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 for suburban Cook County’s Rental Assistance Call Center. The center handles calls related to rent, security deposits, utilities, and mortgage assistance. It is staffed Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

The Illinois Foreclosure Prevention Line is at (855) 533-7411. It is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 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 do I get my name on a waitlist for public housing?

In Chicago, contact the Chicago Housing Authority:  Apply to the CHA’s Waitlist Portal 

For questions or more information, call the CHA at (312) 913-7400. Information is available on the estimated wait times for different properties.

In the suburbs of Cook County, contact the Housing Authority of Cook County:  Resident and Applicant Portal

How many homeless people live in Chicago? 

In July 2019, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) released its annual study of how many Chicagoans are homeless.

Using a methodology that includes the most current census data, 86,324 Chicagoans were homeless in 2017.

Eighty-one percent of these homeless residents lived doubled-up in the homes of others due to hardship, often in overcrowded conditions.

According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Communities Survey, 70,171 people lived doubled-up in Chicago in 2017. Of those, 56% were black, 26% white, 9% multiracial, and 8% other races; 28% identified as Latino.

According to 2017 HMIS data provided by All Chicago, 22,478 people were served in the shelter system. Of those, 6,325 (28%) had been living doubled-up with family or friends at some point that year. Seventy-seven percent of people served in the homeless service system were black, 19% white, and 4% other; 10% percent reported themselves as Latino.

CCH pointed out demographics that showed 13,929 people, or 21% of those over age 18, are employed. Another 28% had attended college or earned an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.

Of the 34,870 homeless people living in families with children, 29,957 (86%) were doubled-up.

A total of 20,779 (24%) were minor children experiencing homelessness.

Of the 13,625 homeless family households, 12,333 (91%) were doubled-up.

Of the 51,361 homeless individuals, 40,214 (78%) were doubled-up.

Unaccompanied homeless youth, ages 14 through 24, totaled 15,744 individuals, of whom 14,469 (92%) doubled-up. 

How many homeless students are in Chicago?

Chicago Public Schools (CPS) reported serving 17,894 homeless students during the 2017-18 school year. Final data for 2018-19 is expected in summer 2019.

The 17,894 who were counted is 1.2%, or 223 students, fewer than the prior school year, but total CPS enrollment also dropped. The share of homeless students enrolled in CPS remains about the same, at 4.8% of total enrollment.

CPS data shows that 88% of homeless CPS students live doubled-up in the homes of others due to hardship, usually in overcrowded conditions. The U.S. Department of Education recognizes that doubled-up students should be counted as homeless, with rights protected under the McKinney-Vento Act.

Another 10.7%, or 1,918 students, lived in shelters. Less than 1% of students lived in motels (151), in a park or other public place (52), or in a temporary foster care placement (12).

Other CPS data shows that 11.4% (2,041) were “unaccompanied youth,” defined as teens who are homeless and living on their own, without a parent or guardian.

Chicago’s homeless students are overwhelmingly children of color, at 98.3%. The demographics show 81.2% of students were black, 15.6% Latinx, 1.7% white, and 1.5% other ethnicities.

Another 23.4% 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 (IDHS) states that 32,902 Illinois residents were served in state-funded shelters in FY 2016. Of this, 9,106 were children under age 18 and 23,796 were adults, living in 22,852 households. IDHS reports that this included 23.5% who previously lived in emergency shelters, about 14% lived on the street or in cars and other non-housing; 34% lived doubled-up in the homes of others.

Homeless school enrollment is also a reliable barometer of family homelessness. In July 2018, the Illinois State Board of Education reported that public schools identified 56,881 homeless students in the 2017-18 school year, a year’s increase of 4% or 2,212 students.

That’s over double what it was in the only school year that the state of Illinois contributed support beyond federal funds for homeless school programs: In 2008-09, $3 million in state grants were awarded to 36 school districts statewide. Illinois schools identified 26,688 homeless students that year.

Outside of Chicago, school districts with the highest number of homeless students were:

  • Cook County: Harvey District 152, 704 students; South Holland District 150, 307; Palatine District 15, 161; Wheeling District 21, 259; (Palatine) High School District 211, 236; (Arlington Heights) High School District 214, 201; Evanston Township District 202, 201.
  • Kane County: (Elgin) Unit District U-46, 887; Aurora East Unit District 131, 446; (Algonquin) Unit District 300, 242; Aurora West Unit District 129, 233.
  • Lake County: Waukegan District 60, 520; Round Lake District 116, 151; North Chicago District 187, 133.
  • Will County: Valley View District 365U, 362; Joliet District 86, 340; Plainfield District 202, 292; Crete-Monee District 201U, 155.
  • DuPage County: Indian Prairie District 204, 235; West Chicago District 33, 206; Naperville District 203, 165; (Wheaton) Unit District 200, 154.
  • Outstate: Rockford District 205, 2,771; Peoria District 150, 654; East St. Louis District 189, 478; Cahokia District 187, 424; Springfield District 186, 397; Decatur District 61, 303; Champaign District 4, 293; Mount Vernon District 80, 248; Collinsville District 10, 240; Granite City District 9, 228; Marion District 2, 219; Kankakee District 111, 209; Belleville District 118, 193; Danville District 118, 174.
How many unaccompanied youth lived in Chicago? 

Unaccompanied youth are homeless and living on their own, without the support of family or guardian. The number of unaccompanied youth ages 14 through 24 in Chicago, per a CCH analysis of 2017 census data, is 15,744. They include students – in the 2016-17 school year, Chicago Public Schools counted 2,292 unaccompanied youths attending its schools.

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: https://www.chicagohomeless.org/city-state-homeless-enrollments-rose-8-in-2012-13/#sthash.jp47cDE8.dpuf
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: https://www.chicagohomeless.org/city-state-homeless-enrollments-rose-8-in-2012-13/#sthash.jp47cDE8.dpufHow many unaccompanied youth lived in Chicago? 

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.  There are about 580 youth shelter beds across Illinois: about 375 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?

U.S. Conference of Mayors Hunger and Homelessness Survey was last released in December 2016. In it, the city of Chicago claimed the largest decrease in chronic homelessness among 38 cities. The survey covers the period of September 2015 through August 2016, using data from January point-in-time counts of how many people can be found on a winter night in shelters or living in public places. People who are homeless but doubled-up are not counted, under the HUD-mandated survey.

Chicago claimed chronic homelessness dropped 68.2%, by 716 people, between 2015 and 2016. In the survey, Chicago touted a 2016 pilot project to rehouse 75 chronically homeless people camped under Uptown viaducts. It noted the program had housed 43 people by October, with 13 people “self-resolved” and no longer in need of housing help.

Chicago also claimed the largest decline in family homelessness from 2009 and 2016, a drop of 25.2%, or 730 people.

City officials reported 5.2% of Chicago’s homeless population are children and youth, below the 6.5% U.S. average. But the study noted it’s likely that cities’ point-in-time counts do not count the full number of homeless youth, “who tend not to congregate in the same areas as older homeless adults.”

Chicago claimed the largest drop among homeless people who were “unsheltered” in the past year, a drop of 39.5% or 812 fewer people. Chicago’s 2016 homeless count reported that 78.9% were staying in shelters and 21.1% were unsheltered. The share of Chicagoans homeless with their families was 36.8%, and 63.2% were single individuals.

However, Chicago reported the largest hike in veteran homelessness from 2009 to 2016, a 20.2% increase, up by 101 people. The city reported that 10.2% of those homeless in 2016 were veterans, up from 7% in 2015 and 9% in 2014.

Chicago ranked 21st among 32 cities in its rate of homelessness per 10,000 people in 2016, at 21.6 people. These rates ranged from 11.2 people in Wichita, Kansas to 124.2 people in Washington, D.C.

The 2016 U.S. mayors’ study did not include demographics covered previously. In 2015, Chicago reported that 14% of homeless adults were employed, 4% HIV positive, 19% physically disabled, and 33% severely mentally ill (the same as in 2014). Homeless people who entered permanent supportive housing in 2015 totaled 752 individuals and 105 families, the city reported.

Also in 2015, Chicago reported 1,701 emergency shelter beds available, compared to 2,064 beds (down 17.6%) in 2014. Also, there were 4,574 beds in transitional housing, compared to 3,903 (up 17.2%); and 7,613 beds in permanent supportive housing, down 10% from 8,460.

How many homeless people are survivors of domestic violence?

In its 2016 Point-in-Time Count, the city of Chicago reported that 26% of sheltered populations were domestic violence victims. This compared to 27% in 2015, 27% in 2014, and 29% in 2013.

In a comprehensive 2004 study, 56% of women in Chicago shelters reported that they had experienced domestic violence, per 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?

Per Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) data, 22,478 homeless people were sheltered in the city of Chicago in 2017. These shelter residents were 77% black, 19% white, and 4% other ethnicities; 10% self-identified as Latinx, regardless of race.

According to a census-based CCH study, 70,171 homeless people (81%) lived doubled-up in the homes of others in 2017. They were 56% black, 9% multiracial, and 26% white; 28% identified as Latino.

Chicago Public Schools reports that 98.3% of its homeless students were children of color in 2017-18.

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

According to the annual Out of Reach study (June 2019) by the National Low Income Housing Coalition and Housing Action Illinois, the Illinois housing wage is $20.85 an hour, 19th highest among the states. This is based on fair market monthly rent of $1,084 for a 2-bedroom apartment in Illinois, and assumes a 40-hour work week for 52 weeks a year. With the Illinois state minimum wage at $8.25 an hour for nine years (since July 2010), a household needs two minimum-wage earners working 101 hours a week to pay for a 2-bedroom’s fair market rent. Thirty-four percent of Illinois households rent, with an average hourly renter wage of $17.30.

In Chicago and the five-county suburban area, the housing wage is $23.31 an hour for a typical 2-bedroom costing $1,212. The most expensive Illinois region is Kendall County, where the housing wage is $23.75. Minimum wage in Chicago rose to $13 an hour in July 2019.