Children and Families

Updated December 2023.

Adults and children in families make up about 30 percent of the homeless population.

How Many Children and Families Experience Homelessness?

On a single night in January 2023:

  • An estimated 186,084 people in families — or 57,563 family households — were identified as homeless.
  • Approximately 17,385 people in families were living on the street, in a car, or in another place not meant for human habitation.

In 2021, an estimated 381,124 people in 119,070 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

VIDEO: Children have a unique perspective on the experience of homelessness. Listen them talk to their parents about how it has affected their lives.

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.