Homelessness rises for first time since recession

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The number of homeless people across the country increased for the first time this year since the depths of the recession, an increase tied to rising rents in states and cities facing acute housing shortages.

An annual report issued to Congress by the Department of Housing and Urban Development shows almost 554,000 people were homeless in January, up a little under 1 percent from a year before. That ends six straight years of decline from 2010, when 637,000 Americans were homeless.

It also shows that the number of chronically homeless individuals — those who have been without a home for at least a year — increased for the first time since 2008. That number jumped by 12 percent over the prior year, though it is still down by more than a quarter since the beginning of the recession.

Homeless populations decreased in 30 states around the country. But some states saw big jumps in homelessness, including North Dakota, California, New Mexico and Vermont, the HUD report found. 

Much of that increase is driven by higher rents in places like Los Angeles, where the homeless population jumped more than 25 percent, and in the North Dakota oil fields, where the fracking boom has led to a severe housing shortage.

“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 CarsonBenjamin (Ben) Solomon CarsonVA slashes program that helps homeless veterans obtain housing: report Homelessness rises for first time since recession Moving the US embassy to Jerusalem is the right call MORE said in a statement. “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.”

Many cities, most notably those in fast-growing Western states, have seen homelessness grow as rents jump. Monthly rents have risen by more than 4 percent in 18 of the 50 largest cities across the country in the last year, according to an analysis by the real estate firm Zillow, including by more than 5 percent in San Diego; Kansas City, Mo.; Colorado Springs, Colo.; Tucson, Ariz.; and Sacramento.

Average monthly rents top $4,300 in San Francisco. In 12 other cities, from Seattle to Washington to Miami and Honolulu, Hawaii, rents average north of $2,000 a month.

About a dozen city and county governments, in places like Anaheim, Calif., San Diego, Seattle and Tacoma, Wash., have declared states of emergency to deal with the rising homeless population in recent years.

The annual HUD study surveys homelessness across the country on a single night. It does not take into account families and individuals who might experience homelessness at other times during the year, though it gives a snapshot of where homelessness is growing or declining.

Homelessness in major cities jumped by 5 percent in the last year. In many cases, the HUD report found major cities lack the shelter capacity to take in those who experience homelessness, leaving many on the streets.

About three quarters of all homeless people in Los Angeles and Fresno, Calif., were unsheltered in the January survey. More than two-thirds of the homeless in Oakland, Calif., and Las Vegas, and almost two-thirds of those without homes in Hawaii, were unsheltered. 

By contrast, just 3 percent of the homeless in Boston and 5 percent of homeless people in New York City were living outside of shelters.

Cities and states have dramatically increased both the number of emergency shelters and the number of permanent supportive housing units in recent years, the HUD report found. There are 353,000 units of permanent supportive housing around the country, up more than 100,000 since 2010. Shelter beds have grown too, from 221,000 in 2010 to 277,000 today.

In the last decade, the homeless population in New York has jumped by a third, or about 9,300 people. California, Washington, Nevada and Hawaii have also seen big jumps in homelessness. Florida, Texas, Georgia, New Jersey and Arizona have all seen their homeless populations drop by more than a third.

The homeless population in America is overwhelmingly male — about 71 percent of those surveyed in the January study were men. Hispanics and African-Americans are disproportionately likely to have experienced homelessness, and they are also disproportionately likely to have been unsheltered. Just 52 percent of the homeless population surveyed was white.

The vast majority of America’s homeless population — nearly 90 percent — are over the age of 25, but HUD analysts found more than 40,000 unaccompanied youth on the streets, the report says. About a third of that total population lives in just a few Western cities: Los Angeles, San Jose, Calif., Las Vegas, Seattle, San Francisco, Oakland and San Diego.

 





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