About Homelessness

A view of the back of person wearing a backpack and a hooded sweatshirt outside in a cold busy urban setting

What is homelessness?

Homelessness can be defined in several ways. Commonly, people are considered to be experiencing homelessness if they stay in a shelter, live in transitional housing, or sleep in a place not meant for human habitation, such as a car or outdoors. Sometimes people are considered to be experiencing homelessness if they are living in a motel or are doubled up with family or friends because they do not have anywhere else to stay. To learn more about homelessness, visit the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s website: FAQs: Homeless (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development)

Who experiences homelessness?

Each year, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) conducts a Point-in-Time Count (PIT) to estimate the number of people experiencing homelessness in the United States. View Point-in-Time Count and Housing Inventory Count (HUD Exchange) for more information about the PIT count and previous years’ data.

According to the data from these counts, most people experiencing homelessness stay in homeless shelters. Around 40% of people experiencing homelessness live in unsheltered locations (such as in a car or outside). Almost one third of people experience homelessness as a family. People who are Black or African American and those who are American Indian or Alaska Native have higher rates of homelessness.

About Homelessness & Health

People experiencing homelessness are at increased risk for infectious and non-infectious diseases. Homelessness is known to increase the risk for infectious diseases such as Viral Hepatitis (especially Hepatitis C), Tuberculosis (TB), Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), and Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). People experiencing homelessness also commonly face mental illness, alcohol and substance use disorder, diabetes, and heart and lung disease.

Risk Factors for People Experiencing Homelessness:

  • Congregate setting of homeless shelters increases risk for TB and COVID-19
  • People experiencing homelessness who use drugs are at an increased risk for Viral Hepatitis, HIV, and other bloodborne pathogens
  • People experiencing homelessness are at risk of developing mental illnesses, such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Delayed care seeking and lapses in care can lead to worse health outcomes, such as severe illness or death