The National Alliance to End Homelessness released a report on April 1 titled, The State of Homelessness in America 2015. This is the fifth in a series tracking the nation’s progress toward ending homelessness. On a single night in January 2014, 578,424 people in the country were homeless, a 2.3% decline from the previous year. Every subpopulation also experienced a decrease in homelessness, including families (2.7%), chronically homeless individuals (2.5%), unsheltered persons (10%), and veterans (10.5%).
Although homelessness decreased nationally, significant variation existed among states, with homelessness decreasing in 34 states and increasing in 17 states. States with the largest increases were Nevada (25%), Idaho (18.1%), and Washington D.C. (12.9%). States with the largest decreases were North Dakota (39.2%), Arkansas (23%), and South Carolina (22.7%).
The report tracked four economic and housing indicators that may predict future need for homeless assistance: unemployment rates, poverty rates, the number of poor renter households paying more than 50% of their income for housing, and the number of poor households living doubled up with family and friends. From 2012 to 2013, the number of unemployed people decreased 8.4% and the unemployment rate fell to 7.4%. Despite these improvements in employment, the poverty rate remained steady at 15.8%.
In 2013, 6.4 million renter households in poverty faced a severe housing cost burden, paying more than 50% of their income for rent and utilities, a 2.8% decrease from 2012. Alaska (50.8%) and Illinois (48.5%) had the largest decreases in households with severe housing cost burden, while Indiana (87.6%) and North Dakota (31.2%) had the largest increases in households with severe housing cost burden.
The number of poor households living doubled up with friends or family due to financial constraint rose by 3.7%. Delaware (40.3%), Massachusetts (29.5%), and New Hampshire (27.7%) had increases in doubled-up population greater than 25%, while Wyoming (30%) and Alaska (25.3%) had the largest decreases.
Between 2013 and 2014, the number of homes available through permanent supportive housing increased by 5.6% and the number of emergency shelter beds increased by 4.5%, while the number of transitional housing beds decreased by 6.5%. The number of rapid re-housing beds nearly doubled, from 19,847 beds in 2013 to 37,783 beds in 2014.
According to the report, decreases in homelessness may be due to improvements in the homeless assistance system. However, this system alone cannot overcome the affordable housing crisis. The authors urge communities, states, and the federal government to prioritize investment in affordable housing to reduce the risk of homelessness among low income renters.
The full report is at http://endhomelessness.org/library/entry/the-state-of-homelessness-in-america-2015.