There are an estimated 553,742 people in the United States experiencing homelessness on a given night, according to the most recent national point in time estimate.

Approximately 17 people experience homelessness per every 10,000 people in the general population.

Approximately 17 people experience homelessness per every 10,000 people in the general population.

Homelessness is often assumed to be an urban phenomenon because homeless people are more numerous, more geographically concentrated, and more visible in urban areas. However, people experience the same difficulties associated with homelessness and housing distress in America’s small towns and rural areas as they do in urban areas.

In urban areas, estimates commonly rely on counts of persons using services. However, by this measure, homeless persons in rural areas are likely substantially under-counted due to the lack of rural service sites, the difficulty capturing persons who do not use homeless services, the limited number of researchers working in rural communities, and the minimal incentive for rural providers to collect data on their clients. Rural homelessness, like urban homelessness, is the result of poverty and a lack of affordable housing.


Homelessness and poverty are inextricably linked. Poor people are frequently unable to pay for housing, food, childcare, health care, and education. Difficult choices must be made when limited resources cover only some of these necessities. Often it is housing, which absorbs a high proportion of income that must be dropped. If you are poor, you are essentially an illness, an accident, or a paycheck away from living on the streets.

Here are some factors that account for continuing poverty:

Lack of Employment Opportunities

With unemployment rates remaining high, jobs are hard to find in the current economy. Even if people can find work, this does not automatically provide an escape from poverty.

Decline in Available
Public Assistance

The declining value and availability of public assistance leaves many families struggle to get medical care, food, and housing as a result of loss of benefits, low wages, and unstable employment.

Lack of Affordable Health Care

For families and individuals struggling to pay the rent, a serious illness or disability can start a downward spiral into homelessness, beginning with a lost job, depletion of savings to pay for care, and eventual eviction.

Domestic Violence

Battered women who live in poverty are often forced to choose between abusive relationships and homelessness. In addition, 50% of the cities surveyed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors identified domestic violence as a primary cause of homelessness.

Mental Illness

Approximately 16% of the single adult homeless population suffers from some form of severe and persistent mental illness (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2005).


The relationship between addiction and homelessness is complex and controversial. Many people who are addicted to alcohol and drugs never become homeless, but people who are poor and addicted are clearly at increased risk of homelessness.

Housing and Urban Development’s Point-in-Time Count, 2016:

  • HUD found 549,928 individuals to be homeless on a single night in January 2016. Most homeless persons (65%) are individuals while 35% of homeless persons are in family households.
  • The number of families experiencing homelessness has increased significantly from past years. For example, in 2013 only 15% of homeless persons were in family households.
  • 31% of all homeless people were youths under the age of 24.
SOURCES: National,
  • Close to 40,000 veterans were homeless on a single night in January 2016. 66% were residing in shelters or transitional housing programs, while 33% were without shelter.
  • The number of those in homeless shelters or transitional housing was split almost equally between people in families (47%) and individuals (53%).
  • Five states, California (22%), New York (16%), Florida (6%), Texas (4%), and Washington (4%), accounted for more than half of the homeless population in the United States in 2016.