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Who’s Experiencing Homelessness? The List Is Growing.

HUD’s Annual Homelessness Report to Congress Finds Increase in Elderly Homelessness as Dramatic Racial Disparities Persist

Rockville, Md.  –  Approximately 1,214,000 people experienced sheltered homelessness at some time during 2021—nearly 250,000 were children. Part 2 of the 2021 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR)—the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) annual report to Congress on homelessness—expands on Part 1’s single point-in-time count by presenting estimates of people experiencing sheltered homelessness at any point over the course of the year. While the number of people experiencing sheltered homelessness declined, the new data show that people of color continue to be dramatically overrepresented while the number of people age 65 or older experiencing chronic homelessness increased by an astonishing 73 percent.

“This should be a wake-up call that our social safety net is fraying,” said Abt project director, Principal Associate Meghan Henry. “Older Americans are vulnerable to housing instability and not just as a temporary phase but as a longer term, chronic problem.”

Key Findings

  • More Older Americans Are Experiencing Sheltered Homelessness.
    • Nearly 10,000 more people aged 65 and older experienced sheltered homelessness—meaning they stayed in emergency shelters, safe havens, or transitional housing programs—in 2021 than in 2019.
    • Between 2019 and 2021, the number of elderly people with chronic patterns of homelessness increased by an alarming 73 percent.
    • The number of people in adult-only households considered “near elderly,” or between the ages of 55 and 64, declined by more than 10,000 during the same period. However, the number of people considered near elderly who had chronic patterns of homelessness increased. This suggests that people are aging into chronic homelessness, as well as experiencing homelessness for the first time when they are 65 or older. 
  • People experiencing sheltered homelessness remain disproportionately Black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC). Black household heads accounted for 13 percent of the entire U.S. population but make up 50 percent of sheltered families. While 3 percent of all people with incomes below the poverty line experienced sheltered homelessness at some point during 2021, approximately 12 percent of Native American households in poverty used a shelter program during that time. This trend extended to unaccompanied youth of color. While 8 percent of all unaccompanied youth in poverty accessed shelter programs at some point during 2021, 23 percent of Black youth and 33 percent of Native American or Alaska Native youth in poverty experienced sheltered homelessness.
  • Chronic homelessness is increasing. The number of adults exhibiting a chronic pattern of homelessness increased to 25 percent in 2021 compared with 16 percent in 2019 (just prior to the pandemic).
  • Support programs work. The CARES Act provided funding that was used to expand rapid re-housing programs and, in some communities, to lease, acquire, or renovate facilities to serve as temporary emergency shelters, including hotel and motel beds. The CARES Act also established a national eviction moratorium that was in effect through much of the 2021 reporting period. That moratorium was supplemented by a number of local and state-based eviction moratoria which covered properties not included in the national program. The American Rescue Plan (ARP) provided considerable resources to prevent homelessness for the lowest income renters, most notably $27.4 billion in emergency rental assistance distributed beginning in 2020. All of these may have reduced the number of people entering both sheltered and unsheltered homelessness.

“This report reminds us that homelessness is a systemic issue that must be addressed systemically,” said Henry. “The CARES Act and ARP demonstrate that we can address the immediate challenges of homelessness as we look for longer-term solutions to the generational wealth gap, structural racism that persists across systems, or these new increases in homelessness among the elderly.”

About Abt Global
Abt Global is a global consulting and research firm that combines data and bold thinking to improve the quality of people's lives. We partner with clients and communities to advance equity and innovation—from creating scalable digital solutions and combatting infectious disease, to mitigating climate change and evaluating programs for measurable social impact.

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