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Taking stock of homelessness in the United States

September 25, 2023


David H. Montgomery Data Journalist (former)
Graphic of two houses and the United States
Nina Leo/Minneapolis Fed
Taking stock of homelessness in the United States

Who is homeless in the United States? Homeless individuals come from every demographic group, but not all groups are equally represented. Black and Native American individuals are more likely to be homeless than are individuals from other racial and ethnic groups. Men and veterans also have higher rates of homelessness than the U.S. average. Homeless people are less likely to be women or under the age of 18.

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Having a roof over your head depends on where you live

The experience of being homeless varies by place. In Los Angeles, most homeless people live out on the streets—a quite different experience than in New York City, where a legal “right to shelter” has almost every homeless person under a roof. The rest of the country is in between, with homeless people in major cities less likely to be sheltered than those in more rural areas.

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Homelessness data in the U.S. come from annual Point-in-Time counts, where armies of local volunteers spread out to count the homeless population. Counting all people in the homeless population poses a unique challenge when the people to be counted do not have a fixed address and may be suspicious of the motives of those conducting the count. This means our data about the homeless population are far from complete. Continuing to invest in efforts to take stock of homelessness is essential to understand how policies affect the housing security of different groups of Americans.