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Takeaways and Trends from the 2023 Annual Homeless Assessment Report

According to the most recent national count, 653,104 people were experiencing homelessness across the United States on a single night in January 2023—an increase of 70,642 people (12%) from 2022. At the time of the count, one out of every 500 people in the U.S. was unhoused.

The numbers from the 2023 Point-in-Time (PIT) count represent the single largest one-year increase in homelessness since the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development began collecting data in 2007. Diving into the data, the PIT count finds an overall increase in homelessness across all genders, ages, ethnicities, and races; among individuals and families with children; and in sheltered and unsheltered locations.

This blog highlights key takeaways from the 2023 PIT Count and identifies trends to watch for as policymakers at all levels of government work to stem historic increases in homelessness across the country.

Quick Takeaways

The PIT count, published as part one of HUD’s Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR), is an estimate of homelessness based on data collected by Continuums of Care (CoCs), regional or local planning bodies across the country that coordinate housing and services for homeless families and individuals. These counts are conducted by local volunteers on a single night in January and are a snapshot of homelessness. While imperfect, the PIT count is one of the most important sources of data on homelessness nationwide.

Beyond the all-time-high PIT count, the 2023 AHAR included several key takeaways:

  • The increase in homelessness is national in scope. From 2022 to 2023, the number of people experiencing homelessness increased in 41 states and D.C.
  • Chronic homelessness has worsened across the country, with 33 states and D.C. seeing an increase in the number of individuals experiencing chronic patterns of homelessness from 2022 to 2023.
  • In January 2023, 60% of people experiencing homelessness were staying in sheltered locations, while 40% were residing outside and in other places not fit for human habitation.
  • Homelessness response and rehousing systems across the country added significant capacity: total beds across temporary shelters and permanent housing programs increased 6.4% from 2022, 18.1% since the last pre-pandemic count, and 82% since the first count in 2007.
  • Despite this increase in inventory, the 2023 count identified a 200,000-shelter bed shortfall compared to the total number of people experiencing homelessness. Unsheltered homelessness was at the highest level it has ever been since data reporting began in 2007.
  • 72% of people experiencing homelessness were individuals, while the remaining 28% were part of households with children.
  • Among individuals, the 2023 PIT Count found an historically high 143,105 people experiencing chronic homelessness—a 12% increase from 2022. Within this group, 92,968 people (65%) live in unsheltered locations.
  • For the first time, the 2023 PIT expanded its age categories to identify people experiencing homelessness across five ranges: 25-34, 35-44, 45-54, 55-64, and 65 or older. This approach is consistent with takeaways from BPC’s 2016 Senior Health and Housing Task Force report, which recommended that HUD should take a more granular approach in monitoring homelessness among older adults. Among adults experiencing homelessness, more than a quarter (28%) were 55 or older.
  • Unsheltered individuals—people living by themselves outside or in places unfit for human habitation—make up 36% of the total unhoused population.
  • The number of unaccompanied youth and veterans experiencing homelessness, two groups federal policymakers have targeted for specific support, increased by 15% and 7%, respectively, since 2022.

The Phaseout of Pandemic-Era Policies Likely Contributed to Increased Homelessness

The story of homelessness in the U.S. in recent years can be roughly divided into three chapters: pre-pandemic trends, Covid-19 disruptions and policy responses, and the post-pandemic worsening.

While not always linear, the PIT counts from 2007 to 2020 revealed a long-term decrease, culminating in an all-time low in total homelessness in 2016 (approximately 550,000 people). Starting in 2017, the overall trendline began moving up largely due to an increase in unsheltered homelessness.

The onset of the pandemic significantly impacted the U.S unhoused population, the homelessness support system, and the PIT count’s methodology for 2021 and 2022. Many shelters reduced capacity in 2021 and 2022, as a result, the number of people experiencing sheltered homelessness dropped in the PIT counts. CoCs also had a harder time recruiting volunteers, which may have impacted their ability to count and account for people in unsheltered locations. In fact, the 2021 count excluded unsheltered people altogether.  

After the 2022 PIT count, the number of shelter beds began to climb as states lifted pandemic-era restrictions, contributing to this year’s increased count of people experiencing sheltered homelessness. In narrative reports to HUD that were included in the AHAR, CoCs from several states highlighted improved methodology and training for PIT count volunteers as reasons for their higher counts, as well as reduced social distancing measures and increased capacity.

The 2023 AHAR also pointed to the phaseout of pandemic-era housing and social support policies as a driver of increased homelessness. In response to the pandemic, the federal government took unprecedented bipartisan action to stave off mass evictions, help people stay housed, and provide resources for homeless shelters to ensure greater compliance with health protocols. Between 2020 and 2021, Congress passed legislation authorizing $46.5 billion in Emergency Rental Assistance, $5 billion in Emergency Housing Vouchers for people experiencing homelessness, as well as $4 billion for the program and $5 billion for the Community Development Grant-CV program, both which provided flexible funding for local jurisdictions to expand their homelessness outreach and service systems.

Research suggests that the combined support of these pandemic-era policies, along with the national eviction moratorium and local eviction protections, led to at least 800,000 fewer evictions filed in 2020 and 2021. Support policies not directly related to housing, such as economic impact payments, the Child Tax Credit, and expanded unemployment benefits, likely also played a significant part in keeping people housed.

By the time of the 2023 PIT count, most of these supports had long since phased out.

Historic Numbers of People Falling into Homelessness Overwhelmed Support Systems

During a presentation of the 2023 PIT count results, HUD officials emphasized that significantly more people fell into homelessness compared to last year’s count. Simultaneously, the national inventory of shelter and permanent housing beds for unhoused people reached its highest level since 2007. While this increase in inventory is partly due to shelters phasing out pandemic-era restrictions that limited the number of beds in 2022, the AHAR noted that the current level of shelter beds is 13% higher than the 2020 count, just prior to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The new PIT data drives home a key point borne out by recent research: homelessness response systems operate downstream of housing market dynamics that are strongly linked to rates of homelessness. While response and rehousing programs worked to find homes for people experiencing homelessness, broader housing market trends—such as historically low vacancy rates and high average rent increases—have made housing increasingly unaffordable and unattainable, pushing people out of housing at alarming rates around the time of the 2023 PIT count. This historic inflow of people into homelessness seems to have overwhelmed the efforts of rehousing programs and contributed to this year’s historic count.

This trend is also borne out in the CoC narrative reports included in the AHAR, most of which highlighted the inadequate supply of affordable homes and rapidly rising housing costs as key drivers of increased homelessness.

Place Matters in How People Experience Homelessness

The 2023 PIT count showed that homelessness happens everywhere in the country but is most acute in large cities. The 2023 count showed that 53% of all people experiencing homelessness were in the nation’s 50 largest cities, with 24% living either in Los Angeles or New York City. The New York City CoC experienced the largest growth of any CoC in the absolute number of people experiencing homelessness, surpassing Los Angeles as the city with the most unhoused people in the country.

However, the experience of homelessness varies across cities and states. California accounted for 28% of people experiencing homelessness and 49% of all unsheltered people—far and away the highest of any state. Over 123,000 unhoused people in California, 68% of the state’s total, are unsheltered.

In contrast, the state of New York provides shelter for 95% of its unhoused population, despite seeing the largest absolute increase and third-largest percentage increase in its homeless population of any state. Though New York City has for decades had a right-to-shelter law requiring the city to provide shelter to any unhoused person who requests it, the 2023 AHAR noted a recent increase in shelter use that goes beyond pre-pandemic levels.

The report also echoes anecdotal stories of an influx of asylum seekers straining some shelter systems. Some CoCs, including those covering New York City and Miami, highlighted the arrival of asylum seekers as a notable trend, reportedly accounting for more than 30% of the increase in sheltered homelessness in the New York City CoC. As University of Pennsylvania researcher Dennis Culhane noted: “Even without the migrant crisis we would have seen some increase, but certainly not to this extent.” However, it is not clear from the AHAR the extent to which asylum seekers impacted national trends in homelessness outside of a few cities.

Looking Ahead

The AHAR report and other data sources suggest that people are becoming homeless faster than they can be rehoused. As previous BPC analyses emphasized, homelessness is inextricably tied to the nationwide housing affordability crisis. There is a significant evidence base connecting homelessness and the housing market; when rents increase above approximately 30% of median household income, rates of homelessness tend to go up as well.

Policymakers should also note the role pandemic-era supports played in staving off a massive increase in homelessness—as well as the correlation between the phaseout of these supports and the unprecedented levels of homelessness we saw at the start of this year. The experience of pandemic-era investments to keep people housed, as well as the state-level programmatic infrastructure created to manage support programs, could serve as a guide for longer-term plans to prevent and end homelessness.

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