Who Is More Likely to Become Homeless in the U.S.?

Become Homeless

Increased Odds of Experiencing Homelessness

Black and Native Americans are more likely to become homeless than other racial and ethnic groups in the U.S.

Although Black people comprise 13 percent of the general population and 21.4 percent of those living in poverty, they account for 40 percent of the homeless population. In the 2017 Voices of Youth Count, Black youth were at an 83 percent higher risk of experiencing homelessness than youth of other races.

One study found that Black Americans were 16 times more likely than White Americans to live in shelters in New York City and Philadelphia. Black children under the age of 5 were 29 times more likely than White children to end up in shelters. Another study found that on average, Black men are homeless for 3 years compared to 2.4 years for white men.

In 2019, people identifying as American Indian/Alaskan Native represented 4.7 percent of the unsheltered homeless population nationally. For the overall U.S. population, they represented about 1.3 percent.

Why? Racial discrimination has excluded people—particularly Black and Native Americans—from equal access to housing and opportunities for economic mobility. For example, a 2013 study by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development documented that people of color are shown fewer rental units than white renters. They are also more often denied leases based on credit history than white renters. Studies have also consistently found that White people receive 36 percent more callbacks for jobs than Black applicants. When there is racial discrimination in housing and employment, homelessness results.

Is Poverty a Major Factor?

Is it related to the number of Black Americans living in poverty? Poverty is a major factor in determining who becomes homeless. However, when controlling for poverty, poor Black Americans still experience homelessness at higher rates than poor White Americans.

When you review the history of homelessness, other groups of people are also more likely to become homeless. This includes people with physical and mental disabilities; people experiencing alcoholism and substance use; women, children, and youth; and seniors.

To solve homelessness, we must address race and racism in our country’s housing and employment systems. We must also eradicate race and racism from human and social service programs that support vulnerable people. Learn more about work to bring racial equity to homeless programs, systems, and policies from SPARC: A C4 Racial Equity Initiative.

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