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Nationwide homeless population drops, while SF sees increase

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A man sleeps on a couch along Myrtle Street in San Francisco, Calif. Tuesday, March 29, 2016. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)
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The homeless population across the U.S. has decreased during the past seven years, while San Francisco, on the other hand, has seen a rise.

There are nearly 550,000 homeless people across the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development 2016 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress released Thursday.

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While 68 percent were staying in some form of temporary housing like shelters, 32 percent were living in places like the streets.

Since 2010, the nation’s homeless population has decreased overall by 14 percent. San Francisco’s homeless population has increased from 5,823 in 2010 to 6,996 this year. West Coast cities in particular have seen an increase and California saw an overall jump in the homeless population.

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Matthew Doherty, executive director of U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness said Thursday the homeless increase in West Coast cities involves multiple factors, but certainly the hot real estate market is among them.

“The housing market is definitely a huge impact on the ability of people to retain stable housing and avoid the experience of homelessness,” Doherty said. “And then I think it’s also becoming harder and harder in many of these communities for people to exit homelessness and to find the places to call home that they can afford.”

He added, “In many communities we are also seeing more indications of a strong connection between the opioid epidemic and experiences of homelessness.”

Julián Castro, HUD secretary, said that “homelessness is down significantly in our nation since 2010, but we also know there is a lot left to do.”

Castro called for “even more leadership by mayors and governors, nonprofit organizations, in addition to the federal government to prevent and end homelessness in the United States.”

San Francisco has the six largest homeless population of other major cities. New York City has the most, at 73,523. The numbers are from a count of one day in January.

Doherty said that there was a “need to urgently focus” on increasing affordable housing across the country, improving employment opportunities and collaborating among federal, state and local governments.

Doherty praised the leadership of Los Angeles’s mayor and Board of Supervisors for their success in passing this month a $1.2 billion voter-approved bond to house the homeless there.

“It’s a matter of being able to take the supply of housing opportunities to the scale that’s needed to meet the needs there. That’s why the passage of the proposition is so important to bring those new units online,” Doherty said. “That’s the strategy that is working in every community.”

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