Top 14 States with the Biggest Increase in Homelessness Isn’t California Or New York

Top 14 States with the Biggest Increase in Homelessness Isn’t California Or New York

States that experienced the most significant rise in their homeless populations.

The COVID-19 pandemic had a disproportionately severe impact on individuals already experiencing homelessness or housing and economic instability. Emergency shelters, originally designed to provide temporary refuge, became hazardous as crowded conditions fostered virus transmission.

In major cities, the scarcity of shelter spaces was exacerbated by increased COVID-19 infections among residents, causing a surge in deaths among unhoused populations. Although this predicted an upswing in sheltered homelessness in 2021, national and state data reveal a nuanced situation. The Department of Housing and Urban Development reported an almost 8% decline in sheltered unhoused individuals across the country. This unexpected trend is attributed to various factors, including government interventions like stimulus aid, unemployment benefits, and eviction moratoriums, as well as health concerns causing people to avoid shelters.

Despite the overall reduction in sheltered homelessness, the crisis of homelessness persists, as stated by HUD Secretary Marcia L. Fudge. Fourteen states witnessed an increase in their sheltered homeless population. Underlying reasons for homelessness persist and were amplified by the pandemic. Affordable housing scarcity remains a pressing issue, with no state having a sufficient supply of affordable housing for the lowest-income renters. The national housing deficit is estimated at 7 million homes. In rural areas, unhoused individuals confront “service deserts,” where the absence of shelters and housing assistance compounds their challenges.

To comprehend the factors contributing to the rise in sheltered homelessness across 14 states, Stacker analyzed data from HUD’s annual Homeless Assessment Report. The change in homelessness rates from 2020 to 2021 was tracked, and states with increased sheltered homelessness were ranked based on the percentage increase.

How has the sheltered homeless population changed since 2007?

sheltered homeless population changed since 2007?

As per the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the availability of homelessness assistance services, including permanent supportive housing beds and shelter beds, witnessed growth from 2007 to 2015. Targeted funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), supplemented by resources from other agencies, contributed to reducing the count of sheltered unhoused individuals over the past decade.

The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic produced a complex impact on homelessness rates in the United States. Economic instability surged, and the heightened risk of infection disproportionately affected those without housing. However, the influx of relief funding aimed at addressing the pandemic facilitated the expansion of specific services. This expansion enabled more comprehensive assistance to the most vulnerable segments of the population.

14.Arizona

  • Estimated number of people in homeless shelters in 2021: 5,460
  • Increase since 2020: 0.04%
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The city of Phoenix gained significant attention in 2022 due to a range of issues, spanning from a high number of unsheltered homeless individuals succumbing to various challenges, to a notable increase in the population of unhoused people residing in encampments throughout the city. The concern of homelessness in Phoenix had been steadily growing for multiple years prior to the onset of the pandemic. However, the period since the pandemic emerged has witnessed a substantial surge in both sheltered and unsheltered homeless populations. This increase can be attributed to various factors, including a scarcity of emergency shelters, the economic downturn brought about by the pandemic, and the persistent issue of inadequate affordable housing availability.

13.South Dakota

  • Estimated number of people in homeless shelters in 2021: 817
  • Increase since 2020: 0.62%
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The state of South Dakota has encountered an increase in homelessness, as reflected in the estimated number of individuals seeking shelter in 2021. This rise amounts to a 0.62% increase compared to the previous year. The state’s homelessness challenge is linked to multiple factors, including a shortage of affordable housing options and insufficient resources for supporting unhoused individuals, particularly in smaller towns. This predicament is notably pronounced in larger cities such as Sioux Falls. Smaller towns within South Dakota have taken measures such as providing bus tickets and taxis to unhoused individuals to reach cities with more substantial infrastructure and support services. Meanwhile, shelters in Sioux Falls are grappling with capacity constraints, often operating at or above their designed limits.

12.Alaska

  • Estimated number of people in homeless shelters in 2021: 1,797
  • Increase since 2020: 4.17%
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Alaska faced a notable increase in homelessness, evidenced by the estimated 1,797 individuals seeking shelter in 2021, marking a 4.17% rise from the previous year. The state encountered a complex interplay of factors that contributed to this rise. Amid the pandemic, the availability of vacant housing significantly decreased, hitting a 10-year low. Concurrently, rental prices surged across the state, making housing less affordable for many residents. The scarcity of housing options, particularly affordable ones, played a key role in driving up homelessness rates. The state’s low vacancy rates also extended the average duration that unhoused individuals spent in shelters. Despite the federal eviction moratorium implemented during the pandemic, a substantial number of Alaska residents still faced housing instability and were compelled to leave their homes.

11.Maine

  • Estimated number of people in homeless shelters in 2021: 2,063
  • Increase since 2020: 5.47%
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In Maine, the estimated number of individuals seeking refuge in homeless shelters reached 2,063 in 2021, indicating a notable increase of 5.47% from the previous year. To address the growing challenge of homelessness, the state received federal assistance, which was utilized to house unhoused individuals in hotels. This approach aimed to alleviate the strain on crowded shelters, which posed higher risks of infection during the pandemic. However, both hotel accommodations and shelters primarily serve as transitional housing, lacking the capacity to provide long-term solutions. The escalating cost of sustained housing and its limited availability compelled many unhoused individuals to extend their stays in shelters and other temporary housing options. Disturbingly, data from 2021 revealed that approximately one-quarter of Maine’s homeless population is under the age of 18, emphasizing the far-reaching impact of the issue on vulnerable populations.

10.Virginia

  • Estimated number of people in homeless shelters in 2021: 5,335
  • Increase since 2020: 6.94%
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In Virginia, the estimated count of individuals seeking shelter in homeless shelters reached 5,335 in 2021, indicating a substantial increase of 6.94% compared to the previous year. The termination of the pandemic’s eviction moratorium in June 2022 had significant consequences. A surge in individuals losing their homes resulted in a surge of eviction-related court cases. Furthermore, funding that had been allocated for transitional hotel housing for those experiencing homelessness, a measure initiated due to the pandemic, ceased, leaving many individuals to either return to the streets or search for alternative shelter options. An ongoing challenge in parts of the state is the shortage of available space in emergency shelters, which has led to extensive waitlists to gain entry into these facilities, with some waitlists extending into the hundreds. The closure of seasonal hypothermia shelters further exacerbated the issue, contributing to a rise in the number of unhoused individuals without access to shelter.

9.California

  • Estimated number of people in homeless shelters in 2021: 51,429
  • Increase since 2020: 7.39%
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In California, the estimated count of individuals seeking shelter in homeless shelters stood at 51,429 in 2021, reflecting a notable increase of 7.39% compared to the previous year. California holds the distinction of having the largest homeless population in the United States, prompting lawmakers and advocates to address what is widely referred to as a homelessness crisis. Across various regions of the state, including Los Angeles—where nearly 2 out of 5 of California’s unhoused population resides—escalating crackdowns on encampments by law enforcement and extreme heat have exposed an already vulnerable population to even greater risks. Disturbingly, the number of deaths among unhoused individuals in Los Angeles County has risen by at least 160% since 2015. Governor Gavin Newsom, who has consistently highlighted the issue of homelessness during his tenure, has faced criticism from advocates for unhoused individuals for actions such as clearing encampments and using legal measures to compel unhoused individuals into mental health services, often with the threat of criminal charges.

8.Montana

  • Estimated number of people in homeless shelters in 2021: 1,168
  • Increase since 2020: 7.65%
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In Montana, the estimated count of individuals seeking shelter in homeless shelters reached 1,168 in 2021, marking a significant increase of 7.65% compared to the previous year. Until recently, Bozeman, one of Montana’s largest cities, lacked a year-round shelter for unhoused individuals. This situation meant that many individuals had to endure encampments or life on the streets between April and October—a perilous endeavor given the state’s extreme weather conditions. Tragically, in 2021, several unhoused individuals who were living outdoors perished due to freezing temperatures in an April snowstorm. Although officials have laid out plans to invest in affordable housing, the rising cost and limited availability of housing have complicated efforts to address the growing number of unhoused residents in Montana.

7.Minnesota

  • Estimated number of people in homeless shelters in 2021: 6,461
  • Increase since 2020: 7.85%
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Minnesota saw a notable increase in its sheltered homeless population, with the estimated count of individuals seeking refuge in homeless shelters reaching 6,461 in 2021. This marked a significant increase of 7.85% compared to the previous year. Some advocates attribute this rise to the state’s use of pandemic funding to provide shelter for unhoused individuals in hotels during the time when the 2021 count was conducted. By sheltering more people, rather than leaving them on the streets or in encampments, the count of sheltered homeless individuals naturally increased. However, as the eviction moratorium and rental assistance came to an end, state officials and advocates observed an immediate rise in the overall unhoused population. The complex interplay of pandemic-related policies and economic factors has contributed to the challenges faced by Minnesota’s homeless population.

6.Rhode Island

  • Estimated number of people in homeless shelters in 2021: 1,086
  • Increase since 2020: 9.04%
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Despite being the first state in the nation to pass a Homeless Bill of Rights in 2012, Rhode Island has been facing persistent challenges in addressing homelessness. The estimated count of individuals seeking shelter in homeless shelters in 2021 stood at 1,086, indicating a significant increase of 9.04% compared to the previous year. While the Homeless Bill of Rights aims to protect unhoused people from housing status-based discrimination, the state has been grappling with an upward trend in homelessness even before the pandemic. Pandemic-related funding allowed many unhoused individuals to find temporary shelter in motels within the state. However, as the program came to an end, a lack of affordable housing options compounded the problem, making it difficult for people to secure sustainable, long-term housing solutions. The state’s ongoing efforts to address homelessness require a multifaceted approach to provide comprehensive support and solutions for those in need.

5.Colorado

  • Estimated number of people in homeless shelters in 2021: 8,016
  • Increase since 2020: 15.62%
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Colorado has experienced a significant increase in the rate of sheltered, chronically unhoused individuals between 2007 and 2021, surpassing other states in this regard. Among major cities, Denver ranks third in the nation for the highest number of people experiencing sheltered homelessness, trailing behind Los Angeles and New York City. In Denver, there was a noticeable doubling of individuals experiencing homelessness for the first time between 2020 and 2021. Furthermore, the crisis disproportionately affected Black and Indigenous people.

The escalating cost of living in Denver and various parts of the state, coupled with a shortage of available housing, has played a pivotal role in exacerbating the issue. Denver has initiated several programs aimed at addressing the crisis, including the Supportive Housing Social Impact Bond Initiative. This housing-first program provides individuals experiencing homelessness with crucial resources such as housing, mental health services, medical assistance, and support for finding employment. Despite these efforts, the state of Colorado continues to grapple with the complex challenges posed by homelessness.

4.Nevada

  • Estimated number of people in homeless shelters in 2021: 3,293
  • Increase since 2020: 22.37%
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Nevada has witnessed a significant increase in homelessness, with the number of people seeking refuge in homeless shelters rising by over 22% since 2020. Despite legislative efforts aimed at safeguarding tenants’ rights during the pandemic, investigations exposed potential illegal evictions carried out by some landlords and owners of extended-stay hotels in the state. These evictions violated the eviction moratorium, and many individuals who were eligible for or applied for rental assistance were still subjected to eviction. Concurrently, the scarcity of affordable housing options and the steep surge in rental prices have compelled more people into homelessness in Nevada. The challenges of homelessness and housing insecurity persist as the state grapples with these pressing issues.

3.Arkansas

  • Estimated number of people in homeless shelters in 2021: 1,470
  • Increase since 2020: 34.49%
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Arkansas experienced a sharp increase in homelessness, with the number of individuals seeking refuge in homeless shelters surging by approximately 34.49% since 2020. Prior to the pandemic, the state had been making progress in reducing homelessness, but economic challenges and social hardships stemming from the pandemic led to a rapid reversal of this trend. Despite the implementation of an eviction moratorium, reports from advocates for unhoused individuals indicated that evictions were still taking place in the state during the pandemic. The crisis was exacerbated by pre-existing issues such as food insecurity and a scarcity of affordable housing options, which intensified during and after lockdowns and contributed to the spike in homelessness in Arkansas.

2.Delaware

  • Estimated number of people in homeless shelters in 2021: 1,579
  • Increase since 2020: 55.57%
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Delaware witnessed a significant surge in homelessness, with the number of individuals seeking refuge in homeless shelters skyrocketing by a staggering 55.57% since 2020. The state’s housing crisis was exacerbated by the pandemic, leading to a multifaceted homelessness problem. One contributing factor was the need for more space to combat high infection rates during the pandemic. The cramped living conditions of individuals on the brink of homelessness, including those staying with family or couch surfing, became untenable and unsafe, prompting many to become unhoused. This forced transition placed many individuals on the streets or in emergency shelters. Children constituted a significant portion of the rising unhoused population. Delaware faces a shortage of affordable housing units estimated at around 20,000, highlighting the urgent need for solutions. Efforts to address unsheltered homelessness include initiatives such as the construction of pallet villages with community engagement specialists.

1.Vermont

  • Estimated number of people in homeless shelters in 2021: 2,591
  • Increase since 2020: 160.14%
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Despite allocating significant financial resources to address homelessness, Vermont has witnessed an alarming 160.14% increase in the number of individuals seeking refuge in homeless shelters since 2020. The state’s efforts, which have amounted to hundreds of millions of dollars, have not been sufficient to stem the rising tide of homelessness, as highlighted in a Vermont State Auditor’s report. The lack of a cohesive and integrated approach to combat homelessness is believed to be a contributing factor to the ongoing surge. Alongside the factors that several other states have identified, such as housing shortages and escalating housing costs, Vermont state officials have also identified the conversion of formerly long-term housing into expensive short-term rental properties as a catalyst for the crisis. This trend has reduced the availability of long-term housing options, leading to low supply, high demand, and subsequently increased prices.

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John Smith is a distinguished journalist, holding a Master's in Journalism from the renowned Columbia University. With a knack for uncovering the most captivating stories, John is the go-to expert for all things related to politics and current affairs. His insightful analysis and commitment to unbiased reporting set him apart in the world of journalism. John's writing ensures you're always in the know about the latest happenings in the USA.

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