Homelessness increased in the U.S. in 2017, according to the 2017 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress released by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Can the housing shortage be to blame?
On any given night, an average of 553,742 people are without a home in the U.S., an increase of 0.7% from last year. Local communities reported the number of persons experiencing chronic homelessness and veterans increased. However, the report adds exact numbers are difficult to get 100% accurate.
Most of these, about 360,867, were located in emergency shelters and transitional housing programs, however 192,875 were unsheltered.
Most tragically, a total of about 40,799 unaccompanied youth and children were homeless in a night. HUD explained that this year, along with local communities, it launched a more intense effort to more accurately account for this difficult-to-count population, saying it will use 2017 as a baseline to track progress in reducing youth homelessness.
“In many high-cost areas of our country, especially along the West Coast, the severe shortage of affordable housing is manifesting itself on our streets,” HUD Secretary Ben Carson said. “With rents rising faster than incomes, we need to bring everybody to the table to produce more affordable housing and ease the pressure that is forcing too many of our neighbors into our shelters and onto our streets. This is not a federal problem—it’s everybody’s problem.”
However, homelessness among families with children decreased 5.4% from 2016 to 2017. It's been a chronic problem facing the nation, the previous administration left the Oval Office without meeting one of its key goals on homelessness, for example.
And the recent report shows the number of homeless various drastically from one region to another. Thirty states and the District of Columbia actually reported decreases in homelessness over the past year. But due to challenges in some metropolitan area, the national trend in number of homeless moved up.
“The fact that so many parts of the country are continuing to reduce homelessness gives us confidence that our strategies—and the dedicated efforts of communities to embrace best practices—have been working,” said Matthew Doherty, U.S. Interagency Council of Homelessness executive director. “At the same time, we know that some communities are facing challenges that require us to redouble our efforts across all levels of government and the public and private sectors, and we are committed to doing that work.”
But some cities continue to pull the national trend lower. HUD pointed out that Los Angeles reported an increase of 26% in overall homelessness since 2016. And this increase is primarily in non-sheltered homeless. And in New York City, emergency shelters and transitional housing reported an increase in homelessness, bringing the city’s increase to 4.1% annually.
The number of veterans experiencing homelessness decreased 3.2% after excluding these two cities from the calculation, but increased 1.5% overall. However, the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs brushed off the increase, saying it will continue to work to ensure veterans find stable housing.
“Our joint community-based homelessness efforts are working in most communities across the country,” VA Secretary David Shulkin said. “Despite a slight increase in overall Veteran homelessness, I am pleased that the majority of communities in the U.S. experienced declines over the past year.”
“VA remains committed to helping Veterans find stable housing,” Shilkin said. “We will continue to identify innovative local solutions, especially in areas where higher rents have contributed to an increase in homelessness among Veterans.”
But despite the slight increase from 2016 to 2017, homelessness is down 13.1% since 2010.
HUD’s national estimate is based upon data reported by approximately 3,000 cities and counties across the nation. Every year on a single night in January, planning agencies called Continuums of Care and tens of thousands of volunteers seek to identify the number of individuals and families living in emergency shelters, transitional housing programs and in unsheltered settings.
HUD explained these one-night snapshot counts, as well as full-year counts and data from other sources such as the U.S. Housing Survey, and the Department of Education are crucial in understanding the scope of homelessness and measuring progress toward reducing it.