HUD Annual Homeless Assessment Report Demonstrates Impact of COVID-19 on Sheltered Homelessness

HUD has released the 2019-2020 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress, Part 2. Released every year, the report provides estimates of homelessness in the U.S., focusing primarily on sheltered homelessness. The new report estimates that 1,253,000 people experienced sheltered homelessness in 2020, a 14% drop from 2019. HUD attributes this dramatic decrease in part to safety net measures – like eviction moratoriums – implemented during COVID-19 that helped prevent new entrances to shelter. Health and safety concerns may also have made households less likely to enter shelters during the pandemic. Additionally, in some places, shelters closed or reduced their occupancy to encourage social distancing.

AHAR Part 2 includes data for both 2019 and 2020 concerning the number of people experiencing sheltered homelessness from October 1, 2018 to September 30, 2019 and October 1, 2019 to September 30, 2020. To estimate homelessness, HUD utilizes Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) data submitted by local Continuums of Care (CoCs). This information includes demographic data for people experiencing homelessness and the types of services used. This is the first time the report has used data from the Longitudinal Systems of Analysis (LSA), a data system that aims to collect more detailed HMIS data from all CoCs.

The report finds that amid COVID-19, sheltered homelessness decreased overall. The number of people in family households experiencing sheltered homelessness dropped from 507,224 in 2019 to 416,907 in 2020, representing a nearly 18% decrease. The number of people in adult-only households experiencing sheltered homelessness dropped from 935,763 in 2019 to 824,499 in 2020, a nearly 12% decrease. The rate of sheltered homelessness among unaccompanied youth also decreased dramatically, from 120,866 people in 2019 to 93,404 people in 2020, a nearly 23% decrease. The report notes that these decreases in homelessness are likely caused by factors related to COVID-19, which began halfway through the 2020 reporting year. During this time, some emergency shelters closed or decreased capacity to encourage social distancing and prevent the spread of COVID-19. Additionally, pandemic measures like eviction moratoriums and emergency rental assistance may have prevented people from experiencing homelessness.

HUD’s report also details sheltered homelessness rates for several demographic groups, including veterans, households experiencing chronic homelessness, and Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) households. Among veterans, approximately 85,000 experienced sheltered homelessness during the 2020 reporting year, or about 1 out of 160 veterans nationwide. Almost all veterans experiencing sheltered homelessness (97%) were in adult-only households with no children. Seventy-one percent of sheltered veterans reported a disability.

Approximately 185,000 people in adult-only households experienced chronic homelessness, making up nearly 15% of those using a shelter program in 2020. This was one of the few groups that experienced a rise in homelessness between 2019 and 2020, with homelessness increasing 6%. Among those who experienced chronic homelessness, approximately 70% were men and 30% were women. Thirty percent of chronically homeless households were made up of people 55 or older, compared to 25% of all adult-only households using a shelter program.

BIPOC individuals continue to be overrepresented among people experiencing sheltered homelessness. In 2020, Black heads of household made up 40% of all heads of households experiencing sheltered homelessness, despite making up 12% of all heads of households and 21% of heads of households living in poverty. Indigenous people are also overrepresented among those experiencing sheltered homelessness, accounting for 5% of the sheltered homeless population despite comprising 1% of the total population.

The 2019-2020 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress, Part 2 is available at: