The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released the 2017 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress last week, showing that homelessness increased nationwide by almost 1% overall since 2016. Despite the HUD press release saying that “Homelessness Declines in Most Communities with Increases Reported in High-Cost Areas,” this is the first increase in homelessness since 2010.
Increases were seen among unsheltered homeless people, people who are chronically homeless and homeless veterans. While the overall homeless population increased by .7% from 2016 to 2017, the number of unsheltered people increased by 9% over the year. Homelessness did decrease nationally among families with children.
The report is mandated by Congress. It analyzes data from over 3,000 state and local governments and a count of homeless people in January each year. It seeks to count those in homeless shelters and transitional housing, as well as those who are unsheltered and living outdoors. Although it is the best data available on the homeless population, it is likely that the report undercounts the extent of homelessness around the country.
The report found 553,742 homeless persons in January 2017. Of these, 65% were living in shelters or transitional housing and 35% were unsheltered. Nearly half the increase in homelessness overall was seen in the 50 largest cities. Almost all of the increase seen among unsheltered homeless people was in the these cities.
Among those counted, 51% were male and 49% were female. There were 114,829 children under 18 years old, representing 21% of all homeless persons. Whites were 47% of the homeless population, while African-Americans were 41%, and Hispanics were 22%. Both non-Hispanic whites and Hispanics saw an overall decrease in homelessness of 2%, but African-Americans saw an increase of 5%. Despite the overall drop in Hispanic homelessness, there was an increase of 30% for Hispanics who are unsheltered. Unsheltered African-Americans also increased by 27%.
Most people who experience homelessness do so only for short periods until they find another shelter. However, a small number of people spend long periods without shelter, about 16% of those homeless in 2017. These are often people with chronic illness or disability, substance abuse issues or mental illness. There were 12% more chronically homeless people in 2017 than in 2016. Unlike other groups of homeless people, chronically homeless people increased among both the sheltered (8%) and unsheltered (14%) populations. Since 2010, though, chronic homelessness has decreased by 27%.
The number of homeless veterans also increased for the first time since 2010. Veterans experiencing homelessness grew by 2% since 2016. This bucks a trend that has seen veteran homelessness drop by 45% since 2009.
Families with children are one group that had a decrease in homelessness. The number of people in homeless families with children decreased by 5% since 2016. In 2017, 33% of homeless people were in families with children, almost 185,000 people. Unaccompanied youth were counted for the first time, with 40,778 experiencing homelessness. More than half (55%) of these youth were unsheltered.
The report shows that the largest cities and the West Coast states are the areas with the greatest increase in homelessness, especially for those unsheltered. HUD notes that these areas are thriving economically. Very high housing costs and a shortage of affordable rental units leads to more people who cannot afford shelter in these areas.
HUD highlights how homelessness has been decreasing since 2010. The coordination between government at all levels, shelter operators and service providers has made a lot of progress in combatting homelessness. However, it is important to understand why this trend changed in 2016, and what can be learned from this information to keep reducing homelessness in our communities.