Exploring the State of Homelessness in 2020

Today the Alliance is releasing an updated version of its annual report—The State of Homelessness: 2020 Edition. As in previous years, it continues to be a tool to help evaluate the nation’s progress towards ending homelessness. Based on data collected in 2019, it serves as a baseline for understanding where things stood before the current COVID-19 crisis.

Homelessness had already experienced slight upticks in 2017, 2018, and 2019. Subgroups like veterans and people in families, who have been the focus of sustained policy and practice attention, have experienced real reductions in their numbers. However, overall homelessness was only down 12 percent compared to a little more than a decade ago when data was first collected. This data reflects the limited resources available to serve everyone who needs help—but most significantly individual adults who are the majority of the homeless population.

The Alliance’s report drills down to the state and local (Continuum of Care) levels, revealing that some areas of the country were struggling far more than others in their efforts to ensure everyone was permanently housed in 2019.

The State of Homelessness: 2020 Edition adds new features that help providers, communities, and the press better understand the nature of homelessness and service systems going into the COVID-19 health and economic crisis.

Health Crisis Predictions. The report offers information on subpopulations particularly at-risk of becoming seriously ill due to COVID-19: older adults and those with pre-existing medical conditions. This research predicts just how many people experiencing homelessness will become sick, and the number of beds and resources necessary to keep as many people healthy as possible.

Detailed State- and CoC-Level Resource Pages. The Alliance expanded its state- and CoC-level resource pages. The resource pages indicate clear progress made in reducing homelessness over time; it also provides demographic data by race, ethnicity, and gender. And the report places a new spotlight on system capacity to offer emergency shelter to people experiencing homelessness on a given night.

Increasing Focus on Individuals. The updated version of the State of Homelessness emphasizes the challenges of individual adults. A majority of the overall homeless population, individual adults have only realized a 0.2 percent reduction in homelessness over the last decade, even as family homeless counts dropped by 29 percent and veterans dropped by 50 percent. Systems are only able to offer emergency shelter beds to 1 in 2 individuals, leaving far too many living unsheltered.

Expanded Emphasis on Rates of Homelessness. The Alliance broadened its analysis of rates of homelessness, or the number of people experiencing homelessness in relation to the general population—for example, 17 out of every 10,000 people in America experience homelessness. This approach offers more significant insights into disparities and progress. New rate information appears on the state and CoC resource pages, allowing for enhanced comparisons between and among jurisdictions. And it is newly tied to demographics, demonstrating that certain racial and ethnic groups are far more likely to be homeless than others.

State- and CoC-Level Rankings. Finally, the Alliance lists all states and CoCs according to their homeless counts and rates of homelessness. This approach offers greater context about each region, helping providers and residents to determine if their challenges are far more (or far less) severe than those existing in other parts of the country. It also helps to identify regions in need of more considerable resources and attention.

These various sections of The State of Homelessness: 2020 Edition offer a window into the strengths and challenges of homeless services systems as the current crisis began. They paint pictures of vulnerable people present in all our communities while pointing to some needs of providers whose resources were already stretched thin. Such information is crucial as the nation seeks to manage current circumstances effectively, move forward, and repair.