Where Are the Largest Homeless Communities in the United States?

Over a half million people in the United States are homeless. 50 percent of the country’s homeless population is spread across five states:

  • California
  • New York
  • Florida
  • Texas
  • Washington

Two cities, Los Angeles and New York City, are home to the lion’s share of homeless individuals when considering the top 10 municipalities leading the homelessness tally. The top 10 ten cities with the largest homeless populations in the country (with an approximate number of homeless people) are:

  • New York City – 74,000
  • Los Angeles – 53,000
  • Seattle – 11,000
  • San Diego – 9,000
  • District of Columbia – 8,000
  • San Francisco – 7,000
  • San Jose – 6,000
  • Boston – 6,000
  • Las Vegas – 6,000
  • Philadelphia – 6,000

Overall Homeless Population Versus Number of Chronically Homeless

Although information about the total number homeless people in various U.S. cities is vital data, another key element is the number of chronically homeless people in a particular community. Chronic homelessness is defined as a situation in which a person has been homeless for over a year. In the alternative, chronic homelessness is also defined as a person who has had four individual episodes of homelessness during a three-year time period. 

Although New York City tops the list as the municipality with the most homeless people, Los Angeles is in the top position when it comes to the population of chronically homeless people. Los Angeles is home to approximately 15 percent of all chronically homeless people in the United States. Somewhere between 15 and 20 percent of the overall homeless population in Los Angeles fall into the chronically homeless category.

Campaign to End Chronic Homelessness

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development had establishing a laudable goal to notch down the total number of homeless people in the nation, with a particular focus on the cities with the largest population of people living on the street. Specifically, HUD established a goal to eliminate chronic homelessness in the country by the end of 2015. HUD, and other state and local agencies, were nowhere near meeting that objective at the end of 2015. Thus, HUD extended the deadline to 2017.

By the end of 2017, the number of chronic homeless people was growing, and not decreasing, in many communities, including most cities on the top 10 list. At this juncture, it’s become unclear what HUD is doing in regard to establishing a deadline and associated milestones to address chronic homelessness.

Mixed Bag on Homeless Population Census for 2018 in Top 10 Cities

When it comes to the count of homeless people in the top 10 cities in 2018, a majority of municipalities on the list continue to see an increase in homelessness. However, one major community saw a slight drop in its homeless population for the first time in a number of years. Los Angeles experienced a 3 percent drop in homelessness between 2017 and 2018.

Another development that is expected to have a meaningful impact on the homeless population in Los Angeles is found in a new sales tax that went into effect in the city and county in the spring of 2018. Each year for the next decade, more than $300 million is to be spent on addressing homelessness in the city and county of Los Angeles. The focus of this funding is on developing permanent housing solutions for homeless people in the greater Los Angeles area.  If this plan meets its projections, a decade from now Los Angeles would no longer be on the list of 10 ten cities with large homeless populations in the United States.

U.S. Homelessness Contrasted with Global Homelessness

There are over 100 million homeless people around the world, according to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. The U.N. reports that Manila, Philippines, has the largest homeless population in the world. Pinpointing a fairly exact number of homeless people in Manila is proving challenging.

The U.N. reports that there are at least 1.2 million homeless children across the Philippines at this juncture in time. There are an estimated 70,000 homeless children in Manila alone. The estimate of the adult homeless population is thought to be twice that number.

New York City is in second place when it comes to the largest homeless populations around the world. Los Angeles is in third place on the international list of the largest homeless populations.

The remaining cities on the top 10 list of the cities with the largest homeless populations internationally are:

  • Moscow, Russia
  • Mexico City, Mexico
  • Jakarta, Indonesia
  • Mumbai, India
  • Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • Budapest, Hungary
  • San Paulo, Brazil

Seven of the next 10 cities with the largest homeless populations in the world are municipalities in the United States.