top of page

Homeless in America

Knowing The Faces and Numbers

  • What causes homelessness

  • Who experiences homelessness

  • Q&A about homelessness



​More than at any other time, there is a lack of housing that low income people can afford. Without housing options, people face eviction, instability and homelessness.


​​Housing Affordability and Homelessness

The nation is currently facing one of the most severe affordable housing crises in history. Not surprisingly, those living in poverty are the most significantly affected.

In the 1970s, communities had plenty of affordable housing. That meant that when a family or individual experienced a crisis and lost housing, they could quickly find another place to live. But by the mid-1980s, the supply of low-cost housing had shrunk significantly. Since then, rents have continued to rise and lower-income people in particular have experienced slow or stagnant wage growth.

Today, 8 million extremely low-income households pay at least half of their income toward housing, putting them at risk of housing instability and homelessness.


Income and Housing Affordability

Today, most households become homeless because they simply do not make enough money to pay for housing.

Low-Income, High Risk

Low-income households are typically unemployed or underemployed due to a number of factors, such as a challenging labor market; limited education; a gap in work history; a criminal record; unreliable transportation or unstable housing; poor health or a disability.

For those who are low-income but employed, wages have been stagnant and have not kept pace with expensive housing costs. The typical American worker has seen little to no growth in his/her weekly wages over the past three decades. Too little income combined with the dwindling availability of low-cost housing leaves many people at risk for becoming homeless.


Health and Homelessness

Health and homelessness are inextricably linked. Health problems can cause a person’s homelessness as well as be exacerbated by the experience.

An acute physical or behavioral health crisis or any long-term disabling condition may lead to homelessness; homelessness itself can exacerbate chronic medical conditions. A person can become chronically homeless when his or her health condition becomes disabling and stable housing is too difficult to maintain without help.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, people living in shelters are more than twice as likely to have a disability compared to the general population. On a given night in 2017, 20 percent of the homeless population reported having a serious mental illness, 16 percent conditions related to chronic substance abuse, and more than 10,000 people had HIV/AIDS.

Conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and HIV/AIDS are found at high rates among the homeless population, sometimes three to six times higher than that of the general population.

People who have mental health and substance use disorders and who are homeless are more likely to have immediate, life-threatening physical illnesses and live in dangerous conditions. Also, more than 10 percent of people who seek substance abuse or mental health treatment in our public health system are homeless.

The issue of opioid abuse has risen to a level of national crisis as the number of people abusing prescription drugs and heroin has dramatically risen, and the rate of opioid-related overdose deaths has tripled since 2000. While the epidemic is notable for affecting people from any race, gender, socioeconomic status, its effects are felt in unique and notably harmful ways by people who are experiencing homelessness. Substance use disorders are known risk factors for homelessness, and substance abuse and overdose disproportionately impact homeless people.

3.Domestic Violence

​​Domestic Violence and Homelessness

A domestic violence experience is common among youth, single adults, and families who become homeless. For many, it is the immediate cause of their homelessness. Survivors of domestic violence may turn to homeless service programs seeking a safe temporary place to stay after fleeing an abusive relationship. Others may turn to homeless service programs primarily because they lack the economic resources to secure or maintain housing after leaving an abusive relationship.

On a single night in 2019, homeless services providers had more than 48,000 beds set aside for survivors of domestic violence.



Most minority groups, especially African Americans and Indigenous people, experience homelessness at higher rates than Whites, largely due to long-standing historical and structural racism.

The most striking disparity can be found among African Americans, who represent 13 percent of the general population but account for 40 percent of people experiencing homelessness and more than 50 percent of homeless families with children. This imbalance has not improved over time.


What Are the Causes?

From slavery to segregation, African Americans have been systemically denied rights and socioeconomic opportunities. Other minority groups, including Indigenous and Latinx people, share similar histories. The disproportionality in homelessness is a by-product of systemic inequity: the lingering effects of racism continue to perpetuate disparities in critical areas that impact rates of homelessness.



Poverty, and particularly deep poverty, is a strong predictor of homelessness. Black and Latinx groups are overrepresented in poverty relative to their representation in the overall population, and are most likely to live in deep poverty, with rates of 10.8% and 7.6% percent, respectively.


Segregation/Rental Housing Discrimination 

Redlining – systemic housing discrimination supported by the federal government decades ago –  is a root cause of the current wealth gap between White households and households of color. Redlining discouraged economic investment, such as mortgage and business loans, in Black and Brown neighborhoods. 

The effects are still with us today: African Americans still live disproportionately in concentrated poverty or in neighborhoods where they are regularly exposed to environmental toxins, and have limited access to quality care, services, nutritious food and economic opportunities. People that become homeless are likely to have lived in these types of neighborhoods. 

For most minority groups, the transition to neighborhoods with less crime, no environmental hazards, and close proximity to services, are often met with challenges. A study by the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)[3] on racial discrimination found that people of color were often shown fewer rental units and denied more leases in comparison to White people. White people, on the other hand, were frequently offered lower rents. Deposits and other move-in costs were also quoted as “negotiable,” making it easier for White people to secure units.


The racial disparity in incarceration rates has continuously worsened. The rate for African Americans has tripled between 1968 and 2016 and is more than six times the rate of White incarceration. These racial disparities are no accident. Black and Brown people are at far greater risk of being targeted, profiled and arrested for minor offenses, especially in high poverty areas. 

The implications of overcriminalization are far-reaching: A criminal history can keep people from successfully passing background checks to secure both housing and employment. People exiting jails and prisons often face significant problems in accessing safe and affordable housing and their rate of homelessness is high.


Access to Quality Health Care 

People of color are far more likely to lack health insurance than White people, especially in states without Medicaid expansion. Even with expansion, overall about 30 million people are uninsured, with about half of them being people of color.

The lack of health insurance for people with chronic medical conditions and/or untreated serious mental illness can place them at risk of becoming homeless or being precariously housed. For example, people with mental health disabilities are vastly overrepresented in the population of people who experience homelessness. Of the more than 550,000 people in America who experienced homelessness on a given night in 2017, 1 in 5 had a behavioral health issue. While the rate of serious mental illness may not vary by race, studies show African Americans have more difficulty accessing treatment.




Most of the people who experience homelessness are single adults.

How Many Single Adults Experience Homelessness?

On a single night in January 2019:

  • 396,045 single adults were homeless.

  • 50 percent or 196,514 were unsheltered.

  • 50 percent or 199,531 were sheltered—that is, had temporary beds to sleep in.

  • 70 percent were men; 29 percent were women, and 1 percent identified as transgender or gender non-conforming.

Why Do Single Adults Experience Homelessness?

Homelessness among single adults, like homelessness among other populations, is a result of the lack of affordable, available housing. Because of the cost of housing and inadequate incomes, even a temporary financial or life crisis — such as losing a job, the end of a relationship, death of a partner, or health emergency — can result in a loss of housing and homelessness. That being said, the experience of homelessness for this population is most often brief and non-recurring. Despite common stereotypes, most homeless single adults do not suffer from chronic mental illness, substance abuse, or other disabling conditions. Most are homeless for a relatively short time before reconnecting to housing.




Adults and children in families make up about 33 percent of the homeless population.

How Many Children and Families Experience Homelessness?

On a single night in January 2019:

  • An estimated 171,670 people in families — or 53,692 family households — were identified as homeless.

  • Approximately 14,779 people in families were living on the street, in a car, or in another place not meant for human habitation.

Between October 1, 2016, and September 30, 2017, an estimated 478,718 people in 150,630 family households used an emergency shelter or a transitional housing program.


Why Do Families Experience Homelessness?

Families experiencing homelessness are similar to other families that are also poor, but who have a home to live in. Both may struggle with incomes that are far less than they need to pay for housing. In fact, it is often some jolt to this precarious situation – a lost job or work hours, conflict with family members they are staying with, an unanticipated bill or violence within the home – that leads families to seek help from homeless service programs.  Homeless families are usually headed by a single woman with limited education, are typically young, and have young children.


The Impact of Homelessness on Children

Homelessness can have a tremendous impact on children – their education, health, sense of safety, and overall development.  Fortunately, researchers find that children are also highly resilient and differences between children who have experienced 

homelessness and low-income children who have not typically diminished in the years following a homeless episode.

When compared to low-income and homeless families, children experiencing homelessness have been shown to:

  • Have higher levels of emotional and behavioral problems;

  • Have increased risk of serious health problems;

  • Are more likely to experience separations from their families; and

  • Experience more school mobility, repeat a grade, be expelled or drop out of school, and have lower academic performance.



Since 2011, the number of veterans experiencing homelessness has dropped by 43.3 percent. And since 2018, the number has dropped 2.1 percent.

​​How Many Veterans Experience Homelessness?

On a single night in January 2019:

  • 37,085 veterans were experiencing homelessness — a 2.1% decrease since January 2018.

  • 22,740 veterans were sheltered, while 14,345 veterans were unsheltered.

  • 37,085 veterans were experiencing homelessness.

  • Most homeless veterans were without children; only 2 percent were homeless as part of a family. 

  • 90.3 percent were men, while 8.9 percent (3,292 veterans) were women.

Why Do Veterans Experience Homelessness?

Veterans are not unlike civilians when it comes to homelessness. They must navigate the lack of affordable housing and economic hardship that everyone faces in addition to the challenges brought on by multiple and extended deployments. Taken together, these factors create a population that deserves–but can often struggle with–housing stability.

Research indicates that those who served in the late Vietnam and post-Vietnam eras are at the greatest risk of becoming homeless but that veterans from more recent wars and conflicts are also affected.  Veterans returning from deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq often face invisible wounds of war, including traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder, both of which correlate with homelessness.


Chronic homelessness is used to describe people who have experienced homelessness for at least a year — or repeatedly — while struggling with a disabling condition such as a serious mental illness, substance use disorder, or physical disability.

How Many People Experience Chronic Homelessness?

On a single night in January 2019:

  • There were 96,141 homeless individuals with chronic patterns of homelessness. That is 24 percent of the total population of homeless individuals.

  • 65 percent of chronically homeless individuals were living on the street, in a car, park, or other location not meant for human habitation.

  • Since 2007, the number of individuals with patterns of chronic homelessness has declined 20 percent.

What Causes Chronic Homelessness?

People experiencing chronic homelessness typically have complex and long-term health conditions, such as mental illness, substance use disorders, physical disabilities, or other medical conditions. Once they become homeless — regardless of what immediately caused them to lose their housing — it is difficult for them to get back into housing and they can face long or repeated episodes of homelessness.



Every night, thousands of young people experience homelessness without a parent or guardian — and go to sleep without the safety, stability and support of a family or a home.

How Many Youth Are Homeless?

On a single night in 2019, 35,038 unaccompanied youth were counted as homeless. Of those, 89 percent were between the ages of 18 to 24. The remaining 11 percent (or 3,976 unaccompanied children) were under the age of 18.

50 percent of homeless youth are unsheltered — sleeping outside, in a car, or some place not meant for human habitation.

Bless24 estimates that over the course of a year, approximately 550,000 unaccompanied youth and young adults up to age 24 experience a homelessness episode of longer than one week. More than half are under the age of 18.

These numbers are imprecise, and the single night number is likely an undercount. Communities are working to improve the way they collect data and their Point-In-Time Counts in order to more accurately reflect the numbers of unaccompanied young people experiencing homelessness.


What Causes Youth Homelessness?

Youth homelessness is often rooted in family conflict. Other contributing factors include economic circumstances like poverty and housing insecurity, racial disparities, and mental health and substance use disorders. Young people who have had involvement with the child welfare and juvenile justice systems are also more likely to become homeless.

Many homeless youth and young adults have experienced significant trauma before and after becoming homeless and are particularly vulnerable, including victims of sexual trafficking and exploitation. Youth who identify as LGBTQ; pregnant and parenting youth; youth with special needs or disabilities, and youth of color, particularly African-American and Native American youth, are also more likely to become homeless.




Here are a few of the frequently asked questions (FAQs) about homelessness and Bless24’s role in helping to end homelessness in America.

Q: How many people are homeless?

A: On a given night in 2019, 567,715 people experienced homelessness in the U.S.  Between October 1, 2016, and September 30, 2017, an estimated 950,497 people used an emergency shelter or transitional housing program.


The Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Veterans Affairs consider a person to be homeless if they are sleeping outside, in a place not meant for human habitation such as a car or abandoned building, or in an emergency shelter or transitional housing program. Other federal agencies have different definitions for homelessness.


Q: Who experiences homelessness?

A: On a single night in 2019, an estimated:


171,670 people in families, including children, experienced homelessness.

396,045 single individuals experienced homelessness.

96,141 individuals had chronic patterns of homelessness.

37,085 veterans experienced homelessness.


Q: Why do people become homeless?

A: Reasons vary, but the main reason people become homeless is because they cannot find housing they can afford. Other factors can include a chronic health condition, domestic violence and systemic inequality. Read more about the causes of homelessness.


Q: Is there a solution to homelessness?

A: Yes. A home. To end homelessness, the nation will need an adequate supply of housing that is affordable to lower income households. Until that problem is solved, the homeless system will help people quickly return to housing, connect to employment, and get needed services and support. 


Q: How is Bless24 helping?

A: Bless24’s sole focus is ending and preventing homelessness through:

  • Sheltering Program

  • Food Program

    • Farm grown vs. purchased

    • Nutrition and diet

  • Farm Work Program

    • Preparation

    • Maintenance

    • Gathering

    • Distribution

  • Skills Training Program

    • Crop planting and maintenance

    • Animal care

    • Equipment use and maintenance

    • Green energies (windmill and solar)

    • Farm supervision and care

  • Financial Training Program

    • Credit repair

    • Financial decision making

    • Short term and long term investments

  • Restoration Program

    • Psychological evaluations

    • Physical evaluations

    • Social assessments

    • Readiness

  • Community Building Program

    • Long term living arrangements

    • On property housing

Q: Does Bless24  provide services to people experiencing homelessness?


bottom of page