Here are 10 New Facts About Sheltered Homelessness in America

written by Liza Doran
November 10, 2015


Every day, homeless service providers across America input a plethora of data into their community’s Homeless Management Information System (HMIS). This information contains a wealth of information on the homeless population who accesses services, and it can answer a lot of questions about our nation’s sheltered homeless population.

For example: How many people access shelters during a year? What are the demographic characteristics of this population? How long do people experiencing homelessness tend to stay in shelter or transitional housing?

Last week, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released Part 2 of the 2014 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress. Unlike Part 1 of the AHAR, which focuses on Point-in-Time Count data from a single night, Part 2 examines HMIS data from homeless shelters throughout the course of a year. (For a full examination of how these reports differ, check out our media resource.)

There is lot of detailed information in this report, and I encourage you to explore it. To get you started, here are 10 key facts from the report:

  • In 2014, 1,488,465 people used homeless shelters in America. This is a 4.6 percent increase from 2013, but it’s a 6.3 percent decrease from 2007.
  • Almost two-thirds of people (948,127 people) in shelter were individuals.
  • Nearly 9 percent (131,697 people) who used shelter last year were identified as veterans.
  • Adults with disabilities were four times more likely to be homeless in shelter than adults without disabilities.
  • 1 in 138 people identifying as a minority entered a homeless shelter in 2014. When looking at African Americans specifically, 1 in 69 used shelter.
  • 70 percent of people in shelter were in major cities.
  • The number of sheltered people in cities declined by 14.1 percent from 2007 to 2014. The number of sheltered people in suburban and rural areas increased by 19.6 percent during this same period.
  • 46.7 percent of sheltered homeless persons came into shelter from an unsheltered location. This population has increased by nearly 50 percent since 2007.
  • In 2014, the vast majority of people stayed in emergency shelter for less than 180 days: 28.2 percent of people in shelter stayed for a week or less, 27.0 percent stayed for 8 to 30 days, and 35.4 percent stayed for 31 to 180 days.
  • The median length of stay in emergency shelter in 2014 was 26 nights. For individuals, the median length of stay was 22 nights; for families, the median length of stay was 37 nights.

Though this report captures information only on a specific segment of the homeless population, it’s a critical tool to help us understand demographic, geographic, service use trends. The more information we know about who we are serving, the better we can be at providing effective services and advocating for resources to support this critical work.


Graphic from "The 2014 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress Part 2: Estimates of Homelessness in the United States," U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.