With the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development closed as a result of the current government shutdown, the effects for people experiencing homelessness and people living in government subsidized housing have been far reaching. Communities across the country rely on funds from HUD to provide crucial outreach, emergency shelter, housing, case management, and support services to people experiencing or at risk of homelessness. The impacts of these efforts can sometimes be hard to see or quantify.
Last month, HUD released the first part of the 2018 Annual Homelessness Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress. For those unfamiliar with this report, it’s an annual summary of point-in-time and housing inventory counts conducted during the previous January. It includes national, state, and continuum of care (CoC)-level estimates of homelessness, with specific breakdowns for chronically homeless persons, homeless veterans, and homeless children and youth, as a well as information about housing units.
Nearly 553,000 people were homeless on a single night in January of 2018. This number is a very slight (.3%) increase from 2017, and this is the second year in a row that an increase has been observed. Much like the 2% increase between 2016 and 2017, this year’s change was the result of an increase in people living unsheltered in cities across the country. Approximately 35% of people were living unsheltered, such as on the street, in abandoned buildings, or in other places not meant for human habitation. The states with the highest rates of unsheltered people experiencing homelessness were California, Oregon, Nevada, Hawaii, and Washington. The number of people experiencing chronic homelessness also increased slightly between 2017 and 2018.
Of the roughly 553,000 people experiencing homelessness captured in last year’s point-in-time counts, more than 36,000 were unaccompanied youth (individuals under the age of 25). Compared to the overall homeless population and compared to homeless single adults, unaccompanied homeless youth were more likely to be living unsheltered – just over half (51%) of youth were unsheltered. States with the highest rates of homeless youth were Nevada, California, Hawaii, Washington, and Oregon. In general, CoCs are new to the process of conducting point-in-time counts of unaccompanied homeless youth, which can require innovative approaches to ensure estimates are as accurate as possible. The Voices of Youth Count project offers some guidance for youth count methods and has published a series of briefs from their own study of the prevalence and characteristics of homeless youth across the country.
Overall, homelessness has declined by more than 84,000 people since 2010, a 13% reduction. In fact, family homelessness has declined by 23% since 2007, chronic homelessness has declined by 26% since 2017, and veteran homelessness has declined by 48% since 2009. States that have seen the largest decreases in homelessness between 2007 and 2018 are Florida, Texas, Georgia, California, and New Jersey.
While the increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness over the past two years is relatively small, it’s worth paying attention to as an indicator of what may be a gradual reversal of the positive trends of the last decade. Perhaps it is a clarion call to the federal government and local jurisdictions to take action to prevent larger upticks in years to come. Further, the fact that the increase continues to be entirely driven by more individuals experiencing unsheltered homelessness in cities, rather than being evenly spread across groups and homeless experiences, suggests there are distinct place-based factors at play in urban areas, including a widespread lack of affordable housing and inadequate emergency shelter in urban areas. More than 50% of unsheltered people were living in CoCs that encompass the nation’s 50 largest cities. The states that saw the largest increases in homelessness between 2017 and 2018 were Massachusetts, New York, Texas, Washington, and Arizona.
While the point-in-time count data upon which the AHAR is based likely under-counts the actual number of people experiencing homelessness, the report is a useful tool for framing homelessness at the national, state, and local levels. It’s a valuable resource for community agencies, researchers, and academics for writing grant applications, advocating for funding or programmatic changes, and providing background for research and evaluation write-ups.
Communities across the country are conducting their overall and youth counts this month, with the help of a range of community partners and volunteers. The data from these counts will be the basis for the 2019 Annual Homelessness Assessment Report to Congress.
Blog Post Author: Amanda Aykanian, MA, Research and Project Lead at the National Center for Excellence in Homeless Services