New HUD Report Shows U.S. Homelessness Was on the Rise Even Before COVID-19 Hit

Young beautiful red hair girl sitting alone outdoors on the wooden bench on the street with hat and shirt feeling anxious and depressed after she became a homeless person.
Srdjanns74 / Getty Images/iStockphoto

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on homelessness in the United States has been well documented, with a steep rise in unemployment leading to an increase in Americans being forced out of their homes. But as a new report from the Department of Housing and Urban Development shows, homelessness was on the rise even before the pandemic hit.

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The report, released on Thursday, said that on a single night in January 2020, more than 580,000 Americans either lived on the streets or in temporary shelters — a 2% increase from the previous year. The count was conducted well before COVID-19 began its rapid spread in the U.S.

One of the report’s key findings was that for the first time in years, there was no improvement in homelessness among veterans and families, according to an article on the NPR website. It also found that more than 106,000 children were homeless when the count was conducted, although the vast majority of them lived in shelters or transitional housing.

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A disproportionate share of homeless Americans were Black — roughly 39%, even though Blacks make up only about 13% of the nation’s overall population. About 23% percent of the homeless were Hispanic or Latino. California was home to the largest number of homeless people in the count, with 161,548 individuals. One-quarter of all homeless Americans lived in either New York City or Los Angeles.

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A Thursday article in The New York Times noted that the HUD report “almost certainly underestimates the spread, depth and urgency of the crisis.” The homeless crisis undoubtedly worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic, officials said, though it might take years to determine by how much.

“I can’t give you numbers on how much homelessness has increased during the pandemic, but we know it has increased,” HUD Secretary Marcia L. Fudge said during a briefing at the White House.

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About the Author

Vance Cariaga is a London-based writer, editor and journalist who previously held staff positions at Investor’s Business Daily, The Charlotte Business Journal and The Charlotte Observer. His work also appeared in Charlotte Magazine, Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal and Business North Carolina magazine. He holds a B.A. in English from Appalachian State University and studied journalism at the University of South Carolina. His reporting earned awards from the North Carolina Press Association, the Green Eyeshade Awards and AlterNet. In addition to journalism, he has worked in banking, accounting and restaurant management. A native of North Carolina who also writes fiction, Vance’s short story, “Saint Christopher,” placed second in the 2019 Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition. Two of his short stories appear in With One Eye on the Cows, an anthology published by Ad Hoc Fiction in 2019. His debut novel, Voodoo Hideaway, was published in 2021 by Atmosphere Press.
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