How Many People Are Homeless in Chicago? An FY 2006 Analysis

Dec 21, 2006
Policy topics:
  • Description

Over the past three decades, homelessness has persisted as a serious problem in the city of Chicago. However, throughout that time, there has never been a comprehensive, reliable figure for the number of people who do not have a home. This is a significant gap in not only our public records, but in our public policy. By not adequately accounting for the city's homeless population, we are unable to understand the true scope of the problem and therefore are ill equipped to come up with realistic strategies and adequate resources to address it. Estimating the number of homeless people is a distinct challenge to do as they are a transient and often invisible population. The city of Chicago conducts a partial census of the city's single-night homeless population. That count includes those who are officially reported as being served in the city's homeless shelters that night and any homeless people that can be counted on the streets or other locations outside of shelters that night. This method has limitations because it is very difficult to locate every homeless person outside, particularly on a cold winter night. Also it does not include people living temporarily with others because they cannot afford housing. This is often referred to as "doubled-up." Counting those not served in shelters or on the street may be difficult, but it is imperative to do so. To meet this challenge, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, in collaboration with the University of Illinois at Chicago Survey Research Laboratory, developed a methodology that is designed to count both those served in shelters and those who never access shelters. The Survey Research Laboratory helped shape the methodology and reviewed the findings of the analysis. Every effort has been made to make this a conservative effort and to avoid duplication.