If you’re looking for the best city to be homeless, keep in mind some places are better than others.
So, what are these places, and what makes them better than all the other cities?
That depends. If you desire exceptional social services, try New York City. If it’s warm and pleasant weather you crave, San Diego would be a better choice. In this article, you’ll learn how the pandemic became the catalyst that caused cities to finally take decisive actions on their homelessness reduction plans. You’ll also learn some tips that’ll help you when staying in New York City shelters, as well as the innovative ideas that make Madison, Wisconsin, a good place to be when you don’t have a roof over your head.
Suppose you’re homeless and seeking to relocate. In that case, you should consider how pleasant the climate is and what services you can access. This includes mental health, food pantries, free meals, job placement, and drug rehabilitation programs.
This way, you’ll maximize the chances that you can get back on your feet again.
The truth is, there’s no way to come up with a number one choice when it comes to ranking the best cities to be homeless in. Read the article, and then decide for yourself!
How Does HUD Define Homelessness?
The most recent United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) report states that a person is homeless when he doesn’t have a fixed nighttime residence.
It’s one of the most complicated social issues with all kinds of underlying social and economic factors, including poor mental health, lack of affordable housing, poverty, addictions, and family and community breakdown.
If you ever find yourself homeless, you’re not alone.
There are more than 560,000 individuals who fit this description in this country.
What Are Some of The Dangers of Being Homeless?
People living on the street are 15 times more likely to become victims of violence and more prone to contracting debilitating illnesses.
More than 20% of homeless individuals suffer from mental health disorders. 16% suffer from chronic substance abuse.
How Do Cities Treat the Homelessness Problem?
The tragedy is that many US cities have little tolerance for the homeless and either look the other way or criminalize the problem.
They do this to their detriment because each unhoused individual costs a community $40,000 a year. On the other hand, permanent supportive housing reduces the price to $12,000 per individual.
A growing number of municipalities recognize that this pervasive difficulty is best handled by aggressive outreach and support instead of turning homeless people into felons.
Here are the top cities in the US to be homeless:
San Diego, California
San Diego is one of the better cities in this country for homeless individuals to live in because it has a climate that’s exceptionally warm and pleasant all year long.
It also has some great state, city, and federally-funded programs with a proven track record. These programs include temporary housing, drug rehabilitation, job training, and mental health services.
The pandemic was the catalyst that propelled the city to proceed with its ambitious homelessness reduction plan. Because of COVID-19, the municipality found everything identified in the project is just as relevant as it was before.
Part of the plan is delivering 3,500 new permanent supportive housing units—something that the city is actively working towards right now. In case you didn’t know, permanent supportive housing units are residences that house the chronically homeless.
The chronically homeless are people who have struggled with the problem for more than one year and have a physical or mental disability.
The plan helped guide the municipality’s decisions once the pandemic started taking its deadly toll. This included purchasing two hotels to permanently house hundreds of people formerly staying at the Convention Center Shelter, which opened in April of last year.
It was deemed necessary because of worries that city-run shelters were way too crowded and could be a hotbed for the virus.
About 900 people sheltered for months at the San Diego Convention Center are moving into the new permanent supportive housing units. This means that the temporary shelter at the Convention Center will now close its doors forever.
The Convention Center’s Shelter to Home program has had numerous successes, including finding permanent housing for formerly homeless people. However, not everyone will move into the new units.
Some people will have to go to shelters elsewhere in the city.
Bob McElroy, head of the homeless service provider Alpha Project, is preparing for people to move back into two shelters maintained by his nonprofit.
Just like San Diego, Berkeley has mild weather that makes it easier to live there all year long—even if you’re homeless. However, it’s a bit colder because it’s a little further north than San Diego is.
Because it’s home to one of the most liberal higher institutions of higher learning in the nation, Berkely has some excellent homelessness reduction programs.
Many programs that benefit the homeless had their origins at this prestigious institution, including the Berkeley Food and Housing Project and Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency.
Although Austin has four glorious seasons, its wintertime temperatures rarely reach levels that could threaten people living on the streets.
It also has some excellent homelessness assistance programs offered at its downtown Homeless Resource Center.
You can access services in this building, including rehousing, vocational training, and addiction recovery programs.
Key West, Florida
Key West has lovely beach weather that’s pleasant to live in year-round.
However, until recently, it had a nasty reputation as an unwelcome place for homeless people. But all that has changed due to staunch activism on the part of an army of committed individuals.
For example, the Florida Keys Outreach Coalition provides some top-notch services that help homeless individuals get back on their feet.
These services include mental health and job preparation assistance.
New York City, New York
In recent years, New York City has suffered the most extraordinary homelessness levels since the Great Depression. Currently, there are 91,000 people experiencing homelessness within the Big Apple.
Still, New York has the lowest percentage of unsheltered homeless residents of any big city in the country because punishing weather keeps many away.
It also happens to be one of the best cities you could be homeless in.
That’s because, with over 200 shelters, it has no shortage of places to stay if you don’t have a roof over your head. On any given night in New York City, there are over 62,000 homeless people in the shelters—including families and children.
While this situation isn’t ideal, the city has more infrastructure to give homeless individuals a warm bed for the night without having to stand outside in the cold for hours.
New York is the only city in the United States with a right to shelter mandate, meaning anyone wanting a bed must be given one.
It’s the law!
However, some words of wisdom are in order. Take nothing of value into the shelter. Instead, get yourself a small storage unit where you can stash your essential items.
Through its Department of Homeless Services, New York City has many excellent programs to help you get back on your feet. These services will (among other things) get you housing, help you secure vocational training, and assist you in finding a job.
One of the most remarkable New York success stories in the fight against homelessness has been with veterans.
With lots of federal help, the city has been extraordinarily successful in eliminating veteran homelessness. In fact, it’s been so successful that five years ago, the federal government declared that New York City had ended chronic veteran homelessness.
Since 2011, the city government’s statistics show that veteran street homelessness has declined by more than 98%.
The latest figures from the city’s most recent point-in-time count show only six unsheltered veterans left in the five boroughs!
Salt Lake City, Utah
Salt Lake City is the Mormon capital of the world.
Because of the religion’s commitment to helping the downtrodden, it’s an excellent place to be if you find yourself without shelter because the city has 14 of them.
Over the past decade, the Mormon church has generously donated over $50,000,000 to nine groups that serve the homeless in the Salt Lake Valley.
Fort Worth, Texas
In 2019, Fort Worth had a population of 1,754 homeless residents.
The bustling metropolis of 895,008 citizens has a sterling track record of getting people back on their feet.
That’s because the shelters there are considered among the best in the country, and it boasts excellent job opportunities.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Las Vegas has a violent crime rate that’s 62% higher than the national average.
That means it would be tough to live on the Las Vegas streets if the city didn’t provide such excellent homelessness services.
While the city offers shelters, they also provide homeless courtyards. This is a fenced-in area with 24-hour security where individuals can stay as long as they want. These courtyards have showers and porta-potties, so homeless people don’t have to neglect their hygiene when living on the streets.
Unlike shelters, courtyards don’t require breathalyzers, making them a more inviting place for those battling alcoholism.
In 2018, the homeless population in Phoenix jumped an incredible 11%, to 9,800 unsheltered individuals. After the numbers skyrocketed, the city beefed up its efforts to combat this insidious problem.
The city currently offers some excellent rehousing and social services options, including resource centers, youth shelters, motel vouchers, food vouchers, and food banks.
While it can get unbearably hot, temperatures don’t get as cold as they do in other parts of the country.
Los Angeles, California
California has 130,000 homeless residents, and 80,000 of these are in Los Angeles.
In 2019, there were 36,300 homeless Angelenos. This was more than a 16% increase from the last year. At around 75%, Los Angeles has the highest percentage of unsheltered individuals than any other city in the nation.
There are some appalling statistics right there.
However, it’s not all dire when it comes to being homeless in the City of Angels.
For starters, there’s the balmy year-round weather that makes being without a roof over your head more tolerable than other locales.
There’s also the hard work that Los Angeles has done in the past couple of years, keeping the growth of the homeless population to about half the average jump seen in other cities.
Proposition HHH, passed in 2016, has made a massive difference in how the city fights homelessness.
Proposition HHH is the “Homelessness Reduction and Prevention, Housing, and Facilities Bond.” It’s a $1.2 billion measure that will provide the funding and infrastructure necessary to bring chronic homelessness to an end in Los Angeles.
Proposition HHH has allowed L.A. to increase its homelessness budget to more than $460 million for housing and services, 25 times what it was just four short years ago. The county has contributed millions more.
This expanding funding will open new transitional housing that can temporarily bring the unsheltered off the street. It will also provide for permanent supportive housing that gets people in their own apartments.
This measure has already resulted in some substantial successes in combating homelessness.
Since Proposition HHH passed, L.A. has 109 homeless housing developments in development. This means 7,400 units for previously homeless individuals. L.A. even added 16,525 units of new housing in 2018—three times more than any other Californian city.
In 2019, more than 21,000 homeless Angelenos were sheltered across Los Angeles County because of all this new housing stock.
Compare that to 2014, when 9,600 were housed.
L.A. is considering other measures to help the homeless. For example, the mayor is asking business owners with unused parking lots to open them up to people who make their vehicles their home and need a safe place to park.
San Francisco, California
In recent years, San Francisco has experienced a precipitous jump in its homeless population.
High tech companies have priced about 60% of the population out of the city with their high-paying jobs. Some of these individuals end up on the street. Even some people making $60,000 a year live out of their cars because they cannot afford rent.
If you’re without a roof over your head, the weather there is more than tolerable.
San Francisco is in northern California, but it’s not so far north that people living on the streets are freezing to death. It has more shelters than most other big cities and some first-rate food distribution programs.
With approximately 22,000 homeless individuals, Washington is one of the top five states with the greatest concentration of unsheltered people.
Seatle alone has 12,000.
The city serves this population well with some first-rate homelessness services.
Of course, the weather’s not great. However, the city offers many resources and doesn’t crack down on the homeless as much as other cities.
There are four shelters, some exceptional rehousing services, and a blood bank where people can donate plasma for cash. If you go there, check out the Summer Homeless Men’s Shelter, where you can stay for three bucks a night and get three meals a day.
Honolulu offers free mass transit via the Hele-On (Let’s Go) Bus. There are stops all around the island, with service offered Monday through Saturday.
All buses are wheelchair accessible, and it’s free to go anywhere.
If you’re disabled, Hawaii happens to be the easiest state to get Social Security Disability.
Although Madison might not be as big as some of the other cities on this list, it earned a spot because of its innovative tiny house project for homeless people.
This initiative was born from the Occupy Madison movement and provides shelter for those hardest hit by economic uncertainty. The battalion of volunteers who generously donated their time constructed 99 square foot shelters out of pallet wood and other discarded materials.
Each solar-powered residence has a bed, composting toilet, vented propane heater, and running water. These houses can be easily wheeled to another location.
Residents must volunteer at least 32 hours a week before moving in. They also must be actively engaged in the community while living there.
In 2010, Houston’s homeless problem was horrendous. It ranked in the top ten cities for the greatest number of people without a roof over their head.
In the intervening years, the city has been so successful in reducing homelessness that it’s become a shining example for the rest of the country. The key to their success was formulating The Way Home, Houston’s much-lauded action plan to end the problem forever.
This plan galvanized the city in an almost miraculous way. Thanks to unprecedented collaboration among human service providers, public agencies, and magnanimous benefactors, Houston has made tremendous progress towards eliminating homelessness, a glorious reality.
The end result?
From 2011 to 2017, Houston reduced homelessness by an incredible 60%.
One of the most exciting parts of this success story is the city’s Homeless Outreach Team. In an era when so many municipalities are looking to defund their police force, Houston has gone in a totally opposite direction.
The Homeless Outreach Team (or HOT) is an elite team of Houston police officers and mental health case managers who engage in street outreach to the chronically homeless. The squad works on forging strong relationships with people and finding highly individualized solutions for people living on the streets.
In 2018, HOT assisted in getting 323 individuals permanent supportive housing. Because homelessness is a many-faceted problem, the team doesn’t just tackle homelessness.
They also help with getting jobs, decent medical care, birth certificates, social security cards, and public transportation.
The HOT team has been named as a finalist for the International Association of Police Community Policing Board. Other cities have examined this model and are importing its ideas into their own police department.
Homelessness is never easy. If you find yourself suffering from this problem, try to make it more tolerable.
One way to do this is by going to a city with mild weather, excellent social services, or both. That way, you’ll help create an environment in which you can be your best.
This will help immeasurably in getting back on your feet again.