WASHINGTON – The homeless population in the United States grew by 3 percent from 2008 to 2009,according to a report issued Wednesday.
The State of Homelessness report,released by the National Alliance to End Homelessness,showed that 31 of 50 states and the District of Columbia had increases in the number of homeless people.
The report shows that California,Florida and Nevada are at the highest risk of increased homelessness in the future. These states face rates higher than the national average on all five risk indicators: unemployment,foreclosures,housing-cost burden,lack of insurance and doubling up,or living with friends or family due to economic need.
“We need Congress and the administration to target their economic interventions to the very lowest income people because they have been hit the hardest by the recession,” said Nan Roman,the president of the National Alliance to End Homelessness. “Scarce resources should be targeted to those people who need them most.”
These sentiments were echoed by Sen. Jack Reed,D-R.I.,who sponsored a bill that became law in 2009 that focused on helping homeless people in rural areas.
“We must ensure adequate funding for these efforts,” Reed said at the news conference. “It’s not sufficient to make a legislative statement and then not put the resources behind it to actually help people.”
Individual state changes in the homeless population varied greatly,ranging from a 31 percent decrease in Wyoming to a 111 percent increase in Louisiana.
“This points to the wide geographic variability across states and also in individual communities,” said Bill Sermons,the report’s coauthor. “When you look at states,the same factors that caused homelessness in one state may not have had the exact same impact on others.”
In Florida,for example,the homeless population increased by 11 percent. The increase was tied to the state’s rising rates of unemployment,house foreclosures and housing-cost burden,which were higher than the national average.
Meanwhile,in South Carolina,the homeless population decreased by 21 percent,even as unemployment and house foreclosures went up significantly compared to the national average.
“One of the big factors,despite the challenges there,is that people are experiencing more housing affordability than other people in the country,” Sermons said about South Carolina. “South Carolina is one of the many states that has traditionally had low homelessness rates.”
The reasons in other states were not as clear cut.
In Texas,there was a 9 percent decrease in overall homelessness,but the number of homeless families went up by 16 percent,six times the national average. Unemployment and house foreclosures increased at a rate lower than nationally. But the wages of the poor decreased at a higher rate,as did the number of poor households where rent amounted to more than half of their income.
“We would expect that these worsening economic factors would be most likely to affect families,” Sermons said.
The report was compiled from data from the federal departments of Housing and Urban Development,Health and Human Services and Justice.