As of 2019, homeless encampments were appearing in numbers not seen in almost a century. The growth of encampments mirrored the increase in unsheltered homelessness overall and seemed to reflect a complex set of societal factors, including a lack of affordable housing and the persistence of deep poverty and chronic homelessness. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, nationwide, communities were struggling to respond to public pressures to relocate people living in encampments and prevent the formation of new encampments with only a weak knowledge base on which to structure that response.
To learn more about encampments and cities’ approaches in responding to them, Abt Associates conducted the study Exploring Homelessness Among People Living in Encampments and Associated Costs for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). After completing a literature review, the study team selected nine cities currently responding to encampments to participate in telephone interviews in early 2019. The nine cities were Chicago, Illinois; Fresno, California; Houston, Texas; Las Vegas, Nevada; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Portland, Oregon; San Jose, California; and Tacoma, Washington. In the fall of 2019, the team conducted site visits to Chicago, Houston, San Jose, and Tacoma to collect cost information on expenditures explicitly related to encampments, interview implementation partners, observe encampments, and interview a small number of encampment residents.
Findings from this study – the report on costs, individual site summary reports, and the literature review – are intended to help federal, state, and local policymakers and practitioners understand the nature of encampments, strategies for responding to encampments, and the costs associated with those approaches.