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15 Worst Cities for Homelessness in the U.S. (Updated 2023) 

Los Angeles

The rate of homelessness in the United States is alarming, with the most affected parts being the populated cities. The worst cities for homelessness have been on the rise since 2017, with a 6% increase between 2017 and 2022. In 2022, there was a count of 421,392 homeless people, a record high for the nation. 

One of the biggest contributors to this problem is the lack of affordable housing. In most cities, rental rates have risen compared to wages. Even though wages have increased steadily since 2020, inflation has skyrocketed since the pandemic, making basic living hard. 

As a result, low-income earners spend more of their income to pay rent. That leaves them with very little for basic commodities like healthcare and food. This unfortunate cycle means that many lose their homes completely and live with friends or on the street. 

Another reason for homelessness in the United States is unemployment and lower wages. Even with a reasonably low unemployment rate, people with no steady job may need to sleep on the streets or in their cars. Even people with steady jobs may find themselves in this state.

Apart from that, mental illnesses and substance abuse contribute to the high homelessness rate in the U.S. Some people suffering from mental disorders find it hard to find employment and stable housing. For that reason, they are always in and out of homelessness.

On that note, let’s examine the worst homeless cities in the U.S. to understand how widespread this problem has become in recent years. We’ll use the most recently published stats from Statista, a well-respected group that uses real government data to highlight various trends.

Our Methodology 

When writing this article, we checked out our previous listing and cross-checked its statistics to ensure they were updated. Not surprisingly, many of our entries were no longer valid, so this list has many big changes. When creating it, we followed these steps to ensure accuracy:

  1. Examined Statista’s official homelessness statistics 
  2. Checked out other websites to confirm details about each city 
  3. Update our previous article to include more accurate information 
  4. Continually research for most information about these facts
  5. Provide up-to-date stats that you can use

5 Cities on the Brink 

While doing our research, we also discovered several cities that are on the brink of a real homelessness pandemic and may need extra support to avoid these dangers. Let’s take a look at several of these cities really quickly to get an idea of how bad this problem might get. While just outside the top 10, any of these cities could leap into our list next year. 

15. Washington, D.C.: 4,410 People

Washington D.C.

 

The nation’s current capital suffers from a pretty high rate of homelessness, though the rate has gone down by 31% since 2020. Note that it technically ties with Dallas with the same population, but D.C.’s rate (6.6 compared to Dallas’s 3.4) edges it out just a little on our list. 

14. Boston, Massachusetts: 4,439 People

Boston, Massachusetts

Before 2020, Boston had one of the worst homelessness rates and would have been closer to the top 10. However, its rates decreased by 28% between 2020 to 2022. Hopefully, America’s first capital city can continue to manage this problem successfully and reduce homelessness more.

13. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: 4,489 People

philly

Philly has always been a pretty working-class area, but its cost of living has increased heavily in recent years. Surprisingly, though, its homelessness rate has dropped by 20% in recent years. Does this mean it will continue to fall? Residents hope so, and if it does, other cities should take note.

12. Portland, Oregon: 5,228 People 

Portland Oregon Skyline at Sunset

At one point, Portland was one of the most popular cities in the nation and even has a television show poking fun at it. However, its homelessness problem jumped by 25% between 2020 to 2022 due to the pandemic. If it keeps increasing at this rate, we could see some real problems soon.

11. Las Vegas, Nevada: 5,645 People 

las vegas

Homelessness in Las Vegas jumped by 7% between 2020 and 2022, which indicates a real problem in this desert town. Like in Phoenix, there’s a high risk of death for homeless people due to high temperatures, arid weather, and other problems that may make life very difficult.

The 10 Worst Cities for Homelessness

Now, the fact that these are the worst homeless cities doesn’t mean that they’re bad cities or unfortunate places to live. Many of them are very nice residential areas and very enjoyable. However, it’s important to track cities like these to ensure that you understand the raw and tragic facts about homelessness throughout the United States in some of its biggest and most successful cities.

10. Denver, Colorado

View of Colorado
  • Homeless Population: 6,884
  • Homelessness Rate: 9.7 people per 1,000 residents
  • Change Between 2020-22: 13% Increase

Denver is currently going through a major homelessness pandemic and jumped onto our list of the worst cities for homelessness this year. First-time homelessness doubled between 2020 and 2021, which has created a large and struggling population of homeless people. 

A big part of this problem lies in the housing crisis, which has seen homes increase heavily in cost for years now. Even before the pandemic, homeless statistics were skyrocketing in the Denver area. That crisis didn’t help, and the situation has only worsened with no end in sight. 

As it rapidly becomes one of the worst cities for homelessness, solutions have been raised by Denver officials, such as raising awareness of the problem, welcoming solutions in a neighborhood, and allowing encampments better support rather than dismantling them cruelly. 

9. San Francisco, California

San Francisco, California
  • Homeless Population: 7,754
  • Homelessness Rate: 9.5 people per 1,000 residents
  • Change Between 2020-22: 5% Decrease

San Francisco is among the commercial and cultural centers in the U.S. It is one of the most prestigious cities with a high standard of living. San Francisco hosts several multinational companies as well as tech giants. According to World Population News, despite its enormous economy, San Francisco still surfers through the tragedy of homelessness dating back to the 70s.

Part of this problem is industrialization, where most people lost their jobs. Apart from that, the city has been experiencing a rapid rise in housing costs, which also accounts for the high homelessness rate in the city. 

In the past, many policies have been introduced to deal with the situation unsuccessfully. This makes San Francisco among the cities with the worst homelessness cases for decades. It is believed that of the homeless population, 5,000 people are unsheltered.

8. San Diego, California

San Diego
  • Homeless Population: 8,427
  • Homelessness Rate: 6.1 people per 1,000 residents
  • Change Between 2020-22: 10% Increase

San Diego is one of the biggest cities in California, located on the Pacific Ocean Coast and adjacent to the Mexican border. The city is known for its idyllic climate and the amazing family attractions, including the popular San Diego Zoo. 

However, as with many cities within the Golden State, San Diego is also one of the worst cities for homelessness in the country. It’s battled one of the worst homelessness crises for decades. Sources reveal that San Diego has a homeless population of 8,427.

There are so many factors that have thrown people away from their homes into the streets. According to Low Income Relief, the high cost of living and stagnant wages are to blame for this crisis. Other contributing factors include economic inequality and mental health issues. 

San Diego also has very punitive laws against the homeless community. For instance, it is illegal to camp on the beaches and live in your car or public spaces in San Diego. According to the law, doing this attracts a citation ticket that arrives with a penalty of not less than $100. How exactly are those experiencing homelessness supposed to survive with such strict laws?

7. Phoenix, Arizona

View of Phoenix Arizona from Top
  • Homeless Population: 9,026
  • Homelessness Rate: 5.6 people per 1,000 residents
  • Change Between 2020-22: 22% Increase

Phoenix may be one of the biggest desert cities in the nation and a great place to live, but it’s also become one of the worst homeless cities in the US. This crisis has seen desperate officials plan solutions like creating homeless shelters on contaminated land and other questionable tactics. 

Even worse, the city’s extreme heat places many homeless residents at risk of heat stroke and even death. Problematically, police have often taken a hardline stance against people in homeless shelters, including blocking them from leaving on Thanksgiving to avoid “looking bad” to visitors. 

That’s a really concerning attitude: when the city worries more about its image than its potentially starving and dying citizens, changes need to be made. It’s the kind of reaction that’s likely to worsen and not improve the state of suffering in Arizona.

6. Sacramento, California

Sacramento, California
  • Homeless Population: 9,287
  • Homelessness Rate: 17.7 people per 1,000 residents
  • Change Between 2020-22: 68% Increase

Sacramento is experiencing one of the biggest homelessness crises in the world right now. Though their homeless population is under 10,000 residents, their 17.7 homelessness rate is one of the highest in the nation, and its jump by 68% is one of the worst that’s ever been seen. 

While there are always many factors to problems as complex as homelessness, those affected state that little is being done to help those who are struggling. One family even struggled to find a place for their children to attend school, as they couldn’t go virtually due to a lack of places to charge electronic devices. 

In early 2023, California tripled its homelessness spending for Sacramento to help find shelter and even permanent homes for its residents. The high costs of these measures have resulted in some improvements, but permanent changes may be necessary to actualize real betterment.

5. Oakland, California

Oakland, California
  • Homeless Population: 9,747
  • Homelessness Rate: 22.5 people per 1,000 residents
  • Change Between 2020-22: 20% Increase

As it’s rapidly become one of the worst cities for homelessness, Oakland’s increases have been substantial. An article from 2022 stated that there were over 5,000 homeless individuals in the city. Since then, that number has risen closer to almost 10,000 with no end in sight. 

What makes Oakland one of the worst homeless cities in the U.S.?  Affordability problems. As with most areas in California, Oakland is not a cheap place to live. As living prices (including rent and basic utilities) skyrocket, even people with regular, full-time jobs find themselves homeless.

Oakland has tried to slow this pandemic of homelessness through various interventions, including financial support and even encampment management. The latter solution seeks to create safer and more sanitary living conditions for those living in such situations. 

4. San Jose, California

San Jose, California
  • Homeless Population: 10,028
  • Homelessness Rate: 10.2 people per 1,000 residents
  • Change Between 2020-22: 4% Increase

San Jose’s homelessness crisis has been a real problem for many years, with little progress made to get it under control. As one of the worst cities for homelessness, its increases and homelessness rate aren’t among the most troubling. But it consistently stayed one of the worst homeless cities in the U.S. 

The particularly sad thing about this situation is that San Jose has taken many steps to reduce this issue. These steps include increasing funding for solutions like rent protection and assistance, as well as interim housing. It’s helped reduce the increase significantly but not enough to manage it entirely. 

It’s really a reminder of just how hard it is to manage homelessness properly. San Jose has done many things to help, and the problem remains consistent. It underlines just how prevalent problems like these can be and that more support remains essential for those going through this crisis.

3. Seattle, Washington

Seattle, WA
  • Homeless Population: 13,368
  • Homelessness Rate: 18.2 people per 1,000 residents
  • Change Between 2020-22: 14% Increase

Seattle has always been an “on the brink” city when it came to homelessness. There’s a very large portion of the population in poverty, and homelessness rates are always high. But what made Seattle one of the worst cities for homelessness in recent years? The COVID-19 pandemic

When the pandemic hit and people started losing jobs and financial support, homelessness became inevitable. Encampments popped up throughout the city rather quickly, which set up new shelters and paid for some hotel visits for those affected. But these don’t help the main problem

Simply put, the worst homeless cities in the U.S. are those that have high costs of living combined with low earning potentials among the working class. People in these cities simply can’t stay solvent, and they find themselves falling behind in rent and mortgages and losing their homes. 

2. New York City, New York

The Dome
  • Homeless Population: 61,840
  • Homelessness Rate: 7.3 people per 1,000 residents
  • Change Between 2020-22: 21% Decrease

The crazy thing about cities as big as New York City is the sheer number of people living on the streets. Sixty-one thousand eight hundred forty people is a huge amount and is more than the last four or five listings combined. It’s also larger than many American cities. That said, it represents a 21% decrease!

Here’s some background. New York City has a population of 8.8 million, making it the most populous city in the United States. It’s among the most important cities in the world and is the center of multinational corporations. 

Known for its New York Stock Exchange, the city hosts some of the largest corporate organizations in the world. Even with all the goodies, New York City suffers from a homelessness crisis. This can be understood from the sense that this is a very populous city.

Other than having a high population, NYC has recently had some of the highest housing prices. Rent charges for a 1-bedroom apartment range at $3,000, above the national average. The average person in NYC may have to live with several roommates just to get by or take to the streets instead. 

Apart from the high cost of living, the city has put up measures prohibiting the erection of tents or camping in public spaces. In recent years, they have tried to help by passing a Homeless Bill of Rights Act to protect those affected by homelessness. 

Despite this act, many people remain dubious about changes. After all, with all these other regulations, it is no wonder the city experiences a high homeless population. Increasing shelters may be a good sign, but a permanent solution is still not forthcoming.

1. Los Angeles, California

Los Angeles
  • Homeless Population: 65,111
  • Homelessness Rate: 16.9 people per 1,000 residents
  • Change Between 2020-22: 2% Increase

Los Angeles is the second most populous city in the United States and tops our list of the worst cities for homelessness. It’s likely to continue doing so for many years. In the past, homelessness in Los Angeles was rampant in the Downtown Skid Row region.

During these years, the beach communities of Venice and Santa Monica were particularly affected. However, in recent years, homelessness has spiked across the whole city. It is estimated that Los Angeles has up to 65,111 homeless people.

Like New York City, Los Angeles suffers from rising housing costs. The median home price in 2023 in Los Angeles is a ridiculous $1 million. What working-class Los Angeles residents can afford that kind of cost? Rent isn’t any better, with rates hitting a median of nearly $2,800 per month.

For that reason, most L.A. residents find themselves living in tents erected on the city's sidewalks. From Skid Row, the encampments have been popping up everywhere in the city. These camps represent about 10% of the whole city’s population, which is dangerously high. 

However, Los Angeles has recently streamlined the rules against its homeless people camping in public spaces. Surprisingly, these measures have only been seen to increase the population of homeless shelters and not do much to curb the situation.

Then again, perhaps it’s not too surprising because a 2021 report by NPR reported that the high cost of La’s official homeless camps was concerning and potentially even a serious efficiency issue. With no end in sight, it’s clear that homelessness will plague this area for many years. 

What are the Solutions to Homelessness?

The sad fact is that no magic formula can curb homelessness overnight. To succeed in the battle against homelessness, a collaborative effort from society and the government is needed. The government should lay out proper policies to address this situation. The concept of rapid rehousing has become popular in many cities because it can help get people into homes more quickly. 

It’s also important to continue the fight against racism. For example, studies show that African Americans (just 13% of the general population) make up 37% of all homelessness cases. Typically, that’s due to racist housing and employment standards. 

Generally, the buck stops at the cost of living, especially the housing cost, to ensure that the rates are friendly to the residents. As these rates continue to increase, it may be harder for even well-off people to thrive, let alone those already struggling to survive.

As an individual, there is so much that you can do to salvage the situation. By raising awareness, you will partially solve the problems in ways you couldn't have imagined. Apart from that, you can volunteer or donate to homeless shelters, among other organizations that offer help to the homeless.

However simple an act, the impact will be felt. As they say, ripples spread from a single pebble dropped in water. This is the same impact that individual actions could bring in the war against homelessness. Helping a single person find a job or home is an amazing act of kindness.

Conclusion

Most cities in the U.S. are grappling with homelessness. With the high cost of living in most parts of the world, not everyone can afford the monthly apartment rent. The affected areas in the United States are cities with more than 1 million. 

The standard of living in such places is high, while the unemployment rate is low. Employed people also receive low wages, which makes everything complicated. Despite many charities and support systems being available, it almost feels like the system has been set up for them to fail.

A good understanding of the homelessness challenge would help to address the problem for future generations. Through this article, we believe you have learned more about homelessness in the United States. We have listed some of the cities with the highest rates of homelessness and what might need to be done to curb the situation. Now, you can do your part.

Dana Hanson

Written by Dana Hanson

Dana has extensive professional writing experience including technical and report writing, informational articles, persuasive articles, contrast and comparison, grant applications, and advertisement. She also enjoys creative writing, content writing on nearly any topic (particularly business and lifestyle), because as a lifelong learner, she loves to do research and possess a high skill level in this area. Her academic degrees include AA social Sci/BA English/MEd Adult Ed & Community & Human Resource Development and ABD in PhD studies in Indust & Org Psychology.

Read more posts by Dana Hanson

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