Homelessness in The United States: Statistics by State

Homelessness is a big problem in the United States. The issue was first identified in the 1870s. Then during the Great Depression of 1930, the number of homeless, poverty-stricken, hungry people soared to more than 2 million.

During the 1960s with the deinstitutionalization of state mental hospitals, homelessness again flared. Finally, in the 1980s with the housing and social services cuts, more homeless people flooded the streets, and in 1987, President Ronald Regan signed into law the McKinney–Vento Homeless Assistance Act to help address the problem.

homelessness in the united states

Federal Programs that Address Homelessness

Since the McKinney–Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 1987, the federal government has instituted many programs to help people who are struggling with homelessness.

Continuum of Care (CoC) Program - encourages a communitywide commitment to ending homelessness. Through this program, the federal government provides funding for shelters and other nonprofit homeless providers along with helping state and local government find ways to provide housing for homeless families or individuals. The program also addressed reducing trauma caused by dislocation. Additional goals of the programs are to help promote self-sufficiency and provide access to other resources.

Emergency Solutions Grants Program (ESG) - this program taps into the funding provided by the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act to help subsidize local shelters and facilities aimed at emergency care and housing for homeless people.

The Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS (HOPWA) Program - this program is specifically designed to help homeless individuals who have AIDS.

Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (RHSP) - this program consolidates three previous programs to target the housing needs of chronically homeless people.

Title V Housing - Federal Surplus Property for Use to Assist the Homeless - this program provides affordable housing for homeless and poverty-stricken individuals who qualify.

Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program (YHDP) - this program targets the needs of homeless youth living on the streets. For 2018, this program provided $43 million to eleven communities to get kids off the street and back into school and safe living conditions.

Base Realignment and Closure Program (BRAC) - this program helps retired military families find homes after base closures.

Pay for Success (PFS) Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) Demonstration - are both aimed at providing financing to help low-income people purchase homes using non-traditional sources for funding.

HUD Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing Program (HUD-VASH) - is a joint program between the HUD and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) specifically designed to help homeless veterans on the street.

Federal Spending on Homelessness

Through HUD’s McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants program each year the federal government pays $2.8 billion to help fund homeless organizations and shelters. Additionally, the government supplies $22.8 billion for affordable housing. This money equates to helping 25,000 families get off the streets each year.

As a result of these federal programs, since 2007, homelessness has decreased by 15%.

Federal funding for homelessness

Homelessness Programs and Resources

Due to the increased need and growing concern, communities all over the country have responded to the problem of homelessness with programs and resources. In recent years, there is a shift occurring with a greater focus on permanent housing rather than emergency shelters and transitional housing. This shift accounts for freeing up about 52.8% of the beds in traditional shelters.

Some of the community programs available to the homeless population are various housing services, along with medical care, food assistance, financial help, and job assistance. Housing services may include emergency shelter, rapid re-housing, and transitional housing along with support for obtaining permanent housing.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) funds several programs and resources for homeless individuals and families:

Homelessness Programs and Resources


Washington D.C. and Hawaii have the highest number of homeless people, and Mississippi has the lowest number. The number of homeless children and young adults since 2017 comprising 14.3 percent of the total is rising out of proportion with other demographics. At the point of the last tally (2017), 12.2% of the total homeless population were experiencing chronic homelessness. Roughly 360,867 people were living in shelters or transitional housing, and 34% (192,875 people) lived in places not meant for habitation such as abandoned buildings or other non-secured structures.

Permanent supportive housing is the largest capacity (41.8%) program that helps the most. Emergency shelters account for the second highest assistance (32.8%) to homeless people. Rapid re-housing although new is becoming popular and accounts for about one in ten beds per year.

Between 2016 and 2017, thirty U.S. states reported a decrease in homelessness and another twenty reported an increase. California observed the most significant rise in homelessness while Georgia saw the largest decline. New York recorded the second most significant increase of homelessness for 2017.

Most states in the U.S. reported an increase in supportive capacity (more beds, housing and resources). This statistic is across the board for permanent housing, rapid re-housing, and also shelters. Transitional housing has decreased in almost all states across the board.

Additional Statistics

  • Renters who pay more than 50% of their income towards housing are at a greater risk for homelessness.

  • Also, for 2016, more than 4,609,826 people were doubled up living with family or friends because they could not afford housing of their own.

  • For that same year, 6,902,060 renters were paying more than 50% of their income and were at great risk of homelessness.