Homelessness is a public health crisis affecting millions of Americans every year, with severe consequences for health ranging from infectious diseases to adverse behavioral health outcomes to significantly higher all-cause mortality. A primary constraint of addressing homelessness is a lack of effective and comprehensive data on rates of homelessness and who experiences homelessness. While other types of health services research and policy are based around comprehensive health datasets to successfully evaluate outcomes and link individuals with services and policies, there are few such datasets that report homelessness.
Gathering archived data from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, we created a unique dataset of annual rates of homelessness, nationally, as measured by persons accessing homeless shelter systems, for 11 years (2007–2017, including the Great Recession and prior to the start of the 2020 pandemic). Responding to the need to measure and address racial and ethnic disparities in homelessness, the dataset reports annual rates of homelessness across HUD selected, Census-based racial and ethnic categories.
Between 2007 and 2017, across all types of sheltered homelessness, whether individual, family, or total, Black, American Indian or Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander individuals and families were far more likely to experience homelessness than non-Hispanic White individuals and families. Particularly concerning about the rates of homelessness among these populations is the persistent and increasing nature of these disparities across the entire study period.
While homelessness is a public health problem, the hazard of experiencing homelessness is not uniformly distributed across different populations. Because homelessness is such a strong social determinant of health and risk factor across multiple health domains, it deserves the same careful annual tracking and evaluation by public health stakeholders as other areas of health and health care.