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Hundreds of Thousands of People Are Homeless in the U.S. — Here’s Where Homelessness Is Most, Least Common

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Though estimates are constantly in flux, the latest U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) data indicates there are more than 575,000 people in the U.S. who are considered homeless. To put that in perspective, that’s larger than the total populations of many major cities, including Atlanta, Miami and Sacramento, Calif.

But where are these homeless people located? To answer this, LendingTree used HUD data to look at the states with the largest and smallest homeless populations. In doing so, we found that areas with higher house prices tend to have proportionally higher numbers of homeless people.

Ultimately, our findings make clear that many people in the U.S. don’t have a home to call their own.

Key findings

  • California, New York and Florida have the largest homeless populations. Across the three states, more than 280,000 people are homeless — that’s nearly half of the total U.S. homeless population.
  • North Dakota, Wyoming and South Dakota have the smallest homeless populations. North Dakota (541) and Wyoming (612) are the only states with fewer than 1,000 people who are homeless. In South Dakota, 1,058 people are homeless.
  • In each of the nation’s 50 states, people who are homeless don’t exceed 0.5% of the population. In the District of Columbia, that figure is 0.9%. While this suggests that homelessness isn’t particularly prevalent in most of the U.S., it doesn’t diminish the struggle that the more than 575,000 homeless people in America face.
  • States with more expensive housing tend to have proportionally higher homeless populations. While expensive housing can exacerbate homelessness, it’s important to note that other, more complex factors — including substance abuse or health problems — can be key drivers behind why people become homeless.
  • An average of 72.74% of homeless people across the nation’s 50 states and the District of Columbia stay in shelters. The share of sheltered homeless people is highest in New York state at 95.01%, but it’s considerably lower in California at 29.64%.

States with the most homelessness

No. 1: California

  • Number of homeless people: 161,548
  • Share of homeless people in shelters: 29.64%
  • Share of homeless people as a percentage of the total population: 0.41%
  • Median home price: $593,400

No. 2: New York

  • Number of homeless people: 91,271
  • Share of homeless people in shelters: 95.01%
  • Share of homeless people as a percentage of the total population: 0.47%
  • Median home price: $353,100

No. 3: Florida

  • Number of homeless people: 27,487
  • Share of homeless people in shelters: 53.90%
  • Share of homeless people as a percentage of the total population: 0.13%
  • Median home price: $261,500

 

States with the least homelessness

No. 1: North Dakota

  • Number of homeless people: 541
  • Share of homeless people in shelters: 93.72%
  • Share of homeless people as a percentage of the total population: 0.07%
  • Median home price: $205,200

No. 2: Wyoming

  • Number of homeless people: 612
  • Share of homeless people in shelters: 79.90%
  • Share of homeless people as a percentage of the total population: 0.11%
  • Median home price: $236,600

No. 3: South Dakota

  • Number of homeless people: 1,058
  • Share of homeless people in shelters: 76.75%
  • Share of homeless people as a percentage of the total population: 0.12%
  • Median home price: $188,900

 

The causes of — and solutions to — homelessness are complex

On the surface, the way to solve America’s homelessness problem may appear relatively straightforward.

For example, as our study shows, the number of people who are homeless tends to be proportionally higher in states where home prices are more expensive. With that in mind, it may be tempting to conclude that reducing home prices is all that’s needed to end homelessness. Similarly, one might also conclude that using some of the nation’s millions of vacant housing units to house those without a place to call home may be another relatively straightforward way to keep people off the streets and out of shelters.

However, these solutions ignore the underlying complexity behind the problem of homelessness in America.

Though some unhoused Americans would likely benefit from finding more affordable homes in their area, many homeless people are so because of issues like substance abuse, mental or physical illness. Merely placing people who struggle with these types of problems in empty houses might keep them off the streets, but it would do little to address real reasons why they ended up homeless in the first place.

With that in mind, it becomes clear that ending homelessness is much more complicated than it might initially appear. Not only do we have to find places for those without homes to live, but we must also take steps to address the nonfinancial reasons why people are on the streets.

Building more affordable housing and relocating some empty homes to those who need them are certainly important tools in combating poverty. But without taking into consideration the social elements of homelessness, the problem is unlikely to ever be resolved.

Tips for those who may be facing homelessness

Although some people can become homeless through virtually no fault of their own, those in a difficult situation can keep the following tips in mind to potentially reduce their chance of finding themselves without a place to live:

  • Apply for low-income housing. There are many low-income housing options available from various organizations, including HUD and local housing authorities throughout the U.S. By seeking out and applying to rent or buy these types of low-income homes, you may be able to better avoid losing your house. Keep in mind that getting approved to live in low-income housing can be a competitive and time-consuming process, so the sooner you start looking for low-income housing, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to find and secure it.
  • Ask your lender or landlord about mortgage or lease modification options. If you’re experiencing a major financial hardship and finding that you’re falling behind on your rent or mortgage payments, you may be able to have your lease or mortgage terms modified in some way. For example, a mortgage modification can allow you to reduce the cost of your mortgage payment by increasing the duration of your loan’s repayment period or by reducing your interest rate. While not everyone will be able to get the terms of their lease or mortgage changed, those who do may be at a lower risk of losing their home due to not being able to afford it.
  • Make a plan to keep on top of your housing costs. Carefully planning for housing expenses using tools like LendingTree’s mortgage calculators can help homeowners avoid putting themselves in a situation where they risk defaulting on their mortgage and becoming homeless. Though the best-laid plans can sometimes still go awry, the more you know how much you can afford to spend on housing and the better you keep to a budget, the less likely it is that you’ll find yourself without a home.

Methodology

Population and home value data used in this study come from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2020 American Community Survey with one-year experimental estimates.

Data on the total number of homeless people in each state and the share of those in shelters comes from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) Point-In-Time (PIT) count for 2020.

 

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