An estimated 68,440 people were experiencing homelessness in Chicago, IL in 2021

This data is per an analysis by CCH using data from the U.S. Census American Community Survey, exposing an often-hidden crisis in Illinois homelessness: temporarily staying with others, or “doubling up.” 

Many definitions of homelessness include people temporarily staying with others—doubling-up because of economic hardship or housing loss.

Temporarily staying with others (or “doubling up”) is the way that most people—particularly families with children—experience homelessness in Illinois.

Homeless services are equipped to provide shelter and transitional housing to only a fraction of those experiencing homelessness, so temporarily staying with others is a means of survival. 

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s methods for enumerating homelessness exclude doubled-up arrangements, and Department of Education counts of doubling-up include only school children. 

Model for estimating homelessness 

To better reflect all forms of homelessness one might experience, researchers at Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH), Vanderbilt University, and the Heartland Alliance Social IMPACT Research Center developed a model to better estimate the total scope of people experiencing homelessness, incorporating people experiencing homelessness by temporarily staying with others.  

Last year, the Housing Policy Debate published CCH research on quantifying doubled-up homelessness, adding credibility to the years-long Homelessness Data Project research on measures of homelessness.  

Chicago homelessness 

An estimated 68,440 people were experiencing homelessness in Chicago in 2021. This in-depth analysis includes sheltered, unsheltered, and people temporarily staying with others, and it is a 2,829-person increase from 2020, immediately prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many Chicagoans experienced sheltered and unsheltered homelessness with an additional 7,985 people staying on the street or in shelters.

Why is this important? 

In 2020, Illinois estimated 10,431 people experiencing street and shelter homelessness on any given day, as reported by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).¹ The Point-in-Time count tallies people experiencing street and shelter homelessness on a designated night of the year—usually every January.  

The Point-in-Time count is used to determine which communities receive essential federal housing, transportation, and public health assistance, including COVID-19 relief funds, but this HUD-mandated count fails to account for the way most people experience homelessness in Illinois: temporarily staying with others. 

Defining homelessness is a first step toward ending homelessness. People experiencing homelessness by temporarily staying with others need crucial homeless services, but until the HUD definition is changed to better reflect the true scope of homelessness, many Illinois families are barred from these services—especially Black and Brown people. 

Homelessness continues to disproportionately impact Black and Latiné Chicagoans. Black Chicagoans make up more than half (53%) of the total population experiencing homelessness. In 2021, an estimated 19,970 Hispanic/Latiné Chicagoans experienced homelessness; in 2020, an estimated 18,272 people identified as Hispanic or Latino.  

Most Chicagoans experiencing homelessness temporarily stay with others at some point throughout the year. Of the 68,440 people experiencing homelessness in 2021, 64.9% were temporarily staying with others. For every 1 person reported as homeless in the city Point-in-Time count, 9 more people accessed city homeless services last year.