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:
- 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.
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|
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|
|District of Columbia||0%|
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.
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.
Number of people experiencing sheltered homelessness per 100,000 residents by state, 2021
|State||Number of People|
|District of Columbia||476.8|