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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. This is an 18.6% increase from the entire prior school year. Of this, 98.2% were children of color and 20% have been diagnosed with disabilities or developmental delays. Homeless students included 2,508 unaccompanied youth, teens who were homeless and living without parent or guardian.

In the U.S. Conference of Mayors Hunger & Homelessness Survey for 2013 (released Dec. 11, 2013), Chicago officials said that the total number of homeless families increased 11.4% during the year-long survey period (through August 2013). Nationally, however, the 25-city survey found homelessness increased an average of 7%. City officials projected that the number of individuals and families who are homeless who are homeless would “increase moderately” during 2014, though city resources would be unchanged.

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 2,508 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 nearly enough shelter beds for homeless youth.  Since mid-2013, there are 546 youth beds across Illinois – 339 youth beds in Chicago, 117 in the suburbs, and 90 beds downstate. CCH advocated for Chicago’s increased funding for overnight youth shelter beds, with 114 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 2013 Survey on Hunger & Homelessness, the city of Chicago reported that 12% were employed but homeless, 6% were veterans, 4% were HIV positive, 30% physically disabled, and 28% severely mentally ill.

Chicago also reported having 2,260 emergency shelter beds available in 2013, 50 (2.2%) more than a year earlier. It also claimed 3,381 transitional housing beds, 84 (2.5%) more than in 2013, and 7,745 permanent supportive housing slots, 256 (3.4%) more than a year earlier. By 2014, the city reported that it anticipates a “moderate increase” in need, but the same level of city resources.

“To accommodate an increase in demand, (Chicago) shelters have had to increase the number of persons and families that can sleep in a single room,” Chicago reported in the 2013 U.S. Mayors report.

How many homeless people are survivors of domestic violence?
The 2013 U.S. Conference of Mayors survey says Chicago reported that 20% of its homeless residents were domestic violence victims; in 2012, the city said it was 33%.

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 2007 point-in-time count by the city of Chicago, the racial demographic of the homeless population was 75% African American, 16% white, 6% Latino, and 3% other ethnicity. Racial demographics are no longer included by cities in the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ survey. Chicago Public Schools reported that 98.2% of its homeless students were children of color in 2013-14.

What income is needed to house a small household in Illinois and in Chicago?

According to the annual Out of Reach study (March 2014) by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the Illinois housing wage is $17.34 an hour, 20th among the states (rates range up to $31.54 in Hawaii). This is based on Fair Market Rent (FMR) of $902 for a 2-bedroom apartment in Illinois, and assumes a 40-hour work week for 52 weeks a year. In order to afford this level of rent and utilities – without paying more than 30% of income on housing – a household must earn $36,064 annually. With the Illinois minimum wage at $8.25 an hour since July 2010, a household needs two (2.1) minimum wage earners working full-time.

The housing wage is even higher – $18.83 an hour – for those living in Chicago-Joliet-Naperville, where FMR for a market-rate 2-bedroom apartment averages $979. The most expensive U.S. city is San Francisco, where the hourly housing wage is $37.62.

One in every four renter households in the U.S. is an extremely low-income household. That’s 10.2 million American households that average no more than $19,706 in income, according to the detailed study, Out of Reach 2014.