Fact: No one starts life with a goal of becoming homeless. People are homeless for a wide variety of reasons, many of which are at least partly and often largely beyond a person’s control. Homelessness occurs when people or households are unable to acquire and/or maintain housing. Two major factors that account for homelessness are the lack of jobs that pay a living wage and the lack of affordable housing. Additionally, people lose jobs and then housing. Women run away to the street to escape domestic violence. Many people have experienced significant trauma and simply cannot cope with life. Others struggle with mental illness, depression or post-traumatic stress.
Fact: A 2013 US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) study found 17 percent of homeless adults in families had paying jobs, and 55 percent had worked during the previous year.
Fact: Once an individual or family loses their home, getting back into housing can feel nearly impossible. Most people lose housing because of financial situations – they simply do not have enough money to provide housing for themselves/their families. Many lose their homes because of job loss and/or underemployment. Imagine trying to get a job when you have no address to put on a resume, no phone number, no shower and no clean-pressed clothes. Often, physical, mental and emotional health, lack of transportation, and legal issues hinder progress even more. Homeless people do not want to remain homeless, though some do “give up” after months/years of trying to access services that they don’t qualify for due to some regulatory or program requirement.
Fact: The National Low Income Housing Coalition found a full-time minimum wage worker would have to work between 69 and 174 hours a week, depending on the state, to pay for an “affordable” two-bedroom rental unit (the federal government defines affordable as 30 percent of a person’s income). A full-time minimum wage worker couldn’t afford a one- or two-bedroom apartment at Fair Market Rent, a standard set by the federal government, in any state.
Fact: The most common duration of homelessness is one or two days, according to University of Pennsylvania researcher Dennis Culhane. Nearly one in six homeless people were classified as chronically homeless — people with disabilities who have been homeless for a year or more, or experienced at least four episodes of homelessness in three years — by HUD’s 2014 survey.
Fact: Serious mental illnesses are more prevalent among the homeless: About one in four sheltered homeless people suffered from a severe mental illness in 2010, compared to 5 percent of U.S. adults, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). But city officials cited lack of affordable housing, unemployment, and poverty as the top three causes of homelessness in a 2014 survey from the US Conference of Mayors.
Fact: Roughly one-third (33%) of sheltered homeless adults had chronic substance use issues in 2010, according to the SAMHSA.
Fact: Homelessness is often associated with drugs, alcohol, violence and crime. Life on the streets can be perilous for homeless men and women, but very few crimes are committed by homeless people against those who try to help them.
Fact: One in three homeless people were 24 and younger in 2014, and 37 percent belonged to a family, HUD’s survey found. One in 45 US children experiences homelessness each year, according to the National Center on Family Homelessness.
Fact: About 69 percent of homeless Americans lived in shelters in 2014, according to HUD’s survey. One survey in Seattle found that at least 30 percent of unsheltered homeless residents live in vehicles.
Fact: The number of homeless people declined nationwide by 2 percent between 2013 and 2014, HUD found. But the homeless population increased by 6 percent in New York City, where 12 percent of homeless Americans reside, and 1 percent in all major cities.
Fact: Discretionary programs that help low-income people meet basic needs, more than half of which are housing assistance, made up about 2.2 percent of the federal budget in fiscal year 2013, based on estimates from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.
Fact: Studies show that simply housing people can reduce the number of homeless at a lower cost to society than leaving them without homes. The Central Florida Commission on Homelessness found housing costs $10,000 per person per year, while leaving them homeless costs law enforcement, jails, hospitals, and other community services $31,000 per person per year.
Sources: Coalition for the Homeless, New York, NY | THHI, Tampa Hillsborough Homeless Initiative, Tampa, FL