This page is optimized for a taller screen. Please rotate your device or increase the size of your browser window.

Understanding Encampments of People Experiencing Homelessness and the Related Costs


  • The U.S. is experiencing an unprecedented increase in homeless encampments.
  • Abt conducted a literature review and is working with several cities to collect data.
  • Our reports will help stakeholders understand encampments and costs associated with addressing them.
The Challenge

Homeless encampments have not been as visible on the American landscape since the Great Depression. Today’s encampments appear to reflect a complex set of factors, including increasing numbers of people living in deep poverty, underinvestment in new affordable housing, large numbers of people who have been incarcerated, and new waves of substance use. Local policies for systems that serve homeless people also can affect how common it is for people experiencing homelessness to stay in encampments rather than entering shelters.

The Approach

Much of the current understanding of homeless encampments is through journalism rather than rigorous data collection and analysis. On behalf of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Office of Policy Development and Research, Abt completed a literature review. We also conducted phone discussions with nine cities addressing encampment, and will visit four cities to collect cost data related to encampments.

The Results

This study will help federal, state and local policymakers and practitioners understand the nature of encampments and the costs and potential cost offsets associated with approaches to address them. After completing the cost data collection, we will draft a final report summarizing that information. We’ll also produce community encampment reports and a brief on unsheltered homelessness.