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Affordable housing shortage blamed for first homeless increase in U.S. since 2010

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Steve Bunker, left, eats ice cream while sitting with others on the sidewalk near Ellis and Jones streets in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District Monday, October 2, 2017. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)
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The number of homeless people in the U.S. has increased in the past year — the first upward trend in the population since 2010 — which is blamed largely on rising rents and lack of affordable housing especially on the West Coast.

Seven years ago, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development count identified 637,077 homeless persons in the nation. Each subsequent year, the federal homeless count declined, reaching 549,928 in 2016.

But in the past year, the homeless population has increased by 0.7 percent, for a total of 553,742, according to HUD’s 2017 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress that was released Wednesday.

The agency said the increase was “largely attributed to the jump in unsheltered homelessness in larger cities in the West Coast.” No other state had a higher increase in homeless persons than California, which experienced a 14 percent increase, or 16,136 more homeless persons, for a total of 134,278.

“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 in a statement. He said there was a need to “produce more affordable housing and ease the pressure that is forcing too many of our neighbors into our shelters and onto our streets.”

While families with children who are homeless declined 5.4 percent nationwide since 2016, the number of chronically homeless persons has increased along with the number of veterans who are homeless.

HUD’s report uses tallies from cities and counties reported to the agency from counts conducted on a single night in January. San Francisco’s own homeless count released earlier this year actually identifies more homeless persons than it reports to HUD because HUD’s definition is narrower.

The City’s homeless count identified 7,499 homeless residents, while the HUD report says there were 6,858, a decrease from HUD’s 2016 count of 6,996 homeless residents.

At nearly 7,000 homeless persons, San Francisco has the seventh highest number of homeless residents of any major city, with the highest in New York, followed by Los Angeles, Seattle, San Diego, the District of Columbia and San Jose.

Jeff Kositsky, director of San Francisco’s Department of Homelessness, called the national increase “really disappointing.” But Kositsky said San Francisco’s own homeless population has remained mostly flat and in the backdrop of what’s happening nationally is evidence that The City’s strategies and increased investment are succeeding.

The federal agency said that in 30 states homelessness has declined, but increases in major cities is what had led to the rise. Los Angeles experienced nearly a 26 percent increase in homelessness since 2016, for a total of 55,188, and New York City reported a 4.1 increase, for a total of 76,501.

Overall, San Francisco’s percentage of unsheltered homeless persons is 58 percent, better than the state’s overall percentage of 68 percent.

But San Francisco is among four major cities where the percentage of unsheltered homeless youth exceeds 80 percent, others being San Jose, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. Of San Francisco’s 1,274 homeless youth, 88 percent were unsheltered.

Kositsky said The City plans to shelter more youth by making the adult shelter system more welcoming for youth and to launch a youth Navigation Center, although no site for one has yet been selected.

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