How Many Children and Families Experience Homelessness?
On a single night in January 2021:
- An estimated 161,070 people in families — or 51,000 family households — were identified as homeless.
- Approximately 17,337 people in families were living on the street, in a car, or in another place not meant for human habitation.
In 2020, an estimated 470,000 people in 132,000 family households used an emergency shelter or a transitional housing program.
Why Do Families Experience Homelessness?
Families experiencing homelessness are similar to other families that are also poor, but who have a home to live in. Both may struggle with incomes that are far less than they need to pay for housing. In fact, it is often some jolt to this precarious situation – a lost job or work hours, conflict with family members they are staying with, an unanticipated bill or violence within the home – that leads families to seek help from homeless service programs. Homeless families are usually headed by a single woman with limited education, are typically young, and have young children.
The Impact of Homelessness on Children
Homelessness can have a tremendous impact on children – their education, health, sense of safety, and overall development. Fortunately, researchers find that children are also highly resilient and differences between children who have experienced homelessness and low-income children who have not typically diminish in the years following a homeless episode.
When compared to low-income and homeless families, children experiencing homelessness have been shown to:
- Have higher levels of emotional and behavioral problems;
- Have increased risk of serious health problems;
- Are more likely to experience separations from their families; and
- Experience more school mobility, repeat a grade, be expelled or drop out of school, and have lower academic performance.
Ending Homelessness for Children and Families
Housing is the solution to homelessness for low-income families. Most families would benefit from assistance to help them rapidly reconnect to permanent housing. Rapid re-housing provides help with housing search, financial assistance, and case management services to help families quickly transition out of shelter and back into housing of their own. A small subset of families may require more intensive or long-term support, through the provision of transitional housing, permanent rental assistance, or permanent supportive housing to escape homelessness. Families can also benefit from connection to other supports designed to strengthen and improve their lives, such as child care, employment assistance, early childhood services, income support, or mental health counseling.
Updated April 2023.