Unsheltered Homelessness: Trends, Characteristics, and Homeless Histories

Research Report

Unsheltered Homelessness: Trends, Characteristics, and Homeless Histories

Abstract

The number of people enduring unsheltered homelessness—sleeping outside, in cars, and in other places not meant for human habitation—has been increasing in recent years. This growth is concentrated in a small number of jurisdictions, particularly West Coast cities, and among key populations. People enduring unsheltered homelessness are more likely than people experiencing homelessness in sheltered locations to experience homelessness for longer periods, probably reflecting the challenges they face accessing and affording housing in the private rental market and accessing homeless assistance and other assistance programs. People enduring unsheltered homelessness are more likely to be disconnected from formal employment; face significant physical, mental, and behavioral health challenges; and have former and ongoing involvement with the criminal legal system. Ultimately, unsheltered homelessness devastates people’s lives and costs localities millions of dollars to manage. This report uses publicly available data to describe trends in unsheltered homelessness and reviews what research has found about the characteristics and experiences of the people enduring it.

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