Homeless Children: Update on Research, Policy, Programs, and Opportunities. Children in families meeting the HUD definition of homelessness


HUD’s most recent counts of homeless children are summarized in the 2008 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) released July 2009, which includes a count of children residing in HUD-funded shelters and transitional housing. The report includes information about point-in-time counts as well as an annual count reflecting the 12-month period October 2007 to September 2008. The data in AHAR are collected through HUD’s Homeless Management Information System (HMIS). The annual count in the 2008 AHAR was 326,400 children, representing 20 percent of the total number of homeless individuals in the HUD data (see Figure 1). About half (51 percent) of these children were under age 6 (see Figure 2). These numbers exclude families in domestic violence shelters who did not access a residential program serving the general homeless population during the year, families that accessed other shelters that do not receive HUD funds, homeless families that never entered shelter, and families in which the parent is under age 18.

Figure 1

Distribution of Homeless Persons, HUD HMIS Annual Data

Distribution of Homeless Persons, HUD HMIS Annual Data

Distribution of Homeless Persons, HUD HMIS Annual Data

Homeless PersonsPercent, %
Adults with children11
Children with adults20

Figure 2

Age Distribution of Homeless Chlidren, HUD HMIS Annual Data

Figure 2:  Age Distribution of Homeless Chlidren, HUD HMIS Annual Data

At the time of the national point-in-time count of homeless people in the United States in January 2008, 27 percent of all homeless family members were unsheltered (HUD, 2009). While homeless families are more likely than homeless individuals to be in shelter, it appears that substantial numbers of families with children experience episodes of homelessness where they never enter shelter. They may stay in cars, campgrounds, and other places not fit for human habitation. Virtually nothing is known about the numbers or characteristics of children in families that become homeless (by the HUD definition) but never enter shelter.

Most of what is known about homeless children derives from studies of children in families sampled at homeless shelters. All such children meet the HUD definition of homelessness. More rarely there is information about these children after they are re-housed or, from school records, before they became homeless. Virtually all of the research that has been published on homelessness among children was conducted prior to the current recession and increase in housing foreclosures. Thus, studies do not include children whose families became homeless as a result of the recent economic recession.

View full report


"index.pdf" (pdf, 419.29Kb)

Note: Documents in PDF format require the Adobe Acrobat Reader®. If you experience problems with PDF documents, please download the latest version of the Reader®