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Record Levels of Homelessness in the U.S.: A Deep Dive into the Housing Crisis

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Zara Nwosu
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Record Levels of Homelessness in the U.S.: A Deep Dive into the Housing Crisis

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The Unsettling Increase in Homelessness

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The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has reported an alarming rise in homelessness, reaching record levels in 2023. According to the report, over 653,000 people were experiencing homelessness, a 12% increase from the previous year. This increase was observed in 41 states and the District of Columbia, with 60% of these individuals experiencing sheltered homelessness, and the remaining 40% unsheltered. Furthermore, racial and ethnic disparities were evident, with Black and Hispanic people disproportionately affected. This increase in homelessness can be attributed to various factors, including the end of eviction protections, the expiration of federal assistance payments during the early years of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the challenging rental market conditions.

Racial Disparities and the Role of Eviction Protections

Black people, who account for 13% of the U.S. population, made up 37% of those experiencing homelessness. Hispanic people saw a 28% increase in homelessness, while Asian people experienced a 40% increase. This trend is, in part, due to the expiration of federal policies designed to prevent evictions and provide assistance payments during the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, historically low vacancy rates and higher rental housing rates have made it increasingly difficult for individuals to secure permanent housing.

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Increasing Homelessness amid Housing Affordability Crisis

There was also a significant increase in homelessness in 2023, the highest since 2007. This rise can be attributed to the expiration of pandemic-related relief measures, increasing numbers of migrants, and the restoration of shelter capacity. The loss of eviction moratoriums, rental subsidies, and income assistance have also contributed to this issue. The surge in migrants arriving at the southern border has further exacerbated homelessness in some states. The underlying cause of homelessness, however, remains the lack of affordable housing. Policies that encourage the development of more affordable housing are key to resolving both the housing and homelessness crises.

Underestimating Student Homelessness

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According to a recent study, school districts in the United States may be significantly underestimating the number of homeless students in their communities. The official count of 1.2 million homeless students is suspected to be much lower than the actual number. This underestimation can lead to issues such as academic disruption, food insecurity, and transportation difficulties for these students. There is a pressing need for more tools to identify and support homeless students.

Homelessness in Oregon: A Case Study

A new statewide report by Portland State University's Homelessness Research Action Collaborative (HRAC) shows that homelessness continues to rise across Oregon, affecting communities of color and rural communities disproportionately. Multnomah County had the highest number of homeless people in the state, with 62.6% of the county's homeless population being unsheltered. Indigenous American Indian or Alaska Native and Black African American communities were overrepresented in the homeless population. It was also reported that nearly 4 or 22,903 of preK-12 schoolchildren in Oregon were homeless during the 2022-2023 school year, with the highest rates of homelessness among schoolchildren being reported in rural areas.

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