Counting people experiencing homelessness during the 2020 Census

The intent of the 2020 Census is to count everyone living in the United States, including people experiencing homelessness or living in transitory locations. General information about how the homeless will be counted and categorized in the 2020 Census results is provided below, as well as references to more detailed explanations.

  • The 2020 Census will count people wherever they live on Census Day (April 1, 2020)—or where they are staying that day if they have no permanent place to live.
  • The Census Bureau recognizes that people experiencing homelessness live in a variety of situations, such as temporarily staying with family or friends, living at a shelter, living outside, living in a tent or living in a car or recreational vehicle (RV). The Census Bureau also recognizes that some people are living in transitory locations without another usual home elsewhere.
  • The effort to count people experiencing homelessness at service locations and pre-identified outdoor locations is referred to as Service-Based Enumeration (SBE). SBE will count people at shelters, soup kitchens, regularly scheduled mobile food vans and target non-sheltered outdoor locations on March 30, March 31 and April 1, 2020.
  • The Bureau’s Enumeration at Transitory Locations Operation (ETL) enumerates people who are living in special locations such as recreational vehicle parks, campgrounds, racetracks, circuses, carnivals, marinas, hotels and motels and who do not have a Usual Home Elsewhere. ETL data collection will be conducted from April 9 to May 4, 2020.
  • In the summer of 2019, OFM will submit as many SBE and ETL locations as it has time to collect in the first half of the year. Participation in the New Construction Program (September-November 2019) will be an important—and last—chance for all localities to update information about homeless shelters and transitory locations.

The process of service-based enumeration and enumeration at transitory locations builds on decades of work with national and community-based organizations and will involve:

  • Work with state, local and tribal governments nationwide to update contact and address information for service-based locations (including shelters, soup kitchens and regularly scheduled mobile food vans) and transitory locations.
  • Work with local groups to identify outdoor locations where people are known to sleep, such as under bridges and in tent camps, or to stay temporarily.
  • Work with local community to identify recruiting needs that may include specific language skills and cultural facilitators.

While the tables for the 2020 Census results have not been finalized, the enumerated homeless population will likely be represented in the group quarter population under the “other noninstitutional facilities” category. This category includes the homeless, adults living in group homes, adults living in residential treatment centers and those living in maritime/merchant vessels, job corp centers, religious group quarters, natural disaster housing and domestic violence shelters.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development provides official statistics on the total population experiencing homelessness through their annual Point-in-Time counts. You can find the latest counts for Washington on the website of Washington’s Department of Commerce.

For more details

For more information on the Census Bureau's detailed plans for 2020, see:


For information on the counts from the 2010 Census, see:

Other sources of information on the population experiencing homeless include:

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