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Frequently Asked Questions About Homelessness

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

Please phone Chicago City Services at “311” or (312) 744-5000.

If you are homeless and need shelter, tell the operator that you are homeless and in need of shelter.

If you are housed but concerned that you may lose your housing, tell the operator you need “short term help.” 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.

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

Where can I call for help in suburban Cook County?

Phone (877) 426-6515. Cook County’s Foreclosure Prevention Helpline is staffed Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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

Phone our Law Project toll-free helpline, (800) 940-1119.

Referrals will be made available for people living outside the metropolitan area.

How many homeless people live in Chicago? 

An analysis by CCH estimates that 125,848 Chicagoans were homeless during the 2014-15 school year. This includes people who live doubled-up in the homes of others due to hardship, usually in overcrowded conditions. A new analysis by the CCH policy staff will be released in later 2016.

How many homeless students are in Chicago?

Chicago Public Schools identified 18,831 homeless students during the 2015-16 school year.

This is 6.8% (1,374 students) less than the prior year, but total CPS enrollment also dropped. The share of homeless students in CPS remained about the same, at 4.8% of total enrollment.

Almost 87% (16,334) of these homeless students lived doubled-up in the homes of others due to hardship, usually in overcrowded conditions.

Another 11.6% of students (2,180) lived in shelters. Less than 1% lived in motels (127), in a park or other public place (64), or in a temporary foster care placement (126).

Also, 12.7% (2,396) were unaccompanied youths, defined as teens who are homeless and living on their own, without a parent or guardian.

Homeless students identified by CPS were 98.2% children of color. They were 83.7% (15,759) African American, 12.9% (2,423) Latino, 1.6% (306) other ethnicities, and 1.7% (317) white, with 14 whose ethnicity was not identified. Another 22.4% (4,228) of students were diagnosed with disabilities or developmental delays.

How many homeless people, including students, live in Illinois?

A report by the Illinois Department of Human Services states that 38,036 Illinois residents were served in state-funded shelters in FY 2014. Of this, 10,673 were children under age 18 and 27,363 were adults, living in 26,387 households. IDHS reports that this included 19% who lived in emergency shelters, 13.5% lived on the street or in cars and other non-housing; 37% lived doubled-up in the homes of others.

Homeless school enrollment is a reliable barometer of family homelessness. In August 2016, the Illinois State Board of Education reported that public schools identified 53,733 homeless students during the 2015-16 school year.

The prior year, 2014-15, ISBE reported that public schools identified 54,528 homeless students. That was double what it was six years earlier, when 26,688 homeless students were counted. That 2008-09 school year was the only year in which the state of Illinois contributed in addition to federal funds for homeless school programs: $3 million in state grants were awarded to 36 school districts statewide. CCH campaigned to create that funding.

Outside of Chicago, the 15 school districts reporting the largest homeless enrollment in 2014-15 were Rockford SD 205, 2,401 students (up 5%); Kane County/Elgin SD U-46, 897 (up 11%); Harvey SD 152, 784 (up 4%); Granite City (Madison County) CUSD 9, 608 (up 12%); Springfield District 186, 614 (down 16%); Peoria SD 150, 578 (down 33%); East St. Louis District 189, 460; Waukegan District 60, 362; Valley View District 365U, 349; Algonquin District 300, 337; Evanston District 65, 333 (down 31%); Joliet District 86, 324; Wheeling District 21, 303; South Holland District 150, 297; and Plainfield District 202, 274.

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 2015 CCH analysis, people living within families totaled half (50.2%, 63,153 people) of Chicago’s homeless population. Children and teens comprised 35% (43,958) and parents or grandparents were 15.2%, (19,195).

Unaccompanied youth who were minors, ages 14 through 17, totaled 3.5% (4,457).

Single adults totaled 46.3% (58,238). This total includes 6,990 unaccompanied youths who were ages 18 to 21.

How many unaccompanied youth lived in Chicago? 

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

CCH estimates that 11,447 unaccompanied youths, ages 14 to 21, comprised 9.1% of Chicago’s homeless population in the year that ended June 2015. At that time, the Chicago school system counted 2,622 unaccompanied youths 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 2015 Hunger and Homelessness Survey (December 22, 2015), the city of Chicago reports that among homeless adults, 14% were employed but homeless. Another 7% were veterans (down from 9% in 2014), 4% were HIV positive, 19% physically disabled, and 33% severely mentally ill (same as in 2014).

The city of Chicago claims that “the number of homeless families decreased by 4.4 percent” in 2015. A year earlier, the city claimed that “the number of homeless families stayed about the same and the number of homeless individuals increased by 5%” in 2014.

For 2015, Chicago reports, “To accommodate an increase in demand, shelters have had to increase the number of persons or families that can sleep in a single room and increase the number of beds in current facilities. Shelters did not have to turn away either homeless individuals or homeless families.

“For the next year (2016), city officials expect the number of homeless families to continue at about the same level, the number of homeless individuals to decrease moderately, and resources to provide emergency shelter are expected to continue at about the same level.”

Homeless people who entered permanent supportive housing in 2015 totaled 752 individuals and 105 families, the city reports.

Chicago reports 1,701 emergency shelter beds available, compared to 2,064 beds (down 17.6%) in 2013. The city reports 4,574 beds in transitional housing, compared to 3,903 (up 17.2%) in 2014. The city claims 7,613 beds in permanent supportive housing, down 10% from 8,460 beds in 2014.

How many homeless people are survivors of domestic violence?
The 2015 U.S. Conference of Mayors survey says Chicago reported that 20% of homeless residents were domestic violence victims. This compares to 23% in 2014, 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 people living in city homeless 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 2016) by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the Illinois housing wage is $19.98 an hour, 16th highest among the states. This is based on fair market rent of $1,039 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 for six years (since July 2010), a household needs two minimum wage earners working a total of 97 hours a week to pay for a 2-bedroom’s fair market rent.

In Chicago and the five-county suburban area, the housing wage is $22.62 an hour for a typical 2-bedroom.