Not too long ago, we ran an article looking at some shocking statistics around global poverty. One of the biggest shocks for many may have been the figures concerning poverty and income levels in the United States in particular. While the nation is the undisputed superpower of the world in terms of political influence and military prowess, huge income inequality means there are many in the US who are being left behind. The National Centre on Homelessness and Poverty estimated that 31 million people now live on the edge of – or in – hunger in the country. Even more disturbing, however, were the statistics concerning homelessness in the country which, despite many efforts, has increased in many states since the financial crisis of 2008. There are now an estimated 1.75 million people homeless in the USA – and in light of the recent Arctic weather many regions have experienced, that makes particularly grim reading.
Even grimmer however, is an analysis of those who make up this 1.75 million: the National Centre on Homelessness and Poverty estimated that half of all homeless people are African-American, and that 44% of all homeless are single men. Many of these men are also army veterans, with 13% of those who are homeless having served in the military, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. Mental illness is said to be a key factor in long-term homelessness in the country, along with contributing factors like domestic abuse and addiction. The figure of 1.75 million pertains only to those who are consistently homeless, not including those who endure fixed or sporadic periods without a home. On any given night in the United States, around 640,000 people are without shelter.
Every state has either a local or a charitable organisation doing their bit to help those who left out on the streets, but the long term solutions remain elusive. In 2006 The New Yorker magazine chronicled the life of a Reno-based homeless man named Murray. The article, written by Malcolm Gladwell, estimates that the cost of Murray’s care as a homeless alcoholic has run to $1 million in ten years. Had the money been used in a different way, this $1 million could have put a permanent roof over his head. Our top ten lists looks at the U.S. states with the highest rate of homelessness and examines how these recent figures compare to the same regions in 2008. As homelessness is generally tackled at a local rather than a state level, it’s difficult to get an entirely accurate analysis of the nation’s problem, but these figures do speak volumes about poverty and homelessness in America today. Nationally, it has been found that the rate of homelessness is decreasing but, as these statistics from a recent report from the U.S. department of Housing and Urban Development demonstrate, thousands are still missing out on the advancements.
10. South Dakota: 1,094 Homeless
South Dakota may be first on our list, but along with its northern counterpart it represents some of the darkest trends in homelessness today. In 2009, there were 731 people homeless in the state; meaning these latest figures demonstrate an increase of nearly a third in the number of homeless people in the region. Just under 33% of that number are families. As in many regions, many of these homeless people are capable of working and serving the community but with housing prices out of reach for many, makeshift accommodation or shelters are the only option.
9. Idaho: 1,781 Homeless
On any given night in 2013, the state of Idaho counts about 1780 people living without fixed homes. While many of those counted were housed in temporary accommodation or hostel facilities, this number represents the people who have no place to call their own. Idaho is the first of many states on our list that has seen a 20%-29% increase in the rate of homelessness since 2008. Research by the Idaho Finance and Housing Association has found that while the total number of homeless people in the state has dropped in recent years, the rate of chronic homelessness has risen to 29%; chronically homeless are those who are classed as long-term homeless and who having been living on the streets for a prolonged period of time.
8. Wyoming: 1,813 Homeless
Wyoming is another state that’s seen an increase in chronic homeless in recent years, but in many ways the state illustrates a counterintuitive fact about homelessness which holds true on a national level, too: Unemployment levels in the state are relatively low at just over 5%, and many are attracted to the region because of jobs available in the oil and gas industries and the high salaries on offer. However, securing accommodation for these individuals has been much harder; many who experience homelessness are still in employment. Indeed nationally in America, 44% of all homeless people have worked in the past month. Many of those who move to Wyoming are also attempting to escape the much worse economic conditions in states like Michigan and Wisconsin, and so they have little capital with which to establish a new life. With sub-zero temperatures a fact of life in this part of the country, those who can’t afford to sleep anywhere but their car or the streets are victims of harsh winters.
7. Montana: 1,878 Homeless
Montana, like Idaho and Wyoming, may have a comparatively small number of people classed as homeless when compared to the national figures, but a deeper look at these figures reveals a worrying trend: Since 2008, the numbers of those classed as chronically homeless have risen by over 30% and on top of this, 1 in 5 of those homeless people are veterans. The state also has a high proportion of unaccompanied minors making up their homeless figures, a cause for concern for the future of those young people in Montana and the broader North West region.
6. North Dakota: 2,069 Homeless
As with South Dakota, North Dakota may not have a particularly large amount of people classed as homeless in the state, but the changes to these figures in recent years are truly shocking: Since 2008, the incidences of homelessness in North Dakota have gone up by a shocking 236.4%. As recently as 2011 there were only 603 chronically homeless people in the state, but that number has skyrocketed. Why? Similarly to Wyoming, the oil boom is causing many who are out of pocket to pack up what they own and try their luck in North Dakota (the state has the fastest-growing economy in the country, according to CNN). A lack of housing to accommodate this surging population has seen rents in the state skyrocket, beyond the reach of many who are earning even a decent wage. Most disturbingly, a public school in Watford City recently reported that a quarter of the students enrolled in the school were classed as homeless, living in either sheltered accommodation or in cars, tents or bedsits.
5. Mississippi: 2,403 Homeless
Mississippi may not have the harsh winters of Montana or Wyoming, but homelessness is still a significant problem. Lack of affordable housing for low-income families has been cited as one of the main causes of homelessness in the state, but there are other demographics too. Like Montana, there’s a large proportion of army veterans among Mississippi’s homeless. In 2012 Mississippi Public Broadcasting reported on the “hundreds” of veterans who were living along the forests of the Gulf Coast having been unable to find employment outside of the army. The US Department of Veteran Affairs has vowed to end veteran homelessness by 2015, but in areas like this with such a high volume of homeless veterans this timeframe may well be a pipe dream. The housing problems in the state of Mississippi were, of course, aggravated by the effects of hurricane Katrina which was estimated to have damaged the homes of 30,000 families in the state. Almost all of these have been rehoused in some way since then, but for those on lower-incomes the financial effects are still being felt.
4. Massachusetts: 19,029 Homeless
Like Montana before it, Massachusetts has seen a dramatic increase in the number of long-term homeless people on its streets since 2008. There are now 31.2% more people chronically homeless than there were before the financial crisis. Massachusetts, New York, California, Texas and Florida together account for more than half the entire homeless population of the U.S., indicating the scale of the problem in these regions. While Florida and Texas have seen these numbers decline, Massachusetts’ figures are going in the other direction. To its credit, however, the state is doing a lot to tackle the problem, and the region has one of the lowest rates of unsheltered accommodation in the country.
3. Florida: 31,359 Homeless
Florida may have some of the highest rates of homelessness in the country, but there is good news for the state: efforts to combat chronic homelessness have proved effective with the numbers now consistently declining. Part of the reason for such a high level of homelessness in the region is the state’s temperate climate: many long-term homeless individuals migrate to the region in order to avoid the harsh, cold winters of some other American states. A damning statistic, though: More than 80% of those categorised as homeless in Florida also go unsheltered.
2. New York: 77,430 Homeless
With a figure as large as 77,430, New York state saw a larger increase in the number of homeless in the past year than any other American states. However, the increase in figures is only one way to look at these statistics: Since 2008, the number of chronically homeless people has in fact declined. It’s also worth considering the fact that New York is one of the biggest cities on the planet; so the context may mitigate the figures slightly. Having said that, with some of the highest real estate prices in the world as well as some of the highest salaries floating around Wall Street, the figure is strongly indicative of the inequalities that abound in the city and, indeed, throughout America. When we consider the freezing winters in the city, the lack of affordable housing and the fact that this figure does not count those who are temporarily homeless, we begin to get sense of the somewhat daunting size of the homelessness problem in New York.
1. California: 136,826
As with New York, California illustrates the hugely disparate levels of income in the United States. The state that’s home to the nation’s phenomenal movie industry, often framed as the land of opportunity where many go in the hopes of seeking their fame and fortune, is also the state with the largest-scale problem of homelessness in America. With a warm climate and plenty of rural landscapes, California also has the highest rate of homeless people living in unsheltered accommodation, at an alarming 86.6%. California is home to many of the wealthiest people and industries in America – and the world. There’s Hollywood, of course, but California is also the tech centre of the universe. San Francisco’s Silicon Valley houses everyone from Apple, Google and Yelp to almost every hot start-up. But real estate – even for those with the cash – is hard to come by. This means there’s an increasing number of workers at the lower end of the million dollar spectrum struggling to get on the property ladder. California continues to see its homeless figures rise, demonstrating that for every start up billionaire in Silicon Valley, there are many young hopefuls left out in the cold.