- More than 10 US states have seen their homeless populations rise in the last decade.
- We’ve rounded up the states with the largest share of homeless residents.
- Washington, DC ranks highest, followed by New York and Hawaii.
- Visit Businessinsider.com for more stories.
Talk of homelessness in the US tends to center on the most visible crises in a few major cities: open-air drug markets in San Francisco, crowded encampments in Los Angeles, and tent cities in Seattle.
But nationwide, more than 10 states have seen their homeless populations increase since 2008. A few states with a relatively small number of homeless residents, like Idaho and Vermont, have seen an increase of more than 35%. South Dakota, meanwhile, has seen a 23% rise in the last year.
One way to evaluate the extent of homelessness in America and pinpoint the nation’s worst crises is to look at the share of homeless residents relative to a state’s population size. This controls for the fact that states with more residents tend to have higher total homeless populations.
We crunched that data across all 50 states using numbers from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development for 2018. Here’s what homelessness looks like in the nine states with the worst crises, which also have some of the highest housing costs in the US.
Washington, DC ranks highest, according to our analysis, even though its homeless population declined between 2017 and 2018.
- Win McNamee/Getty Images
When it comes to the overall proportion of homeless residents, no state compares to Washington, DC. Of the district’s 702,000 residents, around 6,900 are homeless – nearly 1%. That’s about three times the share in California overall.
However, it’s actually a slight improvement from last year. From 2017 to 2018, DC’s homeless population fell by nearly 8%.
An analysis from a local homeless services organization, Thrive DC, found that three-quarters of their clients in DC had been homeless for more than a year. Though many of the people the group serves are victims of domestic violence or sexual assault, the organization points to a lack of affordable housing and rising rent costs as the two biggest obstacles to ending homelessness in the district.
New York rose in the state ranking after the city saw a surge in homelessness in 2018.
- Spencer Platt/Getty Images
With nearly 92,000 homeless residents, New York’s overall share is the second highest in the country.
The majority of the state’s homeless people – nearly 80,000 residents – are in New York City, where a lack of affordable housing is a well known problem. The city saw a 3% rise in homelessness from 2017 to 2018, and a 50% increase in the last decade.
But not all of New York City’s homeless residents live on the streets or in makeshift dwellings like cars and tents. HUD found that only 3,700 homeless residents in the city sleep without a roof over their heads. The rest are in shelters, which house more homeless residents than the shelters in California, Oregon, and Washington combined.
Hawaii’s homeless population, which once prompted a state of emergency, is now getting smaller.
- Kat Wade/Getty Images
In 2015, Hawaii’s homelessness crisis prompted Gov. David Ige to proclaim a state of emergency. Ige made it illegal to sit or lie down on sidewalks and commissioned social workers to move homeless residents off the streets and into shelters.
The policy hasn’t done much to mitigate homelessness in Hawaii; the state still has the third highest share of homeless residents relative to its population size. From 2007 to 2017, Hawaii saw a 19% increase in its number of homeless citizens – one of the biggest upticks in the country. But from 2017 to 2018, the state’s homeless population declined by nearly 10%.
Oregon’s homeless population rose by 4% from 2017 to 2018.
Oregon has seen a 30% decline in its homeless population in the last decade, but its share of homeless residents still ranks fourth in the US.
In early 2016, the Portland Police Association criticized Mayor Ted Wheeler for placing the responsibility to mitigate homelessness on the shoulders of police officers.
“Our city has become a cesspool,” the association wrote on Facebook. “The Portland Police Bureau has not been given nearly enough resources to fulfill its small piece in addressing the homelessness crisis.”
The city later estimated that it would need as much as $640 million to build 2,000 units of supportive housing in the next 10 years.
California still represents nearly a quarter of the US homeless population.
- Mario Tama/Getty Images
Less than 0.4% of California residents are homeless, but the state’s homeless residents make up nearly a quarter of the US’ total homeless population. That’s because California is home to four of the 10 cities with the largest homeless populations in the country: Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, and San Jose.
The homelessness crisis in San Francisco is by far the most acute; Leilani Farha, a United Nations special rapporteur, has called it a “human rights violation.” From 2017 to 2019, the city saw its homeless population rise by 30%.
Washington state has around 22,000 homeless residents.
- Shannon Stapleton/Reuters
Washington has about as many homeless residents as Oregon and DC combined, but its share of homeless residents is smaller relative to its total population.
Much of the state’s homeless population is concentrated in Seattle, where homelessness has risen by 9% each year since 2014. King County, in which Seattle is located, created a 10-year plan to combat homelessness; but the deadline has come and gone, and the crisis shows no sign of slowing.
In recent years, tent cities have grown in Seattle. The large homeless encampments are sanctioned by the government.
Massachusetts saw a dramatic uptick in homelessness from 2017 to 2018.
The state’s homeless population rose by 14% within a year – one of the sharpest increases of any US state.
Kelly Turley, associate director of the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, told Boston.com that rising housing costs were largely responsible for the uptick.
Massachusetts now has more than 20,000 homeless residents, around 6,000 of whom are in Boston. The majority of the state’s homeless population – around 13,200 people – are families with children. Only 1,400 individuals in Massachusetts are chronically homeless, meaning they’ve been homeless for at least one year or four times in the last three years.
Alaska’s homeless population is rising, too.
Alaska has a relatively small homeless population compared to the other states on this list, with a little more than 2,000 homeless residents. But that number has risen by more than 22% in the last decade. Much of this growth took place from 2017 to 2018, when the state’s homeless population increased by 9%.
Around half of the state’s homeless population is located in the city of Anchorage.
Homelessness is particularly dangerous in Alaska, since temperatures there can fall below freezing from October to April.
The vast majority of Nevada’s 7,500 homeless residents hail from Las Vegas.
- Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Homelessness in Vegas appears to be on the rise, despite a 13% statewide decline in Nevada over the last decade.
The issue may stem from the city’s rental crisis, which has caused 86% of extremely low-income households to become cost-burdened. The city of Las Vegas has opted to buy up some of this land and build legal courtyards and facilities for the homeless.