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What is the fastest growing population of homeless?

Homelessness continues to be a major issue in the United States, with an estimated 580,000 people experiencing homelessness on any given night in 2020. While overall homelessness has declined slightly in recent years, some segments of the population have seen larger increases.

Families with Children

One of the fastest growing segments of the homeless population are families with children. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, family homelessness increased by 4% between 2019 and 2020. As of January 2020, there were around 91,000 homeless households with children in the U.S.

Some key facts about homeless families:

  • Single mothers head 83% of homeless families.
  • The average family size is 3 people.
  • An estimated 35% of the total homeless population are families with children.

There are many contributing factors that help explain the rise in family homelessness over the past decade:

  • Lack of affordable housing – Low income families are being priced out of rental markets in many urban areas. Nearly half (49%) of very low-income renter households spend over 50% of their income on rent.
  • Poverty – Women and children disproportionately experience poverty in America. In 2019, 34% of female-headed households with children under 18 were living in poverty.
  • Domestic violence – Domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness among women. Up to 50% of homeless women report experiencing domestic violence.
  • Evictions – Families often fall into homelessness after an eviction. Lack of access to legal counsel and housing assistance makes it challenging to avoid an eviction once proceedings have started.
  • Racial disparities – Homelessness impacts Black, Latino, Native American, and other minority groups at higher rates.

Trends Among Homeless Families

Some key trends observed among the growing homeless family population in recent years:

  • Increasing suburbanization – While homelessness has traditionally been concentrated in urban areas, recent studies show families experiencing rising rates of homelessness in suburban and rural communities as well.
  • Familial status – Families headed by a single mother under the age of 25 have much higher rates of shelter use compared to two parent households.
  • Minority groups rising – Black and Hispanic families have poverty rates 2-3 times higher than White families, leading to higher risk of homelessness.


The U.S. veteran population has also been significantly impacted by homelessness. On a single night in January 2020, roughly 37,252 veterans were experiencing homelessness. This represents about 9% of the total homeless adult population.

Key statistics on homeless veterans:

  • Most served after Vietnam or in Gulf War era conflicts.
  • 69% reside in urban areas.
  • Half live unsheltered on the streets or in abandoned buildings.
  • Over 9% are female veterans.

Why are veterans overrepresented in the homeless population? There are several factors at play:

  • Post-traumatic stress and trauma from combat exposure can create barriers to employment and relationships.
  • Lack of education and transferrable skills post-service leads to financial instability.
  • Shortage of housing assistance targeted to very low-income veterans.
  • Stigma around mental health issues prevents some veterans from seeking governmental support.

Rates of homelessness fell among veterans by 50% between 2009 and 2016 due to increased policy focus. But veterans still face higher risks than non-veteran populations.

Demographics of Homeless Veterans

Looking deeper at the demographics of homeless veterans:

  • Male veterans outnumber females by 9 to 1.
  • Post-9/11 veterans have high rates of homelessness compared to earlier service eras.
  • 20% of homeless veterans are Hispanic/Latino despite making up only 13% of all veterans.
  • 47% of homeless veterans are African American vs. 12% of general veteran population.

This data shows more targeted prevention and outreach is needed for vulnerable subgroups of veterans to reduce ongoing homelessness.

Youth and Young Adults

Homelessness among unaccompanied youth under the age of 25 has also seen an uptick in the last decade. An estimated 35,000 youth on average experience homelessness each night in America.

Key data points on homeless youth:

  • 55% of homeless youth identify as Black/African-American, Latino, Native American, or other minority race.
  • LGBTQ youth have a 120% higher risk of homelessness compared to straight/cisgender peers.
  • Over 25% of former foster care youth experience homelessness after exiting the system.
  • 43% of homeless youth report some form of mental health issue.

Why are so many young people experiencing homelessness?

  • Family conflict and abuse at home forces many teens and young adults into instability.
  • Aging out of foster care without adequate planning and resources leads to financial and housing insecurity.
  • Unemployment and poverty – young people have been especially hard-hit by pandemic-related job loss.
  • Lack of affordable housing options makes attaining permanent housing difficult for those without a living wage.

Characteristics of Homeless Youth

Looking closer at the makeup of homeless young people in America:

  • Over 60% identify as female.
  • Roughly 75% have completed high school or earned a GED.
  • High rates of substance abuse, mental illness, and suicidal tendencies.
  • Often victims of exploitation, trafficking, and sexual abuse while homeless.

Targeted services and outreach tailored to homeless youth are critical, given their distinct needs and backgrounds compared to older homeless adults.


In summary, while overall homelessness has decreased slightly in recent years, major segments of the population continue to experience rising rates of homelessness. Families with children, veterans, and unaccompanied youth are the fastest growing homeless populations based on recent data.

These subgroups often contend with complex barriers around mental health, trauma, discrimination, lack of affordable housing, and persistent poverty. Holistic and culturally competent interventions are needed to curb homelessness among families, veterans, youth, and young adults moving forward.