HUNGER AND HOMELESSNESS
Many people conflate hunger and homelessness. Although the issues are closely related, there are several important distinctions we need to be aware of. For starters, a person does not have to be experiencing homeless to be hungry. More than 38 million Americans are food insecure, meaning they don’t have access to an adequate supply of nutritious, affordable food.
According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, over 580,000 Americans experienced homelessness on a single night in 2020. Hunger often precedes homelessness because people who are forced to decide between paying for housing or groceries will, more often than not, choose the former.
Both hunger and homelessness often have distinct causes and can have disparate impacts on different segments of the population. Let’s look at the facts!
Hunger & homelessness By state
Click a state on the map below for a snapshot of the number of people who are food insecure and experiencing homelessness.
NATIONAL ALLIANCE TO END HOMELESSNESS
Hunger is best understood as a symptom of the larger issues of poverty and inequality.
- 1 in 8 Americans are food insecure.
- Nearly 1 in 4 households experienced food insecurity in 2020 due to the pandemic.
- Almost 12 million children are unsure of when they will have their next meal.
- Food insecurity exists in every single state, county, and congressional district in the United States.
- In 2019, the NSLP provided low-cost or free lunches to almost 30 million children each school day.
- Nearly 22 million low-income children qualify for free or reduced-cost school lunches.
- Children who face hunger are more likely to be in poor health and struggle in school.
- In 1980, there were about 2 dozen food banks in the United States. Today, there are about 400.
- Poverty - In 2020 over 37 million people lived in poverty. According to Feeding America, 72% of the households served by its affiliated food banks live at or below 100% of the federal poverty line. While unemployment is certainly a significant factor, nearly 60 percent of food-insecure U.S. households have at least one working family member. 72% of the households the Feeding America network serves live at or below the federal poverty level with a median annual household income of $9,175.
- Income Inequality - An estimated 40 percent of the total U.S. population (140 million people) are either poor or low-income. By almost any measure, income inequality has increased exponentially over the past 30+ years. Since 1980, most of the growth in wages has been concentrated among top earners, while wages for the average worker have stagnated.
- Lack of Affordable Housing – There is not one state or county in the United States where a minimum wage, full-time worker can afford a two-bedroom apartment.
- Food Deserts - Food Deserts are areas or neighborhoods where residents do not have access to a grocery store that provides the wholesome and nutritious foods that are necessary for a healthy diet.
According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, over 580,000 people experience homelessness on any given night in the United States,
- Chronic homelessness is the term given to individuals that experience long-term or repeated bouts of homelessness.
- There are over 100,000 homeless individuals with chronic patterns of homelessness, equalling 27 percent of the total population of homeless individuals.
- Since 2007, the number of individuals with patterns of chronic homelessness has declined 8 percent. However, between 2019 and 2020 this number increased by 15 percent.
- Over 40,000 veterans are homeless on any given night.
- 70% of the entire homeless population are men.
- African Americans make up 13 percent of the general population, but more than 40 percent of the homeless population.
- The lack of affordable housing is one of the biggest factors behind contributing to homelessness. In 2019, more than 45% of the 44.1 million renter households paid rent equal to 30% or more of their gross household income.
- Poverty is the other major factor that contributes to homelessness. A lack of employment opportunities, combined with a decline in public assistance leaves low-income families just an illness or accident away from being put out on the street.
- According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a family with a full-time worker making minimum wage could not afford fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment anywhere in the U.S.
- A renter earning the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour would need to work nearly 97 hours per week to afford a two-bedroom rental home or 79 hours per week to afford a one-bedroom rental home at the average fair market rent.
- A full-time worker needs to earn an hourly wage of $24.90 on average to afford a modest, two-bedroom rental home in the U.S.
- Poor health is also closely linked to homelessness. 20% of the homeless population reported having a mental illness, 16% had conditions related to substance abuse, and thousands had HIV/AIDS, diabetes, or heart disease.
- For many young people, single adults, and families, domestic violence is the primary cause of their homelessness.
- On a single night in 2019, homeless services providers had more than 48,000 beds set aside for survivors of domestic violence.
The running issue of hunger and homelessness in America won’t go away without your help. With over 38 million food insecure Americans and 11 million food insecure children, it’s important to take as much action as we can to fight hunger.