People Experiencing Homelessness
On a single night in January 2023, over 650,000 Americans were experiencing homelessness. Over 20% of those were people experiencing chronic homelessness. Additionally, veterans make up roughly 40,000 and unaccompanied youths make up around 34,000 people who are homeless. At least 20 people experiencing homelessness die every day in the U.S., and in 2020, close to 8,000 homeless people lost their lives, a number that increased in 2019 and 2018. Thirty-eight percent of homeless people are physically challenged, 25% have mental illness, and the average life expectancy of a homeless individual is only 50 years.
From 2010 to 2017, the United States witnessed an increase in homelessness for the first time in seven years, reaching over half a million people. The Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated homelessness in the U.S. Most shelters closed their doors creating a void in social support to aid the crisis. This upward trend contributes to a breakdown in quality of life over time. For example, families with children make up 30 percent of the homeless population and there the number of homeless students has also increased. The homeless population often faces lack of access to quality health care, nutrition, and treatment regimens, leaving them vulnerable to poor health outcomes. Although the homeless population in the U.S. is diverse, there is evidence of inequalities among subgroups. Homelessness risk in the U.S. is linked to race, ethnicity, and gender. Males are more likely to experience homelessness compared to females and the number of people from the LGBTQ+ population is on the rise. Although white people make up the highest percentage of the homeless population in the U.S. by race, most minority groups—especially Black and Indigenous people—experience homelessness at higher rates than white people. The most striking disparity can be found among Black people, who represent 13% of the general population but account for 37% of people experiencing homelessness.
The homeless population is more at risk for poor mental health, and as a result more police encounters leading to arrest. This victimizes homeless people and prevents them from experiencing re-entry to society. All of these factors can create despair and can lead to substance abuse over time. The rise of homelessness is caused in part by stagnant wages, unemployment, lack of affordable housing, lack of affordable healthcare, poverty, lack of mental health and addiction treatment services, racial inequality, domestic violence, family conflict, and systemic failures.
Communities can work to prevent and decrease homelessness by using proactive screening of populations at heightened risk of homelessness, investing in eviction prevention programs, and advocating for permanent deep rental property subsidies. Homeless people often rely on emergency rooms for healthcare services, which is a financial burden on the system—mobile and street clinics in cities most in need can be implemented at the systems level to help alleviate the burden of health care cost. Other solutions include increasing access and awareness of public health services, access to medical care, health insurance coverage.