The Number of Americans Who Are Homeless on Any Given Night is Shocking

Written by Bryce Covert

More than 600,000 Americans are homeless on a given night, according to the latest government data, which conducts a count on a specific night in January every year. Nearly a quarter are children, and a third were living in unsheltered places like parks, cars or abandoned buildings.

The number of people who are chronically homeless, or who have been continuously homeless for more than one year or experienced at least four episodes over the last three, is over 100,000, and two-thirds go unsheltered. There were more than 57,000 homeless veterans.

The good news is that the government says the numbers have been declining overall. Homelessness declined by 4 percent compared to last year and by 9 percent since the beginning of the recession in 2007. Chronic homelessness has dropped by 25 percent since 2007, and homelessness among veterans went down by 24 percent.

But they aren’t declining everywhere, and some states actually saw huge increases. Five states — California, Florida, Massachusetts, New York and Texas — account for more than half of the country’s homeless population, and of those three saw some of the largest upticks. Homelessness rose by 11.3 percent in New York, by 8.7 percent in Massachusetts and by 4.5 percent in California over 2012. Other states had far larger jumps, such as a 33.1 percent increase in South Carolina and a 26 percent increase in Maine. Overall, 20 states saw their rates go up compared to last year. Since 2007, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York and Washington, D.C. have seen increases of more than 20 percent.

Other indicators have also shown increases. The number of homeless students reached an all-time high last year of more than a million, or 2 percent of the student population. The number of homeless children in Massachusetts also just hit a record high.

And a host of evidence shows that it is increasingly dangerous to be homeless. Violence against those without shelter is on the rise, and news stories of homeless people who are killed for no reason have been piling up.

The progress that has been made in reducing homelessness could also stall if severe budget cuts continue. The Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that the automatic cuts known as sequestration will remove more than 100,000 homeless and formerly homeless people from programs. These programs have had little wiggle room to absorb the cuts without making reductions, which has led to dramatic, immediate pull backs. One small example is Triumph Treatment Services in Yakima, Wash., a program many homeless people turn to in order to get back on their feet, which had to reduce its beds from 68 to 50 through June and will have to cut about two beds every month next year. Sequestration is also cutting housing vouchers to help low-income people afford rent, which means that people who are in shelters or transitional programs will be shut out of the assistance they need to get their own apartments. Even more will be denied assistance next year if sequestration continues.

Yet there are plenty of programs that have been shown to be effective at helping the homeless. Creating more shelter to help house them is much cheaper than leaving people on the streets. Some places are giving homeless people lockers for their possessions, which could help with safety and other issues they face. A truly innovative program in San Francisco offers a day-long fair where homeless people can get all of the services they need in one place without hassle or the need to find transportation to a multitude of places. Yet the things that are proven to reduce homelessness require investment at a time when budgets are being slashed.

This post was originally published in ThinkProgress

Photo Credit: Ed Yourdon


Margaret Goodman
Margaret G4 years ago

I like Theodore Z's progressive income tax. However I'd like it to be more progressive:
The first $30,000/per year/per person is tax free.
Then the rates go up, maxing out at 90% rate for an income over $1,000,000/year.

Awaiting the screams of anguish from the currently comfortable...

Donna Ferguson
Donna F4 years ago

homelessness in the richest country on Earth--disgusting and demoralizing.

Lin M
Lin M4 years ago

Probably the down no. are people who are dead.

John S.
John Steinsvold4 years ago

An Alternative to Capitalism (which would end homelessness)

Several decades ago, Margaret Thatcher claimed: "There is no alternative". She was referring to capitalism. Today, this negative attitude still persists.

I would like to offer an alternative to capitalism for the American people to consider. Please click on the following link. It will take you to my essay titled: "Home of the Brave?" which was published by the Athenaeum Library of Philosophy:

John Steinsvold

Perhaps in time the so-called dark ages will be thought of as including our own.
--Georg C. Lichtenberg

James Maynard
James Maynard4 years ago

This is simply wrong in the richest
country in the world.......

Brandon Van Every

Marylin said, "NO One in a stable mental or emotional state will choose to live in the streets." That's simply not true. I've met plenty of people who live out of their cars, and it's not a bad life, as long as you've got enough money to contiunue to maintain your vehicle. To me personally, it's like having a motorized tent that you don't have to set up and take down every night.

I've met Rainbows who are permanently homeless and spend a lot of time either at gatherings or deep in the woods where the Forestry Service can't find them. I've met a "shot caller," someone old enough that he doesn't have to express any particular gang affiliation, who worked as a forest fire fighter for awhile. Money is not an issue for him and he's not scared of the elements like most people. He's the kind of guy that will survive some really harsh cold weather by remaining psychologically alert and just keep moving. Personally I prefer a fair number of sleeping bags and blankets in my car, but to each their own.

I've met more than one person who has a job, just no home. They probably won't be homeless indefinitely but they are for now. I've met a man whose journeys are guided by God. He's not any nuttier than the typical devout Christian, and everything seems to be working fine for him.

Having said that, the majority of homeless I've seen are the usual drug or alcohol ridden types, and many have mental illnesses. I wish I could wave a magic wand and make the addictions go away

Deborah W.
Deborah W4 years ago

There but for the grace of God go we ... while the fat cats in Washington play.

Research who voted how and why, then state by state replace them (states have to abide by yearly budgets and so remain accountable) ... and break the Washington Bubble next Presidential, sending them home, keeping only those who have our best interests at heart, replacing the rest with new blood (hopefully held to term limits, if not by law then by we the people keeping track of their earned value and retention -- or replacement).

DON'T JUST VOTE ... VOTE WITH PURPOSE so as to reinstate America to its proper place in the world, not further replaced by ObamaNation cronies and their personal agendas. Once we're government-owned internally and weakened in global status the real damage is complete and we own it.

Jeannet Bertelink

I find this shocking

Linda McKellar
Past Member 4 years ago

The saddest part of this is that the numbers keep going up and nobody gives a shit.
The % of public school children from low income families has increased from 38% in 2000 to 48% in 2011
The number of states where half the students are at poverty level has increased from 4 to 17 in the same time frame. 70.6% in Mississippi alone.
29% of Americans live below poverty level.
Poverty level in the US is placed at $23,000 for a family of four so how on earth can anybody be surprised that there are homeless? Can YOU live on that especially if there are four in your family?
Meanwhile CEO's wives spend that much on a Gucci purse or a pair of shoes without batting an eye. THAT is criminal.

Hugh W.
.4 years ago

Go down to DC and you can't escape the number of homeless. Kind of interesting, our nation's capital has so many homeless people in it. Just reinforces our polarizing society.

The nation's leaders take from the working class and seem to give nothing back in return. They can waste our money and walk over those left in its wake.