Homelessness in Billings: The Facts
How many people are homeless in Billings?
It is very difficult to estimate just how many people are homeless at any given time. In Billings, there is a high rate of persons experiencing homelessness who are not staying in emergency shelters or other housing services. Instead, they may sleep outside or in their cars, “couch-surf” with friends and family, or spend part of the month in hotels/motels and then find themselves outside again when they can no longer afford it.
Each year, however, Billings attempts to survey to see how many people are homeless and what conditions they face. This survey, called the Point-In-Time survey, is conducted throughout other cities in Montana and throughout the nation and is used to survey homelessness in different communities. This annual survey showed that 1004 people in Billings had no home in January 2014. That is a 25% increase of homelessness from 2013. Only 256 of those that were homeless appear to meet the federal definition of homelessness, which mainly includes people staying outside or in homeless shelters, as well as youth without a home. The federal definition misses those that are staying with friends or family, also known as “couch surfing” and also neglects those that are living in a motel/hotel paid for by themselves, those in the hospital, those in jail or prison, those in a psychiatric facility, and those in a substance abuse treatment facility. Based on trends and information from agencies serving the homeless, we estimate that each year, roughly 2,500 people experience homelessness at some time.
Who is homeless in Billings and why?
Homelessness in Billings is a problem driven by both community-wide issues, such as unemployment, wage levels, and the cost of living, and by risk factors that affect some people more than others.
Almost 15% of residents in the Billing metro area experience poverty each year and over 40% pay what the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) considers excessive housing costs. Of these, almost 20% are what HUD considers “severely-cost burdened,” paying more than half of their income for housing. At a time when an estimated 38% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, situations like this place low-income residents at risk of homelessness.
Certain groups, however, are much more likely to be homeless. Major demographic features that affect risk of homelessness include age, family type, race / ethnicity, and educational attainment.
Ethnicity and race is another characteristic that is associated with higher risks of homelessness. In the Billings community, both Native Americans and African-Americans are approximately 700% more likely to experience homelessness than the general population. Latinos too are about twice as likely to experience homelessness. Specifically, Native Americans are highly over-represented within the homeless population. Native Americans only make up 4% of the Billings population but make up 28%, more than a quarter, of the homeless population. The end result is that even though minorities make up less than 10% of the population in the Billings metro area, they comprise over 40% of the population experiencing homelessness.
One of the most striking features of homelessness in Billings is that families account for the largest percentage of the homeless population with 69% of the surveyed population. Largely because of the pervasiveness of family homelessness, youth homelessness is also exceptionally high, with 23% of the homeless population below the age of 18 and an additional 15% between the ages of 18 and 25. However, many that work in the field believe these counts to be low. In addition, it is hard to accurately see youth homelessness in-depth through the annual Point-In-Time survey. Therefore, Billings decided to implement a youth homeless survey. To learn more about this project, click below.