America may be the land of 2,600-square-foot starter homes with massive walk-in closets, but many people living in the United States will go to sleep tonight without a roof over their heads. Although the total homeless population has fallen almost 14% since 2010, there are still close to 550,000 people in the U.S. who don’t have a fixed abode, according to estimates from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Unsurprisingly, larger metros, such as New York and Los Angeles, had bigger populations of homeless people than smaller cities, but homelessness is a problem in towns of all sizes. In Honolulu, with a population of less than 400,000, there were nearly 5,000 homeless. Orange County, California; Nassau and Suffolk Counties on New York’s Long Island; and Monterey, California, all had homeless populations above 3,000. In Wyoming, the state with the smallest population, there are 857 homeless men and women.
Counting the homeless
Those figures are alarming enough, but the number of people who are actually homeless might be even higher. HUD’s estimates of the homeless population come from annual point-in-time counts conducted in cities nationwide in January. During those counts, volunteers survey the number of homeless people living in emergency shelter or transitional housing (the sheltered homeless), as well as on the street, under bridges, in their cars, or in other places not typically used as residences (the unsheltered homeless). People who lack permanent housing of their own but are staying with friends and family aren’t counted, nor are people who are living in hotels or motels. Specifically, homeless women, children, and young people might be undercounted.
Nonetheless, HUD’s point-in-time counts still provide the clearest overall snapshot of homelessness in the United States. And though those numbers indicate the homeless population has been on the decline for the past five years, thousands of people in cities across the U.S. — including about 120,000 children — still lack permanent, stable housing.
In 2016, these 10 U.S. cities had the largest homeless populations