HUD Credits COVID-19 Relief for Improved Homelessness Numbers

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's "2021 Annual Homeless Assessment Report" comes with significant caveats about partial data and changing homeless shelter practices.

February 8, 2022, 6:00 AM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

A group of socially distanced tents for the homeless are set up on a parking lot in San Francisco's Civic Center.

nerriy / Shutterstock

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released its 2021 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) Part 1 to Congress on Friday, February 4, 2022. Part 1 of the AHAR provides Point-in-Time (PIT) estimates, offering a snapshot of homelessness on a single night. Part 2 provides estimates of homelessness in the United States, but HUD has not produced a Part 2 of the report since 2018, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the HUD Exchange website.

According to a February 4 HUD press release, the report counts more than 326,000 people experiencing sheltered homelessness in the United States on a single night in 2021. The figure represents an eight percent decrease from 2020. "'Sheltered homelessness' refers to people experiencing homelessness who were found in emergency shelters, transitional housing, or other temporary settings," according to the press release.

HUD did not require communities to count unsheltered homeless in 2021 due to the public health concerns of the Covid-19 pandemic. A count of unsheltered homeless is reported in the AHAR, but with the caveat of the reported total being an estimate based on partial data. With that caveat in mind, the number of unsheltered homeless stayed relatively flat in 2021 compared to 2020.

The pandemic resulted in considerable changes to the practices of homeless service providers. "To promote the safety of people staying in shelter programs, most emergency shelters reduced occupancy to respond to CDC recommendations on COVID-19 safety measures," according to the press release. Those changes warrant caution about comparing Part 1 of this year's report to previous years.

HUD Secretary Marcia L. Fudge is quoted in the press release touting the results of the report. "The findings of the 2021 AHAR Part 1 report suggest that federal COVID-19 relief had positive impacts on sheltered homelessness," said Secretary Fudge.

Friday, February 4, 2022 in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

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