Respect Poverty

HUD says homelessness in US has exploded, before and during pandemic

Story at a glance

  • A new report shows a spike in homelessness, both chronic and unsheltered, in 2020.
  • People of color are overrepresented among populations experiencing homelessness.

Already a problem prior to the pandemic, homelessness has increased significantly in the U.S., with the Office of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) reporting that 580,466 people living in the nation experienced homelessness on a single night in 2020, representing a 2.2 percent increase from rates in 2019.

This represents roughly 18 out of every 100,000 people in the country.

Featured in its 2020 Congressional Report, homelessness increased among both people who deal with chronic homelessness and unsheltered populations. 

Unsheltered individuals specifically saw a 7-percentage point jump from 2019 rates in 2020, with people experiencing chronic homelessness rising by 15 percent in year over year rates. 

For the first time since 2010, homelessness among family households did not decrease. Homelessness among veterans also remained stagnant compared with 2019 statistics. 

“The findings of the 2020 AHAR Part 1 Report are very troubling, even before you consider what COVID-19 has done to make the homelessness crisis worse,” said HUD Secretary Marcia L. Fudge. 

Individually, some states that recorded particularly high increases in homelessness were Delaware, Iowa, New Hampshire and Montana.

States that saw prominent declines in homelessness incidents were Arkansas, Oregon and Mississippi.  

The pandemic hasn’t been the only exacerbating factor in increasing homelessness. Historical data reveals homelessness in the U.S. has been broadly declining since 2010, a trend that lasted all the way up to 2016.

Rising housing prices and costs of living have also been the source of blame, especially along coastal regions. 

Delving into the racial and ethnic makeups of individuals experiencing homeless, people of color are overrepresented. Black Americans compose 39.4 percent of all homeless individuals, with Native Americans and people of multiple races representing 3.3 and 6.1 percent, respectively.

The pandemic worsened an already poor situation when mass layoffs occurred in early 2020, as lockdowns began to commence. This jeopardized peoples’ ability to pay rent, likely resulting in evictions despite various government moratoriums placed on evicting renters amid a public health crisis. 

On the campaign trail in 2020, President Biden pledged to invest $640 billion in federal funding to ensure affordable housing development over the next decade. Building more housing is critical to this mission, but ending discriminatory housing practices is also crucial to reducing the racial disparities in home ownership and renting opportunities.