Will You Count? People Experiencing Homelessness In The 2020 Census

People experiencing homelessness are at risk of being undercounted.

An estimated 3.5 million people experience homelessness annually in the United States. In 2016, families with children experiencing homelessness accounted for 35 percent of the homeless population. In 2010, African-American family members were 7 times as likely to stay in a homeless shelter as White family members.

Veterans were also disproportionately represented amongst those experiencing homelessness, making up about 9 percent of homeless adults in 2016. People experiencing homelessness have been undercounted in the decennial census for decades. It is vitally important to educate people who are homeless about the census and those who give them shelter to ensure they are included on the census form completed for each household.

What are the hard-to-count characteristics of people experiencing homelessness?

People experiencing homelessness typically share certain characteristics that compound their risk of being undercounted, including:

  • Transitory Status: The Census Bureau attempts to count households by sending materials to every known residential address. The person filling out the form is prompted to include all people who live in that household, whether or not they are family members and regardless of how long they have been staying or will stay there, as long as they do not have a usual home elsewhere or another household that would include them. People experiencing homelessness often are temporary members of a household. It is vitally important to educate this population and the people who give them shelter to include them on the census form completed for that household.
  • Hard-to-Reach Locales: People experiencing homelessness can be hard to locate through census methods, in part because of where they live. In 2016, 68 percent of the homeless population was in emergency shelters, transitional housing programs, or safe havens, and 32 percent were in unsheltered locations. In 2015, 31 percent lived on the street, in a car, or in an abandoned building. Furthermore, local ordinances that prohibit begging or sleeping in public force people experiencing homelessness into less conspicuous locations.
  • Internet Access: People experiencing homelessness are far less likely to have internet access than the general population. The Census Bureau plans to promote an internet response form as the primary way for households to respond to the 2020 Census.
  • Age: Young children are traditionally very hard to count and about 22 percent of people experiencing homelessness are children.