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Around one in every 500 Americans was experiencing homelessness in January 2023. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) counted 653,104 homeless Americans in its annual point-in-time report, which measures homelessness across the US on a single night each winter. That’s a 12.1% increase from the same report in 2022.

Who is considered homeless?

The HUD’s definition of homelessness includes both sheltered and unsheltered people. Sheltered people are living in emergency shelters, transitional shelters, safe havens that serve homeless individuals with severe mental illness, or hotels/motels. Unsheltered people live outdoors, in cars, in abandoned buildings, or in other places unfit for human habitation.

People staying with friends are considered homeless if they cannot stay there longer than 14 days.

Who is homeless in America?

Nearly 250,000 homeless Americans — 37.3% of the entire homeless population — identified as Black, African American, or African in 2023. By comparison, this demographic made up 13.6% of the US population in 2022.

Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders had the highest rates of homelessness at 122 per 10,000 people in that racial category. These rates could be partially a result of the high cost of living in Hawaii — in 2022, it was among the states with the highest rates of owners and renters who were housing-burdened.

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Twenty-eight percent of all homeless people identified as Hispanic. In 2022, 19% of the national population was Hispanic.

Veterans also experienced homelessness at a slightly higher rate than the overall population. Twenty-two out of every 10,000 veterans were homeless.[1]

The homeless veteran population declined from 73,367 in 2009 (33.6 homeless veterans per 100,000 vets to 33,129 in 2022 (20.4 per 100,000). The following year, it ticked up 7.4% to 35,574 (Meanwhile, the overall homeless population rose 12.1%.)

The overall veteran population in the US has been declining for years, from 21.9 million in 2009 to 16.2 million in 2022.
Programs such as the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program help veterans find permanent housing and access healthcare.

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In 2023, 60.5% of homeless people were cisgender men, compared to 38.3% for cis women. Around 1.2% of homeless Americans were transgender, nonbinary, or questioning. According to 2023 Household Pulse Survey data, 49.9% of American adults identified as cisgender female, 47.7% identify as cisgender male, 1.0% identify as trans, and 1.4% otherwise identify outside of the gender binary.

How has the homeless population changed over time?

The total homeless population was largely declining from 2007 to 2022 before rising 12.1% in 2023. The US Interagency Council on Homelessness attributes the current rise to inadequate systems around affordable housing, wages, and equitable access to physical and mental health care and economic opportunity. According to the council, people who experience homelessness have a life expectancy of 50, compared to 77 for the average American.

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Homelessness looks very different across states and localities, and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that rising rent and job losses contribute to homelessness. Policies regarding encampment and shelter restrictions, as well as situations that change from person to person (such as poverty and experiencing domestic violence) also affect homelessness rates.

How is this data collected, and who does it miss?

HUD has separate homelessness counts for sheltered and unsheltered people.

Unsheltered people

An annual point-of-time count of unsheltered people (an unduplicated count on a single night of the homeless people in a locality) happens in the last week of January. HUD chose January because shelter use is highest in this month, so it expects a more accurate count of people who are truly unsheltered rather than including those who intermittently go in and out of a shelter.

Localities approach point-in-time counts differently. Many use a public places count, where volunteers and workers visit locations where homeless people are believed to congregate. Police officers are sometimes used to help identify survey locations or access potentially dangerous areas, such as abandoned buildings. However, police presence can also cause homeless individuals to be less forthcoming with information.

There are several drawbacks of counts in public places. First, they rely on a known list of places where homeless people may gather, which could lead to an undercount. People living in cars or checking in and out of motels may be missed. People may also deliberately hide to avoid the count.

Some localities take a service-based approach, counting use of food pantries, soup kitchens, social service agencies, and other non-shelter services. However, this requires significant screening to make sure only homeless individuals are counted. It also misses people who never use these services.

Sheltered people

Sheltered homeless individuals are easier to track because they more consistently interact with government resources. The Homeless Management Information Systems track characteristics of people using homeless services such as emergency shelters and transitional housing. Some localities also supplement this data with surveys.

While more consistent than unsheltered counts, sheltered counts also face challenges. Rural homeless services providers struggle with understaffing and lack of technology infrastructure, communication, and transportation over large geographical areas. This also excludes people staying with family members or friends due to lack of other options, children living in emergency foster care or detention facilities, or adults in criminal justice facilities.

Counting homeless individuals is difficult, but a 2020 report from the GAO recommended more regular quality checks of data collection methods as a way to improve accuracy. It also found that both sheltered and unsheltered counts are likely an underestimate.

Read more about the states the cities with the highest rates of homelessness, and get the facts every week by signing up for our newsletter.

2023 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress
Last updated
December 2023
Point-In-Time Methodology Guide
Last updated

HUD calculated the 2023 veteran homelessness rate using the 2022 veteran population.