Chicago Coalition for the Homeless

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Policy Reports and Publications

Estimate of Homeless People in Chicago 2018

by David Mendieta; Samuel Carlson

May 1, 2020

This report shows 76,998 Chicagoans experienced homelessness in 2018, per an annual analysis by CCH that relies on the most current U.S. census data.

Though the city's aggregate homelessness count decreased from the prior year, Chicago saw a nearly 2,000-person increase among those who lived on the street or in shelters. It is a development with troubling connotations today: The city's shelter system is a hotspot for COVID-19 infections and homelessness is expected to climb dramatically during the worsening economic downturn triggered by the pandemic.

Per our analysis, the number who experienced homelessness decreased by 4,282 people, or 5.9% from 2017. This net decrease was concentrated exclusively among homeless people in temporary living situations, also known as living "doubled-up" or "couch-surfing." The number who doubled-up in 2018 remained massive, at 58,872 Chicagoans.

  • Most Chicagoans experiencing homelessness temporarily stay with others at some point throughout the year. Of the 76,998 people experiencing homelessness in 2018, 76% were temporarily staying with others. According to HMIS data, 23,087 people utilized the homeless service system and 21.5% reported temporarily staying with others at least once in 2018.
  • Homelessness disproportionately impacts Black and African-American Chicagoans. Chicagoans who identify as Black or American-American make up 61% of the total population experiencing homelessness in 2018. Of those coping with street and shelter homelessness, 78% identified as Black or African-American.
  • Unaccompanied youth who are homeless seldom stay on the street or in a shelter. In 2018, 11,376 people experiencing homelessness were unaccompanied youth (ages 14-24) and 90% of whom temporarily stayed with others. In total, 22,324 minors (under age 18), with or without a parent present, experienced homelessness.
  • Most families experiencing homelessness temporarily stay with others. In 2018, 30,681 people in families with children were experiencing homelessness and 77% were temporarily staying with others. HMIS data suggest that 1,307 people experienced homelessness in families headed by youth (age 24 and younger).