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Frequently Asked Questions About Homelessness

How many homeless people live in Chicago?

An August 2014 analysis by CCH estimates that 138,575 Chicagoans were homeless in the course of the 2013-14 school year. This is 19.4% more than the 116,042 people who were homeless a year earlier. The total is based, in part, on the rising enrollment of homeless students in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) – 22,144 in FY14. Eighty-eight percent of homeless students lived doubled-up, usually in overcrowded conditions in the homes of others due to hardship, according to Policy Director Julie Dworkin.

CPS identified a record 22,144 homeless students in the 2013-14 school year, a year’s increase of 18.6%. Of this, 98.2% were children of color and 20% were diagnosed with disabilities or developmental delays. Homeless students included 2,647 unaccompanied youth, teens who were homeless and living without parent or guardian.

Where can I call for help for a homeless person or family in the city of Chicago?

Please phone Chicago City Services at “311”.

Callers will be transferred to a Homelessness Prevention Call Center. The center is housed and operated by Catholic Charities, with services available in multiple languages.

Where can I call for help for a homeless person in suburban Cook County?

Phone (877) 4-Cook-15 or (877) 426-6515.

Callers with hearing problems can access specialized TTY equipment at (312) 948-6817.

Where can I call for legal aid or advice for a homeless person or family living in Chicago or the suburbs?

Phone the CCH Law Project’s toll-free helpline, at (800) 940-1119. Referrals are available for people living outside the metropolitan area.

How many homeless people live in Illinois?

CCH cannot prepare a statewide estimate using the methodology that we use to prepare the Chicago estimate. An annual report by the Illinois Department of Human Services states that about 48,000 people are served in state-funded shelters each year.

Homeless school enrollment is a reliable barometer of family homelessness. The Illinois State Board of Education says public schools identified 59,112 homeless students in the 2013-14 school year, up 7.7% in a year. That is more than double (221%) what it was five years earlier, when 26,688 homeless students were counted in 2008-09. The 2008-09 school year is the only year that Illinois contributed state funds to the federal funds for homeless school programs; $3 million was allocated through state grants to 36 school districts statewide.

Outside of Chicago, school districts reporting the largest homeless enrollment in 2013-14 were Rockford SD 205, 2,277 (up 43% in a year);  Peoria SD 150, 859 (up 11%); Kane County SD U-46, 806 (up 16%); Harvey SD 152, 753 (up 8%); Springfield SD 186, 734 (up 9%); Granite City (Madison County) CUSD 9, 544 (down 1.5%); and Evanston CCSD 65, 481 (61%).

Outside of Chicago, the largest homeless enrollments were in Rockford SD 205, 1,589; Triad CUSD 2 (Madison County), 1,111; Peoria SD 150, 769; Harvey SD 152, 697; Kane County SD U-46, 694; Springfield SD 186, 674; and Granite City CUSD 9 (Madison County), 552. – See more at:
Outside of Chicago, the largest homeless enrollments were in Rockford SD 205, 1,589; Triad CUSD 2 (Madison County), 1,111; Peoria SD 150, 769; Harvey SD 152, 697; Kane County SD U-46, 694; Springfield SD 186, 674; and Granite City CUSD 9 (Madison County), 552. – See more at:

What are the age and family demographics of Chicagoans experiencing homelessness?

Per the August 2014 CCH analysis, people living in families totaled 70,028, or 50.5% of Chicago’s homeless population. There were 48,743 children (35% of the city’s total, estimated at 138,575) and 21,285 parents or grandparents (15%).

Unaccompanied youth (ages 14 through 17) is estimated at 4,500 (3%).

Single adults totaled 64,047 (46%). This adult total includes 7,686 unaccompanied youth who are ages 18 to 21.

How many unaccompanied youth lived in Chicago? 

Unaccompanied youth are teens who are homeless and living on their own, without the support of family or guardian.

CCH estimates that 12,186 youth (ages 14 to 21) made up 8.8% percent of Chicago’ s homeless population in the year that ended June 30, 2014. Of this, the Chicago school system counted 2,647 unaccompanied youth living on their own and attending its schools.

An estimated 25,000 unaccompanied youth live in Illinois, per a comprehensive 2005 state-run study on which CCH collaborated. There are not enough shelter beds for homeless youth.  Since mid-2013, there are about 580 youth shelter beds across Illinois – 374 youth beds in Chicago, about 115 in the suburbs, and about 90 beds downstate, per Chicago and state officials. CCH advocated for Chicago’s increased funding for overnight youth shelter beds, with 120 low-threshold (overnight) shelter beds added since 2011.

What are some demographics of homeless people being served by Chicago shelters and housing programs?

For the U.S. Conference of Mayors 2014 Survey on Hunger & Homelessness (December 2014), the city of Chicago reports that among homeless adults, 13% were employed but homeless, 9% were veterans (up from 6% in 2013), 4% were HIV positive, 18% physically disabled (down from 30% in 2013), and 33% severely mentally ill (up from 28% in 2013).

The city also claims that “the number of homeless families stayed about the same and the number of homeless individuals increased by 5%” in 2014.

Chicago also reports having 2,064 emergency shelter beds available, 196 (8%) fewer beds than in 2013. It also claims 3,903 transitional housing beds, 552 (15%) more than in 2013. Also, the city reports 8,460 beds in permanent supportive housing, 715 (9%) more beds than in 2013.

As it did for 2014, the city reports that it anticipates community need “to increase moderately” in 2015, but “resources to provide emergency shelter are expected to continue at about the same level.”

“To accommodate an increase in demand, shelters have had to increase the number of persons or families that can sleep in a single room; consistently have clients sleep on overflow cots, in chairs, in hallways, or other sub-par sleeping arrangement; and increase the number of beds in current facilities,” Chicago’s Department of Family and Support Services reported in the 2014 U.S. Mayors report.

How many homeless people are survivors of domestic violence?
The 2014 U.S. Conference of Mayors survey says Chicago reported that 23% of homeless residents were domestic violence victims. This compares to 20% in 2013 and 33% in 2012.

In a comprehensive 2004 study, 56% of women in Chicago shelters reported that they had experienced domestic violence, according to the Center for Impact Research. Also, 36% said they had experienced physical or sexual abuse in their homes as children, according to the report, Pathways To and From Homelessness: Women and Children in Chicago Shelters.

What is the racial breakdown of homeless people in Chicago?

According to a 2015 point-in-time count by the city of Chicago, the racial demographic of the homeless population living in city shelters was 76% African American, 11% white, 10% Latino, and 3% other ethnicities. Racial demographics are no longer included by cities in the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ survey. Chicago Public Schools reports that 98% of its homeless students are children of color.

What income is needed to pay for rental housing in Illinois?

According to the annual Out of Reach study (May 2015) by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the Illinois housing wage is $18.78 an hour, 17th highest among the states. This is based on Fair Market Rent (FMR) of $977 for a 2-bedroom apartment in Illinois, and assumes a 40-hour work week for 52 weeks a year. With the Illinois minimum wage at $8.25 an hour since July 2010, a household needs two minimum wage earners working a total of 91 hours a week to pay for a 2-bedroom’s FMR.

In Cook County, covering Chicago and 135 suburbs, the housing wage is $21.02 an hour for a 2-bedroom.