A report from the U.S. Census Bureau examines the demographic characteristics of the population counted in emergency and transitional shelters as part of the 2010 Census. The Census Bureau counted 209,325 individuals in emergency and transitional shelters, which the bureau defines as “places where people experiencing homelessness stay overnight.” Data were collected on the emergency and transitional shelter population using a Service-Based Enumeration (SBE) operation. Over three days in March 2010, census takers surveyed people at shelters, soup kitchens and regularly scheduled mobile food vans, as well as visiting outdoor locations. While this report gives valuable information about who makes up the shelter population in the United States, the authors note that the people counted should not be considered representative of the homeless population overall.
The report found that, in the total emergency and transitional shelter population, individuals between the ages of 18 and 64 make up 77% of the population. The next largest age group was children (under 18), who made up 20% of population. Those over 65 years old made up only 3% of the population. The median age for the total emergency and transitional shelter population was 39.2 years old, about two years higher than the median age for the overall U.S. population, which was 37.2 years old.
The report also found that there were nearly twice as many men in emergency and transitional shelters than women, with 62% of the total population male and 38% female. However, the population of girls under the age of 18 in emergency and transitional shelters was disproportionately large, compared to the boys of the same age group. Twenty-six percent of females in emergency and transitional shelters were under the age of 18, compared to 16% of males.
In terms of racial characteristics, 45% of those counted in emergency and transitional shelters reported being white only, and 41% reported black only. Eighteen percent of the shelter population reported being of Hispanic or Latino origin. Those who reported two or more races made up 4% of the population, and American Indian and Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander, each accounted for 2% of the population.
The report also examined the geographic distribution of the emergency and transitional shelter population. Thirty percent of the population was in the Northeast, which had the largest concentration of any region in the United States. The Midwest had the smallest proportion of the emergency and transitional shelter population at 17%. New York State had the largest share of the emergency and transitional shelter population at 36,000, followed by California at 28,000. Together they accounted for almost a third of the total emergency and transitional shelter population.
State to state, there was significant variation in sex and age demographics, but no state had a higher number of females in emergency and transitional shelter than males. Still, there was some variation: Nevada’s population was 74% male while New York and Hawaii’s were both 53% male. Age distribution varied as well. In Hawaii, 37% of the emergency and transitional shelter population was under 18 years old, while only 10% of the population in New Mexico was in the same age group. The report also goes into county-level data, noting that counties with large emergency and transitional shelter populations were generally located in metropolitan areas.