Record Number of People Experiencing Homelessness Found in Last Year’s Point in Time Count

Earlier this month, the Department of Housing and Urban Development released the results of the 2023 Point in Time (PIT) count of people experiencing homelessness. Its findings were stark: 653,100 individuals spent the coldest night of the year in homeless shelters or places not meant for human habitation like entrances, parking garages, under bridges and viaducts, abandoned houses and buildings, and forest preserves. The PIT cannot account for people living in unstable arrangements with family members and friends, so the actual number is higher. But HUD’s number of people experiencing homelessness is already more than 40 times the size of La Grange.

This is the “the highest number...since reporting began in 2007.”

Looking closer reveals disturbing trends. Family homelessness grew 16 percent, and individual homelessness grew 11 percent. Black people continue to be disproportionately represented in the homeless population (37 percent of all people experiencing homelessness/241,647 individuals and 50 percent of families/93,050 family members). The percentages of Hispanic and Latina/o/x and Asian and Asian-Americans spiked (by 28 percent and 40 percent, respectively). People experiencing chronic homelessness[1] made up 31 percent of the overall homeless population (143,105 individuals), the highest number on record. More than 20 percent of people experiencing homelessness were 55 or older (98,000 individuals), and almost half of them (49000 individuals) were living outdoors.

The Corporation for Supportive Housing describes the increases as both a “national emergency” and “entirely predictable.” It is a:

direct consequence of widespread shortages in affordable housing, compounded by a fragmented and undercapitalized infrastructure for essential community support services and individual economic insecurity.

Put plainly, there aren’t enough affordable homes, living wage jobs, and investments in human service organizations like us and our partners. Some government assistance programs have also not kept pace.

Federal housing aid has reached a low at the worst possible time.

The New York Times recently reported that “housing assistance for the poorest tenants has fallen to the lowest level in nearly a quarter-century.” Households served by the program have decreased by 16,000 per year since 2004, while the number of eligible households has grown to 15 million. Currently, only 20 – 25% of eligible applicants will receive support. Unfortunately, housing assistance programs face significant obstacles to funding including classification as discretionary spending,[2] increasing expenses, a lack of corporate support, stigma as “public housing,” local community opposition, and implicit racial bias.

Despite the obstacles, we are helping more people in more ways.

Last year, we served 2494 people experiencing homelessness and imminent risk of homelessness, 11 percent more than in 2022. Nearly 90 percent of our clients left our programs for stable housing. We opened our Summit Service Center, which houses our Medical Respite program, a Daytime Support Center, and Emergency Service Connections; began a Triage Transitional Shelter for people experiencing homelessness, including newly arrived immigrants; and reopened a service office in the South Suburbs. CEO Tina Rounds describes how, “none of our work is possible without the support of our communities. They’ve helped our clients weather the pandemic, and now, they can help them through increasing need and funding shortages.” We expect higher needs over the next year and invite you to learn about ways you can support people experiencing homelessness and imminent risk of homelessness.

Your support is more important than ever.

We are looking for volunteers to join the 2024 Point in Time count, which will engage people living outside in our communities and develop an accurate picture of people experiencing homelessness in Suburban Cook County and throughout the country. We have a range of other ongoing volunteer opportunities here. And as always, you can make financial donations here and in-kind contributions here.

[1] Chronic homelessness is defined as an individual who has experienced homelessness for 12 consecutive months (or in at least four periods in the past three years that total 12 months) with a concurrent disability. They can be reluctant to seek help and are one of the most difficult homeless populations to serve.

[2] Entitlement programs like SNAP, Medicaid, and others’ budgets automatically increase based on need, but discretionary programs rely on Congressional approval, which is subject to changing political climates and priorities. In comparison to other discretionary priorities like infrastructure projects, housing aid is a sitting duck for opponents of “big government.”