SOH 2012: Chapter One - Homelessness Counts


Report | January 17, 2012

Files: STATE OF HOMELESSNESS 2012 - CHAPTER One: Homelessness Counts

Executive Summary
Chapter Two: The Economics of Homelessness
Chapter Three: The Demographics of Homelessness

Each January, communities across the country conduct a comprehensive census of their homeless populations. Known as the “point-in-time counts,” this process consists of a census of the mostly electronic administrative bed counts of people sleeping in emergency shelters and in transitional housing units on a given night. It also includes a street census, conducted by outreach workers and volunteers, of people sleeping on the streets, in cars, in abandoned properties, or in other places not meant for human habitation. This process results in the most comprehensive annual population estimate available of people experiencing homelessness in the United States.

The most recently available national data are from the January 2011 point-in-time count. The 2011 count data show that an estimated 636,017 people experienced homelessness in the United States on a given night. This translates to an incidence, or rate, of 21 homeless people per 10,000 people in the general population.

Analysis of the 2011 point-in-time count conducted for this report provides a more detailed portrait of the population of people who experience homelessness in the nation. Figure 1.1 shows a breakdown of the 2011 homeless populations included in this report. A majority of the homeless population is composed of individuals (63 percent or 399,836 people). The number of people in families with children makes up 37 percent of the overall population, a total of 236,181 people in 77,186 family households. Of the individuals, about one quarter of the population is chronically homeless (107,148 people). Figure 1.2 shows this population breakdown.


A majority of homeless people lives in shelters or transitional housing units (392,316 people), but 38 percent of the population lives on the streets or in other places not meant for human habitation. Veterans comprise 11 percent of the homeless population (67,495 people). Data on unaccompanied homeless youth are not included in the main text of this report, as a reliable national youth population count has not yet been completed. However, additional information on homeless youth as a group and a narrative on past and more recent attempts to estimate the population can be found in Box 1.1 Homeless Youth in America on page 13.

The State of Homelessness in America series and prior Alliance reports on the incidence of homelessness use community point-in-time counts as the measure of homelessness because they are the only source of data that capture both sheltered and unsheltered homelessness for every community and state in the nation.


The point-in-time counts data are not without limitations, as variations in methodologies across communities and within communities across years do exist. Still, the point-in-time counts are the most comprehensive data available on overall homelessness, as other sources either omit unsheltered populations or are not available across all communities.

This is an excerpt from the chapter. To read the entire chapter, please download the chapter using the link above.