Invisible People Report Shows Race, Faith, Homeownership, and Views on Policing Shape Public Perception on Homelessness

'What America Believes About Homelessness: Barriers to Progress' Identifies Pandemic-Era Shift in Public Perception on Homelessness

What America Believes About Homelessness: Barriers to Progress

In its second annual report on public perceptions of homelessness, Invisible People announced today the release of "What America Believes About Homelessness: Barriers to Progress." The report identifies America's view on the criminalization and policing of homeless populations, and how an individual's race, faith, and homeownership status affect perceptions on the issue. The nonprofit found a shift in America's pandemic-era views, including increasing concern about homeless people committing crimes, and a decline in sympathy for renters facing eviction.

"This follow-up study provides critically needed information about how homelessness is viewed across the country and points to the need for building greater understanding and empathy for those who are living on the streets of America," said Barbara Poppe, former executive director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness. "It is encouraging to see that there is strong support for solutions to homelessness but it's troubling to see how many believe that policing homelessness is a desirable response when there is clear evidence that these policies are expensive, harmful, and ineffective. The study is also helpful to understand how race, religion, and housing tenure contribute to beliefs."

According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, up to 10 million Americans, or 14% of U.S. renters, are behind on housing payments due to the ongoing pandemic. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Annual Homeless Assessment Report identified an increase in homelessness from 2019 to 2020, with 580,466 people experiencing homelessness. Invisible People found the public agreed that homelessness is an important problem that needs to be addressed, which stayed consistent from 2020 to 2021. To help close the gap between perception and public policy to address homelessness, Invisible People's "What America Believes About Homelessness: Barriers to Progress" delivers first-of-its-kind research highlighting the political barriers that stand in the way.

"The criminalization of homelessness is growing across the U.S.," said Mark Horvath, founder and CEO of Invisible People. "During a pandemic, when eviction rates are on the rise, cities are still choosing to put resources into pushing homeless residents out of sight rather than solving the crisis of homelessness in America. This report looks at the barriers to progress and provides stakeholders with actionable tools to influence positive change." 

"What America Believes About Homelessness: Barriers to Progress" delves deeper into the intersection between homelessness, housing, and policing to explore how people's perceptions and experiences impact their views about homelessness. Data was collected from a survey of 2,515 adults aged 18-70 in the U.S. A majority of the public continues to believe that homelessness is a growing problem in their communities. This concern is driven by a perceived lack of affordable housing, as well as more acute concerns about job loss and economic hardships related to the pandemic. In addition, the public's attitudes on homelessness policy have also remained consistent, with broad public support for housing and shelter solutions, while criminalization and policing solutions are more controversial.

"Last year's report found that the pandemic made people more sympathetic to the concerns of homeless people and renters facing eviction. While this is still true for the majority, those measures declined significantly," said Horvath. "After 18 months in a pandemic, an initial wave of sympathy may now be fading as people return to normal or adjust to their current situation."

This year's survey results show a shift in public perception toward more concern about homelessness and crime. Six percent more respondents in 2021 reported worrying that homeless people will commit crimes. In addition, there was some evidence of "COVID fatigue" on the issue. While in general, the pandemic has made the public more sympathetic on issues of homelessness and housing evictions, pandemic-linked support for governmental solutions has declined somewhat over the past year, from 65 to 60%.

"While the year-over-year change is relatively small, the shift in perception is concerning, with more Americans connecting homelessness and crime in their community," said Horvath. "This could be an early indicator of an anti-homeless political backlash, something present in campaigns for candidates and ballot measures pushing harsher enforcement in cities like Austin, Seattle, Los Angeles, and San Francisco."

Opinions on homelessness are highly polarized, with political views on housing and policing closely linked. Those who place more trust in police are less likely to support providing housing and shelter to homeless people and are more likely to view homeless people as a threat to themselves and their neighborhoods. The public is evenly split on whether policing is a cruel or compassionate response to homelessness in general. But most people still view housing as a more important solution than policing - nearly 3 in 4. Race and ethnicity also make a major difference, with Black respondents much more likely to report having personal experiences with housing insecurity, driving more support for housing and services and more skepticism of policing and enforcement-led responses to homelessness.

The report shows that political views around homelessness are fundamentally local, with individual views on the issue shaped by how the respondent views their own community. In addition, homeownership is a major driver of opinions on homelessness. Homeowners express more judgmental views toward homeless people and more conservative views on homelessness policy. While homeowners are broadly supportive of providing housing and services in general, they are much more likely than renters to hold "Not In My Back Yard" (NIMBY) views, opposing housing and shelter projects in their own neighborhoods.

"What America Believes About Homelessness: Barriers to Progress" provides concrete recommendations for countering harmful messages and navigating community opposition to housing projects designed for advocates, service providers, politicians, and others interested in solving homelessness. Recommendations to improve messaging on housing projects include emphasizing data on homelessness among youth and families, questioning NIMBY thinking, using video to tell personal stories, and starting discussions on the basis of shared values.

Download the full report here or visit:

About Invisible People 

Invisible People is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to educating the public about homelessness through innovative storytelling, news and advocacy. Since our launch in 2008, Invisible People has become a pioneer and trusted resource for inspiring action and raising awareness in support of advocacy, policy change and thoughtful dialogue around poverty in North America and the United Kingdom.

Media Contact:
Mark Horvath,, 213-245-1519

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Source: Invisible People

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