News, Policies, & Trends

Where is the Homeless Capital of America?

By | Mar 3, 2014

US Map with FlagFor years, officials have dubbed Los Angeles the “homeless capital” of America. To determine this, they used the total number of people experiencing homelessness for the entire County of Los Angeles, which includes 87 cities in addition to Los Angeles.

People in other cities, however, have disagreed with this determination. On TripAdvisor, Portland was called the homeless capital. Others have given San Francisco this distinction. A city councilman in Dallas thinks his city could be the homeless capital. And, based on numbers, New York City is also a strong contender for the title.

So which city actually deserves this sad distinction? Let’s look at some different ways to score this.

Total Number of People Experiencing Homelessness. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)’s 2013 report to the U.S. Congress stated that New York City (with 64,060 people who are homeless) was the top city for homelessness, followed by Los Angeles County (53,798). This LA number, however, did not include three cities within the county that counted on their own. The total LA County number is actually 58,423. Winner: New York City.

Total Number of People on the Streets. Official homeless counts include people in shelters, in uninhabitable places (like cars), and on the streets. The total HUD number reflects all of these people. If we were to look just at the unsheltered homeless population, then the City of Los Angeles would be on top with 25,136 people living on its streets. Of New York City’s homeless population, more than 50,000 are living in shelters. Winner: Los Angeles County.

Highest Percent Increase of Homelessness. Since the last count in 2011, the City of New York’s homeless population increased by 25 percent. Los Angeles increased by 16 percent between 2011 to 2013. Surprisingly, however, these two regions do not report the largest increase in the country. The state of North Dakota reported a dramatic increase in homelessness from 2012 to 2013. A whopping 200.7 percent increase, to be exact. Winner: North Dakota.

Number of People Experiencing Homelessness Compared to General Population. Some people claim that it is not fair to compare mega-cities and their millions of people with smaller cities. Of course, mega-cities will have a higher number of people who are homeless than smaller cities.

Instead, let’s compare the percent of people experiencing homelessness against the total population. The County of San Diego, California has 8,879 people who are homeless, but its homeless population only represents 0.28% of the total population. Seattle (including surrounding King County) has the third-largest total homeless population in the country, with 9,106 people, but its ratio is only 0.45%. The mega-city of Los Angeles has 58,000 people experiencing homelessness, and its ratio is 0.58%. The city with the highest number people experiencing homelessness, however, also has the highest ratio of homeless to their total population. New York City has a ratio of 0.77%. Winner: New York City.

So, who is the winner of this human tragedy? Who should be deemed the homeless capital of America? Given the assessments above, it looks like the Big Apple takes the crown away from the City of Angels.

But is there a winner in this situation? Sadly, the real losers here are the people struggling on our nation’s streets.

No matter in which city or state they reside.