The American dream of safe housing is increasingly out of reach for many, as a dramatic 12 percent increase in homelessness paints a worrying picture after the pandemic. The increase, which reached a record high of 653,000 individuals experiencing homelessness according to a recent report, underscores the deep affordability crisis gripping the nation.
Rising rents and expiring COVID-related aid programs have created a perfect storm, pushing vulnerable Americans over the edge. This increase marks an apparent reversal of the positive trend observed between 2012 and 2020, when targeted investments, particularly in veteran housing, helped reduce homelessness.
The impact is stark across all demographics. Newcomers to homelessness account for the bulk of the increase, a troubling sign that the safety net is failing those facing their first housing crisis. Families with children experienced a particularly sharp increase of 15.5%, highlighting the vulnerability of households with dependents.
Even veterans, who had previously seen improvements in housing security, saw a 7.4% increase, showing the prevalence of affordability challenges. "These data highlight the urgent need to support sustainable solutions and strategies that help people find homes quickly and that prevent homelessness in the first place," said Marcia Fudge, US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
High housing costs are the main problem
Jeff Olivet, executive director of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, points to the heart of the problem: "a lack of affordable housing and high housing costs that leave many Americans living paycheck to paycheck and just one crisis away from homelessness." Racial disparities are also evident.
Despite representing only 13% of the population, Black Americans make up 37% of the homeless population, a stark reminder of the systemic inequalities that exacerbate housing insecurity. In addition, more than a quarter of homeless adults are adults over the age of 54, raising concerns about the vulnerability of older individuals on potentially fixed incomes.
This crisis calls for immediate action. Expanding affordable housing options through investment in public housing, rent control measures, and tenant protections are key steps. Ignoring this crisis has dire consequences. Homelessness affects not only individuals, but also communities, straining social services and hindering economic growth.
We need a comprehensive, multifaceted approach to truly end homelessness and restore the American dream of safe housing for all.