Homelessness in America

Social Justice Learning: adult

Today's Lesson: Homelessness in America

Current estimates indicate more than half a million people are experiencing homelessness in America, and a staggering portion of that includes families with children. These individuals live in every state and territory and reflect the diversity of this country, however, certain people in our society are more likely to find themselves without a place to live. The risk of homelessness is tied to race, gender and gender identity, sexual orientation, and mental health. We understand that these conversations can be difficult, and often we aren’t sure where to start. Below you will find a sampling of resources you can dive into right now. From birth through adulthood, we believe social justice learning is a life-long journey.

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Defining homelessness and what it means for Illinois residents

three people sit and talk over paperwork
Residential Services and Training Coordinator Devin Redmond (center) talks with residents of The Night Ministry's Interim Housing Program.

Traditionally, the Department of Education's definition of homeless includes children and families living “doubled up” — with a relative or friend — as well as those living in hotels or motels. The HUD definition only classifies those living on the streets or in shelters as homeless. Due to the current language used by HUD to define homelessness, Duffield said the majority of youth and families experiencing homelessness are barred from receiving homelessness assistance from HUD. Here is Illinois Public Media's story on the fight over what it means to be homeless, and how that could affect those living in Illinois.


EXTRA CREDIT: As of January 2020, Illinois had an estimated 10,431 experiencing homelessness on any given day, as reported by Continuums of Care to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). You can use this map from the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) to compare Illinois homeless statistics with other states and filter statistics by the data source.



What's behind rising homelessness in America

The number of Americans living without homes, in shelters, or on the streets continues to rise at an alarming rate. PBS Newshour's Judy Woodruff reports on why that is, and what more can be done to prevent it. You can also watch this report on the PBS Video app.


EXTRA CREDIT: Christine Quinn, president and CEO of WIN, New York City’s largest provider of shelter and services for homeless families with children joins WNET's Metrofocus to discuss the struggles faced by families forced to apply an average staggering fifteen times before getting into the system.



The fight to end homelessness in Rockford

aerial shot of downtown rockford illinois
Downtown Rockford, IL. Susan Stephens/WNIJ

For years, Rockford, IL struggled with high rates of homelessness, but in 2014, things began to change. By 2020, Rockford was on the verge of ending homelessness entirely, but then, the pandemic hit, amplifying existing housing needs and economic pressures and causing the city to have to adapt and continue its fight. In this segment from The 21st, the city's mayor and local housing advocates join the show to talk about what Rockford has done and what other cities can do to combat homelessness.


EXTRA CREDIT: Homelessness on the West Coast is rising to crisis levels at a time of historic economic growth and prosperity. Why? KNKX Public Radio and The Seattle Times' Project Homeless spent one year in a city that's grappling with homelessness. What's it like to live outside for months on end? What's it like when tents come to your neighborhood? What new solutions can city leaders find? The documented what they found in the Outsiders podcast.