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States with the most homelessness

  • States with the most homelessness

    “Please stay home.” It’s the maxim of the coronavirus pandemic, repeated over and over by public officials, medical experts, celebrities, and our loved ones—and for good reason. Community isolation is one of the best ways to flatten the curve of coronavirus infections, helping to avoid overwhelming the health care system and ultimately saving lives. Staying home sounds easy enough for most of us. But what if you don't have anywhere to go?

    There are more than 562,000 homeless people in the U.S. For them, staying at home is not an option. They may be sleeping in overcrowded and unsanitary environments and in close contact with people who’ve been around hundreds of others. Many people experiencing homelessness also have preexisting conditions that, combined with the other factors, put them at ultra-high risk for COVID-19. At least 460 people in New York City—where more than 85% of the state’s homeless population live—tested positive for the coronavirus by mid-April, according to Meg Black of Global Citizen. And other states and cities across the country have also been dealing with outbreaks among their homeless populations. The situation is both an individual emergency for people at risk and a public health problem that we need to address as a country.

    Figuring out what to do about homelessness during the pandemic and after starts with looking at data on which areas of the country have the biggest needs. To determine which states have the largest homeless populations, Stacker used data from the 2019 Point-In-Time count conducted by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the most recent national data available for homeless populations. The data was collected in January 2019 and released in January 2020. States are ranked here according to the share of their populations that are homeless, using total population data from the 2018 American Community Survey. Stacker also looked at a range of news articles, government reports, and papers from nonprofit organizations to explore what homelessness is like in every state.

    Click through to learn more about homelessness in every state and the reasons why people end up on the streets.

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  • #51. Mississippi

    - State homeless population, 2019: 1,184 (0.04% of state population, -12.4% change from 2018)
    - Gender demographics: 63.5% men, 35.2% women
    - Race demographics: 47.4% White, 48.5% Black or African American, 0.5% Asian, 0.5% Native American or Alaska Native
    - Ethnicity demographics: 2.4% Hispanic/Latino, 97.6% Non-Hispanic/Latino
    - Urban area with the largest homeless population: Data not available

    Almost two-thirds of homeless people in Mississippi are veterans, according to Joshua Tom, a guest columnist at the Clarion Ledger and legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi. Many cities in the state have been cracking down on panhandling, which can put homeless people in legal trouble and leave them without the cash to meet daily needs.

  • #50. Louisiana

    - State homeless population, 2019: 2,941 (0.06% of state population, -3.9% change from 2018)
    - Gender demographics: 70.0% men, 29.5% women
    - Race demographics: 38.7% White, 58.0% Black or African American, 0.2% Asian, 1.2% Native American or Alaska Native
    - Ethnicity demographics: 2.8% Hispanic/Latino, 97.2% Non-Hispanic/Latino
    - Urban area with the largest homeless population: New Orleans/Jefferson Parish (1,179 people, 40.1% of state homeless population)

    While Louisiana still has a problem with homelessness, the situation has been improving in recent years. One reason it has gotten better is because organizations in the state began to provide housing first to people who were most vulnerable, rather than those who showed a high chance of success, according to Christa Pazzaglia of HOPE Connections homeless coalition.

  • #49. Alabama

    - State homeless population, 2019: 3,261 (0.07% of state population, -5.0% change from 2018)
    - Gender demographics: 57.4% men, 42.4% women
    - Race demographics: 42.3% White, 53.4% Black or African American, 0.2% Asian, 1.7% Native American or Alaska Native
    - Ethnicity demographics: 3.1% Hispanic/Latino, 96.9% Non-Hispanic/Latino
    - Urban area with the largest homeless population: Mobile City & County/Baldwin County (505 people, 15.5% of state homeless population)

    A report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition blames a shortage of homes for the rates of homelessness in Alabama. It found that many of the residences in the state were either out of budget for low-income people or not suited for families.

  • #48. Virginia

    - State homeless population, 2019: 5,783 (0.07% of state population, -3.2% change from 2018)
    - Gender demographics: 59.7% men, 40.1% women
    - Race demographics: 38.2% White, 53.6% Black or African American, 1.7% Asian, 0.7% Native American or Alaska Native
    - Ethnicity demographics: 8.1% Hispanic/Latino, 91.9% Non-Hispanic/Latino
    - Urban area with the largest homeless population: Newport News, Hampton/Virginia Peninsula (427 people, 7.4% of state homeless population)

    A rapid rehousing initiative has helped Virginia curb its homelessness rates by covering security deposits and rent for people in need, according to Ned Oliver of the Virginia Mercury. Richmond, Virginia, has experienced the biggest decrease in homelessness over the past decade or so.

    [Pictured: Richmond, Virginia skyline.]

  • #47. Iowa

    - State homeless population, 2019: 2,315 (0.07% of state population, -15.8% change from 2018)
    - Gender demographics: 60.3% men, 39.6% women
    - Race demographics: 66.1% White, 24.4% Black or African American, 0.9% Asian, 3.9% Native American or Alaska Native
    - Ethnicity demographics: 8.5% Hispanic/Latino, 91.5% Non-Hispanic/Latino
    - Urban area with the largest homeless population: Des Moines/Polk County (681 people, 29.4% of state homeless population)

    Homeless people in rural parts of Iowa lack access to resources and services that are available in more urban parts of the state, according to Ian Richardson of The Des Moines Register. It can also be difficult for them to be counted or offered services, as they often go unnoticed.

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  • #46. North Dakota

    - State homeless population, 2019: 557 (0.07% of state population, +2.8% change from 2018)
    - Gender demographics: 67.9% men, 32.0% women
    - Race demographics: 57.8% White, 16.2% Black or African American, 0.2% Asian, 18.1% Native American or Alaska Native
    - Ethnicity demographics: 14.7% Hispanic/Latino, 85.3% Non-Hispanic/Latino
    - Urban area with the largest homeless population: Data not available

    North Dakota has a housing affordability problem, according to Michelle Conlin of Reuters. It has caused homelessness rates to spike in the middle of the last decade, even among people who have jobs at high-profit oil and gas companies. Some cities also lacked homeless shelters.

    [Pictured: U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Eric Jungels, of the 132nd Quartermaster Company, in south Fargo, North Dakota, Dec. 18, 2015. Jungels slept 10 nights in the tent to bring awareness to the problem of homeless veterans in the United States.]

  • #45. West Virginia

    - State homeless population, 2019: 1,397 (0.08% of state population, +12.4% change from 2018)
    - Gender demographics: 62.1% men, 37.9% women
    - Race demographics: 83.1% White, 13.6% Black or African American, 0.6% Asian, 0.4% Native American or Alaska Native
    - Ethnicity demographics: 2.5% Hispanic/Latino, 97.5% Non-Hispanic/Latino
    - Urban area with the largest homeless population: Data not available

    The average length of time during that someone goes without a home in West Virginia is 58 days, according to 2016 data from the West Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness. Even after they're successfully housed, about a quarter of the homeless people within the state end up back out on the streets.

  • #44. Wisconsin

    - State homeless population, 2019: 4,538 (0.08% of state population, -7.5% change from 2018)
    - Gender demographics: 56.8% men, 42.9% women
    - Race demographics: 56.1% White, 30.7% Black or African American, 0.9% Asian, 5.2% Native American or Alaska Native
    - Ethnicity demographics: 9.1% Hispanic/Latino, 90.9% Non-Hispanic/Latino
    - Urban area with the largest homeless population: Milwaukee City & County (885 people, 19.5% of state homeless population)

    Wisconsin is among the states with the largest number of families facing homelessness in rural areas, according to Danielle Kaeding of Wisconsin Public Radio. Lawmakers have been at odds about ways to combat homelessness in the state.

  • #43. Illinois

    - State homeless population, 2019: 10,199 (0.08% of state population, -4.2% change from 2018)
    - Gender demographics: 58.0% men, 41.6% women
    - Race demographics: 35.1% White, 61.0% Black or African American, 0.9% Asian, 0.7% Native American or Alaska Native
    - Ethnicity demographics: 10.1% Hispanic/Latino, 89.9% Non-Hispanic/Latino
    - Urban area with the largest homeless population: Chicago (5,290 people, 51.9% of state homeless population)

    Poor renters who have unaffordable housing are among the populations facing a high risk of homelessness in Illinois, according to Housing Action Illinois. The group also found that there were more than 52,000 students in Illinois public schools who had unstable housing situations.

  • #42. Kansas

    - State homeless population, 2019: 2,381 (0.08% of state population, +7.4% change from 2018)
    - Gender demographics: 60.7% men, 39.1% women
    - Race demographics: 63.8% White, 22.1% Black or African American, 0.8% Asian, 4.9% Native American or Alaska Native
    - Ethnicity demographics: 10.3% Hispanic/Latino, 89.7% Non-Hispanic/Latino
    - Urban area with the largest homeless population: Wichita/Sedgwick County (593 people, 24.9% of state homeless population)

    Wichita, Kansas, has been working with the police in recent years to help reduce the number of arrests of homeless people as well as tickets given to them, according to The Chung Report. Instead of legal citations, which can perpetuate the cycle of homelessness, the police department’s Homeless Outreach Team refers homeless people to services that may be able to help them.

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