Data Points: Fewer People are on the Streets, More in Shelters

written by Sam Batko
November 26, 2013

Late last week, HUD released Part I of the 2013 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress. It showed a 4 percent decline in overall homelessness from 2012 to 2013. On the day it was published, we pulled out some of the highlights. Today we’re examining the sheltered and unsheltered subpopulations and changes in the number of beds available to people experiencing homelessness.

First, let’s look at unsheltered homelessness. Believe it or not, that 4 percent decline in homelessness came entirely from the unsheltered population: in 2013, 28,283 fewer people were sleeping on the streets or other places not meant for human habitation than in 2012. In that time, the number of sheltered homeless people actually increased. Here are some highlights from the decreases in the unsheltered population from 2012 to 2013:

  • The number of unsheltered homeless individuals decreased by 10,502 people while the number of sheltered individuals increased;
  • The number of unsheltered people in families decreased by 17,781 people while the number of sheltered people in families increased;
  • The number of unsheltered chronically homeless people decreased by 4,072 people; and
  • The number of unsheltered veterans decreased by more than 4,322 people.

So what’s driving these decreases in unsheltered homelessness? It probably has something to do with the increase in the number of available shelter beds in 2013—an increase of 9,502 shelter beds nationally. That added capacity is allowing more people to get off the streets and into shelter than in 2012. But that is not enough to account for the entire decrease.

Communities are making better use of available beds and providing more permanent housing options in the form of rapid re-housing and permanent supportive housing. While there was an increase in the number of shelter beds nationally, we have seen a decrease of transitional housing beds. It is important to note however, that this year is the first year communities separately reported the number of rapid re-housing “beds” in their communities.

Rapid re-housing beds were previously classified as transitional housing beds so it is impossible to determine how many of these rapid re-housing beds are new and how much of the decrease in transitional housing stock was simply the differentiation between transitional housing beds and rapid re-housing. What we do know is homelessness, specifically unsheltered homelessness, decreased despite apparent decreases in transitional housing stock.

Decreases in the number of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness are nothing to scoff at. People living on the streets and their cars face real dangers and threats. But, our work is not done. Despite these decreases, over 200,000 people were still unsheltered. That remains as unacceptable as it was when it was closer to 250,000. It will remain unacceptable until the number is zero.