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It's More Than You Think! How Many Americans Are Homeless at Some Point?

Monday, March 4, 2019

When you hear the word "homeless," what image comes to mind? If you're like many people, you picture a stereotype: a bum, possibly alcoholic, possibly mentally ill, dressed in tatters and begging for change. 

In reality, however, homeless Americans can look just like anyone else -- your coworkers, your friends, or even your children. If you are wondering how many Americans are homeless, or what homelessness looks like in 2019, read on for some eye-opening information.

What's the Definition of Homelessness?

First, let's talk about what it means to be homeless. In January 2018, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development published a revised definition of homelessness. And it is broader than you might imagine.

The following groups are just some of those who are classified as homeless:

  • People who sleep in their cars
  • Those who are losing their primary nighttime residence within 14 days and lack the resources to find housing
  • People in emergency shelters or transitional housing
  • Families with children that are unstably housed
  • Those living in places not meant for human habitation
  • People fleeing (or attempting to flee) domestic violence, and who lack the resources to obtain permanent housing

As you can see, this term does not simply refer to people who sleep on park benches or under overpasses.

How Many Americans Are Homeless?

Here is a look at the issue by the numbers, according to data compiled by the National Alliance To End Homelessness:

  • On any given night during 2018, 553,742 Americans experienced homelessness
  • 180,413 family members, including children, experienced homelessness
  • 372,417 individual people experienced homelessness
  • Some 88,640 people demonstrated chronic patterns of homelessness
  • 37,878 veterans experienced homelessness

Exploring the Reasons People Become Homeless

Why do families become homeless? In one sense, the answer is simple: because they are unable to find housing that is affordable.

Of course, in another sense, there's much more nuance to the underlying causes of homelessness. Being unable to find and secure affordable housing may happen as a result of:

  • Unemployment or underemployment
  • Mental health issues, including addiction
  • Medical conditions or disability
  • Domestic violence, including abusive familial relationships
  • Lack of affordable housing
  • Issues surrounding the availability of public transportation
  • Being the victim of a crime

Last but certainly not least, overarching systemic inequality informs and affects all other aspects of this problem. It contributes on a broad scale to both short-term and chronic homelessness.

What Can You Do to Help?

The answer to the question "how many Americans are homeless?" regardless of the actual number, is "too many."

An end to homelessness might sound like a pipe dream or pie-in-the-sky aspiration. However, with all of us pulling together -- as individuals, businesses, religious congregations, community organizations, resource centers, and agencies -- we can make a difference.

It's also important to understand that you don't necessarily have to make a financial contribution to help. You can volunteer your time or donate items to homeless shelters such as clothing and food.

If you are homeless or facing homeless, or if you would like to contribute your time, money, or skills to helping your community, contact Family Promise of Southern Chester County today.