Overall homelessness in America has declined, but millions remain at risk of falling into homelessness in the future, according to The State of Homelessness in America 2015, the fifth in a series of annual reports on the nation’s progress on homelessness by the Alliance’s Homelessness Research Institute.
The report, which we released today, examines national and state trends among the homeless populations, the number of beds available to assist them, and the populations vulnerable to homelessness. It shows that, during a period of economic growth for the nation when unemployment decreased in nearly every state, the rate of homelessness fell by 2.3 percent, but the number of people at risk of homelessness remained at post-recession levels.
Though national data show that targeted funding for homeless programs is reducing homelessness, the number of low-income people living in doubled-up situations with family and friends is growing, and the number of poor renter households who must pay more than 50 percent of their income toward housing remains at a historic high, demonstrating that the affordable housing crisis threatens progress.
Let’s unpack this a little further. On the positive side, we have achieved significant decreases in homelessness from 2013 to 2014:
- The national rate of homelessness fell to 18 homeless people per 10,000 people in the population. This is a decrease of one homeless person per 10,000 people from 2013 to 2014.
- Veteran homelessness decreased by 10.5 percent from 2013 to 2014. This is evidence that the funding targeted toward ending veteran homelessness in recent years, such as Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) and the Departments of Housing and Urban Development and Veteran’s Affairs supportive housing vouchers (HUD-VASH), is working.
- Unsheltered homelessness on a given night declined by 10 percent from 2013 to 2014.
On the negative side, the nation’s homeless assistance system is overloaded, and a great many people who have not benefited much from the economic recovery remain at risk:
- Almost 7.7 million people were living doubled up with friends and family in 2013, which is an increase of 67 percent since 2007. The majority of people who go into shelter report that they have come directly from a doubled up living situation, which means this group of people is the most at risk of future homelessness.
- Over 6.4 million poor households were burdened with severe housing cost—paying over half of their income in rent each month—in 2013, representing an increase of 25 percent since 2007.
- On any given night, there are approximately 154,000 more people experiencing homelessness than there are beds available to assist them.
Examining these trends, it’s clear that as a nation we still have a lot of work to do on our homeless assistance system. How can we improve it? Well, we can start by expanding targeted funds for housing to populations other than veterans. The substantial decreases we have achieved in veteran homelessness have shown us that targeted funding works.
We also must prioritize investment in affordable housing, so that populations at risk of homelessness—people who are living doubled up with family or friends because they cannot afford housing on their own, and people who are experiencing severe housing cost burden—never have to face the reality of falling into homelessness.
We can start making these improvements at the local level, with strong leadership from mayors and governors to help ensure that communities across the country are making homelessness rare, brief, and nonrecurring. Together, we can end homelessness.