Geography of Homelessness

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National Alliance to End Homelessness

Report | May 6, 2010

Files: PDF | 694 KB | 25 pages

Figure 2: Geography of Homelessness pie chartIn 2007, there were 671,859 people experiencing homelessness on any given night. These people were counted in big cities and small towns across the country. Previously, little has been known (outside of anecdotal evidence) about how many people experience homelessness in urban, rural and suburban areas. For the first time, the Alliance examines the distribution of homelessness by geographic type in this report.

This report is a culmination of a multi-part series examining the geography of homelessness. This examines the following major topics: 

  • Defining the Spectrum of Homelessness
  • Homelessness by Geographic Category
  • Prevalence of Homelessness
  • Urban Homelessness
  • Homeless Assistance System - Bed Inventory
Geography of Homelessness distribution

Geography of homelessness beds

Each of these four parts is available on the website - and many of them include corresponding charts, maps, and interactive tools. Links to the four parts are available below.

This report includes the following findings:

  • Approximately 77 percent of the total homeless population in the U.S. was counted in areas considered completely urban; 4 percent was counted in areas considered completely rural.
  • Urban areas also have the highest rate of homelessness, with approximately 29 homeless people per 10,000. By contrast, rural areas have a rate of less than half that, with 14 people experiencing homelessness per 10,000.
  • In both rural and urban areas, a majority of people who are chronically homeless are unsheltered — living on the streets, in cars, abandoned buildings, and other places not meant for human habitation.
  • The percent of persons in families with children who are unsheltered is quite low in urban areas compared to the other geographies; rural areas have almost double the percent of unsheltered persons in families compared to urban areas.
  • Cities with populations of over 500,000 people (Major Cities) account for 51 percent of the homeless population counted in urban areas, but only account for 34 percent of total population in those areas.
  • Major Cities have rates of homelessness that exceed those of other urban areas and are three times higher than the rates of homelessness in rural areas.
  • Emergency shelter beds constitute a larger portion of the bed inventory in rural areas while permanent supportive housing and transitional housing make up a larger share of the inventory in urban areas.

Part One: Defining the Spectrum of Homelessness
Part Two: Homelessness by Geographic Category
Part Three: Prevalence of Homelessness
Part Four: Urban Homelessness