The number of homeless people in the US remains about the same as before the pandemic

SAN FRANCISCO– President Joe Biden’s administration announced Monday that it is stepping up efforts to help people who are now sleeping on sidewalks and in tents and cars, as a new federal report confirms what’s obvious to people in many cities: homelessness persists despite increased local efforts.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said the federally-mandated censuses conducted across the country earlier this year counted about 582,000 people as homeless — a number that misses some people and those who are with friends or family reside, because they do not have their own place.

The number was almost the same as in a poll taken in early 2020, just before the coronavirus pandemic hit the nation hard. It rose by around 2,000 people – an increase of less than 1%.

The government wants to reduce this by 25% by 2025.

“My plan provides a roadmap to not only get people into housing, but to ensure they have access to the supports, services and income that will enable them to thrive,” Biden said in a statement.

The 2022 All-In Strategy Roadmap released Monday follows a 2010 initiative titled Opening Doors, which was the country’s first comprehensive strategy aimed at preventing and ending homelessness.

Ann Oliva, CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness and a former HUD executive who worked on the first roadmap, said the federal government can influence local action with financial incentives, streamlined processes and strong policies.

Homelessness among veterans, for example, has fallen sharply as a result of federal leadership, and the country has gained a foothold with youth, too, she said.

“What they’re trying to do here is show that as a federal government, we’re going to work across agencies, we’re going to break down silos, we’re going to lead with justice, we’re going to talk about upstream prevention and work on these issues,” Oliva said.

The federal plan highlights racial and other inequalities that have led to injustice in homelessness. The aim is to expand the range of affordable housing and improve opportunities to protect people from homelessness.

Possible steps include a campaign to encourage more landlords to accept government housing credits and encourage local governments to build more apartment complexes that are affordable for working families.

The government also announced a program that would see federal agencies work with local officials to reduce vulnerable homelessness in select cities, not yet named.

Homelessness has become a major political issue, particularly in the country’s largest cities and on the west coast.

The new poll shows that Los Angeles has overtaken New York as the city with the most homeless people. In New York, where most of the homeless are in shelters, the total fell to fewer than 62,000 this year from nearly 78,000 in 2020. In Los Angeles, homelessness grew more slowly but still rose from under 64,000 in two years to over 65,000 earlier.

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass took office this month and promptly declared a state of emergency. New York Mayor Eric Adams last month announced a plan to treat the mentally ill and even remove them from the streets and subways against their will.

This year’s point-in-time survey reflected a balancing of opposing forces. The pandemic has brought massive job losses and higher rents, especially for low-income earners. It also spurred a moratorium on evictions and temporary federal aid, including tax credits for families that helped house people.

The census found that homelessness among veterans, families, children and young adults decreased. Most lived in makeshift shelters, although there was an increase in those sleeping in places not intended for living. More people have been homeless for more than a year. Black people continued to be disproportionately homeless.

The new count was highly anticipated as the 2021 survey was incomplete due to the pandemic. This year’s poll wasn’t a full return to normal, however. While individual surveys usually take place in late January, many have been postponed to February or March due to the pandemic. The local reports, compiled into the national data, showed numbers had risen in some places and fallen in others.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. The number of homeless people in the US remains about the same as before the pandemic

Laura Coffey

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