Homeless is the state of being without a permanent, safe, affordable place to live. People experiencing homelessness can live on the streets, in shelters, missions, single room occupancy (SRO) facilities, or in other temporary or shared living arrangements. Often, they do not have access to basic services like health care and education. Their poverty and exposure to the elements leave them susceptible to disease and other problems, including mental illness and addiction.

Scholars, healthcare workers and homeless advocates agree that two major contributing factors to homelessness are poverty and a lack of affordable housing. Homeless individuals also face structural issues, such as discrimination and insufficient access to job opportunities and social benefits. And because of the stigma surrounding homelessness, many do not seek help.

While the overall population of people experiencing homelessness has been steadily decreasing since data collection began in 2007, there are subpopulations that have seen dramatic increases in recent years. These include people with serious and persistent mental illness, who have experienced long periods of untreated homelessness, as well as families with children and youth. Across the country, they are growing faster than other subgroups, with their numbers exceeding 35 percent in some communities.

The increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness has been driven primarily by rising rental costs, which are increasing at rates significantly higher than incomes. In addition, a number of households are severely rent burdened, with more than 50 percent of their monthly income going toward rent. This means that any unexpected change in their financial situation—loss of a job, an emergency medical expense, higher rent—could cause them to lose their homes.

These factors are amplified for racial and ethnic groups that have been historically underserved by the social safety net, including women and people who identify as transgender or nonbinary. These groups are growing faster in sheltered and unsheltered homelessness than their counterparts, with their numbers surpassing 15 percent growth nationally.

This is why there is renewed urgency for addressing the issue of homelessness. At the national level, there is a greater recognition that this problem requires more than one solution, and that it must be addressed through an intersectional lens. It also requires new and creative solutions, and a greater commitment to the idea that every person deserves the opportunity for a home. To do that, we must all work together: philanthropists, funders and their grantees; government agencies; community leaders; and the private sector. Together, we can build a future where no one is forced to sleep on the street. To do that, however, we must understand the causes and consequences of homelessness more fully. To that end, we need to continue to raise awareness about the issue and invest in the resources needed to solve it.