On any given night, there are over 600,000 homeless people in the US according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Most people are either spending the night in homeless shelters or in some sort of short-term transitional housing. Slightly more than a third are living in cars, under bridges or in some other way living unsheltered. The irony is that there are more empty houses in the United States than there are homeless people.
2. A quarter of homeless people are children
HUD reports that on any given night over 138,000 of the homeless in the US are children under the age of 18. Thousands of these homeless children are unaccompanied according to HUD. Another federal program, No Child Left Behind, defines homeless children more broadly and includes not just those living in shelters or transitional housing but also those who are sharing the housing of other persons due to economic hardship, living in cars, parks, bus or train stations, or awaiting foster care placement. Under this definition, the National Center for Homeless Education reported in September 2014 that local school districts reported there are over one million homeless children in public schools.
3. Tens of thousands of veterans are homeless
Over 57,000 veterans are homeless each night. Sixty percent of them were in shelters, the rest unsheltered. Nearly 5000 are female.
4. Domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness in women
More than 90% of homeless women are victims of severe physical or sexual abuse and escaping that abuse is a leading cause of their homelessness.
5. Many people are homeless because they cannot afford rent
The lack of affordable housing is a primary cause of homelessness according to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. HUD has seen its budget slashed by over 50% in recent decades resulting in the loss of 10,000 units of subsidized low-income housing each and every year.
6. There are fewer places for poor people to rent than before
One eighth of the nation’s supply of low income housing has been permanently lost since 2001. The US needs at least 7 million more affordable apartments for low-income families and as a result millions of families spend more than half their monthly income on rent.
7. In the last few years millions have lost their homes
Over five million homes have been foreclosed on since 2008, one out of every ten homes with a mortgage. This has caused even more people to search for affordable rental property.
8. The Government does not help as much as you think
There is enough public rental assistance to help about one out of every four extremely low income households. Those who do not receive help are on multi-year waiting lists. For example, Charlotte just opened up their applications for public housing assistance for the first time in 14 years and over 10,000 people applied.
9. One in five homeless people suffer from untreated severe mental illness
While about 6% of the general population suffers from severe mental illness, 20 to 25% of the homeless suffer from severe mental illness according to government studies. Half of this population self-medicate and are at further risk of addiction and poor physical health. A University of Pennsylvania study tracking nearly 5000 homeless people for two yearsdiscovered that investing in comprehensive health support and treatment of physical and mental illnesses is less costly than incarceration, shelter and hospital services for the untreated homeless.
10. Cities are increasingly making homelessness a crime
A 2014 survey of 187 cities by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty found: 24% make it a city-wide crime to beg in public; 33% make it illegal to stand around or loiter anyplace in the city; 18% make it a crime to sleep anywhere in public; 43% make it illegal to sleep in your car; and 53% make it illegal to sit or lay down in particular public places. And the number of cities criminalizing homelessness is steadily increasing.
This article was adapted from this article by Bill Quigley, under a Creative Commons License.