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According to the United States Census Bureau, the borough has a total area of 1.6 km² (0.6 mi²). 1.5 km² (0.6 mi²) of it is land and 0.2 km² (0.1 mi²) of it is water. The total area is 11.11% water.
As of the census of 2000, there are 3,569 people, 1,607 households, and 843 families residing in the borough. The population density is 2,417.5/km² (6,281.6/mi²). There are 2,071 housing units at an average density of 1,402.8/km² (3,645.0/mi²). The racial makeup of the borough is 42.64% White, 51.30% African American, 0.25% Native American, 2.83% Asian, 0.03% Pacific Islander, 0.22% from other races, and 2.72% from two or more races. 0.62% of the population are Hispanic or Latino of any race.
There are 1,607 households out of which 24.4% have children under the age of 18 living with them, 23.3% are married couples living together, 24.4% have a female householder with no husband present, and 47.5% are non-families. 42.5% of all households are made up of individuals and 19.4% have someone living alone who is 65 years of age or older. The average household size is 2.16 and the average family size is 2.99.
In the borough the population is spread out with 24.2% under the age of 18, 8.0% from 18 to 24, 25.1% from 25 to 44, 23.8% from 45 to 64, and 18.9% who are 65 years of age or older. The median age is 40 years. For every 100 females there are 80.1 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there are 75.1 males.
The median income for a household in the borough is $16,603, and the median income for a family is $28,314. Males have a median income of $25,500 versus $21,559 for females. The per capita income for the borough is $12,690. 26.6% of the population and 23.0% of families are below the poverty line. Out of the total people living in poverty, 31.0% are under the age of 18 and 16.8% are 65 or older.
Homestead gained international notareity in July 1892 as the site of a violent clash between locked-out steelworkers and hired Pinkerton guards. When Andrew Carnegie, owner of the local Homestead Steel Works, announced in the spring of 1892 that skilled workers would receive a reduction in wages, the advisory committee of the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers refused to sign a new contract. Carnegie's management locked the workforce out, declaring that the union would no longer be recognized at the steel works.
To secure the mill from the disgruntled workers, management hired hundreds of men from the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. When barges carrying the Pinkertons arrived at the mill on the morning of July 6, workers and townspeople met them at the riverbanks. Though eyewitness accounts differed on which side fired first, a day-long armed battle ensued which resulted in eleven deaths and dozens of injuries. The governor of Pennsylvania eventually called out the National Guard to restore order to the town and secure the mill. Carnegie successfully destroyed the union in Homestead and, by extension, in most of his other steel mills through the nation. The "Battle of Homestead," as the event came to be known, represented a stunning setback for unionization in the highly-mechanized steel industry.