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Homeless count report paints a ‘devastating’ picture

March 20, 2021

For the first time since data collection began, more people experiencing homelessness were unsheltered, meaning they stayed on the street, in abandoned buildings, or other places unfit for human habitation — than were sheltered.


Tents line a sidewalk in Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighborhood.  In 2020 Washington state experienced a 20 percent increase in homelessness among families with children. File photo.

Tents line a sidewalk in Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighborhood. In 2020 Washington state experienced a 20 percent increase in homelessness among families with children. File photo.

At the end of the month, the federal eviction moratorium issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is set to expire. The looming deadline coupled with a new homelessness report from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is concerning. The annual Point-In-Time (PIT) count data reflects information collected before COVID-19 swept the nation.

For the first time since data collection began, more people experiencing homelessness were unsheltered, meaning they stayed on the street, in abandoned buildings, or other places unfit for human habitation — than were sheltered. Unsheltered homelessness increased by seven percent, while the sheltered numbers remained steady. In Arizona, Arkansas, California, Hawaii, Nevada, and Oregon, more than half of the homeless population comprises people living in unsheltered locations.

This is an alarming benchmark because people living outside are at higher risk of experiencing violence and trauma. They are also more reliant on public and emergency health systems for care. COVID-19 has only exacerbated the homelessness crisis. The pandemic has created job losses and increased demand for the services such as food banks.

Key Findings from HUD’s 2020 annual homeless assessment report part one:
● On a single night in January 2020, 580,466 people – about 18 of every 10,000 people in the United States – experienced homelessness across the United States. This represents a 2.2 percent increase from 2019.
● After steady reductions from 2010 to 2016, homelessness has increased in the last four consecutive years.
● Veteran homelessness did not decline in 2020. 2020 was the first year that homelessness among family households did not fall since 2010.
● Youth homelessness is slightly down (a 2.2 percent decrease from 2019).
● People of color are significantly over-represented among people experiencing homelessness.

In a video address, HUD Secretary Marcia L. Fudge referred to the findings as devastating. She also spoke about how people can be helped, “It has been shown, time and again, that helping people exit homelessness quickly through permanent housing without restrictions, prevents a return to homelessness.”

But it’s not all bleak news. Help is on the way for people experiencing homelessness. The America Rescue Plan Act, signed by President Joe Biden, allocates $5 billion for emergency housing vouchers and $5 billion to help create housing and services for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness.

At Pallet, we contribute one solution to getting people off the street and into permanent housing. Our shelters are a safe and dignified place of transition until they can find a home of their own. The shelters are designed by people with lived experience who uniquely understand the needs of those who are living unsheltered.

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