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Homelessness in the U.S. is down, but more people are living on the street

homeless man
Pedro Ribeiro Simoes / Flickr CC / HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

November is winding down and temperatures here in Michigan are dropping. For many – myself included – the winter months can be a nuisance. But for people experiencing homelessness, the harsh, cold months can be brutal.

Currently, there are nearly 550,000 people in the U.S. experiencing homelessness on any given night. But that number is down nearly 3% from 2015, according to a recent report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

HUD’s Annual Homeless Assessment Report tracks the number of people sleeping in shelters and on streets across the country on one given night each year.

The Obama administration has targeted veteran and chronic homelessness with its Opening Doors program. The homeless population in the U.S. has decreased by around 14% since the program was launched in 2010.

Despite this bit of good news, the homeless population increased in some areas of the country between 2015 and 2016. Among them, Oklahoma's homeless population increased by almost 9%. And Washington state and the District of Columbia saw increases of 7% and 14%, respectively.

Many of the areas that experienced spikes in homelessness have also had soaring housing prices in recent years. Norm Suchar is director of HUD’s Office of Special Needs Assistance Programs. He told NPR:

There's no doubt that the lack of affordable housing is the big driver in our homeless numbers.

The report also found that more homeless people are physically living on the street than in 2015. The percentage of people living in encampments, on sidewalks, in parks or in cars rose 2% over the past year. According to Mic:

The HUD also found more people are living on the street — a phenomenon that's distinct from the overall size of the population of homeless people, since many people find temporary living situations in shelters. Many homeless people say they actually prefer living on the street, according to a report by the New York Daily News, because shelters can be dangerous and violent: Records from New York City show that in 2015 there were roughly five so-called "critical incidents" in the city's shelter system each day.

Some other key findings from the report include:

Most homeless individuals (373,571) were located in emergency shelters or transitional housing programs while 176,357 persons were unsheltered; The number of families with children experiencing homelessness declined 23% since 2010. Veteran homelessness dropped by 47% (or 34,616 persons) since January 2010. On a single night in January 2016, 39,471 veterans were experiencing homelessness; Chronic or long-term homelessness among individuals declined by 27% (or 77,486 persons) since 2010; and The number of unaccompanied homeless youth and children appeared to decline in 2016 to 35,686 though HUD will launch a more robust effort to more accurately account for this important population in January of 2017.

HUD Secretary Julián Castro said in a press release:

Every person deserves a safe, stable place to call home. The Obama Administration has made unprecedented progress toward ending homelessness and today marks the seventh straight year of measurable progress. While we know that our work is far from finished, it’s clear we’re on the right track to prevent and end homelessness for good.

You can read the full 2016 Annual Homeless Assessment Report here.

Paulette is a blogger for Michigan Radio's State of Opportunity project, which looks at kids from low-income families and what it takes to get them ahead. She previously interned as a reporter in the Michigan Radio newsroom.
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