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In the U.S., on any given night, there were about 750,000 people homeless in the mid 2000s. America’s current homeless population is estimated just above 600,000 people (source, source). This is a 17% decrease from 2005 to 2012. About 1.5m Americans are homeless at some point in the year (nearly 325,000 of them are children). Most of that was temporary homelessness, but one in five of can be considered chronically homeless.
Who are these people? A third of the homeless are homeless families. As you can see from the graph below, being black, male or middle aged makes it much more likely that you end up sleeping in the streets. Veterans and the disabled are also overrepresented:
This somewhat older graph from the NSHAPC, National Survey of Homeless Assistance Providers and Clients:
The 2008 recession had a negative impact on the numbers. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) concludes that while overall homelessness in America held fairly steady from 2007 to 2008 (in number of individuals), the number of homeless families seeking shelter, particularly those living in suburban and rural areas, increased (by 9% overall, and by more than 50% in suburban and rural areas). 516,700 families were homeless in 2008.
HUD estimates that approximately 1.6 million persons experienced homelessness and found shelter between October 1, 2007 and September 30, 2008 (this means that 1.6 million persons used shelters or transitional housing programs at least once during this period). This population has the following characteristics:
- Geographic – 68 percent are in principal cities – 32 percent are in suburban and rural areas. One in five people homeless on a single night in January were located in Los Angeles, New York, and Detroit.
- Household Type – 68 percent are individuals – 32 percent are persons in families with children.
- Race – 62 percent are members of minorities.
- Gender – 64 percent of all sheltered homeless adults are men and 36 percent are women.
- Age – 40 percent of all homeless individuals are 31-to-50 years old.
- Veteran Status – 12 percent of all sheltered homeless adults are veterans. (source)
Almost 20% of homeless people are chronically homeless.
However, useful as they are, 2008 data aren’t recent enough to measure the full impact of the current economic recession on homelessness, but given that the recession started in the housing market, one can assume that the high number of foreclosures has had a negative impact on homelessness. Rising unemployment should make things even worse. However, first estimates for the first quarter of 2009 only show a small increase.
In Russia, an estimated 4 million on a total population of 140 million are homeless, which is almost 3 % (source). Given the local climate it is no surprise that hundreds of people die in the streets every winter.
In England, the peak year of 2003 saw 135,590 households accepted as homeless by their local authorities. 48,510 households were accepted as homeless in 2011 (source). This isn’t every person without a home – only those accepted as unintentionally homeless by their local authority.
In London, the number of people seen sleeping on the streets has risen from 3,017 in 2008 then to 6,437 in 2012. Poles alone make up 10% of London’s homeless.
In Paris, France – perhaps the archetypical home of the homeless – there are, according to the best estimates, 12.000 people sleeping rough or in emergency shelters on any given night. The real number is probably a lot higher.
A word of caution: it’s not easy to measure homelessness. First, what does “homeless” mean? Sleeping on the streets? Sleeping in a shelter? Sleeping in an uninhabitable home? Are squatters homeless? Couch-surfers? Travelers? How long do you have to sleep rough to count as homeless? And how do you count the homeless once you’ve defined them? Maybe they will be ashamed to come forward. Others may be sick, handicapped, suspicious of authorities, drunk, drugged or otherwise unable or unwilling to claim their status as homeless. Or they are foreign refugees unfamiliar with the local language, rules and institutions. All this will lead to serious undercounting.