Stats and Snapshots Regarding Homelessness in the United States

Stats and Snapshots Regarding Homelessness in the United States

It’s often difficult to say whether certain trends or news about homelessness are positive or negative - here's what the data is saying.

Amanda Luzzader
Amanda Luzzader
Content Writer
Stats and Snapshots Regarding Homelessness in the United States

Homelessness is generally regarded as a national crisis in the United States and throughout much of the rest of the world. According to the New York Times, the number of people experiencing homelessness in the United States rose in 2020 for a fourth straight year to approximately 580,000. That number was expected to increase dramatically in 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic and recessional economics, but it appears that the final calculations will show neither a significant rise nor a decrease.

Recent Trends

It's often difficult to say whether certain trends or news about homelessness are positive or negative. For example, even if it turns out that homelessness increased in 2021 (for a fifth year), the number of people in the United States experiencing homelessness is down from the level reached in 2004 and 2005, which was over 750,000 people. On the other hand, while nationwide homelessness may be at relatively low levels in 2021, the state of New York is experiencing levels of homeless not seen since the Great Depression. Different types of homelessness must also be considered. For instance, unsheltered homelessness (living outside, without the support of rescue missions or shelters) was in the midst of a 5-year increase in 2020, while sheltered homelessness had been declining.

Who is Experiencing Homelessness in the United States?

The most common demographics of people experiencing homelessness in the United States are white, cis-gendered, male, and over the age of 24. White people currently experience homelessness in numbers only slightly greater than Black people (e.g., 280,612 white vs. 228,796 Black in 2020). People of other ethnic origins are represented at much lower levels (e.g., 130,348 Hispanic in 2020).

In terms of gender, there were roughly 45 percent more cis-gendered men than cis-gendered women experiencing homelessness in 2020 (223,578 women vs. 352,211 men), while nearly 5,000 of the people experiencing homelessness in 2020 identified as transgender or gender non-conforming.

Approximately 60,000 U.S. military veterans were experiencing homelessness in 2020.

What are the Causes of Homelessness?

According to a recent report by the National Homelessness Law Center, a homelessness legal advocacy group, the leading five causes of homeless among individuals are "(1) lack of

affordable housing, (2) unemployment, (3) poverty, (4) mental illness and the lack of needed

services, and (5) substance abuse and the lack of needed services." Other sources state that domestic abuse is an important factor that leads families and individuals to experience homelessness.

Where is Homelessness?

All 50 of the United States have citizens who are currently experiencing homelessness. In 2020, the states with more than 10,000 people experiencing homelessness were:

  • California (151,278)

  • New York (92,091)

  • Florida (28,328)

  • Texas (25,848)

  • Washington (21,577)

  • Massachusetts (18,471)

  • Oregon (15,876)

  • Pennsylvania (13,199)

  • Georgia (10,443)

  • Ohio (10,345)

  • Illinois (10,199)

  • Arizona (10,007)

The states with fewer than 1,000 persons experiencing homelessness in 2020 were:

  • South Dakota (995)

  • Delaware (921)

  • North Dakota (557)

  • Wyoming (548)

The rest of the states were listed with homeless populations in the thousands.

What is the Future of Homelessness?

Concrete information about homelessness is notoriously elusive, and most agencies agree that the homelessness crisis in the United States is not well understood and under-reported, perhaps to a high degree. Homelessness statistics are typically prepared in the early months of each year, but restrictions and precautions arising from the COVID-19 pandemic have disrupted routine efforts to collect and analyze homelessness data in the United States. This means that accurate statistics about U.S. homeless in 2021, along with projections about 2022, may not be readily forthcoming.

Fortunately, many dire predictions made in 2020 about drastic surges in homelessness (related to economic downturns and the pandemic) have apparently not materialized. This may have been due to widespread, specific efforts and funding aimed at curbing homelessness.

If one thing is certain, it is that illness and complications from the pandemic, along with many forms of economic uncertainty, call for continued vigilance and redoubled efforts to bring aid and relief to those who are experiencing homelessness.