The State of Homelessness in America 2015: Trends in Chronic Homelessness

Here at the Alliance, we like to say at homelessness should be rare, brief, and non-recurring. For many people who experience homelessness, this is true. But for 15 percent of the homeless population, the opposite is true: they experience homelessness repeatedly and/or for long periods of time, and they have a disability (such as serious mental illness, chronic substance use disorders, or chronic medical issues). These people are chronically homeless.

People experiencing chronic homelessness tend to be the most difficult to stably house and are, as a result, the most vulnerable people in the homeless population. Many communities, with the support of the federal government, have targeted interventions toward chronic homelessness in the past decade. Research shows that most effective intervention to end chronic homelessness is permanent supportive housing, which combines stable housing with supportive services.

So how have these interventions impacted the chronically homeless population? We look at this question and many others in "The State of Homelessness in America 2015," the fifth in a series of annual reports by the Alliance’s Homelessness Research Institute that examines national and state progress toward ending homelessness.

Some highlights on chronic homelessness and permanent supportive housing from the report include:

  • Chronic homelessness decreased by 2.5 percent from 2013 to 2014, while permanent supportive housing capacity increased by 5.6 percent during this same time period.
  • Since 2007, chronic homelessness has decreased by 30 percent and permanent supportive housing has increased by 59 percent.
  • The number of people in chronically homeless families decreased by 7 percent from 2013 to 2014.
  • 63 percent of chronically homeless individuals were unsheltered in 2014. This is the only subpopulation in which more persons are unsheltered than sheltered.

This data shows us that chronic homelessness has been steadily decreasing as permanent supportive housing has been steadily increasing. We’re heading in the right direction. But there are still nearly 85,000 people experiencing chronic homelessness on any given night, 53,000 of whom are unsheltered. We still have work to do.