Facts on Homelessness

  • Facts on Homelessness

How is homelessness defined?

The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defines a person who is homeless as:
Someone does not have a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence. This person may be sleeping on the streets, with friends or family, in cars or abandoned buildings, or in shelters. Approximately 10 percent of the homeless population lives on the street.

What are some causes of homelessness?

  • Poverty from a lack of jobs at competitive living wages
  • Lack of adequate public supports and/or earned benefits
  • Lack of affordable housing and inadequate housing assistance
  • Lack of affordable health care
  • Domestic violence
  • Inadequate support for mental health and substance use challenges

People who live on the street, in cars, abandoned buildings, train/bus stations, abandoned buildings, and other places not meant for human habitation are referred to as "unsheltered," while those living in known shelters are "sheltered."

How many people are homeless in Philadelphia?

A study conducted in 2012 found that 12,053 individuals experienced homelessness in Philadelphia. A total of 5,570 unsheltered individuals were engaged by homeless outreach organizations. 

A May 2013 street census counted approximately 494 individuals living on the street in the areas counted. It is difficult to calculate the exact number of homeless people living on the street, considering the number of individuals that live in obscure park areas, vehicles, or abandoned houses. The number of homeless people living on the street fluctuates seasonally and tends to rise in the summer months. 

Date of CountNumber
January 2013388
May 2013494
August 2013860
November 2013521

Who experiences homelessness in Philadelphia?

Anybody can experience homelessness - old and young, racially diverse, single individuals and families. (Includes emergency shelters and transitional housing only.)

Racial Distribution 
Hispanic1.32 percent
Black51.55 percent
White6.64 percent
Several Races1.04 percent
Unknown38.9 percent
Behavioral Health 
Mental Health Issues12.1 percent
Substance Abuse Challenges12 percent
Dual Diagnosis70 percent
No Behavioral Health Issue5.9 percent

Distribution by Age, Gender, and Family Situation

Children in families constitute a significant portion of the shelter population on any given night. In 2013 the number of children sheltered in emergency shelters and transitional housing totaled 1,631. 

Gender by Percentage of Total Homeless Population (includes emergency shelters and transitional housing)

Female (Adult)Male (Adult)
31.31 percent38.92 percent
Female (Child)Male (Child)
15.01 percent14.5 percent

Single versus Family (includes emergency shelters and transitional housing)

Single53.60 percent
Family46.40 percent

Data Source.

How does Philadelphia compare to other cities?

CityUnsheltered PopulationTotal PopulationRatio of Homelessness
Philadelphia5001,547,6071 in 3,095
Miami-Dade8682,591,0351 in 2,985
New York3,2628,336,6971 in 2,555
Chicago1,6342,714,8561 in 1,661
Seattle/King County2,5872,007,4401 in 775
Los Angeles26,2979,962,7891 in 378
San Francisco2,942825,8631 in 254

From 2011-12, Philadelphia saw one of the largest decreases in total homelessness in its continuum of care (CoC) when compared with other major US cities.

CoCNumberPercentageEstimated Number of People Experiencing Homelessness per 1,000 in 2013
New York+7388+13 percent7.68
Los Angeles+11,445+27 percent13.9
Chicago-434-6.5 percent2.31
Houston-828-11.5 percent4.11
Philadelphia-135-2.3 percent3.65
Phoenix-596-9.2 percent3.96

How do we end homelessness?

  • Develop effective solutions for those on the street, including targeted outreach and appropriate facilities and services, particularly for persons with substance-abuse and mental-health problems
  • Strengthen the system of shelter and services that enable persons who are  homeless to make the transition to stability and job readiness
  • Provide permanent solutions – jobs and housing – so that people can break the cycle of homelessness and become stable and productive citizens
  • Strengthen homelessness prevention programs so that no one ends up in shelters or on the streets; this includes reinvesting in economically vulnerable neighborhoods, improving the school system, making sure people have access to health care, and providing jobs at a living wage

Costs of Homelessness versus Housing

Saving Lives, Saving Money, a Project HOME study conducted in 2010, concluded that investing in long-term housing solutions for individuals who are chronically homeless leads to substantial savings in critical social services. Permanent supportive housing can yield a cost savings averaging more than $7,700 per person annually. Services consumed by people living on the street quickly outpace the cost of providing a person with permanent supportive housing.

Pennsylvania Out of Reach Report

In Philadelphia, Fair Market Rent (FMR) for a two-bedroom apartment is $1,119. A household must earn $44,760 to afford rent and utilities without paying more than 30 percent of income toward housing. Minimum wage in Pennsylvania is $7.25 per hour. In order for a household earning only minimum wage to afford FMR in Philadelphia, a household must have three individuals working full-time or one person working three full-time jobs. 

Hourly wage necessary to afford two-bedroom FMR$21.52
Two-bedroom FMR$1,119
Income Needed$44,760
Full-time minimum wage jobs required3.0
Annual Area Medium Income (AMI)$79,200
Affordable rent at AMI$594
Thirty percent of AMI$1,980
Affordable rent at 30 percent AMI$23,760
Estimated mean renter hourly wage (2013)$19.16
Affordable rent at mean wage$996
Full-time jobs at mean renter wage needed to afford two-bedroom FMR1.1

Click here for a summary of this information.


CoCFamily BedsBeds/Units for ChildrenSingle Adult BedsTotal Beds
Emergency Housing1,541321,8553,428
Safe Haven00115115
Transitional Housing1,94907212,670
Permanent Housing3,23702,1725,409

Data Source. (The chart only accounts for current and new beds, not housing under development.)


Posted on 3/26/14