Homelessness Statistics in 2021: Who Experiences Homelessness and Why?

One in every 10,000 people in the United States experienced homelessness in 2020. Every city in America is impacted by homelessness, and according to a nationwide point-in-time survey, more than 580,000 people experienced homelessness in January, 2020–before the pandemic– up 2.2% from 2019.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) 2020 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, homelessness rose significantly among unsheltered individuals and those experiencing chronic homelessness.

Homelessness Trends in 2021

The March 2021 HUD report illuminates some noteworthy trends in homelessness.
  • CaseWorthyThe population-adjusted rate of homelessness has risen for the past three years.
  • Roughly two in three homeless people were considered unsheltered, which means they spent the night sleeping on streets, in vehicles, or in other locations that are not sleeping quarters.
  • CaseWorthyPeople of color, particularly Black and Native Americans, disproportionately accounted for homeless individuals in 2020. Nearly 40% of homeless people in the HUD point-in-time count were Black, and 3% were Native.
  • The U.S. states with the highest incidence of homelessness per 100,000 people are: D.C., New York, Hawaii, California, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska.
  • CaseWorthyHomelessness is more common in big cities than rural areas, and the largest numbers of homeless individuals were concentrated in Santa Cruz, Salinas, Los Angeles, San Jose, Honolulu, New York City, Santa Barbara, and Eugene, Oregon.
  • 18% of homeless individuals were under the age of 18.
These statistics don’t factor in the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, which will be reflected in the 2022 HUD report.

What factors contribute to homelessness? 

Homelessness is preventable, but first, these five key factors that lead to homelessness must be addressed: 

  1. Sustainable housing: Without affordable housing, people face eviction and housing instability. Two housing models have been shown to prevent homelessness: permanent supportive housing, and rapid re-housing. HUD also administers public housing and voucher programs to help low-income households afford housing in the private market. 
  2. Income: Low-income households often struggle to keep pace with inflation and rising housing costs. The typical American wage has barely increased in three decades. Job training and apprenticeship programs can help un- or underemployed individuals secure stable, long-term employment. In addition, transportation assistance, food stamps, supplemental security income, and childcare subsidies are supportive services that can help low-income households achieve stable housing.
  3. Health: Chronic health issues, behavioral health crises, and long-term disability may lead to homelessness. Being homeless, in turn, exacerbates these conditions and increases barriers to medical treatment. 
  4. Escaping Violence: For women and sometimes children, domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness. Survivors of domestic violence may become homeless as a result of escaping an abusive relationship. Emergency shelters, transitional housing, and short- and long-term rental assistance can help survivors regain stable housing. 
  5. Racial Inequities: Minorities – particularly Black and Native Americans – experience homelessness more often than white people due to the long-term effects of systemic racism.
Homelessness Statistics in 2021: Who Experiences Homelessness and Why?

A matrixed approach to ending homelessness

Case management can help people overcome housing instability and prevent chronic homelessness. In particular, wraparound services care coordination can help address homelessness by integrating multiple facets of support based on housing access, employment and income, physical and behavioral health, and domestic violence.

CaseWorthy’s HMIS software is scalable for intensive wraparound plans, or standard community care–it’s customizable to your organization’s workflows.

Learn how our software can help provide wraparound services.


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