State of Homelessness: 2020 Edition

As the Alliance publishes this updated version of the State of Homelessness, COVID-19 is creating a health and economic crisis in America and throughout the world.  It is too soon to determine its ultimate impacts.  Thus, this year’s report represents a baseline—the state of homelessness before the crisis began.  It also reflects some early considerations and predictions about the influence of the pandemic on this vulnerable population.

Homelessness in America

Seventeen out of every 10,000 people in the United States were experiencing homelessness on a single night in January 2019 during HUD’s Annual Point-in-Time Count.  These 567,715 people represent a cross-section of America.  They are associated with every region of the country, family status, gender category, and racial/ethnic group.

Large Subpopulations.  Certain subpopulations are significantly represented within homelessness: 

Individuals.  Seventy percent of people experiencing homelessness are individuals who are living on their own or in the company of other adults.  The remainder (30 percent) are people in families with children.

Males.  Homelessness is significantly defined by gender.  Sixty percent of all people experiencing homelessness are male.  Amongst individuals, the numbers are starker—70 percent are men and unaccompanied male youth.

Unsheltered.  Far too many people in America sleep outside and in other locations not meant for human habitation.  This group includes more than 200,000 people (37 percent of the overall population).  Among individuals experiencing homelessness, the numbers are more dire—1 in 2 are unsheltered.

Most At Risk.  Numerical size is one reason to focus on a subpopulation within homelessness.  Risk is another.  Some groups are much more likely to become homeless than the national average. 

Pacific Islanders and Native Americans are most likely to be homeless in America when compared to all other racial/ethnic groups.  Within the former, 160 people experience homelessness out of every 10,000 compared to the national average of 17 out of every 10,000.  Pacific Islanders and Native Americans are numerically small groups within the U.S., making it more difficult for the U.S. Census Bureau and homelessness services systems to count them accurately.  Nevertheless, available data suggest they face significant challenges.

Black Americans, multiracial Americans, and Hispanics/Latinxs are similarly situated. Group members are far more likely to be homeless than the national average and white Americans.

Prioritized Groups.  Researchers and the public policy world have emphasized some additional subpopulations.  Chronically homeless individuals are disabled and have experienced long-term and/or repeated episodes of homelessness.  They are currently 17 percent of the population.  Veterans, who are 7 percent of people experiencing homelessness, are prioritized due to their service to our country.  And unaccompanied youth, who represent 6 percent of the population, are a vulnerable age group consisting of those under 25 years old.

COVID-19 Vulnerable.  According to the CDC, some individuals are at higher risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19.  They include older adults age 65 and over.  However, people experiencing homelessness age faster than housed people.  Research indicates they have physical conditions that mirror those of people 15-20 years older than them.  On a single day, an estimated 202,623 single adults experiencing homelessness are over age 50, suggesting they may be uniquely vulnerable to becoming seriously ill during the pandemic crisis. 

An additional CDC-identified risk group is people with pre-existing health conditions.  Before the current crisis, growing numbers were experiencing unsheltered homelessness—a living situation associated with poor health.  A recent study sampled unsheltered individuals from across the country, finding 84 percent self-reporting existing physical health conditions.  Only 19 percent of people in shelters said the same.


Trends in Homelessness

Compared to the previous year, homelessness increased by 3 percent in the 2019 Point-in-Time Count.  This marked the third straight year of national-level increases.

Despite this negative movement, the long-term trend has been downward.  Overall homelessness has decreased by 12 percent since 2007, the year nation-wide data collection began.  The current COVID-19 crisis has the potential to diminish or completely wipe out these modest gains.

Subpopulations.  Existing progress has been uneven.  Subpopulations prioritized in policy and practice (including funding decisions) have made the most impressive gains over the last decade.  Veterans experienced the greatest decreases in homelessness—50 percent.  Other subpopulations have realized smaller reductions that, nevertheless, are larger than those in overall homelessness.  They include people in families (29 percent), chronically homeless individuals (9 percent), and people experiencing unsheltered homelessness (10 percent).

One group is noticeably falling behind all others.  Individuals have only realized a 0.2 percent reduction in homelessness over the last decade.  Some are veterans, unaccompanied youth, and chronically homeless.  These subgroups have been experiencing greater progress than individuals more generally—but they only make up a minority of the individuals population and help to mask the delayed progress of a sizable majority who are not veterans, unaccompanied youth, or chronically homeless. 

Individuals are also solely responsible for the national-level increases in overall homelessness that occurred over the last three years.  Individual homelessness increased by 11 percent over that period even as numbers for people in families continued to decrease.  This upwards trend exists across a broad range of individuals, including the chronically homeless, men, women, and every racial/ethnic group. 

States.  As with subpopulations, some states are making more progress towards ending homelessness than others. 

Thirty states reduced homelessness since the previous year.  Long-term trends further highlight the more successful stories.  A majority (37) have reduced homelessness since 2007, with the most significant gains occurring in Michigan (-70 percent), Kentucky (-49 percent), and New Jersey (-49 percent). 

Other states have more people experiencing homelessness than they did more than a decade ago.  Fourteen have seen their numbers increase between 2 and 72 percent over that period.  New and decisive action is necessary to ensure these states build real momentum in the fight against homelessness.

Table

 
UNITED STATES
Population estimates, July 1, 2018, (V2018) 327,167,434
PEOPLE
Population
Population estimates, July 1, 2018, (V2018) 327,167,434
Population estimates, July 1, 2017, (V2017) 325,719,178
Population estimates base, April 1, 2010, (V2018) 308,758,105
Population estimates base, April 1, 2010, (V2017) 308,758,105
Population, percent change - April 1, 2010 (estimates base) to July 1, 2018, (V2018) 6.0%
Population, percent change - April 1, 2010 (estimates base) to July 1, 2017, (V2017) 5.5%
Population, Census, April 1, 2010 308,745,538
Age and Sex
Persons under 5 years, percent
6.1%
Persons under 18 years, percent
22.6%
Persons 65 years and over, percent
15.6%
Female persons, percent
50.8%
Race and Hispanic Origin
White alone, percent
76.6%
Black or African American alone, percent(a)
13.4%
American Indian and Alaska Native alone, percent(a)
1.3%
Asian alone, percent(a)
5.8%
Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander alone, percent(a)
0.2%
Two or More Races, percent
2.7%
Hispanic or Latino, percent(b)
18.1%
White alone, not Hispanic or Latino, percent
60.7%
Population Characteristics
Veterans, 2013-2017 18,939,219
Foreign born persons, percent, 2013-2017 13.4%
Housing
Housing units, July 1, 2017, (V2017) 137,403,460
Owner-occupied housing unit rate, 2013-2017 63.8%
Median value of owner-occupied housing units, 2013-2017 $193,500
Median selected monthly owner costs -with a mortgage, 2013-2017 $1,515
Median selected monthly owner costs -without a mortgage, 2013-2017 $474
Median gross rent, 2013-2017 $982
Building permits, 2017 1,281,977
Families & Living Arrangements
Households, 2013-2017 118,825,921
Persons per household, 2013-2017 2.63
Living in same house 1 year ago, percent of persons age 1 year+, 2013-2017 85.4%
Language other than English spoken at home, percent of persons age 5 years+, 2013-2017 21.3%
Computer and Internet Use
Households with a computer, percent, 2013-2017 87.2%
Households with a broadband Internet subscription, percent, 2013-2017 78.1%
Education
High school graduate or higher, percent of persons age 25 years+, 2013-2017 87.3%
Bachelor's degree or higher, percent of persons age 25 years+, 2013-2017 30.9%
Health
With a disability, under age 65 years, percent, 2013-2017 8.7%
Persons without health insurance, under age 65 years, percent
10.2%
Economy
In civilian labor force, total, percent of population age 16 years+, 2013-2017 63.0%
In civilian labor force, female, percent of population age 16 years+, 2013-2017 58.2%
Total accommodation and food services sales, 2012 ($1,000)(c) 708,138,598
Total health care and social assistance receipts/revenue, 2012 ($1,000)(c) 2,040,441,203
Total manufacturers shipments, 2012 ($1,000)(c) 5,696,729,632
Total merchant wholesaler sales, 2012 ($1,000)(c) 5,208,023,478
Total retail sales, 2012 ($1,000)(c) 4,219,821,871
Total retail sales per capita, 2012(c) $13,443
Transportation
Mean travel time to work (minutes), workers age 16 years+, 2013-2017 26.4
Income & Poverty
Median household income (in 2017 dollars), 2013-2017 $57,652
Per capita income in past 12 months (in 2017 dollars), 2013-2017 $31,177
Persons in poverty, percent
12.3%
BUSINESSES
Businesses
Total employer establishments, 2016 7,757,807
Total employment, 2016 126,752,238
Total annual payroll, 2016 ($1,000) 6,435,142,055
Total employment, percent change, 2015-2016 2.1%
Total nonemployer establishments, 2016 24,813,048
All firms, 2012 27,626,360
Men-owned firms, 2012 14,844,597
Women-owned firms, 2012 9,878,397
Minority-owned firms, 2012 7,952,386
Nonminority-owned firms, 2012 18,987,918
Veteran-owned firms, 2012 2,521,682
Nonveteran-owned firms, 2012 24,070,685
GEOGRAPHY
Geography
Population per square mile, 2010 87.4
Land area in square miles, 2010 3,531,905.43
FIPS Code 00

 


Geographic Regions Experiencing the Greatest Challenges

Identifying the regions with the most challenges informs nation-wide efforts to end homelessness. 

Counts.  One approach is to examine the locations with the highest homeless counts.  They include states such as California, Florida, New York, and Texas as well as Continuums of Care (CoCs) serving New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Texas’ Balance of State.  These locations share a common characteristic—relatively large general populations.  They include major cities and Balance of States encompassing broad expanses of land (with numerous towns and cities). 

Fifty-six percent of people experiencing homelessness are in the five states that have the largest homeless counts.  More than 1 in 3 are in the twenty CoCs with the highest numbers of people experiencing homelessness.  Thus, much of this national challenge is located in a small number of places, with most jurisdictions having a much smaller problem to manage.

Rates.  Rates of homelessness are another way of gauging the severity of the problem within a jurisdiction.  They reflect the number of people experiencing homelessness in relation to the general population. 

Rates across the country are wildly divergent.  Amongst states/territories, the District of Columbia (93 people experiencing homelessness out of every 10,000) and New York (47 out of 10,000) have the highest rates.  By contrast, Louisiana (6 out of 10,000) and Mississippi (4 out of 10,000) have the lowest rates.  Many homeless people reside in high rate jurisdictions.  Forty-five percent are in the five states/territories with the highest rates.

Many of the high rate states and CoCs are associated with other notable housing issues.  Researchers and advocates cite many of them as having the highest housing costs and highest rent burdens (housing costs as a percentage of income) in the nation.   

Some states and CoCs are anomalies.  Their counts and rates defy expectations rooted in overall population size and housing costs.  Those states and communities may possess unusual characteristics tied to history, government policy, or culture.  Some may have homeless services systems that are either highly effective or falling far short of their potential.

COVID-19.  Counts and rates typically offer useful information about the challenges facing homeless systems—they reflect the number of people who need homeless services.  During the current pandemic, there is a new challenge—the number of people who contract an infectious illness (COVID-19) while needing homeless services.

Self-quarantine, social isolation, and stay-at-home orders are difficult, if not impossible, to follow when you do not have a home.  Thus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has offered guidance on how to best serve people in shelters and unsheltered locations.  Meeting COVID-19-related health needs is putting new strain on homeless services systems, especially those with large numbers of infected consumers.

Recent research predicts the number of COVID-19 cases that will arise among people experiencing homelessness in the nation’s counties.  Those facing the most severe challenges mainly reside in major cities such as Los Angeles, New York City, San Jose, Seattle, Oakland, San Francisco, Las Vegas, and Phoenix.


Homeless Assistance in America

Homeless services systems do not have enough resources to fully meet the needs of everyone experiencing homelessness.  Thus, it is helpful to examine the difficult decisions they must make, including how to allot the limited funds available to them.

Temporary Housing.  Over the last five years, the number of temporary housing beds (Emergency Shelter, Safe Haven, and Transitional Housing) has decreased by 9 percent. 

A national-level snapshot of these beds during the Point-in-Time count is informative.  Individual community circumstances vary.  However, in the aggregate, systems were able to offer a year-round bed to only 51 percent of individuals and 100 percent of people in families (the latter with a surplus of over 15,000 beds). 

During the winter months, some communities temporarily supplement these year-round beds with seasonal ones.  Nevertheless, many people are unsheltered, living on the streets, in abandoned buildings, or other locations not suitable for human habitation.  Being unsheltered is mostly a challenge for individual adults, but some families with children are also in these living situations.

COVID-19 is creating a new type of emergency.  According to an early estimate, 400,000 new units are needed to prevent the spread of the virus and care for the sick.  These accommodations would allow for social distancing, quarantine, and isolation for people who are typically in crowded shelter settings or living unsheltered.

Permanent Housing.  While the number of temporary housing beds decreased by 9 percent, the number of permanent housing beds (Permanent Supportive Housing, Rapid Re-Housing, and Other) increased by 20 percent over the last five years. 

These numbers reflect a shift in policy priorities.  Renewed emphasis is on ending homelessness by moving more people into permanent housing, rather than allowing them to linger indefinitely in shelters and unsheltered locations.

Forty-seven states and the District of Columbia have participated in this trend over the last five years, growing their number of permanent housing beds.  Eleven states and territories increased them by more than 50 percent over this short period of years. 

Currently, 57 percent of all homeless system beds are designated for permanent housing.

Common Forms of Assistance.  Nationally, the most common type of homeless assistance is permanent supportive housing (PSH).  Forty-one percent of system beds are in this category which has grown by 96 percent since 2007.  Emergency shelter beds, the second most prevalent intervention, have increased by 38 percent since 2007.

Rapid rehousing, the newest type of permanent housing intervention, is continuing along a path of rapid growth.  There are 87 percent more beds in this category than there were five years ago. 

Transitional housing is the only intervention on the decline—there are 55 percent fewer beds in this category than there were in 2007.  This shift is a part of the trend towards more investment in permanent housing solutions. 


Populations at Risk of Homelessness

Many Americans  live in poverty, amounting to 38.1 million people or 11.8 percent of the U.S. population.  They struggle to afford necessities such as housing.

In 2018, 6.5 million Americans experienced severe housing cost burden, which means they spent more than 50 percent of their income on housing.  This marked the fourth straight year of decreases in the size of this group.  However, the number of severely cost burdened Americans is still 13 percent higher than it was in 2007, the year the nation began monitoring homelessness data.

Another measure of housing hardship is “doubling up,”  or sharing the housing of others for economic reasons.  In 2018, an estimated 4 million people were in these situations.  Some of these people have fragile relationships with their hosts or face other challenges in the home, putting them at risk of homelessness.  Over the last five years, this number of doubled up people has been trending downward but is still 12 percent higher than it was in 2007.

Over the last decade, the nation hasn’t made any real progress in reducing the number of Americans who are at risk of homelessness.

Further, few states are realizing significant improvements in these areas.  Within the category of severe housing cost burden, Colorado tops the list but has only reduced its numbers by 13 percent since 2007.  Over the same period, Colorado is also the state making the most significant progress in the doubled up category—however, its number only decreased by 34 percent.  Most states are seeing their severe housing cost burden and doubled up numbers grow.


Domestic Violence and Homelessness

According to multiple studies examining the causes of homelessness, among mothers with children experiencing homelessness, more than 80% had previously experienced domestic violence.

Between 22 and 57% of all homeless women report that domestic violence was the immediate cause of their homelessness.

Thirty-eight percent of all domestic violence victims become homeless at some point in their lives.

According to a 2012 study on homelessness in Minnesota, 30% of women were homeless due to domestic violence.

In the HUD 2012 Continuum of Care Homeless Assistance Program Point-in-Time Count, the largest subpopulation of homeless persons in Washington State was victims of domestic violence.

A Florida study examining the experience of violence among 800 homeless women found that a significant number of women were victimized in their lifetime, and almost one-quarter of the women indicated that violence was one, if not the main reason they were homeless. This study also found that:

  • Approximately one homeless woman in four is homeless mainly because of her experiences with violence.
  • Homeless women are far more likely to experience violence of all sorts than American women in general, by differentials ranging from two to four depending on the specific type of violence in question.

In a 2012 survey of 25 cities, 28% of Mayors cited domestic violence as a leading cause of homelessness among families with children.

In a cross-sectional study that examined the relationship between recent interpersonal violence and housing instability among a representative sample of California women, women who experienced interpersonal violence in the last year had almost four times the odds of reporting housing instability than women who did not experience interpersonal violence.

Women and men who experienced food and housing insecurity in the past 12 months reported a significantly higher 12-month prevalence of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner compared to women and men who did not experience food and housing insecurity.


Domestic Violence, Homelessness, and Children

One of the major causes of homelessness for children in the U.S. includes experiences of trauma, especially domestic violence, by their mothers and/or by the children themselves; trauma frequently precedes and prolongs homelessness for children and families.

A recent study of homeless families in three types of housing programs found that 93% of mothers experienced at least one trauma and 81% experienced multiple traumatic events. Seventy-nine percent experienced trauma in childhood, 82% in adulthood, and 91% in both adulthood and childhood. Violent victimization was the most common traumatic experience; 70% reported being physically assaulted by a family member or someone they knew and approximately half had been sexually assaulted.


Sources and Methodology

Data on homelessness are based on annual point-in-time (PIT) counts conducted by Continuums of Care (CoCs) to estimate the number of people experiencing homelessness on a given night. The latest counts are from January 2019. Point-in-time data from 2007 to 2019 are available on HUD Exchange.  

Rates of homelessness are a comparison of point-in-time counts to state, county, and city population data from the Census Bureau’s Population Estimates Program, accessed via American FactFinder (table PEPANNRES: Annual Estimates of the Resident Population, 2018 version). Most CoC boundaries align with one or multiple counties, and about a dozen align with cities that are entirely within one county. However, four CoCs align with city boundaries spanning multiple counties (Atlanta, GA; Amarillo, TX; Kansas City, MO; and Oklahoma City, OK). For these, the population was estimated based on prior year trends.

Data on homeless assistance, or bed capacity of homeless services programs on a given night, are reported annually by CoCs along with point-in-time counts. These data are compiled in the Housing Inventory Count (HIC), which is also available on HUD Exchange for 2007 through 2019.

Data on at risk populations are from analyses by the National Alliance to End Homelessness of the Census Bureau’s 2018 American Community Survey 1-year Estimates, accessed via American FactFinder. Poor renter households with a severe housing cost burden are households whose total income falls under the applicable poverty threshold and who are paying 50 percent or more of total household income to housing rent. For people living doubled up, poverty is based on the composition and income of the entire household as compared to the poverty thresholds. A person is considered living doubled up based on his or her relationship to the head of household and includes: an adult child (18 years old or older) who is not in school, is married, and/or has children; a sibling; a parent or parent-in-law; an adult grandchild who is not in school; a grandchild who is a member of a subfamily; a son- or daughter-in-law; another relative; or any non-relative.


Coronavirus and Homelessness

Preparing for a coronavirus outbreak is on the minds of many homelessness assistance providers and system leaders, especially how it may impact service delivery. As the field prepares for a potential coronavirus outbreak, resources from partners are now available to help prepare for the impact of COVID-19. Here are some key takeaways: 

  • Be prepared: stay informed about your local COVID-19 situation and establish relationships with public health partners in your community. This means monitoring the CDC’s Coronavirus page for updates and communicating with local health departments. Creating an emergency contact list for key partners, which could include emergency medical service providers, housing providers, supportive service agencies, law enforcement, emergency management agencies, behavioral health agencies, state-level government agencies, local health departments
  • Communicate: communicate with staff and clients about facility preparedness and policy updates (i.e. modified hours, non-urgent care by telephone, etc.). Consider using social media as a means to spread information about how coronavirus may impact your organization’s typical operations. 
  • Client impact: protect your clients by conducting simple screenings at intake, or reclaiming beds for existing guests. Some suggested practices: separating those with respiratory illnesses, and implementing prevention strategies to minimize exposure (i.e. encouraging frequent hand-washing, increased surface cleaning/disinfection, etc.). Be aware that clients’ access to medication may be limited or interrupted in this time; consider plans for how clients will be able to access medications. 
  • Workforce impact: expect the homelessness services sector workforce to be impacted, and anticipate modified service delivery based on staff capacity. Protect your workforce by screening clients, staff, and visitors for acute respiratory illness, ensuring use of personal protection equipment, and encouraging sick employees to stay home. Staff should be prepared to handle different jobs than they’re used to in the event of reduced staff capacity. Flexibility will be key. 
  • Take inventory: ensure that your organization has more than enough supplies (hand soap, food, and more). This should include personal protective equipment for staff. Order more supplies if necessary — an eight-week supply is recommended. 

For more detailed information on how to prepare, please consult the following resources:

Disease Risks and Homelessness resource and Infectious Diseases Toolkit for CoCsU.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which includes the following documents:

COVID-19 (“Coronavirus”) Information and ResourcesU.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

Coronavirus (COVID-19) ResourcesU.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Partner ToolkitCenters for Medicare and Medicaid Services

Coronavirus Disease: What Supportive Housing Providers Need to KnowCSH (Corporation for Supportive Housing)

COVID-19 Client Triage Tool: Atlanta, GA CoC ExampleU.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

COVID-19: Coronavirus and Housing/HomelessnessNational Low Income Housing Coalition

Flu and Coronavirus ResourcesNational Health Care for the Homeless Council

Homelessness and the Response to Emerging Infectious Disease Outbreaks: Lessons from SARSNational Center for Biotechnology Information

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