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SOH 2012: Chapter Three - The Demographics of Homelessness
Report | January 17, 2012
Over the course of a year, the estimated odds of experiencing homelessness are approximately 1 in 194 for the general population, though the odds vary by circumstance. The odds for people with incomes at or below the federal poverty line increase to an estimated 1 in 29. According to The 2009 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress (2009 AHAR), the group at greatest risk is poor veterans, who have 1 in 10 risk of experiencing homelessness over the course of a year. This chapter focuses on additional demographic groups that have elevated risk of experiencing homelessness.
People who live with friends or family due to economic need are considered “doubled-up.” Doubled-up people have an elevated risk of experiencing homelessness. In fact, prior to their entrance into the homeless shelter system, the most common living situation for adults in families is living with friends or family. As reported in The 2010 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress (2010 AHAR), 30 percent of all homeless shelter users and 44 percent of adults in families who use homeless shelters were doubled up prior to entering the shelter system. Using that data and census reports on living situations, risk of homelessness was calculated for people living doubled up. Over the course of a year, the odds of experiencing homelessness for a person living doubled up are estimated to be 1 in 12.
People discharged from prisons or jails are another group with an elevated risk of homelessness. Over 5 percent of the individuals who use the homeless shelter system identified prison, jail, or juvenile detention as their living situation prior to entering the shelter system. Combining data on previous living situations with annual data on release from prison and jail from the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), risk of homelessness was calculated for people discharged from prison or jail. Over the course of a year, the odds of experiencing homelessness for a person discharged from prison or jail are estimated to be 1 in 13.
A third group at elevated risk is youth who age out of foster care. Combining data on previous living situations with emancipations from foster care data from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), risk of homelessness was calculated for youth who age out of foster care. Over the course of a year, the odds of experiencing homelessness for a youth emancipated from foster care are estimated to be 1 in 11.
Based upon these risk factors, it follows that when the number of people in any of these demographic categories increases, there is a risk that homelessness will increase (all other things being equal).
Table 3.1 shows changes in each of the demographic categories. The largest demographic change described in this report is the increase in the number of people living doubled up, the most common previous living situation of people who entered the shelter system. The population of people living doubled up increased from 6 million in 2009 to 6.8 million in 2010, a 13 percent increase (see Figure 3.1 on the next page for a historical graph of changes in the doubled up population from 2005 to 2010). The other two groups mentioned above, however, both of which have smaller total populations, decreased from 2009 to 2010. The number of people discharged from prison or jail decreased from 727,467 in 2009 to 705,169 in 2010, a 3 percent decrease, and the number of youth aged out of foster care decreased from 30,458 in 2009 to 27,854 in 2010, a 9 percent decrease.
The final demographic factor described in this report is health insurance. Medical facilities (i.e. hospitals, psychiatric facilities, or substance abuse treatment centers) are the most common institutional living situation for people prior to their entrance into the homeless shelter system. This fact, paired with the fact that approximately 40 percent of adults in the homeless population are estimated to have a disability, relate to the importance of having health insurance to protect against increased risk of homelessness.3 The number of people who lack health insurance increased from approximately 47 million in 2009 to nearly 49 million people in 2010, a 4 percent increase. The 2010 data show the uninsured rate is 16 percent. In 2010, Congress passed the Affordable Care Act, a law that is expected to affect health insurance coverage for people across the country. A brief narrative on how this law will affect homelessness is on page 45, Box 3.1 The Affordable Care Act of 2010 and Homelessness.
This is an excerpt from the chapter. To read the entire chapter, please download the chapter using the link above.