State of Homelessness in 2022:
Statistics, Analysis, & Trends

Though the total number of people living in shelters or transitional housing decreased by about 4,000, pandemic conditions hindered a total headcount.

Written By: Security.org Team | Published: November 14, 2022

On any given night, hundreds of thousands of Americans sleep in vehicles, in shelters, or on the streets. But counting how many people are affected by homelessness is challenging, as these individuals lack permanent addresses.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is responsible for conducting an annual count of unhoused people, which it does each January, reporting the data from across the country the following year. But the homelessness count data released by the agency this year was hampered by a pandemic that made in-person counting dangerous with a highly contagious virus spread through the air.

We are following up on research from 2021 and 2019 to discuss how common homelessness is and how it’s changed across the country. However, there are a couple of caveats to address:

  • Total homelessness, meaning the number of people living in shelters on any given night plus those sleeping in vehicles or on the street, was not available. In many cities, it was unsafe to count the population in January 2021 due to COVID-19.
  • For this reason, we are not updating city-level data because fewer than half of all major metros reported full homelessness data. Comparing those with complete data to those without would be unfair.

With that, here is a look at the key findings of our research into sheltered homelessness – people living in shelters, safe havens, and transitional housing – across the U.S. and by state:

Key findings:

  • 4,000 fewer people were experiencing sheltered homelessness in 2021 compared to 2020. The decline is likely related to fewer resources available for those experiencing homelessness.
  • Vermont had the most significant single-year increase in the rate of sheltered homelessness, potentially connected to an expanded state homelessness housing program. Sheltered homelessness increased by 210 percent in the state between 2020 and 2021.
  • Idaho and Kentucky had the biggest declines in sheltered homelessness. The number of people experiencing sheltered homelessness decreased by 25 and 24 percent, respectively.

Sheltered Homelessness Falls, But It’s Likely Not Cause for Celebration

About 4,000 fewer individuals experienced sheltered homelessness in 2021 vs. 2020, which may seem like good news. However, perhaps the biggest reason for this decline was that many shelters reduced their capacity to reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission. This meant there were fewer resources were available for those who needed them.

In previous years, declines in the number of people experiencing homelessness were caused by many other factors. For example, Obama-era policies like Rapid Rehousing Programs for families and veteran-specific initiatives led to a decline in homelessness between 2015 and 2016.

Sheltered Homelessness Population by Year
Source: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

Adults over 25 make up the largest share of people living in shelters or transitional homes. However, the percentage of children experiencing homelessness has risen. In 2020, those under 18 accounted for 18 percent of all people living in shelters, safe havens, or transitional homes. In 2021, their share was 25 percent, a concerning single-year increase.

Ages of People Experiencing Sheltered Homelessness

Age group Percent in 2020 Percent in 2021
<18 18% 25%
18-24 8% 8%
25+ 74% 67%

Sheltered Homelessness by State

Because of its high population density, the District of Columbia has a much higher rate of homelessness than any other state. In 2021, though, Vermont’s sheltered homelessness rate surged to nearly 304 per 100,000 residents.

Leaders in Vermont blame the increase on a few factors, including

  • Social distancing forcing people into shelters or hotels/motels,
  • Pandemic-related housing price increases,
  • Expanded access to the state’s emergency housing program.

In the majority of states, the rate of homelessness fell between 2020 and 2021. But again, the drop is not necessarily because states and cities have made headway in fighting homelessness. Several states saw an increase in the rate of sheltered homelessness, including Vermont’s huge single-year jump.

Percentage change in number of people in sheltered homelessness – Per 100,000 residents

State Change between 2020 and 2021
Idaho -25%
Kentucky -24%
South Carolina -23%
West Virginia -22%
Tennessee -21%
Wyoming -21%
Pennsylvania -20%
Louisiana -20%
Nebraska -19%
Missouri -19%
North Carolina -19%
Mississippi -18%
Maryland -17%
Oklahoma -17%
Kansas -17%
Georgia -16%
Illinois -15%
Hawaii -14%
Ohio -14%
North Dakota -13%
Indiana -13%
Iowa -13%
Michigan -13%
Massachusetts -13%
Texas -12%
New Mexico -11%
Alabama -10%
Connecticut -9%
New Hampshire -8%
Oregon -8%
Florida -6%
Wisconsin -4%
Washington -4%
New York -1%
District of Columbia 0%
South Dakota 0%
Rhode Island 0%
New Jersey 3%
Alaska 6%
Arizona 8%
Maine 10%
Utah 11%
Virginia 13%
Colorado 15%
California 17%
Montana 19%
Delaware 21%
Nevada 23%
Minnesota 23%
Arkansas 38%
Vermont 210%

Conclusion

Due to reporting issues driven by the pandemic, we don’t know if total homelessness has increased or decreased in this country. But given the drop in sheltered homelessness and the surging costs of living nationwide, it’s likely that the U.S. is facing an acute housing and homelessness crisis.

Methodology

As mentioned, the information we analyzed on homelessness in the nation and states came from the first part of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2021 Point in Time homelessness count. You can access the tables and HUD’s report to Congress here; the second part of the count data has not yet been released. As mentioned, counts of unsheltered homelessness haven’t been made available because of counting issues brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic and public health emergency. Sheltered homelessness is defined as individuals living in emergency shelters, Safe Havens, and transitional housing projects.

The population data we analyzed came from the U.S. Census Bureau, which lists cities and metro areas using a different method than the HUD’s CoC. To reconcile the differences, in cases where multiple CoCs may provide services across a large metro area, such as Seattle-Tacoma, numbers for all applicable CoCs were combined.

Data appendix

Number of people experiencing sheltered homelessness per 100,000 residents by state, 2021

State Number of People
District of Columbia 476.8
Vermont 303.9
New York 190.5
Alaska 176.8
Oregon 98.1
Colorado 95.8
Maine 93.1
Washington 90.6
Nevada 87.4
California 83.9
Hawaii 79.2
Delaware 73.4
Montana 67.4
Nebraska 65.2
Minnesota 65.1
Massachusetts 61.2
South Dakota 57.7
New Mexico 57.5
Rhode Island 56.0
New Jersey 52.0
Utah 49.9
New Hampshire 46.7
Arizona 45.4
Maryland 44.8
Wyoming 42.7
Ohio 42.6
Pennsylvania 42.0
Oklahoma 42.0
Connecticut 41.7
Iowa 41.4
Indiana 40.6
Arkansas 39.8
Virginia 39.7
Florida 38.6
Wisconsin 38.6
Tennessee 38.4
West Virginia 38.3
Missouri 38.2
Kansas 37.9
Kentucky 37.8
Michigan 37.5
North Dakota 37.4
North Carolina 34.2
Illinois 32.1
Idaho 31.1
South Carolina 29.9
Georgia 28.8
Texas 25.5
Louisiana 24.9
Alabama 23.1
Mississippi 9.2