Once a year, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires that each Continuum of Care conducts a Point-in-Time (PIT) count of people experiencing homelessness. The January 2021 PIT Count was severely disrupted due to the ongoing impacts of COVID-19. In 2021, only 226 out of 383 (59%) Continuums of Care conducted a complete or partial count of unsheltered homelessness. In fact, almost the entire state of California (11.9% of the US population) did not conduct a count of their unsheltered homeless population.
These are a few of the reasons that the 2021 PIT Count provides a severely inaccurate and more limited snapshot of the state of homelessness throughout the United States. While we think it is important to share the 2021 PIT data, we believe it is also important to keep the 2020 PIT data on our website as it may be a more accurate reflection of the picture of homelessness within the United States.
What we do know is that COVID-19 has substantially impacted our most vulnerable neighbors - its economic impacts continue to amplify housing affordability and the economic drivers of homelessness.
According to HUD over 326,000 people were experiencing sheltered homelessness, either staying in emergency shelters, hotel rooms or safe havens in 2021. This number is likely artificially low, due to people avoiding group shelters because of COVID-19. This figure does not capture the number of people who are sleeping in places not intended for human habitation.
For comparison according to HUD, in 2020 580,466 people in the United States experienced homelessness on any given night. That is a nearly 2.2% increase from 2019 and the fourth year in a row the number of people experiencing homelessness has risen—an increase almost entirely driven by people who are unsheltered. Due to the under count of homelessness in 2021, the following data is from the 2020 PIT Count. To get an accurate representation of homelessness within your community, you should look at local government data for 2021 if it is available. Whether you look at the HUD count or other estimates, the facts and figures surrounding the issue of homelessness are staggering.
Homelessness was once almost exclusively a male issue. While men still represent the majority of those who experience homelessness, with 60% of the population identifying as male, a far more diverse cross section of the general population is affected.
As of 2020, women account for 39% of those experiencing homelessness. The increasing rate of homelessness among women is exacerbated by high rates of domestic, physical and sexual abuse.
Not since the Great Depression (1929-1939) have so many families been homeless in the United States. In the 1980’s, families accounted for less than 1% of those experiencing homelessness. Today, families account for almost 30%.
Do you feel like you are seeing more young people on the streets? You probably are, as 34,210 or 6% of people experiencing homelessness are unaccompanied youth under the age of 25. Half of this demographic is living in unsheltered environments.
Despite major strides over the past decade, there are 37,252 veterans experiencing homelessness, or 8% of all homeless adults. Women are the fastest-growing segment of the homeless veteran population and now comprise 9% of the total.
120,323 people or about 20% of those experiencing homelessness have chronic patterns of homelessness, meaning they have been homeless for more than a year or have had multiple periods of homelessness over the preceding three years. The great majority of those who are chronically homeless, almost 64%, are unsheltered.
There is a common misconception that alcohol and drug abuse are the root causes of homelessness, however, this is rarely the case. In most situations, multiple factors are at play.
Simple economic issues are among the most critical factors contributing to homelessness. These include the lack of affordable housing, poverty, lack of employment opportunities, and low wages. Far too many people are living so close to the edge of economic disaster that one financial setback, such as job loss, car troubles, illness, divorce, abandonment, or any unexpected expense can lead to the loss of their home.
Non-economic factors can also play a role in homelessness. These include psychological or physical disabilities, learning disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, medical conditions, drug and alcohol dependence, a history of childhood abuse, sexual abuse, or some combination of these. Domestic abuse, for example, is the leading cause of homelessness among women, and a shocking 84% of homeless women have experienced severe physical or sexual abuse at some point in their lives.
While the cause of each instance of homelessness may be unique, there is one thing every case has in common. Once a person is homeless, it is extremely difficult for them to escape without help.
There is a myth that all a person who is experiencing homelessness has to do is clean up, get a job, find a place to live and the problem is solved. If only it were that simple.
For how can a person who is homeless be expected to clean themselves up and find a job when they are without a safe place to sleep, without access to bathing or toilet facilities, and without a place to wash their clothes? They are compelled to keep what few possessions they own with them at all times lest they be stolen, are dependent on soup kitchens in scattered locations with limited hours and amounts of food, and, if late for the line at the shelter, are on the street for the night exposed to the elements.
If they are lucky enough to find work, what are the chances that they can then find an affordable place to live, especially when there is a severe shortage of affordable units in virtually every market in the country? And, if they do find an affordable unit, there is very little chance they will be accepted as a resident because they lack a credit history. And, if they are accepted, emotional, psychological, and medical issues may make it difficult for them to adjust to their new environment.
The reality is that without help, it is virtually impossible for an individual to escape from homelessness.
We at the Lotus Campaign believe that it is far easier for those experiencing homelessness to re-enter society if the process starts with having a place they can call home. Once a person is in housing, our partner organizations will provide the social services and job counseling necessary for them to begin to rebuild their lives.