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Minorities and Homelessness

Published by the National Coalition for the Homeless, July 2009.


Homelessness emerged as a national issue in the1870’s (Kusmer, 2002). At that time in American history, African-Americans made up less than 10% of the population and although there were no national figures documenting the demography of the homeless population, some sources suggest that African-Americans represented a very small segment of the homeless population. As a matter of fact, in the 1950s and 1960s, the typical person experiencing homelessness was white, male, and in his 50s (Kusmer, 2002).

Since that time, however, the scope and demographic makeup of the problem have changed dramatically. Not only do families with children now comprise 41% of the homeless population (National Alliance to End Homelessness, 2006), but 42% of the population is African American.  The composition of the average homeless family is a single parent household headed by an African-American female (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2004).


  • People of color – particularly African-Americans – are a minority that is particularly overrepresented. According the PBS Homeless Fact and Figures ’07, 41% are non-Hispanic whites (compared to 76% of the general population), 40% are African Americans (compared to 11% of the general population) 11% are Hispanic (compared to 9% of the general population) and 8% percent are Native American (compared to 1% of the general population).
  • Like the total U.S. population, though, the ethnic makeup of homeless populations varies according to geographic location. For example,people experiencing homelessness in rural areas are more likely to be white, female, married, currently working, homeless for the first time, and homeless for a shorter period of time (Fisher, 2005); homelessness among Native Americans and migrant workers is also largely a rural phenomenon.
  • Many other urban communities cite similar or higher numbers.  The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless reports that 77% of its total homeless population is African-American.
  • The disparities between ethnicities in the U.S. population and the homeless population are striking. In 2007, the homeless population was 47% African-American, though African-American people made up only 12% U.S. adult population. The homeless population was only 35% white, though white people made up about 76% of the U.S. population (U.S. Census Bureau, 2003; U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2007).
  • Veterans make up approximately one-third of the male homeless population. Among this population about 46% are white, 56% are African-American or Latino (Department of Veteran Affairs, 2005).
  • The sexual orientation of homeless persons is not often measured, but the National Network of Runaway and Youth Services estimates that about 6% of homeless adolescents are gay or lesbian. Studies assessing sexual orientations of homeless adolescents have revealed rates ranging from 11% to 35% (American Journal of Public Health, 2002).  These youths face considerable risk of violence and abuse while homeless.


To end homelessness and the overrepresentation of people of color experiencing homelessness, please support the Bringing America Home Campaign. This national, broad-based initiative is dedicated to the goal of ending homelessness in America. It is founded on the principles that people need affordable housing, livable incomes, health care, education, and protection of their civil rights and is composed of a variety of efforts that address these causes of homelessness.

The Bringing America Home Campaign is founded on the principles and action of public education, grassroots organizing and support for progressive policies and legislation. The success of the campaign depends upon the final and most important part of the solution, grassroots organizing. From slavery to the civil rights movement, grassroots organizing was the key element leading to success, and must be applied to ending homelessness in America.


  • Bringing America Home Campaign, http://www.bringingamericahome.org.
  • Bryan N. Cochran, Angela J. Stewart, Joshua A. Ginzler, and Ana Mari Cauce.  “Challenges Faced by Homeless Sexual Minorities: Comparison of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Homeless Adolescents with Their Heterosexual Counterparts.”  American Journal of Public Health. 2002 May; 92(5): 773–777.
  • Department for Veterans Affairs. Homelessness among Veterans, 2005. Available at http://www1.va.gov
  • Fisher, Monica. Why Is U.S. Poverty Higher in Nonmetropolitan than Metropolitan Areas?, 2005. Rural Poverty Research Center. Available at www.rprconline.org.
  • Franklin, Donna L. “Feminization of Poverty and African American Families: Illusions and Realities.” School Social Service Administration University Chicago, Il., 1992.
  • Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Homelessness: Programs and the People They Serve. 1999.
  • Kusmer, Kenneth L. Down And Out, On the Road: The Homeless in American History. Oxford University Press. New York, NY. 2002.
  • National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. Background and Statistics, 2005. Available at http://www.nchv.org
  • U.S. Census Bureau. American Community Survey, 2003 Data Profile. Available at www.census.gov.
  • U.S. Conference of Mayors. A Status Report on Hunger and Homelessness in America's Cities: 1998. Available for $15.00 from the U.S. Conference of Mayors, 1620 Eye St., NW, 4th Floor, Washington, DC, 20006-4005, 202/293-7330.
  • U.S. Conference of Mayors. A Status Report on Hunger and Homelessness in America's Cities: 2004. Available at www.usmayors.org.
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Rural Economic and Community Development. Rural Homelessness: Focusing on the Needs of the Rural Homeless, 1996. Available, free, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Rural Housing Service, Rural Economic and Community Development, 14th St. and Independence Ave., SW, Washington, DC 20250-1533; 202/690-1533.
  • Homeless Facts and Figures. Now. PBS. February 2, 2007. http://www.pbs.org/now/shows/305/homeless-facts.html

National Coalition for the Homeless
2201 P Street NW
Washington, DC 20037-1033

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