Fact Sheet On Homeless Families

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National Alliance to End Homelessness

Fact Sheets | February 1, 2007

Files: Fact Checker: Family Homelessness, February 2007 (PDF | 88.6 KB | 2 pages)

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Every year 600,000 families with 1.35 million children experience homelessness in the United States, making up about 50 percent of the homeless population over the course of the year. Homeless families, mothers, fathers, grandparents, and children are scattered across the country. Families experiencing homelessness live in urban, suburban, and rural areas, sleeping in shelters, cars, motels, and abandoned buildings.

The existing—and most conclusive—research identifies the lack of affordable housing as the primary cause of homelessness among families in the United States. This is both because there is an inadequate supply of affordable housing and because incomes are so low that families cannot pay for the housing that is available. The rising cost of housing, accompanied by declining wages, creates conditions that put families at risk of losing their housing and makes it even more difficult for families to find housing once they become homeless.

The threat of homelessness looms constantly over most poor families who struggle to meet their rent or mortgage payments, but there are risk factors or predictors of homelessness that suggest that some families affected by the affordable housing crisis are more likely to become homeless than others. Families that become homeless tend to share certain characteristics: they have extremely low incomes, tend to have young children and be headed by a younger parent, lack strong social networks, and often have poor housing histories or move frequently. That said, homeless families are, in many ways, very similar to other poor families who do not become homeless. Both housed and homeless poor families have the same (albeit high) incidences of domestic violence and similar rates of mental illness. Both poor housed children and homeless children suffer from high rates of anxiety, depression, behavioral problems, or below-average school performance. It seems that homeless families are a subgroup of poor families that, for either an economic or a personal crisis, have lost their housing and cannot get back into the housing market.

While family homelessness is more prevalent then many think, it is possible to greatly decrease and end family homelessness. Several communities Accurate Statistics on Homelessness have quantifiable outcomes showing decreases in length of stay in shelter, fewer families entering emergency shelter, and more families entering permanent supportive housing.
  • In Columbus, Ohio, family homelessness declined 40 percent from 1,168 families in 1995 to 696 families in 2004.
  • From 2000 to 2004, the number of families experiencing homelessness declined 43 percent in Hennepin County, Minnesota.
  • In New York City, from 2003 to 2006, family homelessness declined 19 percent. The number of homeless families in shelter in Westchester County, New York declined by 57 percent over a four year period.