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Question #2
Who is homeless? 1

An estimated 842,000 adults and children are homeless in a given week, with that number swelling to as many as 3.5 million over the course of a year. People who are homeless are the poorest of the poor. While almost half (44%) of people who are homeless work at least part-time, their monthly income averages only $367 compared to the median monthly income for U.S. households of $2,840. Those who have disabilities and are unable to work can find it nearly impossible to secure affordable housing in virtually every major housing market in the country.

The majority are unaccompanied adults, but the number of homeless families is growing:

  • 66% are single adults, and of these, three-quarters are men
  • 11% are parents with children, 84% of whom are single women
  • 23% are children under 18 with a parent, 42% of whom are under 5 years of age

Racial and ethnic minorities, particularly African Americans, are overrepresented:

  • 41% are non-Hispanic whites (compared to 76% of the general population)
  • 40% are African Americans (compared to 11% of the general population)
  • 11% are Hispanic (compared to 9% of the general population)
  • 8% are Native American (compared to 1% of the general population)

Homelessness continues to be a largely urban phenomenon:

  • 71% are in central cities
  • 21% are in suburbs
  • 9% are in rural areas

People who are homeless frequently report health problems:

  • 38% report alcohol use problems
  • 26% report other drug use problems
  • 39% report some form of mental health problems (20-25% meet criteria for serious mental illness)
  • 66% report either substance use and/or mental health problems
  • 3% report having HIV/AIDS
  • 26% report acute health problems other than HIV/AIDS such as tuberculosis, pneumonia, or sexually transmitted diseases
  • 46% report chronic health conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or cancer

People who are homeless also have high rates of other background characteristics:

  • 23% are veterans (compared to 13% of the general population)
  • 25% were physically or sexually abused as children
  • 27% were in foster care or institutions as children
  • 21% were homeless as children
  • 54% were incarcerated at some point of their lives

1 Burt, M.R., Aron, L.Y., Douglas, T., Valente, J., Lee, E., Iwen, B. (1999) Homelessness: Programs and the People They Serve. Washington, DC: Interagency Council on the Homeless.

For more information about the Homeless Programs Branch, please contact:

Lawrence D. Rickards, Ph.D., Branch Chief
Homeless Programs Branch
Center for Mental Health Services
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
(240) 276-1920



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