HUD Releases Landmark Homeless Study
New data show 754,000 homeless persons on any given night.
For the first time since 1984, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is releasing a report on the scope of homelessness in America. HUD’s first-ever Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress concludes that an estimated 754,000 persons are homeless on any given night. HUD’s assessment alsomeasures homelessness over time, allowing researchers to expand their body of knowledge beyond the more limited “point-in-time” estimates of the past.
“This first-of-its kind study is a huge leap forward in our understanding of not only how many people are homeless, but also what their needs are,” said HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson. “We’ve got to remember that behind these numbers are people – individuals and families who are struggling to survive. This report is a powerful tool to help all of us at the federal, state and local level design more effective responses to homelessness and better help those who are living in shelters and on our streets.”
Since 2001, HUD has awarded more than $9 billion to support thousands of local housing and service programs throughout the nation and is seeking a record $1.6 billion through the Department’s Continuum of Care grant programs for FY 2008.
Homeless Management Information Systems (HMIS)
HUD’s assessment is based on two sources of data. The first is a national sample of 80 geographically diverse communities, chosen randomly, that have implemented Homeless Management Information Systems (HMIS). This modern data collection method can accurately count how many persons use emergency shelters and transitional housing over time. The HMIS data in this report focus on the number of sheltered homeless persons from February to April 2005. HUD intends to produce more extensive HMIS data in future assessments that will provide a longer-rangeperspective on homeless trends.
Quantifying homelessness in any fashion is a vexing challenge to researchers both in and out of government. Previous surveys attempted to produce unduplicated counts of homeless persons by measuring homelessness over very limited periods of time, usually a single night. While HUD continues to collect this point-in-time data for both sheltered and unsheltered persons, new HMIS data collection techniques now allow researchers to study the sheltered homeless population over time.
Based on a geographically representative sampling of 80 communities, HUD found 704,000 persons used emergency shelters or transitional housing between February and April of 2005. The daily average of sheltered homeless persons during this period is 334,744. HUD’s three-month sample of HMIS data found the following characteristics of the sheltered homeless population (see page 31 of report):
- Gender – 65 percent of the adult population are men
- Age – The largest segment, 41 percent, are 31-to-50 years old
- Household Type – 66 percent are individuals – 34 percent are persons in families with children
- Race – 59 percent are minority
- Geographic – 75 percent are in central cities – 25 percent are in suburban and rural areas (see page 44)
- Veteran Status – 19 percent of the adult homeless population are veterans
As HUD continues to encouragelocal communities to implement HMIS nationwide, the Department also collects local one-night counts of homeless persons, both at the shelter level and on the streets. HUD’s analysis of these snapshot counts from more than 3,800 cities and counties found an estimated 754,000 persons were in shelters and on the streets during one night in January 2005. HUD’s point-in-time estimate is very similar to an analysis of the same data conducted by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, a nonpartisan advocacy organization and a leading voice on the issue of homelessness.
Local communities conduct these one-night counts on a biannual basis and report their data to HUD with grant applications that seek funding for a wide variety of homeless housing and service programs. These snapshot counts offer communities a powerful tool to gauge their homeless challenge and to create innovative housing solutions in response.
HUD’s report offers a vital starting point for measuring homelessness in the future. The Department and its local partners are collecting more comprehensive data each year. The Department expects HMIS data in particular to be increasingly more comprehensive, covering longer periods of time, and including persons living on the streets. Over time, HUD’s annual assessments will also be able to determine trends in homelessness.
Jackson added, “Understanding homelessness is a necessary step to ending it, especially for those persons living with a chronic condition such as mental illness, an addiction, or a physical disability.”
Read HUD’s Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress .