To get a better idea of how many people are experiencing homelessness, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) created a new method. CCH worked with researchers from Vanderbilt University and the Social IMPACT Research Center of Heartland Alliance to create this new way of estimating homelessness. The methodology is published in the Housing Policy Debate journal and the Integrated Public Use Microdata Series dataset is open to anyone to view and use for their own research.1 

To count people who are staying on the street or in shelters, CCH used information from the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS). HMIS is a database used by organizations and agencies that work with people experiencing homelessness to collect and share information about their clients. The system helps to track how many people are experiencing homelessness, the services they need, and the services they receive. HMIS is required by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. 

To count people experiencing street and shelter homelessness throughout the year, CCH asked for a count of everyone who used Chicago homeless services, but specifically excluded people who had found permanent housing at some point in the year. CCH also excluded people who were in temporary housing programs that were considered permanent housing by the government. 

Data Deduplication

This estimate does not count the same person twice. In 2022, CCH found that 5,545 people in HMIS used homeless services and stayed with friends or family at some point during the year. CCH removes this population from the street and shelter estimate, assuming that they would be captured in the doubled-up estimate. 

Data Limitations

These estimates do not include people who are experiencing street-based homelessness but have not used homeless services. It also does not include people who are homeless but may not want anyone to know, like those who do sex work and cannot safely report their income. This does not include people who were in jail the entire year and were experiencing homelessness before they entered the carceral system. Finally, people who were in healthcare institutions the entire year are also not included. 

Please note that this does not include most asylum seekers, as they have been experiencing homelessness not traditionally captured by HUD or American Community Survey data. 

Who is considered street and shelter homeless? 

The term “homeless” as defined by HUD includes the following conditions: 

  • an individual who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence; and  
  • an individual who has a primary residence that is— 
    • a supervised publicly or privately operated shelter designed to provide temporary living accommodations (including welfare hotels, congregate shelters, and transitional housing); 
    • an institution that provides a temporary residence for those intended to be institutionalized; or a public or private place not designed for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings. 

Who is considered homeless by temporarily staying with others? 

This analysis defines poor individuals and families in poor households as “temporarily staying with others” when they fall outside of the conventional household composition and cannot afford to live in housing of their own or formally contribute to housing costs. For the purposes of this estimate, individuals who meet the following conditions are considered homeless: 

  • Adult children and children-in-law of the household head who have children of their own, are married, or are single but live in an overcrowded (more than two people per bedroom) situation. 
  • Minor and adult grandchildren of the household head, excluding: 
  • Minor grandchildren of the household head when the household head claims responsibility for their needs.  
  • Minor grandchildren whose single parent is living at home and is under 18 (i.e., children of teenage dependents). 
  • Other relatives of the household head: 
  • Parents/parents-in-law, siblings/siblings-in-law, cousins, aunts/uncles, and other unspecified relatives of the household head who are under the age of 65, excluding: 
  • Minor siblings of the household head when the minor’s parent is not present (so the household head may assume responsibility for minor siblings). 
  • Single and childless adult siblings of the household head, when the household head is also single with no children—resembling a roommate situation.  
  • Parents/parents-in-law, siblings/siblings-in-law, cousins, aunts/uncles, and other unspecified relatives of the household head who are over age 65 and in an overcrowded situation. 
  • Non-relatives of the household head such as friends, visitors, and “other” non-relatives, excluding: 
  • Roommates/housemates, roomers/boarders, and unmarried partners or their children. 

Are you interested in completing a similar estimate for another city? Contact us.