Who Are The Homeless?

After defining what it means to be “homeless”, the National Coalition for the Homeless (Fact Sheet #3, June 2008) states that:

Two trends are largely responsible for the rise of homelessness over the past 20-25 years: a growing shortage of affordable rental housing and a simultaneous increase in poverty. Persons living in poverty are most at risk of becoming homeless, and demographic groups who are more likely to experience poverty are also more likely to experience homelessness.”

The Fact Sheet reveals the following statistics about those among us who are more likely to experience homelessness:

Age – In 2003, children under the age of 18 accounted for 39% of the homeless population; 42% were under the age of 5. Unaccompanied minors comprised 5% of the urban homeless population. In 2004, 25% of homeless people were ages 25-34 and 6% were aged 55 to 64.

Gender – Males are more likely to be homeless than females.

Families – The number of homeless families with children has increased significantly over the past decade, making them one of the fastest growing segments of the homeless in America. A 2007 U.S. Conference of Mayors survey of 23 United States cities found that families with children comprised 23% of the homeless population. The average stay in a familiy shelter for a homeless family is 5.7 months.

Ethnicity – A 2006 survey of 23 U.S. cities found that the homless population is estimated to be 42% African-American, 39% White, 13% Hispanic, 4% Native American, and 2% Asian. The ethnic makeup of the homeless varies according to geographic region.

Victims of Domestic Violence – Nationally, 50% of all women and children experiencing homelessness are fleeing domestic violence. An estimated 39% of requests for shelter by homeless families were denied in 2006 due to lack of available resources.

Veterans – 40% of homeless men have served in the Armed Services. The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans estimates that on any given night in the U.S. there are 271,000 homeless veterans.

Persons with Mental Illness – Approximately 16% of the single adult homeless population suffers from some form of severe and persistent mental illness. Only 5%-7% of the mentally ill homeless require institutionalization; most can live in the community with appropriate supportive housing options.

Persons with Addictions – In 2005, the U.S. Conference of Mayors estimated that 30% of homeless adults suffered from addiction disorders.

Employment – The Mayor’s 2005 survey of 23 American cities found that 13% of the urban homeless were employed while more recent surveys reported the figures to be as high as 25%.

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As these figures from the National Coalition for the Homeless show, people who become homeless do not fit into one general description. But, those who do experience homelessness do share certain common needs – adequate housing and shelter, nutrition, adequate employment and income, health care, and care for their children.

Is it realistic for us to think that we can actually bring an end to the poverty, homelessness, and hurt described in the figures above?

After all, Jesus did say, “For you always have the poor with you….”  (Mark 14:7a)

Are we as Christ-followers then excused from caring for and ministering to the poor and homeless because they will always be with us? Absolutlely not!

On the contrary, we have a responsibility under God to minister – individually and congregationally – to the poor, destitute, and marginalized and seek their relief. We should be involved in identifying the individual and systemic causes of poverty and homelessness and then help bring about the needed changes in peoples’ lives, government, and society that will help lessen the number of those who live in such great and tragic need.

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One Comment on “Who Are The Homeless?”


  1. Thank you so much for writing about all these different situations which lead to homelessness. I get so many questions about homelessness and drug abuse (ie: “So, are they mostly drug addicts or what?”) and I’m glad people are asking. I’m doubly glad that someone else is answering. Domestic violence, mental illness, physical illness, etc. can all lead to homelessness.


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