How many people are homeless in our country?
According to HUD’s 2010 Annual Homeless Assessment Report, there are 643,067 people experiencing homelessness on any given night in the United States. Of that number 238,110 are people in families, and 404,957 are individuals.


Why do people lose their homes?
Although there may be specific complicating factors that contribute to particular individual or family experiences of homelessness, like a history of trauma or a severe disability, fundamentally, a household becomes homeless because they are unable to find or maintain housing that they can afford.[i] According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD): [ii]

  • A family with one full-time worker earning the minimum wage cannot afford the local fair-market rent for a two-bedroom apartment anywhere in the United States.
  • An estimated 12 million renter and homeowner households now pay more then 50% of their annual incomes for housing.


Is homelessness primarily an urban problem?
Although homelessness is often thought of as an urban problem, people become homeless in suburban and rural areas as well. In fact, since 2007 the annual number of people using homeless shelters in suburban and rural areas has increased 57% while in urban areas it has decreased 17%.[iii]


Which federal programs specifically address homelessness?
HUD provides funds to communities to specifically address homelessness under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. In order to receive these funds, each community must form a “Continuum of Care” (CoC) that brings together diverse stakeholders to plan for and prioritize the use of these funds. These planning bodies can be excellent partners for Public Housing Agencies (PHAs) that want to contribute to ending homelessness. While these funds are a critical part of addressing homelessness, CoC resources are generally far less than the resources administered by PHAs, and HUD is increasingly encouraging PHAs and CoCs to collaborate in the work of ending homelessness. To find the CoC in your community, click here.


What are the characteristics of people who are homeless?
HUD has found that African-Americans, men between the ages of 31 and 50, and people with disabilities are all at higher risk of becoming homeless compared to their representation in either the U.S. or the poverty population.[iv] Although all persons experiencing homelessness are unique, there are a number of subpopulation groups that share common characteristics and challenges. Four of these subpopulations are outlined below.


People Experiencing Chronic Homelessness
Seventeen percent of people who are homeless are experiencing chronic homelessness. An individual or family experiencing chronic homelessness has typically been homeless for more than one year or had multiple episodes of homelessness. Usually they also have one or more diagnosable disabilities such as a serious mental illness, substance use disorder or a chronic physical health condition. Due to their intense needs, such persons or families often consume a disparate share of the resources in a given community. Supportive housing is an effective solution for ending chronic homelessness and can be particularly cost effective when made available to people who otherwise spend multiple nights in expensive public institutions such as hospitals and jails.


Although families can experience chronic homelessness, most can return to housing fairly quickly if provided with appropriate support. Families often become homeless due to an unexpected crisis such as the loss of a job or a medical emergency that precipitates the experience of homelessness. To regain housing, families may need rental assistance, help finding another job and/or assistance locating an affordable housing unit. Some families may also benefit from supportive services to build skills like budgeting or parenting, or to address mental health challenges.


On any given night, 67,000 veterans experience homelessness. Some veterans have difficulty reintegrating into society after trauma experience during their service. They may have post-traumatic stress disorder or physical challenges that make it difficult for them to work. Many also struggle with mental health and/or substance use issues. Although many homeless veterans can regain housing stability through access to short or medium-term rental assistance and supportive services, some chronically homeless veterans need supportive housing. The HUD-VASH program provides supportive housing to homeless veterans by pairing a Housing Choice Voucher with supportive services from a VA Medical Center (VAMC.) For examples of PHA best practices in HUD-VASH, click here.


The sheltered homeless population age 51 to 61 has grown from 18.9% of total sheltered persons in 2007 to 22.3% in 2010. [v]   Older adults who are experiencing homelessness have three to four times the mortality rate of the general population due to unmet physical health, mental health, and substance use treatment needs.[vi]   The combination of issues typically associated with homelessness such as mental health and substance abuse with those related to aging such as reduced mobility and a need for assistance with daily activities requires providers of housing and services to this population to develop creative solutions. In addition to benefiting from supportive housing with flexible services, homeless older adults may also benefit from living in housing that has been thoughtfully designed with safety in mind and that is accessible or adaptable according to ADA guidelines.


Individuals exiting the Correctional System
Some individuals exiting the correctional system are at high risk of homelessness due to their limited income and the difficulty they may experience in accessing employment and housing, especially if they have a disability or chemical dependency. Numerous studies have documented that providing individuals who are re-entering society with access to affordable housing and tailored supportive services can significantly reduce recidivism rates. PHAs can play a significant role in this process by considering the unique circumstances for each individual. For more information on public housing and reentry, click here.


Go to the next section to learn about supportive housing.

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[v] U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. (2011). The 2010 annual homelessness assessment report to congress. Retrieved from

[iv] O’Connell, J. (2005). Premature mortality in homeless populations: a review of the literature. Retrieved from 

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