Homeless people sleep near a National Guard truck ahead of the inauguration of US President-elect Joe Biden on January 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. Spencer Platt / Getty Images hide the caption
Spencer Platt / Getty Images
Spencer Platt / Getty Images
The country’s homeless population grew for the fourth consecutive year. In a single night in January 2020, more than 580,000 people were homeless in the US, a 2% increase from the previous year.
The numbersreleased today by the Department of Housing and Urban Development do not reflect the impact of the pandemic.
“And we know the pandemic has only made the homeless crisis worse,” said HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge in a video message attached to the report. Calling the numbers “devastating”, she said the nation has a “moral responsibility to end homelessness”.
Among the more sobering findings of the report: Homelessness among veterans and families has not improved for the first time in many years.
In addition, more than 106,000 children were homeless during the once-a-year census, which was conducted in most communities in the country. While the majority of homeless children were in temporary or temporary shelters, nearly 11,000 lived outside.
As has been the case for years, a disproportionate proportion of the homeless have been black – about 39% of the total population, although African Americans make up about 13% of the country’s total population. 23 percent of the homeless who were homeless last year identified themselves as Hispanic or Latino.
California was home to the largest number of homeless people – 161,548 – according to the 2020 census. A quarter of all homeless people in the US lived in either New York City or Los Angeles.
For the first time since the government began its annual census, the number of single adults outdoors – 209,413 – exceeded those in shelters (199,478).
“I find it tragic that we have more and more people,” said Nan Roman, President and CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness. “We know that unprotected people have terrible health problems.” Roman noted that these individuals are much more susceptible to disease and premature death than those who live inside.
Add to the concerns of housing advocates that many more people have moved outside since the pandemic census was conducted.
Some people were concerned that COVID-19 might stay indoors, and many shelters have been forced to limit bed space in order to comply with health and safety protocols. This has led to an increase in street homelessness in communities that have been unable to offer alternative housing, despite some taking advantage of hotel space vacant during the pandemic.
Becky Gligo, executive director of Housing Solutions Tulsa, said her Oklahoma county raised money to move more than 400 unprotected people to a hotel or other apartment after a severe storm hit the area this winter and less than one Left a dozen people on the streets.
“The pandemic has been incredibly difficult for everyone for so many reasons. But in some ways, it’s really quick things that we thought would take five, ten years to get funding and intent for it,” Gligo said .
Other providers have also seen what they call the silver lining for the pandemic.
John Mendez, executive director of Bethesda Cares, a service provider in Montgomery County, Md., Said his group could permanently house some individuals who had lived outdoors for more than a decade and who refused to accept assistance until last year.
“Many of them were very afraid of what might happen,” said Mendez. “It was very bleak.”
Streets that were usually busy suddenly became empty. Amenities such as sanitary facilities were no longer available. “In late April they were open to talking about housing for the first time,” he said.
There are still concerns about what might lie ahead.
“I think homelessness will increase,” said Sean Read, chief program officer at Friendship Place, a nonprofit that serves the homeless in Washington, DC. Homelessness is “generally a delayed response” to economic setbacks. Families who were able to hold onto housing during the pandemic with the help of government aid and eviction moratoriums could be unlucky in the coming year.
Read and others are confident that billions of dollars in housing aid, included in a recent $ 1.9 trillion COVID relief package, will go a long way towards alleviating the crisis.
The amount of aid is unprecedented. The bill provides for $ 5 billion in homeless assistance, more than $ 20 billion in emergency aid, and $ 5 billion in new home vouchers.
Roman of the National Alliance to End Homelessness noted that the measure also includes direct payments to families that many could keep in their homes. She said some communities are also planning to use the funds to buy empty hotels that can temporarily and permanently accommodate more people.
“It’s such a big opportunity right now,” said Roman. “The question is whether we’ll make it.”