‘Two checks away’ from streets: Housing crisis drives up US homeless numbers

‘Two checks away’ from streets: Housing crisis drives up US homeless numbers
America’s homeless population has risen this year for the first time since 2010. The increase is reportedly due to a surge in the number of people in West Coast cities who cannot afford the rising cost of housing.

The study by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development revealed nearly 554,000 homeless people across the US during local tallies conducted in January – up nearly one percent from 2016, AP reported.

Of that total, around 193,000 people had no access to nightly shelter and were forced to live all over, including cars, tents, streets. The unsheltered figure rose by over nine percent compared to two years ago.

Increases are said to be higher in several West Coast cities, where at least 10 local governments have declare states of emergency since 2015 due to a homelessness boom. One of the worst consequences of the West Coast homeless explosion is a deadly hepatitis A outbreak that prompted the California governor to declare a state of emergency in mid-October.

While the overall homeless population in California, Oregon, and Washington soared by 14 percent over the past two years, the part of that population said to be “unsheltered” climbed 23 percent to 108,000. In Seattle, the unsheltered population grew by 44 percent over two years, to nearly 5,500. Sacramento, California also had a one-year increase of over 1,000 homeless people.

Those living on the streets say the region’s thriving economy is to blame. Rental prices have skyrocketed to unaffordable levels for lower-wage employees, who are at greater risk of becoming homeless.

“A lot of people in America don’t realize they might be two checks, three checks, four checks away from being homeless,” Thomas Butler Jr., who has lived on the streets of downtown Los Angeles for the past couple of years, told AP.

The homeless population in Los Angeles County went up 23 percent in 2017, an annual report on homelessness released by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) revealed in June.

The fastest growing demographics were young people, Hispanics, and military veterans. The total number of people experiencing homelessness on a given night reached 57,794, a 23 percent increase from the 2016 total of 46,874, the report said.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn said the results were “staggering.”

“Even as work is being done to get thousands of people off the street and into housing, more and more people are becoming homeless. It is clear that if we are going to end the homeless crisis, we need to stem the overwhelming tide of people falling into homelessness,”Hahn said in a statement.

Four out of five homeless individuals in Los Angeles County are considered unsheltered. By contrast, only about five percent of the homeless population in New York City is considered unsheltered, thanks to a system that can provide individuals with a bed and roof in no time.

Nationally, the overall number of homeless people has decreased by 13 percent since 2010. The numbers went down in Atlanta, Philadelphia, Miami, the Denver area, and Hawaii, which declared a statewide homelessness emergency in 2015.

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