Homelessness statistics in the world: causes and facts

By Daniil Filipenco

Homelessness statistics in the world: causes and facts

In almost every city on the planet, people can be observed sleeping on the streets, on park benches or elsewhere. This is because homelessness affects people of all ages, sexes, races, and backgrounds, and is among the most obvious examples of poverty, prejudice, and inequality.

Although hard to track, the number of homeless people increases each year, with few countries being an exception to that. The United Nations has documented that there are around 1.6 billion people residing in poor housing worldwide, with around 15 million being forcibly evicted each year.

Surprisingly, living in a rich country or healthy economy is no guarantee to being “homelessness immune”. This article presents homelessness statistics around the globe, describing countries where most homeless people live, and the nations with the highest and lowest homelessness rates. But first, let’s explore the causes of homelessness.

Major causes of homelessness

Although the world has millions of homeless people, it is challenging to quantify homelessness with any degree of accuracy due to the lack of reliable statistics. Numerous factors contribute to the phenomenon, many of which are interconnected.

  • Conflicts cause people to lose their homes and look for a place to stay but not everyone is lucky enough to find adequate shelter;
  • Natural calamities destroy homes, leaving families without a roof over their heads;
  • The absence of affordable housing is another major cause. Some people are unable to pay their rent or mortgage due to unemployment which can be caused by a crisis or physical or mental issues.
  • Some homeless people, despite having a job, do not earn enough to be able to cover their rent, sometimes as a result of an increase in local housing costs.

Virtually every country around the globe has a homeless population. From this perspective, nations can be divided into two categories: those with the highest homeless population, and those with the highest homeless rate.

  • Homeless population is the number of homeless individuals on a given night in a specific nation
  • Rate of homelessness is the rate of homeless people in relation to a country’s total population

Countries with the highest number of homeless people

The magnitude and breadth of the homelessness issue show how the problem affects almost every country, region, and city in the world.

Here is a glance at the figures of the top 10 countries with the highest number of homeless people:

Fig.1. Homelessness by country 2023

Source: World Population Review

Homelessness in Nigeria

Nigeria has the world’s highest number of homeless people Although there appears to be a precise number of homeless people, it is impossible to track and quantify those who change their state of “homelessness”.

  • Nigeria Population: 218.5 million
  • Homeless people in Nigeria: 24.4 million

Nigerians frequently migrate from rural areas to large cities in search of shelter, money and opportunity. Many, however, have trouble adjusting to city life due to:

  • High cost of living
  • Lack of social support
  • Challenges in getting a job (since newcomers lack the required education and communication skills)
  • Abuse that some people face
  • Hazardous jobs performed for meagre remuneration

Homelessness in Syria

Syria has the world’s highest homeless rate with one-third – roughly 29.6% – of the country’s 22 million population being homeless.

  • Population: 22.1 million
  • Homeless: 6.56 million

Syria continues to have the worst displacement situation in the world. After 11 years of the ongoing war, the Syrian refugee issue is the greatest global refugee and resettlement disaster of our time.

Additionally, according to the UN, 70% of Syrians lack access to potable water because of infrastructural failure. A further 9 million people lack sufficient food, with 1 million being in danger of becoming hungry. Put together, these conditions point towards an increase in homeless people in Syria.

  • Probably the main reason behind the huge number of homeless is war.
  • Since the start of the civil conflict, about 13,000 children have died or suffered injuries
  • About 2.4 million children cannot attend school
  • The war has left 90% of the population in poverty
  • Infrastructure has collapsed. This includes hospitals, clinics, schools, and water and sewage systems.

Homelessness statistics in the United States

The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development has estimated that approximately 18 out of 10,000 Americans, or 582,000 people in total, were homeless in 2022. From 2020 to 2022 in 27 out of 50 states, the number of homeless people rose, while in the remaining 23 states and the District of Columbia, it fell.

The overall number of homeless people in the U.S. in the same period increased by 1,996 (less than 1%), but showed a considerable decrease of over 10% compared to 2007 when there were 647,258 homeless people. At the same time, critics say that the true number of homeless people in the US is substantially higher because some may be couch surfing, living with friends, or sleeping in hotels or motels. These people are known as the ‘invisible’ homeless population.

* Data for 2021 has been excluded since, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, it only included sheltered homeless people; unsheltered people were not included in the count to slow the virus’s spread.

Source: Statista

Lack of accessible housing, rising rents, poverty, job loss, mental health problems and substance abuse are among the most common causes, which in many cases can intersect, of homelessness in the U.S.

At the same time, of all the people in the US facing homelessness, almost 25% are younger than 24 years old.

  • 76% (444,041 people) were aged 25 or older
  • 7% 40,177 people) were aged 18 to 24
  • 17% (98,244 people) were children aged under 18

Major states by the number of homeless

Four states accounted for the majority of the nation’s homeless population:

  • California (30% or 171,521 people)
  • New York (13% or 74,178 people)
  • Florida (5% or 25,959 people)
  • Washington (4% or 25,211 people)

Major states by the percentage of unsheltered homeless

Of those who were homeless in California, 67% lived outdoors. Check out the table below to see the top 5 states where more than half of the total number of homeless people were living in unsheltered locations.

Source: The 2022 Annual Homelessness Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress 

Countries with the world’s lowest number of homeless people

On the other side of the fence, Iceland, Finland, and Japan are the countries with the lowest number of homeless people and the lowest rate of homeless people. Although it is difficult to accurately assess the numbers and rates in each country, there is certain data that can provide an indication of this information. This is what the available data shows:

Iceland, with only 349 persons per night, has the lowest homeless population on the European continent and one of the lowest in the world. In 2018, the nation announced that tackling homelessness was a priority, with one of the goals being to build homes for homeless people.

Finland is known across the world for its work to end homelessness via its Housing First policy. The country’s 0.08% rate of homelessness has been in the news for some time. Over the past 10 years, the country has shown an impressive drop in the number of homeless people. The latest data shows that 3,950 homeless people were living in Finland at the end of 2021, a decrease of 390 compared to the previous year.

At 0.003% or roughly 1 homeless person per 34,000 residents, Japan is the country with the world’s lowest rate of homelessness. Moreover, with a population of around 125.7 million people, the country also has one of the lowest numbers of homeless people.

Based on a government assessment that has been carried out for the last 10 years, the number of homeless people in the Land of the Rising Sun has decreased to its lowest point yet – 3,448. This decline is a result of initiatives undertaken by local authorities and regional NPOs.

Fig.2. Number of homeless people in Japan

Source: Nippon

Japan’s diverse strategy to reduce homelessness involves giving those who lack housing access to resources, permanent shelter, and community assistance.

Final word

Although it is difficult to analyse the countries with the highest and lowest number of homeless people because very few surveys have been carried out and some were done a while ago, we still can get a glimpse of what’s going on. Obviously, the nations that face ongoing conflicts and suffer serious issues register an increasing number of homeless people. At the same time, developed countries like Iceland (which is also among the world’s happiest) and Japan not only have a very low homeless population but continue to invest in tackling the issue of homelessness.