The Basics of Homelessness

How Many People Experience Homelessness?

The 2018 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) documented on a single night*:
  • 553,000 Americans were homeless.
  • In 2018, more than 180,000 people in families with children were experiencing homelessness.
  • One-fifth of people experiencing homelessness on a single night in 2018 were children (20% or 111,592)
  • Six in 10 people experiencing homelessness (or 332,925 people) were men or boys, and 39 percent (216,211) were women or girls. Less than one percent were either transgender (2,521) or gender non-conforming (1,173).
  • Children under the age of 18 made up 60 percent of people experiencing homelessness in families.
  • 10 in every 10,000 individuals in NJ experienced homelessness in 2018.

Measured in point-in-time counts conducted by local continuums of care for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)

Who Are The Families that Become Homeless?

  • Homeless families are usually headed by a single woman who, on average, is in her late 20s with approximately two children, one or both under 6 years of age.*
  • Recent trends show that homeless families now often include male-headed families as well as two-parent families, a result of the faltering economy.
  • Among mothers with children experiencing homelessness, more than 80 percent previously experienced domestic violence.
  • At IHN of Essex County, 57 percent of the individuals we’ve served in the past three years were children

Why do Families Become Homeless?

Poverty and the lack of affordable housing are the primary causes of homelessness. Typically, a family becomes homeless as a result of an unforeseen financial crisis. Since they often have weaker social networks with few resources for sufficient help, a death, family illness, job loss, even a fire is sometimes all it takes. Without enough income to pay for their house, they end up losing it in order to feed and clothe their children.

In Essex County, the four factors are:

  1. Income is falling behind the cost of living
  2. Available jobs are low-paying
  3. Cost of housing is rising: The government defines “affordable housing” when a household pays no more than 30 percent of their annual income on housing costs.
  4. Many families have little or no savings to cover unforeseen expenditures

What a Family Needs to Live in Essex County

According to the United Way of North Essex, a family of four needs to earn $49,000 a year to afford the basics: housing, child care, food, transportation and health care. In Essex County, there are 10,549 households (18%) struggling, with 2,153 (4%) living below the U.S. poverty line and 8,396 (14%) falling into the ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) population.

Sample Monthly Household Survival Budget for Family of Four (2012):

“The Basics” 2 adults + 2 Pre-K Children
Housing $1,289
Child care 1,032
Food 592
Transportation 146
Health care 422
Miscellaneous 371
Taxes (net) 233
Total $4,087
Self-sufficiency Wage $11.79/hour/adult
$49,038 total/year

Note: No allowances are made for clothing, entertainment, or travel

Information from United Way

The Impact of Homelessness on Children

When a child experiences homelessness, the effects appear significant and long-lasting.

  • High rates of acute and chronic health problems
  • The majority have been exposed to violence
  • More likely to have emotional and behavioral problems
  • Decreased academic achievement

Homelessness Impacts All of Us

The cost of homelessness is high, especially when it affects families. Costs associated with supporting both parents and the children include the high cost of the homeless system itself: both emergency shelter and transitional housing. Other costs include the child welfare and healthcare systems, as well as transporting children to schools and other strains on the education system caused by high mobility.