD[102] and the Department of Labor (DOL).[103] The initiative offered $10 million from HUD and $3.5 million from DOL to help the chronically homeless in five communities gain access to employment and permanent housing. Section 8 is the core housing program that helps extremely low-income families accommodate the gap between their incomes below 30 percent of the median income for each community. The government assists homeless families by awarding grants and vouchers. Vouchers are available to the families who are most needy and they are used to pay for housing found in the private market. Currently there are policy changes in who receives vouchers and there will be a reduction in the amount of vouchers granted to the homeless population.

Public libraries[edit]

Public libraries can and often do significantly assist with the issues represented by homelessness. In many communities, the library is the only facility that offers free computer and internet access in their community, resources often necessary for job applications. They also provide resources to do research into healthcare, and to help better their education.[104]

The news article and video entitled, "SF library offers Social Services to Homeless,"[105] speaks about the step of the San Francisco library having a full time social worker at the library to reduce and help homeless patrons. It mentions that Leah Esguerra, who is a psychiatric social worker, has a usual routine which is done by making her rounds to different homeless patrons and greeting them to see if she could help them. She offers help in different forms that could range from linking patrons with services or providing them with mental health counseling. She also supervises a 12-week vocational program that culminates in gainful employment in the library for the formerly homeless (Knight, 2010).[106] The changes have garnered positive results from all patrons. Since this service started, staff at the library stated that they have noticed a drop in inappropriate behavior.

The San Jose University Library became one of the first academic libraries to pay attention to the needs of the homeless and implement changes to better serve this population. In 2007, the merged University Library and Public Library made the choice to be proactive in reaching out. Collaborations with nonprofit organizations in the area culminated in computer classes being taught, as well as nutrition classes, family literacy programs, and book discussion groups (Collins, 2009).[107] After eighteen months, the library staff felt they still weren't doing enough and "analyzed program participation trends supplemented by observation and anecdotes" in order to better understand the information needs of the homeless. When it was understood that these needs are complex, additional customer service training was provided to all staff who were interested (Collins, 2009, p. 112).[107] Once the staff more fully understood the needs of the homeless, it was determined that many programs in place already would be helpful to the homeless with a few minor adjustments. Programs were tailored to meet these needs. Additional changes implemented included temporary computer passes and generous in-house reading space to counteract the policies in place that may prevent the homeless from obtaining a library card (Collins, 2009).New York Public Library offers services to those homeless residing in shelters.

The Dallas Public Library started "Coffee and Conversation" which is part of their Homeless Engagement Initiative. The staff hopes these bimonthly events between staff and homeless patrons will help them better serve the homeless population in Dallas.[108] They also sponsor Street View podcast, a library produced podcast featuring the stories and experiences of the city's homeless population. Guests often include social service providers.[109]

In May 1991, Richard Kreimer, a homeless man in Morristown, N.J. sued the local public library and the Town of Morristown for kicking him out of the library after other patrons complained about his disruptive behavior and pungent body odor. He later won the case and settled for $250,000.[110][111]

Effects of homelessness[edit]

Childhood education[edit]

Homelessness has a tremendous effect on a child's education. Education of homeless youth is thought to be essential in breaking the cycle of poverty.[citation needed] The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act mandates equal opportunity to a free public education to homeless students. This act is supposed to break down the barriers homeless students have to receiving an education. These barriers include residency restriction, medical record verification, and transportation issues. Once a student surpasses these barriers, they are still subject to the stigma of being homeless, and the humiliation they feel because of their situation. Some families do not report their homelessness, while others are unaware of the opportunities available to them. Many report that maintaining a stable school environment helps the students because it's the only thing that remains normal.[112] Many homeless students fall behind their peers in school due to behavioral disorders, and lack of attendance in school.[113]

Since the housing market fall out there has been a rise in the number of homeless students. NAEHCY or the National Association for the Education of Homeless for Children and Youth, has reported a 99% increase in homeless students within a three-month period (San Diego).[114]

Of 1,636 schools, 330 reported no increase, 847 reported an increase of half, and 459 reported an increase of 25% or more. Due to the provisions of the McKinney-Vento Act many school districts are struggling to provide the necessary services, such as rising transportation needs and the greater severity of services.

One of the biggest challenges our district faces is providing transportation to students who are experiencing homelessness. There are few approaches that our district can utilize to provide transportation for these students. Our city has only one taxi cab service and no public bus system. Our cab company is small and simply cannot fulfill all of our transportation requests. When it's possible, we add students to existing bus routes or set up a contractual agreement with the student's parent/guardian. However, there have been many situations where none of these options have worked. Another challenge our district faces is providing proper outer-wear for students who are homeless. Being that we live in central Wisconsin and have long, cold winters, all students need proper outerwear to go outside. Proper outerwear includes snow boots, hat, mittens, snow pants, and a winter jacket that has a working zipper or buttons on it. This expense adds up quickly and is hard to provide to the increasing number of homeless students.[114]

This is especially worrisome since homeless students are 1) 1.5 times more likely to perform below grade level in reading; 2) 1.5 times more likely to perform below grade level in spelling; and 3) 2.5 times more likely to perform below grade level in math.[114] There are a few worries that there will be false reports of homeless students, but mostly it's not an issue.[112]


Various laws have both directly and indirectly criminalized the homeless[115] and people attempting to feed homeless people outdoors.[116] At least 31 cities have criminalized feeding the homeless.[117][118]

In 2014, the United Nations Human Rights Committee criticized the United States for the criminalization of homelessness, noting that such "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment" is in violation of international human rights treaty obligations.[119][120][121][122]


Measures passed "prohibit activities such as sleeping/camping, eating, sitting, and begging in public spaces, usually including criminal penalties for violation of these laws."[123] Violators of such laws typically incur criminal penalties, which result in fines and/or incarceration.

In April 2006 the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that "making it a crime to be homeless by charging them with a crime is in violation of the 8th and 14th Amendments."[124][125] However, on October 15, 2007, the Court vacated its Opinion when, on appeal the parties settled the case out of court.[126]

The City could not expressly criminalize the status of homelessness by making it a crime to be homeless without violating the Eighth Amendment, nor can it criminalize acts that are an integral aspect of that status. Because there is substantial and undisputed evidence that the number of homeless persons in Los Angeles far exceeds the number of available shelter beds at all times, including on the nights of their arrest or citation, Los Angeles has encroached upon Appellants' Eighth Amendment protections by criminalizing the unavoidable act of sitting, lying or sleeping at night while being involuntarily homeless.

… the Eighth Amendment prohibits the City from punishing involuntary sitting, lying, or sleeping on public sidewalks that is an unavoidable consequence of being human and homeless without shelter in the City of Los Angeles.

… By our decision, we in no way dictate to the City that it must provide sufficient shelter for the homeless, or allow anyone who wishes to sit, lie, or sleep on the streets of Los Angeles at any time and at any place within the City. All we hold is that, so long as there is a greater number of homeless individuals in Los Angeles than the number of available beds, the City may not enforce section 41.18(d) at all times and places throughout the City against homeless individuals for involuntarily sitting, lying, and sleeping in public.

In August 2012, a federal district judge in Philadelphia ruled that laws prohibiting serving food to the homeless outdoors were unconstitutional.[127]

On June 19, 2014 the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit struck down a 1983 ordinance in the city of Los Angeles which "bans people from living in cars or recreational vehicles on city streets or in parking lots" as being "unconstitutionally vague ... Unlike other cities, which ban overnight parking or sleeping in vehicles, Los Angeles' law prohibits using cars as 'living quarters; both overnight and 'day-by-day, or otherwise.'"[128]

Homeless rights advocates are pushing for "Right to Rest" bills in several states in 2015, which would overturn laws that target homeless people for sitting, eating, and sleeping in public places.[129]

Crimes against homeless people[edit]

The past two decades have seen a growing number of violent acts committed upon people experiencing homelessness—the rate of such documented crimes in 2005 was 30% higher than of those in 1999.[123] 75% of all perpetrators are under the age of 25.

In recent years, largely due to the efforts of the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) and academic researchers, the problem of violence against the homeless has gained national attention. In their report: Hate, Violence, and Death on Mainstreet USA, the NCH reported 386 violent acts committed against homeless persons over the period, among which 155 were lethal. The NCH called those acts hate crimes (they retain the definition of the American Congress). They insist that so called bumfight videos disseminate hate against the homeless and dehumanize them.

The Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism (CSHE) at California State University, San Bernardino in conjunction with the NCH found that 155 homeless people were killed by non-homeless people in "hate killings", while 76 people were killed in all the other traditional hate crime homicide categories such as race and religion, combined.[130] The CSHE contends that negative and degrading portrayals of the homeless contribute to a climate where violence takes place.

Various studies and surveys indicate that homeless people have a much higher criminal victimization rate than the non-homeless, but that most incidents never get reported to authorities. A 2007 study found that the number of violent crimes against the homeless is increasing.[130][131] In 2013 there were 109 attacks on homeless people, a 24 per cent increase on the previous year, according to the NCH. Eighteen people died as a result of the attacks. In July 2014 three boys 15, 16 and 18, were arrested and charged with beating to death two homeless men with bricks and a metal pole in Albuquerque.[132]


There has been concern about the transmission of diseases in the homeless population housed in shelters, and the people who work there, especially with tuberculosis.[133]

A 2011 study led by Dr. Rebecca T. Brown in Boston, Massachusetts conducted by the Institute for Aging Research (an affiliate of Harvard Medical School), Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program found the elderly homeless population had "higher rates of geriatric syndromes, including functional decline, falls, frailty and depression, than seniors in the general population and that many of these conditions may be easily treated if detected". The report was published in the Journal of Geriatric Internal Medicine.[134]

Situations in specific U.S. cities and states[edit]

Chicago, Illinois[edit]

Over the years, the city of Chicago, Illinois has gained a reputation as the city with the most homeless people, rivaling Los Angeles and New York City, although no statistical data have backed this up. The reputation stems primarily from the subjective number of beggars found on the streets rather than any sort of objective statistical census data. Indeed, from statistical data, Chicago has far less homeless per capita than peers New York, and Los Angeles, or other major cities such as Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Boston, among others, with only 5,922 homeless recorded in a one night count taken in 2007.[135]

Denver, Colorado[edit]

While Mayor of Denver, Colorado, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper made dealing with the issues that underlie homelessness a top priority on his Mayoral agenda, speaking heavily on the issue during his first "State of the City" address in 2003. While Denver's homeless population is much lower than other major cities, the homeless residents have often suffered when without shelter during Denver's infamously cold winters. Now officials have said that this number has risen over the past few years.[136]

In April 2012,[137] Denver enacted the Urban Camping Ban due to the occupy Denver protest and the number of homeless on the 16th Street Mall. The ordinance was developed because businesses and individuals in Denver complained to the Mayor's office and City Council that the number of people who were sleeping in front of their business doorways and this was disruptive and made it uncomfortable for individuals to enter their businesses. In addition, Occupy Denver had taken over public space near the capital building in Denver and it became a homeless compound consisting of tents and other structures. The pressure to clean up Denver by businesses and other individuals on the Councilman Albus Brooks sponsored the legislation. Mayor Michael Hancock and City Council passed the urban camping ban which prohibited individuals from sleeping in public places with a blanket over them or something between them and the ground. Those who enact these laws often state it is the tool needed to encourage those who are not accessing services to find ways to address the issues that caused them to be homeless. The Civil Liberties Union wrote a strong letter in opposition to the Denver ordinance.


Homeless advocate and urban designer Michael E. Arth proposed building a Pedestrian village for the adult homeless in Volusia County near Daytona Beach, Florida in 2007.[138][139][140] As of 2009, Arth was still working toward trying to consolidate most of the scattered 19 local agencies into an attractive community that would be designed to more effectively address the needs of the chronically adult homeless and the temporarily adult homeless, as well as others who may be having difficulty fitting into the pervasive, automobile-dominated culture. He writes that the current "piecemeal approach" inefficiently spreads out services and work opportunities, and aggravates the problem by polarizing citizens who might otherwise be inclined to help. In response to critics who say that such a village would be like a concentration camp, Arth points out that the U.S. already concentrates their citizens into prisons at 7–8 times the rate of Canada or Europe. "There should be alternative between living on the street and being locked up that addresses the needs of the chronically and temporarily adult homeless." His proposed "Tiger Bay Village" would have a community garden and orchard, a place to hire certified workers, and a work crew to help build and maintain the village. "Little shops in the village center could process and rehabilitate donated clothes and furnishings to be sold to the public." Housing would range from multi-bed barracks to small Katrina cottages depending on a person's contributions to the village, special needs, and income. Arth claims that this would cost less and be far more effective than any of the other solutions tried elsewhere.[141]

In 2013, a Central Florida Commission on Homelessness study indicated that the region spends $31,000 a year per homeless person to cover "salaries of law-enforcement officers to arrest and transport homeless individuals — largely for nonviolent offenses such as trespassing, public intoxication or sleeping in parks — as well as the cost of jail stays, emergency-room visits and hospitalization for medical and psychiatric issues." This did not include "money spent by nonprofit agencies to feed, clothe and sometimes shelter these individuals". In contrast, the report estimated the cost of permanent supportive housing at "$10,051 per person per year" and concluded that "[h]ousing even half of the region's chronically homeless population would save taxpayers $149 million during the next decade — even allowing for 10 percent to end up back on the streets again." This particular study followed 107 long-term-homeless residents living in Orange, Osceola or Seminole Counties.[142] There are similar studies showing large financial savings in Charlotte and Southeastern Colorado from focusing on simply housing the homeless.[143]

Honolulu, Hawaii[edit]

In Honolulu, where the homeless interfere with the tourist trade, aggressive measures have been taken to remove the homeless from popular tourist spots such as Waikiki and Chinatown. Measures include criminalizing sitting or lying on sidewalks and transportation of homeless to the mainland.[144]

Indianapolis, Indiana[edit]

In[145] Indianapolis, Indiana, as many as 2,200 people are homeless on any given night, and as many as 15,000 individuals over the course of a year. Indianapolis is notable among cities of similar size for having only faith-based shelters, such as the century-old[146] Wheeler Mission. In 2001, Mayor Bart Peterson endorsed a 10-year plan, called the[147] Blueprint to End Homelessness, and made it one of his administration's top priorities. The plan's main goals are for more affordable housing units, employment opportunities, and support services. The Blueprint notwithstanding, Indianapolis has criminalized aspects of homelessness, such as making panhandling a misdemeanor; and the[148] City-County Council has twice (in April 2002, and August 2005) denied the zoning necessary to open a new shelter for homeless women.

Los Angeles, California[edit]

In its January 2013 census, Los Angeles County counted 39,463 people sleeping on the street or in homeless shelters.[149] When including persons sleeping on private property with permission to stay no more than 90 days, the estimated number of homeless in Los Angeles County is 57,737.[149] The number of people in the latter category, called "precariously housed" or "at risk of homelessness", was estimated by means of a telephone survey. The number of homeless in Los Angeles County, including the precariously housed and at risk of homelessness, was 51,340 in 2011, of which 23,539 were in the City of Los Angeles, and 4,316 were in the 50 block area east of downtown Los Angeles known as Skid Row.[150] It is estimated that 190,207 people are homeless in Los Angeles County at least one night during the year.[151]

The 2013 census notes that 31.4% of the homeless in Los Angeles County are substance abusers, 30.2% are mentally ill, and 18.2% have a physical disability. The census also notes that 68.2% of the homeless are male, 38% are African American, 37% are Caucasian, 28% are Hispanic, and 57.6% are between 25 and 54 years old.[152] By 2015, there were an estimated 44 thousand homeless living in Los Angeles.[153]

On a given night, about 12,934 homeless people stay in a shelter.[149] The number includes families staying in motels on emergency vouchers.

In 2015, the LA Times reported that the city of Los Angeles spends roughly 100 million a year on homelessness, with a majority of that money going to the LAPD.[154]


In 1969, the Pine Street Inn was founded by Paul Sullivan on Pine Street in Boston's Chinatown district and began caring for homeless destitute alcoholics.[155][156] In 1974, Kip Tiernan founded Rosie's Place in Boston, the first drop-in and emergency shelter for women in the United States, in response to the increasing numbers of needy women throughout the country.

In 1980, the Pine Street Inn had to move to larger facilities on Harrison Avenue in Boston[155][156] and in 1984, Saint Francis House had to move its operation from the St. Anthony Shrine on Arch Street to an entire ten-floor building on Boylston Street.[157]

In 1985, the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program was founded to assist the growing numbers of homeless living on the streets and in shelters in Boston and who were suffering from lack of effective medical services.[158][159]

In August 2007, in Boston, Massachusetts, the city took action to keep loiterers, including the homeless, off the Boston Common overnight, after a series of violent crimes and drug arrests.[160]

In December 2007, Mayor Thomas M. Menino of Boston, announced that the one night homeless count had revealed that the actual number of homeless living in the streets was down.[161]

In October 2008, Connie Paige of The Boston Globe reported that the number of homeless in Massachusetts had reached an all-time high, mostly due to mortgage foreclosures and the national economic crisis.[162]

In October 2009, as part of the city's Leading the Way initiative, Mayor Thomas Menino of Boston dedicated and opened the Weintraub Day Center which is the first city-operated day center for chronically homeless persons. It is a multi-service center, providing shelter, counseling, health care, housing assistance, and other support services. It is a 3,400-square-foot (320 m2) facility located in the Woods Mullen Shelter. It is also meant to reduce the strain on the city's hospital emergency rooms by providing services and identifying health problems before they escalate into emergencies. It was funded by $3 million in grants from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), the Massachusetts Medical Society and Alliance Charitable Foundation,[163] and the United States Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).[164]

In 2010, there was a continued crackdown on panhandling, especially the aggressive type, in downtown Boston. Summonses were being handed out, with scheduled court appearances. The results were mixed and in one upscale neighborhood, Beacon Hill, the resolve of the Beacon Hill Civic Association, which has received only one complaint about panhandlers, was to try to solve the bigger problem not by criminal actions.[165]

Due to economic constraints in 2010, Governor Deval Patrick had to cut the Commonwealth of Massachusetts 2011 budget so dental care for the majority of adults, including most homeless people, covered by MassHealth (Medicaid) would no longer be provided except for cleaning and extractions, with no fillings, dentures, or restorative care.[166][167] This does not affect dental care for children. The measure took effect in July 2010 and affects an estimated 700,000 adults, including 130,000 seniors.[168]

In September 2010, it was reported that the Housing First Initiative had significantly reduced the chronic homeless single person population in Boston, Massachusetts, although homeless families were still increasing in number. Some shelters were reducing the number of beds due to lowered numbers of homeless, and some emergency shelter facilities were closing, especially the emergency Boston Night Center.[169]

There is sometimes corruption and theft by the employees of a shelter as evidenced by a 2011 investigative report by FOX 25 TV in Boston wherein a number of Boston public shelter employees were found stealing large amounts of food over a period of time from the shelter's kitchen for their private use and catering.[170][171]

New York City, New York[edit]

In 1979, a New York City lawyer, Robert Hayes, brought a class action suit before the courts, Callahan v. Carey, against the City and State, arguing for a person's state constitutional "right to shelter". It was settled as a consent decree in August 1981. The City and State agreed to provide board and shelter to all homeless men who met the need standard for welfare or who were homeless by certain other standards. By 1983 this right was extended to homeless women.

On March 18, 2013, the New York City Department of Homeless Services reported that the sheltered homeless population consisted of:[172]

  • 27,844 adults
  • 20,627 children
  • 48,471 total individuals

According to the Coalition for the Homeless, the homeless population of New York rose to an all-time high in 2011. A reported 113,552 people slept in the city's emergency shelters last year, including over 40,000 children; marking an 8 percent increase from the previous year and a 37 percent increase from 2002. There was also a rise in the number of families relying on shelters, approximately 29,000. That is an increase of 80% from 2002. About half of the people who slept in shelter in 2010 returned for housing in 2011.[173][174]

According to the NYC Department of Homeless Services, 64 percent of those applying for emergency shelter in 2010 were denied. Several were denied because they were said to have family who could house them when in actuality this might not have been the case. Applicants may have faced overcrowding, unsafe conditions, or may have had relatives unwilling to house them. According to Mary Brosnaham, spokeswoman for Coalition for the Homeless, the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg employs a deliberate policy of "active deterrence".

Part of the problem lies with long-term joblessness that characterizes the United States' economic crisis. According to the Center for an Urban Future about a third of the adult workers in New York City are low-wage earners, making under $11.54 an hour. Affordable rent rates considered to be no more than a third of the renter's wages. A family in New York City must earn at least $54,000 to find an affordable home. The median household income for renters in the Bronx and Brooklyn is barely $30,000 and $35,000 respectively. According to the Community Service Society, "Two-thirds of poor New Yorkers and over one-third of near poor households—up to twice the poverty level—spend at least half of their incomes on rent…and place millions of low-income New Yorkers at risk of housing hardships and displacement."

The New York City Housing Authority is experiencing record demand for subsidized housing assistance. However, just 13,000 of the 29,000 families who applied were admitted into the public housing system or received federal housing vouchers known as [Section 8] in 2010. Due to budget cuts there have been no new applicants accepted to receive Section 8.[175]

In March 2010, there were protests about the Governor's proposed cut of $65 million in annual funding to the homeless adult services system.[176] The Bloomberg administration announced an immediate halt to the Advantage program, threatening to cast 15,000 families back into the shelters or onto the streets. A court has delayed the cut until May 2011 because there was doubt over the legality of cancelling the city's commitment. However, the Advantage program[177] itself was consciously advanced by the Bloomberg administration as an alternative to providing long-term affordable housing opportunities for the poor and working class. The result, as the Coalition for the Homeless report points out, is that "Thousands of formerly-homeless children and families have been forced back into homelessness, In addition, Mayor Bloomberg proposed $37 million in cuts to the city's budget for homeless services this year.[174]

In 2004, New York's Department of Homeless Services created HomeBase,[178] a network of neighborhood-based services, to help tenants in housing crisis to remain in their communities and avoid entering shelter. Tenants can visit HomeBase locations[179] within their neighborhoods to receive services to prevent eviction, assistance obtaining public benefits, emergency rental assistance and more. Brooklyn nonprofit CAMBA, Inc operates several HomeBase locations as well as an outfitted "You Can Van," which uses data on pending evictions to travel throughout the borough and offer help.

Rhode Island[edit]

In June 2012, Governor Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island signed a bill into law which gives homeless people in that state some clearer rights than before.[180]

San Francisco, California[edit]

The city of San Francisco, California has a significant and visible homeless problem. Approximately 61% of the homeless population were already living and working in San Francisco when they became homeless, indicating that a majority of people experiencing homelessness did not come to the city for its resources but rather are being priced out of their home.[181] The city's homeless population has been estimated at 7,000–10,000 people, of which approximately 3,000–5,000 refuse shelter due to the conditions within the shelters including violence, racism, and homophobia and transphobia. Additionally, there are only 1,339 available shelter beds for the approximately 10,000 people sleeping outdoors.[182] The city spends $200 million a year on homelessness related programs.[183] On May 3, 2004,[184] San Francisco officially began an attempt to scale back the scope of its homelessness problem by changing its strategy from cash payments to the "Care Not Cash" plan which has had no visible impact on reducing homelessness in the city. At the same time, grassroots organizations within the Bay Area such as the Suitcase Clinic work to provide referrals for housing and employment to the homeless population[citation needed]. Other organizations like the Coalition On Homelessness fight for increasing affordable and supportive housing in the quickly changing housing landscape of San Francisco. In 2010, a city ordinance was passed to disallow sitting and lying down on public sidewalks for most of the day, from 7 am until 11 pm furthering a "criminalization" strategy for responding to homelessness.[185][186]

Seattle, Washington[edit]

There are about 8,000 homeless individuals in Seattle on an average day. The One Night Count in 2015 found 10,047 individuals homeless in the 3rd week in January, in King County. 3,772 individuals were without shelter in King County. 2,804 were without shelter in Seattle alone.

Washington, D.C.[edit]

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimated in 2013 the number of homeless in Washington, D.C. as 6,865, which was a 29 percent increase after 2007.[187] D.C. ranks eighth regarding total homeless population among other major American cities. The city passed a law that requires to provide shelter to everybody in need when the temperature drops below freezing.[188] Since D.C. does not have enough shelter units available, every winter it books hotel rooms in the suburbs with an average cost around $100 for a night. According to the D.C. Department of Human Services, during the winter of 2012 the city spent $2,544,454 on putting homeless families in hotels,[189] and budgeted $3.2 million on hotel beds in 2013.[190] Homeless advocates Mitch Snyder and Eric Sheptock come from D.C.

Public attitudes[edit]

Many advocates for the homeless contend that a key difficulty is the social stigma surrounding homelessness. Many associate a lack of a permanent home with a lack of a proper bathroom and limited access to regular grooming. Thus, the homeless become "aesthetically unappealing" to the general public. Research shows that "physically attractive persons are judged more positively than physically unattractive individuals on various traits…reflecting social competence." [191]

In addition to the physical component of stigmatization exists an association of the homeless with mental illness. Many people consider the mentally ill to be irresponsible and childlike and treat them with fear and exclusion, using their mental incapacitation as justification for why they should be left out of communities.[192]

There is anecdotal evidence that many Americans complain about the presence of homeless people, blame them for their situation, and feel that their requests for money or support (usually via begging) are unjustified. In the 1990s, particularly, many observers and media articles spoke of "compassion fatigue" a belief that the public had grown weary of this seemingly intractable problem.

A common misconception persists that many individuals who panhandle are not actually homeless, but actually use pity and compassion to fund their lifestyles, making up to $20 an hour and living luxurious lives.[193] This exception to the rule seems more prevalent due to media attention, but in reality, only a few cases exist.[194]

Public opinion surveys show relatively little support for this view, however. A 1995 paper in the American Journal of Community Psychology concluded that "although the homeless are clearly stigmatized, there is little evidence to suggest that the public has lost compassion and is unwilling to support policies to help homeless people."[195] A Penn State study in 2004 concluded that "familiarity breeds sympathy" and greater support for addressing the problem.[196]

A 2007 survey conducted by Public Agenda, a nonprofit organization that helps leaders and their citizens navigate through complex social issues, found that 67 percent of New Yorkers agreed that most homeless people were without shelter because of "circumstances beyond their control," including high housing costs and lack of good and steady employment. More than one-third (36 percent) said they worried about becoming homeless themselves, with 15 percent saying they were "very worried." More interestingly, 90 percent of New Yorkers believed that everyone has a right to shelter, and 68 percent believed that the government is responsible for guaranteeing that right to its citizens. The survey found support for investments in prevention, rental assistance and permanent housing for the homeless.[197]

Public Agenda has also concluded, however, that the public's sympathy has limits. In a 2002 national survey, the organization found 74 percent say the police should leave a homeless person alone if they are not bothering anyone. In contrast, 71 percent say the police should move the homeless if they are keeping customers away from a shopping area and 51 percent say the homeless should be moved if they are driving other people away from a public park.[198]

Statistics and demographics[edit]

Completely accurate and comprehensive statistics are difficult to acquire for any social study, but especially so when measuring the ambiguous hidden, and erratic reality of homelessness. All figures given are estimates. In addition, these estimates represent overall national averages; the proportions of specific homeless communities can vary substantially depending on local geography.[199]

Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress[edit]

Perhaps the most accurate, comprehensive, and current data on homelessness in the United States is reported annually by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in the Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress (AHAR), released in June of every year since 2007. The AHAR report relies on data from two sources: single-night, point-in-time counts of both sheltered and unsheltered homeless populations reported on the Continuum of Care applications to HUD; and counts of the sheltered homeless population over a full year provided by a sample of communities based on data in their Management Information Systems (HMIS).[29]

Other statistics[edit]

Homeless children in the United States.[200] The number of homeless children reached record highs in 2011,[201] 2012,[69] and 2013[202] at about three times their number in 1983.[69]

Total number[edit]

Over the course of the year (October 2009-September 2010), the 2010 Annual Homeless Assessment Report found that 1,593,150 individuals experienced homelessness[203][204] Most were homeless temporarily. The chronically homeless population (those with repeated episodes or who have been homeless for long periods) decreased from 175,914 in 2005 to 123,833 in 2007.[205]

Familial composition[edit]

According to the NCHWIH report:[206]

  • 51.3% are single males.
  • 24.7% are single females.
  • 23% are families with children—the fastest growing segment.
  • 5% are minors unaccompanied by adults.
  • 1.37 million (or 39%) of the total homeless population are children under the age of 18.

Marital status[edit]

According to the 2014 NCHWIH report:[206]

  • 24% are married.
  • 76% are single.
  • 67.5% are single males within the single percentage.
  • 32.5% are single females within the single percentage.


According to the 2010 SAMHSA report, among long-term stayers (persons staying six months or more) in emergency shelters in 2008:[203]

  • 56.6% were Black/African-American
  • 28.7% were Hispanic/Latino

According to the 2014 NCHWIH report:[206]

  • 42% are African American (over-represented 3.23x compared to 13% of general population).
  • 38% are Caucasian (under-represented 0.53x compared to 72% of general population).
  • 20% are Hispanic (over-represented 1.25x compared to 16% of general population).
  • 4% are Native American (over-represented 4x compared to 1% of general population).
  • 2% are Asian-American (under-represented 0.4x compared to 5% of general population).

Mental health[edit]

According to the 2010 SAMHSA report:[203]

  • 26.2% of all sheltered persons who were homeless had a severe mental illness
  • About 30% of people who are chronically homeless have mental health conditions.

According to analyses of data from the 1996 NSHAPCxiv:[207]

  • Over 60% of people who are chronically homelessness have experienced lifetime mental health problems

Substance abuse[edit]

According to the 2010 SAMHSA report:[203]

  • 34.7% of all sheltered adults who were homeless had chronic substance abuse issues
  • About 50% of people who are chronically homeless co-occurring substance abuse problems.

According to analyses of data from the 1996 NSHAPCxiv:[207]

  • Over 80% have experienced lifetime alcohol and/or drug problems


According to the 1996 Urban Institute findings of the National Survey of Homeless Assistance Providers and Clients (UIHAC) report[208]

  • 53% have less than a high school education
  • 21% have completed high school
  • 27% have some education beyond high school.


According to the 1996 UIHAC report[208]

  • 44 percent did paid work during the past month. Of these:
  • 20 percent worked in a job lasting or expected to last at least three months.
  • 25 percent worked at a temporary or day labor job.
  • 2 percent earned money by peddling or selling personal belongings.

A 2010 longitudinal study of homeless men conducted in Birmingham, Alabama, found that most earned an average of ninety dollars per week while working an average of thirty hours per week[209]


According to the 2010 SAMHSA report:[203]

  • 71% reside in central cities.
  • 21% are in suburbs.
  • 9% are in rural areas.


According to the 2010 SAMHSA report:[203] Research on shelter use in New York City and Philadelphia concluded that

  • People experiencing transitional homelessness constitute 80% of shelter users
  • People experiencing episodic homelessness comprise 10% of shelter users.

In New York City

  • Transitionally homeless individuals experience an average of 1.4 stays over a 3-year period, for a total of 58 days on average over the 3 years.
  • Episodically homeless individuals, on average, experience 4.9 shelter episodes over a 3-year period totaling 264 days with an average length of stay of 54.4 days.

Data from the 1996 NSHAPC show that about 50% of people who were homeless were experiencing their first or second episode of homelessness, which typically lasted a few weeks or months to one year.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Kusmer, Kenneth (2002). Down And Out, On the Road: The Homeless in American History. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. 
  2. ^ a b HUD 5th Annual Homelessness Assessment Report to Congress, June 2010
  3. ^ "Facts and Figures:The Homeless". PBS. June 26, 2009. 
  4. ^ David Crary and Lisa Leff (November 17, 2014). New Report: Child Homelessness on the Rise in US. The Associated Press. Retrieved November 22, 2014.
  5. ^ "The 2013 Annual Homeless Assessment report (AHAR) to Congress" (PDF). The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. p. 42. 
  6. ^ A New Look at Homelessness in America, Urban Institute, February 1, 2000
  7. ^ America's Homeless: Populations and Services, Urban Institute, February 1, 2000
  8. ^ Vacant Houses Outnumber Homeless People in U.S. Truthdig, December 31, 2011. Retrieved May 12, 2014.
  9. ^ a b Marjorie Keniston McIntosh (1998). Controlling Misbehavior in England,1370–1600. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-89404-2. 
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