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HUD Report to Congress: Homelessness Increased for Fourth Year in a Row; Racial Inequities Persist

Rockville, Md.  –  On a single night in January 2020, roughly 580,000 people were experiencing homelessness in the United States. Sixty-one percent were staying in sheltered locations and the remainder—more than 226,000 people—were in unsheltered locations: on the street, in abandoned buildings, or in other places not suitable for human habitation. This marks the fourth year in a row that the number of people experiencing homelessness who are unsheltered has grown (up 7 percent from 2019). These findings and more appear in Part 1 of HUD’s Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress (AHAR), which is produced by Abt Associates.

This portion of the report provides point-in-time estimates, offering a snapshot of homelessness—both sheltered and unsheltered—based on one-night counts conducted during the last 10 days of January each year, thus predating the full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. As always, a second, more comprehensive report will be released later in the year. Additional findings in Part 1 include:

  • Unsheltered homelessness continues to increase, driven by unsheltered homelessness among people who are not part of a family. The total number of people experiencing homelessness increased by  2 percent between 2019 and 2020. However, the number of unsheltered individuals increased much more—by 7 percent—while the number of sheltered individuals remained largely unchanged. Increases in the unsheltered population occurred across all geographic categories.
  • For the first time since the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development started collecting this data, more individuals experiencing homelessness were unsheltered on a single night than were in sheltered locations. In January 2020, 51 percent of individuals were in unsheltered locations.
  • Few families with children stay in unsheltered locations.  However, those small numbers increased between 2019 and 2020 for the first time since data collection began. This increase offset a decline in sheltered people in families with children, so the overall level of family homelessness was essentially the same in 2020 as in 2019.
  • Between 2019 and 2020, the number of unsheltered veterans increased by 6 percent, offset by a 3 percent decline in the typically larger number of veterans who were in shelters. Overall, the number of veterans experiencing homelessness remained unchanged, following considerable reductions in the population in prior years.
  • Racial inequities in homelessness remain notable. People identifying as Black or African American accounted for 39 percent of all people experiencing homelessness but are 12 percent of the total U.S. population. Together, American Indian, Alaska Native, Pacific Islander and Native Hawaiian populations account for 1 percent of the U.S. population but 5 percent of the homeless population. People identifying as Hispanic or Latino (who can be of any race) are about 23 percent of the homeless population but only 16 percent of the population overall. In contrast, 48 percent of all people experiencing homelessness were white, but white people comprise 74 percent of the U.S. population.
  • The number of individuals with chronic patterns of homelessness increased by 15 percent. While increases were reported among both sheltered and unsheltered populations, the increase in unsheltered chronically homeless people was greater (21 percent), reflecting the overall rise in unsheltered homelessness that started in 2017.

A few months after these data were collected, COVID-19 forced communities to balance the needs and the safety of people experiencing homelessness. Physical distancing requirements could often only be accomplished by reducing shelter capacity, likely exacerbating the recent growth in unsheltered homelessness.

“While the longitudinal data that will be released later in the year in Part 2 of the AHAR will provide a fuller picture of the impact of the pandemic on the shelter system, these point-in-time data provide critical information on pre-COVID trends, most notably on the recent increase in the unsheltered population,” says project director and Abt senior associate Meghan Henry. “But, as we work to produce Part 2,  we already know that those disproportionately affected by homelessness have also been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and its follow-on effects in the economy. We need to center racial equity in this country’s systemic approach to addressing homelessness.”

Read the full report.

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