Progress Report: What Does the AHAR Tell Us About Family Homelessness?

Last month, HUD released the Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR). Together with supplemental reports, it provides clear evidence that there has been progress on ending family homelessness — but we still have much more work ahead.

What Information Does the AHAR Report Provide?

The “point-in-time” count of homelessness tells us the number of people who are living in shelters, transitional housing, and unsheltered locations (e.g. campgrounds, streets, bus stations). This one-day snapshot reflects the efforts of thousands of volunteers who scour streets, woods, subways, and parking lots late on a January night, providing our only national picture of the scale of people living outdoors or in temporary housing.

The report has been criticized as not reflecting the complete picture of urgent housing needs in this country. It does not, for example, include people who are temporarily living with others due to economic necessity. Nor does it include the millions of people who are living in severely substandard housing or paying far more than 50 percent of their income for housing. These criticisms are, of course, true. 

The good news is that other studies capture the extent of the nation’s housing crisis. They reinforce our understanding that these families have very important needs. And their most important need is for more affordable housing.

The point-in-time count gives us a one-day picture of those who are already homeless: people who are no longer able to maintain unaffordable housing, families and youth who have already been asked to leave doubled up (and tripled up) situations, and those who have no other choice but to enter a shelter (or to go without when one cannot be found). 

This is a very critical measure (albeit not the only measure) of family homelessness in our nation. Comparing changes in point-in-time data across years allow us to determine whether we are on the right or the wrong track in ending homelessness.

Progress Is Happening, and It Is Happening Almost Everywhere

  • Family homelessness declined by 21 percent (or 15,000 families) between 2013 and 2018. Declines happened in almost every state and territory – 26 states saw declines of one-third or more.
  • Unsheltered family homeless declined by more than 50 percent over the last five years. Thirty-one states and territories reduced unsheltered family homelessness by over 50 percent over this timeframe. But with that comes a sobering counterpoint: Nearly 5,000 families remain unsheltered.
  • Forty-three states and territories have MORE temporary housing units dedicated to families than families experiencing homelessness at a point-in-time.
  • Rapid re-housing for families grew by 400 percent over the last five years. Dedicated permanent supportive housing for families grew by nearly 10 percent.
  • Between emergency shelter, transitional housing, and rapid re-housing, homeless service systems have capacity to assist nearly 86,000 families at a point-in-time, representing an overall increase in capacity since 2013.
  • With increases in rapid re-housing and permanent supportive housing, localities are now assisting more families in permanent housing than in temporary

There’s Much More to Do

Declines in family homelessness, particularly unsheltered family homelessness, are gratifying to see – particularly in light of increasingly difficult housing markets. They show us that HUD’s family homelessness programs work. And they remind us that we must sustain what’s working.

But the data indicate a lot of room for improvement.

No child – no person – should ever be without shelter. The nearly 5,000 families that went unsheltered in the 2018 count remind us that we must maintain focus on the causes and solutions to this crisis.

Every community with unsheltered families or shelter waitlists should consider the following questions:

  • Are there temporary housing resources going underutilized? If so, why?
  • If there are simply not enough crisis housing options, explore solutions. Often building more shelter is the least efficient response and it can take years to bring online.
  • Are localities deploying diversion techniques to help families identify alternatives to entering shelter?
  • Can dedicated support be provided to help families move out of temporary housing more rapidly, thereby freeing up temporary housing to serve other families in crisis?

Increases in rapid re-housing and permanent supportive housing show us that homeless service systems have more resources than ever before to help people reconnect to housing. This clearly represents progress, but it remains far short of the need.

In fact, our calculations show that homeless service systems have dedicated permanent housing resources for approximately 58,000 families over a year. However, nearly 150,000 will be served in temporary housing each year, leaving 92,000 families without dedicated re-housing assistance.

Looking Ahead

We need to do better on behalf of families experiencing homelessness.  This involves advocating for more federal resources and exploring how existing resources can be better utilized to respond to family homelessness.

The Alliance hopes to continue to learn from the successful communities. And we continue to share their strategies through blog posts, webinars and our annual conference. In the meantime, we encourage all communities to review the state-and CoC-specific links from the AHAR to see how your community is performing.