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Basic Facts on Homelessness in Massachusetts and A
cross the Country

In Massachusetts:

  • The number of people experiencing homelessness and housing instability in Massachusetts remains very high.
  • According to numbers from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's 2015 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, there were 21,135 people in Massachusetts counted as experiencing homelessness during the January/February 2015 point-in-time counts conducted by the HUD Continua of Care across the state. (Part 1 of the 2015 HUD AHAR was released in November 2015 and Part 2 was released in October 2016.)
  • On May 31, 2017, there were 3,564 families with children and pregnant women in Massachusetts’ Emergency Assistance (EA) shelter program. 52 of these families with children were being sheltered in motels. (The number has since decreased to 42 families in motels as of August 1, 2017.) This number does not count those families who are doubled up, living in unsafe conditions, or sleeping in their cars. Click here for nightly data on the EA program from the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development, and here for monthly EA-related data, including on the reasons families needed to enter the shelter system. Quarterly data from DHCD, from FY'13 to the present, also is available through this link.
  • During state fiscal year 2016, 5,609 families were assisted with emergency shelter and/or HomeBASE diversion assistance, out of the 8,923 families who completed applications for assistance. For the first 11 months of fiscal year 2017, 4,435 families were approved for EA and HomeBASE diversion benefits and 3,895 families were denied assistance (53% approval rate, as reported by DHCD). More data on the EA and HomeBASE programs can be found here, as well as in this February 2017 report from the Boston Foundation.
  • 2013 data from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (ESE), released in August 2014, estimates that 9,493 high school-aged students in public schools are experiencing homelessness on any given day in Massachusetts. These figures are derived from the 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey responses. This number includes an estimated 4,085 unaccompanied high school students who are experiencing homelessness and not in the custody of their parent or legal guardian. To see more data from ESE, click here
  • In the 2015-2016 academic year, public schools across Massachusetts were able to identify and serve 21,226 students who were experiencing homelessness. This is an increase from the 2014-2015 academic year total of 19,515 students who were experiencing homelessness. (The previous link also includes academic year data going back to 2010.)
  • The number of individuals experiencing homelessness has more than doubled since 1990. 
  • On any given night in Massachusetts, the approximately 3,000 night shelter beds for individuals usually are full or beyond capacity (supplemented by cots and sleeping bags).
  • Sexual violence and homelessness often are interconnected. Click here for more information from our partners at the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center.

The presence or absence of affordable housing is a main driving force behind the rise in homelessness.

  • The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities released a report in March 2014 looking at the impact of the federal Housing Choice Voucher Program (more commonly known as Section 8) on households participating in the program and the larger economy. Click here for the full report and for Massachusetts-specific data.

Poverty contributes heavily to homelessness.

  • According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 American Community Survey report (released in October 2016),  the overall poverty rate in Massachusetts was just under 11.5% in 2015.
  • This includes an estimated 752,071 people in Massachusetts living in households that fell below the poverty threshold. This estimate includes 202,513 children under the age of 18 and 92,468 elders age 65 and older. 355,730 people were living in households with incomes under 50% of the federal poverty guidelines.
  • In December 2016, the U.S. Census Bureau released the latest Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates -- single-year income and poverty statistics for all counties and school districts. Massachusetts data can be found here.
  • To see data on the number of Massachusetts households receiving basic benefits through the Department of Transitional Assistance, click here. This report includes data on the following programs: Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC/"Welfare"), Emergency Aid to the Elderly, Disabled, and Children (EAEDC), State Supplemental Security Income (State SSI supplement), and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP/"Food Stamps"). 
  • To read more about the impact of housing instability on children, click here for an October 2012 policy brief by Children's HealthWatch, "Safe, Stable Homes Mean Healthier Children and Families for Massachusetts".

Across the United States:

  • Not surprisingly, poverty has a direct correlation to a family or individual losing their housing. For 2014, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 46.7 million Americans – 14.8 percent of the population –were living below the poverty line (based on an average of $24,230/year for a family of four).
  • The 2015 HUD Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress included a national point-in-time count of 584,708 people found to be experiencing homelessness on a single night that winter.
  • In September 2015, the U.S. Census Bureau released an even higher estimate that 48.4 million Americans – or 15.3 percent of the population- were living below the poverty line. This figure is based on the Supplemental Poverty Measure formula, which takes into account both living expenses and benefits received through government-funded programs. 
  • For the fourth consecutive year, the number of people in poverty at the national level was not statistically different the previous year’s estimate.
  • Median household income in the United States in 2014 was $53,657, not statistically different in real terms from the 2013 median income. 
  • The poverty rate for families and the number of families items in poverty were 11.6% and 9.5 million in 2014, neither statistically different from the 2013 estimates.
  • In 2014, 6.2 percent of married-couple families, 30.6% of families with a female head of household, and 15.7% of families with a male head of household lived in poverty.
  • According to the latest figures from HUD, the average fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the Boston-Cambridge-Quincy metro area for FY'16 is $1,567/month. With numbers like this, it is not difficult to see why so many families and individuals are becoming homeless. See all of statewide FMR figures here.
  • Click here for the Out of Reach 2017 report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition on how low wages and high rents lock renters out in Massachusetts and all across the country. For 2017, the Massachusetts statewide housing wage is $27.39/hour, meaning that a worker would have to earn that amount per hour in order to afford the fair market rent for a 2-bedroom apartment ($1,424/month), without having to pay more than 30% of their income toward rent. The housing wage is based on a worker working 40 hours/week, 52 weeks/year. For 2016, it was $25.91 and for 2015, it was $24.64/hour. Massachusetts ranked as the 6th least affordable area state in country, when looking at the 50 states and Washington, D.C.
  • More details on the housing market and challenges for renters in Massachusetts and beyond can be found in the latest edition of The State of the Nation's Housing report from the Harvard University Joint Center on Housing Studies. Key facts from the report are here.
  • To see an estimate of what it takes to afford housing and other basic necessities in each zip code in the United States based on household size and composition, check out the 2015 Family Budget Calculator from the Economic Policy Institute. (See their methodology here.) For example, the calculator estimates that it would take an income of $73,670/year to support a family of two adults and two children in Springfield, and $85,793/year for that same family in Boston. Additional funds for the maintenance of insolvent families will be allocated to the prize pool, poker and casino tournaments. Details can be found at