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The 2019-2020 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress: Pt. 2

Meghan Henry, Tanya de Sousa, Tee Baker, Jill Cusick, Rhaia Hull, and Jhenelle Marson


September 7, 2022

Part 2 of the U.S. Depart of Housing and Urband Development’s (HUD) Annual Homelessness Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress estimated the number of people experiencing sheltered homelessness over the course of both 2019 and 2020. In this report, produced by Abt Global, new methods were applied to identify demographics and patterns among the people who use the nation’s emergency shelters, safe havens, and transitional housing programs.

Key Findings

  • In 2020, an estimated 1.25 million people in 960,000 households accessed shelter programs at some point during the reporting year – six months of which occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s a 14 percent reduction from 2019.
  • Sixty percent of households experiencing sheltered homelessness in 2020 (or 570,000 households) were doing so for the first time. This is a reduction over 2019, reflecting the reduced inflow into shelter programs during the pandemic. Communities reported eviction moratoria, a hesitance to use shelter, and other prevention resources reduced the number of people accessing shelter during the pandemic.
  • People experiencing sheltered homelessness remain disproportionately Black, Indigenous, and people of color. Black or African American people were considerably overrepresented among those experiencing homelessness. For context: 12 percent of all U.S. heads of households identify as Black but 21 percent of the heads of households living in poverty are Black. Disturbingly, when looking at people experiencing sheltered homelessness, that figure almost doubles again: people identifying as Black accounted for 40 percent of heads of sheltered households in 2020.

Changes in Data Collection

The 2020 estimates in this report are profoundly affected by COVID-19; emergency shelters reduced capacity—in some cases by 50 percent—to allow for social distancing. However, the 2019 data assessed through the Longitudinal Systems Analysis (LSA) platform were much improved since the LSA’s debut in the 2018 report. With 2019 serving  as the new baseline for comparing year-to-year changes in sheltered homelessness, we will be able to see changes in homelessness as shelter capacity recovers. As in past years, the AHAR estimates are weighted for missing data to produce a representative national estimate. The new data show how programs such as short-term rent subsidies are used by rural communities as an alternative to shelters when they have limited shelter capacity. In addition to the improved LSA results, two notable elements were added to the analysis:

  • Persons with lived experiences and expertise (PLEE) reviewed AHAR chapters. The involvement of PLEE contributors will deepen in future editions.
  • For the first time ever, we are able to report separately on use of shelters in rural areas. This AHAR disaggregates suburban and rural figures for people experiencing homelessness. For example, 78 percent of households experiencing sheltered homelessness were in urban areas; 15 percent were in suburban areas, and 7 percent were in rural areas.