Homelessness in the United States went up slightly this year for the first time since 2010. During a one-night count in January, 553,742 people were found living outside or in shelters across the country, a 0.7 percent increase from the year before, according to new data released by the Department of Housing and Urban Development on Wednesday.
The increase is almost entirely due to a surge in homelessness in Los Angeles and other cities facing severe shortages of affordable housing, say HUD officials. Many of the cities are on the West Coast, including Seattle, San Diego and Sacramento, Calif.
Overall, the nation’s homeless numbers are 13 percent lower than they were in 2010 and some communities have all but eliminated homelessness among veterans, emphasized HUD Secretary Ben Carson.
“Where we’re not making great progress are in places like Los Angeles and New York City. These happen to be places where the rents are going up much faster than the incomes,” said Carson in an interview with NPR.
In fact, Los Angeles reported a nearly 26 percent rise in homelessness this year over 2016. Most of the increase was among individuals living outside on the street.
The number of homeless veterans was also up 1.5 percent nationally, despite major efforts by the government and nonprofit groups to house veterans. Again, officials say that rise is due to the unusually large surge in homeless veterans in Los Angeles. Veterans’ homelessness in the rest of the nation, excluding the city and county of Los Angeles, dropped by 3.2 percent.
Nan Roman, president and CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, was surprised the overall numbers weren’t better.
“Just because I think there’s been a continuing investment in veterans, and an improvement in approaches,” she says. “We might expect to have seen a continuing downward trend. And we’re not.”
Roman says it’s increasingly difficult to find available units in some areas of the country to house the homeless. And she worries the problem could get worse. Housing advocates note that the Trump administration has proposed cutting low-income housing subsidies, which many people rely on to stay housed. They also believe the tax bill working its way through Congress could discourage investment in new affordable housing construction by reducing tax credits used by developers.