CoC Program Special NOFO Digest: Unsheltered Homelessness

July 1, 2022

On June 22, 2022, the Continuum of Care (CoC) Program Supplemental Funding Opportunity to Address Unsheltered and Rural Homelessness (Special Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO)) was announced. This is a first-of-its-kind package of resources to address unsheltered homelessness and homeless encampments including funds set aside specifically to address homelessness in rural communities.

Applications for the Unsheltered and Rural Homelessness NOFO must be submitted no later than October 20, 2022, at 8:00 PM EDT.

To support communities in developing their plans to address rural and unsheltered homelessness, existing Technical Assistance (TA) resources are being highlighted through a series of listserv messages.

View all CoC Program Special NOFO Digests

Unsheltered Homelessness

Unsheltered homelessness is both a growing problem and a severe one. The Unsheltered NOFO aims to provide CoCs with dedicated resources to address unsheltered homelessness in their communities. It also provides resources to enhance data collection and develop a more comprehensive understanding of people living in unsheltered situations, including encampments.

Unsheltered homelessness in the U.S. has been growing since 2015. In the January 2020 Point-in-Time (PIT) count, 226,080 unsheltered people were counted. This is a 7 percent increase from 2019 and a 30 percent increase from 2015. Estimates of unsheltered homelessness have not been this high since the years immediately following the 2008 financial crisis. 2020 was also the first year since data collection began where more individuals experiencing homelessness were unsheltered than sheltered.

Unsheltered chronic homelessness among individuals has grown even more rapidly than unsheltered homelessness. Between 2019 and 2020, the number of unsheltered people with chronic patterns of homelessness increased by 21 percent. More than 35 percent of individuals found in unsheltered locations in 2020 had chronic patterns of homelessness.

With this rise in unsheltered homelessness, many communities have experienced a rise in encampments. A 2020 report funded by HUD and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) noted that the number of encampments nationwide was “at levels not seen in almost a century.”

These numbers are especially concerning because health outcomes for people experiencing unsheltered homelessness are worse than those for people experiencing sheltered homelessness. The California Policy Lab reports that, compared to sheltered people, unsheltered people are: 

  • Over four times as likely to report a physical health condition (84 percent of unsheltered vs. 19 percent of sheltered participants)
  • Nearly 1.5 times as likely to report a mental health condition (78 percent of unsheltered vs. 50 percent of sheltered participants)
  • Over five times as likely to report a substance abuse condition (75 percent of unsheltered vs. 13 percent of sheltered participants)
  • 25 times as likely to report all three conditions concurrently (50 percent of unsheltered vs. 2 percent of sheltered participants)

While these are often linked to health issues that begin before a person loses their housing, they can be exacerbated by the conditions of unsheltered homelessness. Per the California Policy Lab, 50 percent of unsheltered individuals have difficulty “taking care of basic needs like bathing, changing clothes, using a restroom, and having access to food and clean water,” compared to 3 percent of sheltered individuals. The Urban Institute reports that 35 percent of men and 40 percent of women experienced a violent attack while experiencing unsheltered homelessness.

As noted above, many unsheltered people suffer from prior health conditions that can worsen the impact of COVID-19. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) writes that unsheltered people often lack adequate access to hygiene and sanitation facilities, as well as connection to services and healthcare, which are critical to preventing the spread of the virus. In encampment settings, unsheltered people may also find it difficult to socially distance from other residents, further facilitating transmission of COVID-19. 

The unprecedented resources provided to communities to house individuals and families experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic (e.g., Emergency Solutions Grants CARES Act (ESG-CV), Emergency Housing Vouchers (EHVs), Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA), and the HOME Investment Partnerships American Rescue Plan (HOME-ARP) Program) allowed communities to rapidly expand existing housing and service options as well as adopt new strategies to engage and more effectively house people experiencing homelessness in tight rental markets.

CoCs applying for funding under this NOFO are encouraged to build on existing, effective strategies, including those adopted during the pandemic, and commit to continuing to evaluate their strategies to improve housing outcomes for people experiencing unsheltered homelessness.


The following resources may be helpful to communities preparing to respond to the Special NOFO:

For additional resources, visit the CoC Program Unsheltered and Rural Homelessness NOFO page on the HUD Exchange.


For questions about the Special NOFO, please email