Families experiencing homelessness in America on any given night
According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, “families experiencing homelessness are similar to other, housed families living in poverty. Many poor families – homeless or not – share similar characteristics: they are usually headed by a single woman with limited education, are usually young, and have high rates of domestic violence and mental illness. Some families living in poverty, however, fall into homelessness, usually due to some unforeseen financial challenge, such as a death in the family, a lost job, or an unexpected bill, creating a situation where the family cannot maintain housing.”
Homelessness is especially stressful for children. They worry they will have no place to live or no place to sleep, and school attendance is often poor. One in 45 children experience homelessness in America each year. That’s over 1.6 million children. While homeless, they experience high rates of acute and chronic health problems. The barrage of stressful and traumatic experiences has profound effects on their development and ability to learn.
Individuals experiencing homelessness in America on any given night
On any given night, there are approximately 362,000 individuals experiencing homelessness. Of these, 84,000 are considered chronically homeless and approximately 50,000 are veterans. While circumstances vary, the main reason people experience homelessness is because they cannot find the housing they can afford.
Veterans often become homeless due to war-related disabilities. For a variety of reasons – physical disability, mental anguish, post-traumatic stress etc. – many veterans find readjusting to civilian life difficult. Difficulties readjusting can give rise to dangerous behaviors, including addition, abuse and violence, which, coupled with difficulties, can lead to homelessness.
In 2009, the Obama Administration committed to ending veteran homelessness in the U.S. by the end of 2015. Since 2010, there has been a 33 percent decrease in the number of homeless veterans.
Chronic homelessness is often the public face of homelessness. Under the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s definition, a chronically homeless individual is someone who has experienced homelessness for a year or longer, or who has experienced at least four episodes of homelessness in the last three years and has a disability. A family with an adult member who meets this description would also be considered chronically homeless.
Chronically homeless people are among the most vulnerable people in the homeless population. They tend to have high rates of behavioral health problems, including severe mental illness and substance abuse disorders, conditions that may be exacerbated by physical illness, injury or trauma. Consequently, they are frequent users of emergency services, crisis response, and public safety systems.
Fortunately, there has been significant progress to address chronic homelessness in the last decade. The number of individuals experiencing chronic homelessness has declined by 21 percent since 2010.
Many people think of homelessness as strictly an urban phenomenon because homeless people are greater in number and more visible in urban areas, but homelessness is also pervasive in rural areas. The same structural factors that contribute to urban homelessness – lack of affordable housing and inadequate income – also lead to rural homelessness. Perhaps the most distinguishing factor of rural homelessness, however, is access to services. Unlike in urban areas, many rural homeless assistance systems lack the infrastructure to provide quick, comprehensive care to those experiencing homelessness. Reasons for this include lack of affordable housing, limited transportation options, and the tendency for federal programs to focus on urban areas.