National Estimates of Homelessness Largely Unchanged in 2018 Point-in-Time Count Data

December 17, 2018

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development released its report summarizing the data from communities’ 2018 Point-in-Time (PIT) counts . The total number of people experiencing either sheltered or unsheltered homelessness was essentially flat between January of 2017 and January of 2018, with a small overall increase of 0.3%, or 1,834 people nationwide. The small total increase this year was driven, however, by a 2% increase in unsheltered homelessness and by a significant increase of nearly 3,800 more people staying in disaster response emergency shelters due to presidentially declared natural disasters.

Summary of Data

Population-specific data shows a mix of progress and small increases, including:

  • More than 5% reduction in Veteran homelessness (2,142 Veterans) between 2017 and 2018.
  • Nearly 3% reduction in families experiencing homelessness (1,544 households) between 2017 and 2018.
  • More than 2% increase in homelessness among individuals with disabilities and chronic patterns of homelessness (1,935 individuals) and a 2% increase among all people experiencing homelessness as individuals (in households without children).
  • A total of 36,361 unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness were counted. While this represents a 5.1% decline in youth counted compared to 2017, federal agencies will not be developing a trend analysis until 2019, when the unsheltered count is again required.

There were also geographic variations and significant portions of the country reporting decreases in homelessness within this data:

  • 198 (50%) of CoCs reported declines in total homelessness, and 200 (50%) reported increases.
  • 31 states and the District of Columbia reported declines in total homelessness, and 19 states reported increases.

Racial inequities remained pronounced and stark:

  • 40% of people counted as experiencing homelessness last January were African American, while African Americans make up 13% of the general population.

Longer-Term Trends

While these year-to-year numbers are important, the trends over time are even more useful in giving us a picture of both the progress we are making and the significant work we have left to do. Trends in the point-in-time count since 2010 make it clear that Housing First approaches are working, but it is also clear that there are critical challenges in housing affordability that limit the progress we can make.

Communities are increasingly applying the strongest practices across their systems, including Housing First approaches that connect people to housing opportunities, with appropriate services, quickly and without preconditions to entry. In embracing these practices, communities are striving to make sure that people exit homelessness quickly and that they get the support they need to stabilize and pursue their goals and dreams.

Shifts to these approaches have generated significant reductions in homelessness in many communities and for specific populations since 2010. We see that progress most strongly in Veteran homelessness – down 49% between 2010 and 2018 – and in family homelessness – down more than 29% in these point-in-time counts since 2010.

But we also see that the longer-term trends of progress for some populations have shifted direction in recent years. For example, there have been reductions between 2010 and 2018 in the numbers of people with disabling health and behavioral health conditions who are chronically homeless, the number of other single adults experiencing homelessness, and of the number of people who are unsheltered. PIT data for each of the last 2 years, however, has documented increases for each of these populations.

Many communities are facing the very real challenge of housing that is too expensive overall. With housing costs outstripping incomes, more people are falling into homelessness, and there are fewer avenues out. And that’s slowing or reversing progress in some communities.

Courses of Action

We all need to respond to these trends with urgent action – actions we’ve identified and detailed in Home, Together , the federal plan to prevent and end homelessness.

First, we must stay focused on Housing First and other practices that are working, so that the resources that we have make the biggest impact possible.

We must continue to strengthen our focus on addressing – and eliminating – racial inequities in experiences of homelessness, both by engaging more deeply with other systems that help create these inequities and through ensuring equitable outcomes within homelessness services systems.

We also need to tackle the high cost of housing in this country. And that requires a community-wide response that goes well beyond only the agencies and programs dedicated to ending homelessness. We must engage the efforts of many different jurisdictions, systems, and agencies, and more purposefully align efforts to expand affordable housing opportunities with efforts to end homelessness.

And finally, we must work together to find the best and most effective ways to get people who are living outside off the streets and into housing now , even as challenges around high rents will need to be addressed through longer-term actions.

In order to pick up the pace of progress, we need to continue to work together – across federal, state, and local government, across the public and the private sector – and we are committed to doing that work with you. We’ll be diving more deeply into this data – and other recent data – and its implications for our work and our shared goals in the weeks ahead. For example, as soon as the Department of Education releases its unduplicated Education for Homeless Children and Youth data for 2016 – 2017 School Year, we’ll analyze and summarize that data and consider how it is distinct from, but complementary to, the PIT data released by HUD this week.

As always, thanks for your unwavering commitment and for your continued partnership with USICH.

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