According to the HUD PIT Count, which is a low estimate at best, there are approximately 582,000 people experiencing homelessness on any given night. But did you know that millions of Americans are unhoused each year? 2.5 million of them are schoolchildren. 3.5 million more are between the ages of 18 and 25.
Quantifying homelessness was once daunting, but thanks to up-to-the-minute tech and dedicated researchers, the latest numbers are in and likely higher than you expected.
Zooming Out: Piecing the Snapshots of Homelessness Together to Expose the Full Picture
Like the people who experience the crisis firsthand, no single face represents homelessness. Homelessness can appear as a fabled older man living in a rundown RV or a seemingly put-together teenager who secretly lives out of her school bag.
Homelessness can be extremely visible, with a pitched tent at an intersection and a tattered cardboard sign. On the other hand, it can be so hidden you’d have to search the basements of small towns and suburbs to uncover the myriad of college graduates who can’t afford to move out of their grandmother’s houses.
Perhaps, for this reason, we are offered mere snapshots of the crisis in the first place.
Fortunately, you can see a bigger picture if you piece each count of homelessness together. Here, we have done so by dividing separate studies by age. The tally is an estimate because these numbers reflect projections from multiple studies. That said, each study and its data come from viable sources.
Starting from the Very Beginning: Approximately 2.5 million Children Endure Homelessness Per Year
In 2014, the Washington Post published a piece covering a 130-page report that determined there were as many as 2.5 million homeless children each year. This is roughly 1 in every 30 children, a still frame of our nation’s secret shame.
These findings are primarily based on classroom calculations. The Education Department concluded that 1.3 million school-aged children were dwelling in spaces unfit for human habitation, such as:
- Public parks
- Vacant buildings
- Vehicles and more
That number was then scaled up to account for hidden homelessness since it is estimated that 75% of homeless children are doubled up in the houses of friends or family members, mumming the word out of fear of being taken from their parents.
This is a justified fear from a statistical standpoint. Homeless children who wind up in the foster care system face unfathomable odds of becoming homeless again as adults, not to mention enduring other forms of abuse and ostracization and the initial trauma of being forced out of the family they still call home.
With approximately three-fourths of the school-going homeless population living this way in the shadows, the actual tally of school-aged homelessness is inconceivable.
Here, you can see that millions of people are experiencing homelessness each year before they even reach adulthood.
Notedly, these are educational statistics, and most homeless children are chronically absent. More than a third of them will drop out of school before graduation.
So, what about the children who slip through the cracks of educational data because they are too young, too old, or simply too overwhelmed to set foot in a classroom? Thankfully, there is some research to fill in that blank.
The University of Chicago’s Research-to-Impact Briefs Estimate a Total of 3.5 million Homeless Young Adults Annually
Picking up in some of the places where the education system can’t reach is the University of Chicago. Their recent research-to-impact brief entitled the “Voices of Youth Count” projects that approximately 3.5 million young adults aged 18 to 25 are also forced to endure homelessness each year.
This number accounts for one out of ten up-and-coming Americans, casting a long and dismal shadow on our collective future as a nation.
To recap, approximately 6 million Americans endure homelessness each year, all of them under the age of 25.
Another Snapshot Taken by HUD Suggests There Are at Least 444,041 Visibly Homeless Individuals Over Age 25
The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development is the institution behind the somewhat infamous PIT Count, which attempts to quantify homelessness by counting the number of visibly homeless people seen on city streets for a timeframe of one to three nights out of the year.
This count, considered by all experts a drastic undercount, was the only information available on the internet regarding a very poignant age group – homeless people between 25 and 55. Even with this minimal scope of information, HUD still managed to identify nearly half a million more homeless people aged 25 and up.
In case you lost count, this amounts to more than 6.4 million people enduring homelessness each year. Some of them are doing so in silence. Others are sleeping on city streets. Can you rest knowing that many people fall into homelessness, primarily due to a lack of affordable housing? There’s more…
A Quarter of a Million Homeless Senior Citizens Were Counted in Just a Fraction of a Year
According to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, somewhere between 2.5 million and 3.5 million homeless people enter the shelter system annually. Some individuals, such as children and unaccompanied youths, might have appeared in the previous data already listed above. To be safe, we will only count the senior citizens. The 55+ tally was not included in the above-listed statistics.
The Washington Post reports that close to a quarter of a million senior citizens were counted shuffling through city streets and homeless shelters during just part of the 2019 calendar year.
“The current shelter system cannot accommodate the physical needs of this population,” Kelly Bruno-Nelson, Executive Director for CalOptima Health, told Washington Post reporters.
As for the rest of the growing senior homeless population, one can only wonder how many more might have been counted had we been given a snapshot of their homelessness throughout 2019 rather than just a fraction of that annual data. Even without more numbers to crunch, we are already hovering dangerously close to 7 million homeless Americans.
When Broken Down into Age Groups and Pieced Together, the Limited Available Data Shows Nearly 7 million Americans Endure Homelessness Each Year.
What a difference a day makes in quantifying homelessness. Here, it is easy to see how creating an annual count of homelessness helps to paint a clearer (albeit still somewhat blurry) picture of the problem.
Providing a daily snapshot of homelessness has its upside. It allows us to recognize trends, compare and contrast the numbers, identify the fact that there is a problem, and underscore that problem with actionable data. It also, whether purposefully or unintentionally, makes the crisis appear smaller.
The numbers above are rough estimates taken from multiple surveys rather than a singular source. While they might not be entirely accurate, they reveal one undeniable, little-known truth – that millions of people in the United States endure homelessness each year. This fact is important because the higher the number of people falling into homelessness, the higher the likelihood that homelessness can happen to you.
Most Americans Are Now One Paycheck Away from Homelessness. Talk to Your Legislators Today.
We are in dire need of more data surrounding the homeless crisis. We are also in dire need of affordable housing solutions. Now that you understand the magnitude of this crisis, it’s time to take action. Talk to your legislators today about drafting laws that make housing a human right.