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10 Facts About Homelessness

Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to a “standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family.” That includes food, clothing, and housing. Sadly, there are millions of people around the world living on the street and many more who lack adequate housing. Why? Here are ten facts about homelessness:

#1. No less than 150 million people are homeless.

Based on a global survey from the United Nations in 2005, no less than 150 million people around the world are homeless. Around 1.6 billion may not have adequate housing. It’s very tricky to track accurate numbers on global homelessness. This is because countries define the types of homelessness in different ways. Tracking homelessness is also expensive, so many areas might not conduct thorough studies. Homeless individuals may also not be willing to admit they’re homeless because of the stigma. Global surveys are not attempted often.

#2. In 2018, 19 states reported increases in homelessness in the US

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, homelessness rates in the United States have trended downward for the past decade. However, in 2018, 19 states reported increases. Increases and decreases depend on the area and year. Between 2017-2018, the number of unsheltered individuals increased, which caused the national increase of homelessness to go up. Between 2010-2018, the number of homeless veterans went down by nearly half.

#3. Primary drivers of homelessness vary depending on the country.

Causes include a lack of affordable housing, poverty, unemployment, a lack of mental health services, government housing policies, and displacements due to conflict. Weather events can also make homelessness worse. As an example, heavy rains and floods in 2007 displaced 40,000 people in Burkina Faso.

#4. Poor mental health, alcoholism, and substance abuse are risk factors for homelessness.

Those struggling with these issues are more likely to lose a reliable source of income and social support. These losses increase the risk of homelessness. People who become homeless are also at a higher risk for mental illness, alcoholism, and substance abuse due to stress. There’s a common belief that all homeless people are addicts, but it’s just one possible cause and one possible effect.

#5. Cities take many measures to deal with homeless people.

Banning loitering, panhandling, camping, sleeping in cars, and so on are attempts to discourage the presence of homeless people. More extreme measures include putting spikes under bridges and arms in the middle of benches, so people can’t lie down. Overall, law enforcement and security personnel don’t receive specialized training in dealing with homelessness and measures are often to ban homelessness from the public eye rather than tackling the root causes.

#6. Of the homeless youth population in the United States, 20-40% are part of the LGBTQ community.

When considering the percentage of LGBTQ youth in the general population, this percentage is very high. They can lose housing because of family rejection, discrimination from landlords, and evictions from public housing. Evidence also suggests that LGBTQ youth are more vulnerable to mental health issues and substance use than their straight peers, which impacts their risk for homelessness. In 2015, the United Nations Human Rights Council learned that the risk of homelessness is high for LGBTQ people across the world.

#7. In 2019, the McKinsey Global Institute reported that 330 million urban households are living in “substandard” housing or spend more than 30% of their income on housing.

By 2025, the number of households could rise to 440 million if trends continue. In Hong Kong, a lack of affordable housing is the main reason behind homelessness. In 2014, around 1,400 people were homeless, while about 100,000 lived in what is called “a coffin home.” These can be as small as 15-square feet.

#8. Homelessness is a gendered issue.

In the United States, 70% of homeless people are men. In a 2018 report from HUD, 38% of unaccompanied youth (people under 25 years old who aren’t part of a family) experiencing homelessness were female. Hawaii has the highest percentage of women experiencing “unsheltered homelessness,” which is defined as staying in a place like a car, park, sidewalk, or abandoned building.

#9. Homelessness significantly impacts a person’s health.

Being unhoused makes it much more challenging to access healthcare and healthy meals. The exposure to the elements and risk of violence also makes life on the street dangerous. Serious health problems among the homeless population are widely-reported. One study showed that young women on the street have a 5-30 times higher chance of dying than someone their same age who is housed.

#10. In February of 2020, the UN Commission for Social Development agreed on the first UN resolution on homelessness.

The resolution acknowledges that a variety of social and economic factors lead to homelessness. It also calls on a response from all government sectors and societies. The Commission recommended that the UN Economic and Social Council adopt the resolution soon.

About the author

Emmaline Soken-Huberty

Emmaline Soken-Huberty is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. She started to become interested in human rights while attending college, eventually getting a concentration in human rights and humanitarianism. LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, and climate change are of special concern to her. In her spare time, she can be found reading or enjoying Oregon’s natural beauty with her husband and dog.