Homelessness on the decline prior to COVID-19, but challenges remain

Key findings

  • Prior to COVID-19, homelessness had dropped to its lowest point in more than a decade, although it remains prevalent throughout northeastern Illinois.
  • Progress varies across the region, with greater decreases in homelessness in the suburbs than in Chicago. DuPage County recorded the greatest drop at 60 percent.
  • The data reflect existing racial and ethnic inequities in the region. In 2019, 68 percent of people experiencing homelessness were Black.
  • Communities in the region need long-term, permanent solutions that help people access a stable home. ON TO 2050 provides strategies to cultivate support for more housing options.

Executive summary

Homelessness in northeastern Illinois dropped to its lowest point in more than a decade prior to COVID-19, according to a new analysis by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP). There were 7,573 people experiencing homelessness in 2019 — a 20 percent decrease since 2014. This progress could be quickly undone, however, without interventions to prevent a COVID-19-fueled wave of evictions.

Progress was uneven across the region. Suburban areas, DuPage County in particular, saw significantly greater drops in homelessness. Meanwhile, racial and ethnic inequities remain a challenge: In 2019, most of the homeless population was Black, a share that has increased in recent years.

Exterior view of brick housing

The findings demonstrate a demand for affordable and accessible housing — particularly amid a pandemic and economic downturn. ON TO 2050, the region’s long-range plan, recommends expanding housing options to serve all residents.

Understanding how many people are experiencing homelessness in northeastern Illinois, who they are, and how the data have changed over time, is critical to developing more equitable programs and policies in the region.