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Basic Facts on Homelessness in Massachusetts and Across the Country

In Massachusetts:

  • The number of people experiencing homelessness and housing instability in Massachusetts remains very high.
  • According to numbers from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's 2017 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, there were 17,565 people in Massachusetts counted as experiencing homelessness during the January 2017 point-in-time count conducted by the HUD Continua of Care across the state. (Part 1 of the 2017 HUD AHAR was released in December 2017 and Part 2 was released in October 2018.) This included an estimated:
    • 11,298 people in families with children
    • 6,267 unaccompanied adults
    • 469 unaccompanied youth
    • 853 veterans
    • 1,238 individuals experiencing chronic homelessness
  • On August 31, 2018, there were 3,636 families with children and pregnant individuals in Massachusetts’ Emergency Assistance (EA) shelter program. 36 of these families with children were being sheltered in motels. (The number inched up to 37 families in motels as of November 2, 2018.) This number does not count those families who are doubled up, living in unsafe conditions, or sleeping in their cars. Click here for nightly data on the EA program from the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development, and here for the August 2018 monthly EA-related data, including on the reasons families needed to enter the shelter system. Quarterly data from DHCD, from FY'13 to the present, also is available through this link.
  • During state fiscal year 2018, 4,895 families were assisted with emergency shelter and/or HomeBASE diversion assistance, out of the 8,145 families who completed applications for assistance. 3,250 families were denied assistance (40% denial rate, as reported by DHCD). More data on the EA and HomeBASE programs can be found here, as well as in this February 2017 report from the Boston Foundation.
  • In the 2016-2017 academic year, public schools across Massachusetts were able to identify and serve 21,112 students who were experiencing homelessness. This is a slight decrease from the 2015-2016 academic year total of 21,226 students who were experiencing homelessness students who were experiencing homelessness. (Archives: Academic year data 2010-2015 from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, DESE.)
  • As of January 29, 2018, there were 2,298 students experiencing homelessness after fleeing Hurricane Maria who were enrolled in Massachusetts public schools. See school district-level data here.
  • 2013 data from DESE, released in August 2014, estimates that 9,493 high school-aged students in public schools are experiencing homelessness on any given day in Massachusetts. These figures are derived from the 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey responses. This number includes an estimated 4,085 unaccompanied high school students who are experiencing homelessness and not in the custody of their parent or legal guardian. Unfortunately, this question was not asked on the 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey. To see more data from ESE, click here.
  • The number of individuals experiencing homelessness has more than doubled since 1990.
  • On any given night in Massachusetts, the approximately 3,000 night shelter beds for individuals usually are full or beyond capacity (supplemented by cots and sleeping bags).
  • Sexual violence and homelessness often are interconnected. Click here for more information from our partners at the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center.

The presence or absence of affordable housing is a main driving force behind the rise in homelessness.

  • Citizens' Housing and Planning Association (CHAPA) estimates a shortage of 158,769 affordable rental homes for extremely low-income households in Massachusetts (November 2017).
  • The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities released a report in March 2014 looking at the impact of the federal Housing Choice Voucher Program (more commonly known as Section 8) on households participating in the program and the larger economy. Click here for the full report and for Massachusetts-specific data.

Poverty contributes heavily to homelessness.

  • According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 American Community Survey report (released in October 2016),  the overall poverty rate in Massachusetts was just under 11.5% in 2015.
  • This includes an estimated 752,071 people in Massachusetts living in households that fell below the poverty threshold. This estimate includes 202,513 children under the age of 18 and 92,468 elders age 65 and older. 355,730 people were living in households with incomes under 50% of the federal poverty guidelines.
  • In December 2016, the U.S. Census Bureau released the latest Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates -- single-year income and poverty statistics for all counties and school districts. Massachusetts data can be found here, with the layout and label information here.
  • To see data on the number of Massachusetts households receiving basic benefits through the Department of Transitional Assistance, click here. This report includes data on the following programs: Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC/"Welfare"), Emergency Aid to the Elderly, Disabled, and Children (EAEDC), State Supplemental Security Income (State SSI supplement), and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP/"Food Stamps"). 
  • To read more about the impact of housing instability on children, click here for an October 2012 policy brief by Children's HealthWatch, "Safe, Stable Homes Mean Healthier Children and Families for Massachusetts".
Across the United States:
  • The 2017 HUD Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress included a national point-in-time count of 553,742 people found to be experiencing homelessness on a single night that winter.
  • Not surprisingly, poverty has a direct correlation to a family or individual losing their housing. For 2015, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 43.1 million Americans – 13.5 percent of the population –were living below the poverty line. This was a decrease of 3.5 million people from the 2014 estimate. (These numbers were released in September 2016.)
  • According to the FY'16 figures from HUD, the average fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the Boston-Cambridge-Quincy metro area is $1,567/month. With numbers like this, it is not difficult to see why so many families and individuals are becoming homeless. See all of statewide FMR figures here.
  • Click here for the Out of Reach 2017 report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition on how low wages and high rents lock renters out in Massachusetts and all across the country. For 2017, the Massachusetts statewide housing wage is $27.39/hour, meaning that a worker would have to earn that amount per hour in order to afford the fair market rent for a 2-bedroom apartment ($1,424/month), without having to pay more than 30% of their income toward rent. The housing wage is based on a worker working 40 hours/week, 52 weeks/year. For 2016, it was $25.91 and for 2015, it was $24.64/hour. Massachusetts ranked as the 6th least affordable area state in country, when looking at the 50 states and Washington, D.C.
  • More details on the housing market and challenges for renters in Massachusetts and beyond can be found in the latest edition of The State of the Nation's Housing report from the Harvard University Joint Center on Housing Studies. Key facts from the report are here.
  • To see an estimate of what it takes to afford housing and other basic necessities in each zip code in the United States based on household size and composition, check out the 2015 Family Budget Calculator from the Economic Policy Institute. (See their methodology here.) For example, the calculator estimates that it would take an income of $73,670/year to support a family of two adults and two children in Springfield, and $85,793/year for that same family in Boston.