Findings—and Limitations—of the 2021 Point-in-Time Count
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) on February 4 released its Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) that outlines findings from the Point-in-Time (PIT) count, which surveys the number of people experiencing homelessness on a single night every January. The COVID-19 pandemic severely disrupted the 2021 PIT count, which is one of several ways the federal government collects data on homelessness. As a result, this year’s data reflect a more limited snapshot of homelessness than normal.
Citing COVID-19 concerns, 40% of communities—including the places with the highest levels of homelessness and almost the entire state of California—did not conduct a full unsheltered count of people living in tents, cars, or streets. Of the 20 communities with the highest unsheltered numbers in 2020, only one completed a full unsheltered count in 2021.
The report does not conclude whether overall or unsheltered homelessness numbers rose or fell between January 2020 and January 2021. Any comparison between this year’s PIT findings and previous findings are complicated by the incompleteness of data for the 2021 count.
In any given year, national PIT trends do not necessarily reflect all local trends. This year, this is especially true. USICH urges stakeholders—especially those in or representing communities with incomplete unsheltered counts—to refer to local data collected by their Continuum of Care (including Point-in-Time and more longitudinal data) to determine patterns, trends, and areas of need.
While many communities did not complete an unsheltered count, nearly every community completed a sheltered count. Based on that data, here are some of HUD’s key findings from the sheltered count:
- From 2020 to 2021, sheltered homelessness appears to have declined by 8%—
- 15% among families;
- 2% among individuals;
- 10% among Veterans; and
- 9% among unaccompanied youth.
- In contrast, sheltered chronic homelessness appears to have increased by 20%.
The HUD report cites several potential reasons for the decline in overall sheltered homelessness, including:
- Congregate shelters limited their occupancy to comply with CDC COVID-19 recommendations; and
- Pandemic policies—like eviction moratoriums, stimulus payments, and expanded unemployment benefits—may have reduced the number of people who became homeless.
Complete, accurate, real-time data is vital to our collective work to prevent and end homelessness. Even with the limitations of the data we have, we know that many people are suffering, and that our work cannot stop until every American has a safe, stable, and affordable place to call home.
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