Demographics and Characteristics of the Homeless Population

Homeless (plural homeless people) are individuals who lack the means to pay for a permanent housing unit. They may sleep in public spaces such as parks, street corners or emergency shelters. They also may live in transitional housing, such as a motel or a family member’s house. Those who experience long-term homelessness are called chronically homeless.

The causes of homelessness are diverse and include everything from job loss to evictions to health care issues. Many of these factors are related to a person’s ability to afford the costs of housing and basic living expenses. A person is considered severely rent burdened if they spend more than 50 percent of their monthly income on housing. Even a small increase in housing costs, such as increased rent or a reduction in hours at work, can push a household into homelessness.

Although the number of people experiencing homelessness has risen since 2007, there has been progress in ending it. However, the rate of progress has been slower for some subgroups than others. These include families with children, veterans, and those who are experiencing episodic homelessness. Those who are experiencing episodic homelessness usually have experienced three or more periods of homelessness within the past year and are characterized by a lack of steady, stable housing.

Research has shown that certain groups are more likely to experience homelessness. These include people of color, women, those who are LGBTQ, youth and those involved with the justice system. They are more likely to have a history of trauma and may be impacted by racial prejudice, discrimination and oppression in society. Additionally, they may be displaced by natural disasters.

While a significant amount of literature has been published about this topic, it is still incomplete. There are gaps in understanding and knowledge about the diversity of the population that is experiencing homelessness. For example, much of the literature on homeless people has been focused on urban areas. This has resulted in a paucity of information about those who are experiencing homelessness in suburban or rural communities. It is imperative that we continue to grow our knowledge on the demographics and characteristics of the homeless population in order to effectively address their needs.