For the fourth consecutive year, homelessness increased nationwide, with approximately 580,000 people living in shelters, transitional housing, or on the street in 2020, reported the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Between 2019 and 2020, the number of people experiencing homelessness increased by 2%. It’s also notable that the number of unsheltered individuals increased by 7% while the number of sheltered individuals remained largely unchanged.

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“What makes these findings even more devastating is that they are based on data from before COVID-19, and we know the pandemic has only made the homelessness crisis worse,” said HUD secretary Marcia Fudge, who took office last week, in a video statement.

The new HUD report is grim. Other findings reveal:

· Chronic homelessness increased 15% between 2019 and 2020, with the total number of individuals experiencing chronic homelessness at 110,528;

· There were more than 37,200 veterans experiencing homeless on a single night in January 2020, largely unchanged from the year before. However, the number of unsheltered veterans increased 6%;

· In 2020, just under 172,000 people in families with children were homeless. While the overall number remained relatively unchanged, it’s the first time in a decade that family homelessness did not decrease in the point-in-time count;

· About 34,000 people younger than 25 were experiencing homeless on their own as “unaccompanied youth.” This marks about a 2% decline; and

· Almost half of all people experiencing homelessness were white (48.3%). However, African-Americans and indigenous people were considerably overrepresented among the homeless population compared with the U.S. population overall. A little more than 39% of people experiencing homelessness were Black or African-American, about 23% were Hispanic or Latino, 3.3% were Native American, 1.5% were Pacific Islander, and 1.3% were Asian.

“The 2020 report provides a deeply troubling accounting of homelessness in the United States,” says Nan Roman, president and CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness. “These results were tabulated practically on the eve of the COVID-19 pandemic, and they show a system under-resourced to meet the needs of people experiencing and at risk of homelessness, much less the coming consequences of the global pandemic and recession.”

Roman says that although the Alliance is encouraged by the historic investments that federal leaders have made in homelessness and housing resources during the pandemic, “the numbers make it clear that these investments are tragically overdue.”

“The Alliance calls upon the Biden administration and federal, state, and local leaders to continue their commitments to funding evidence-based best practices for ending homelessness and addressing the nation’s affordable housing crisis. The challenges ahead of us absolutely demand it,” Roman says.

The findings are disturbing on many levels, including showing an increase in homelessness among the people with more serious problems.

The increase in chronic homelessness is driven by a jump in the number of unsheltered people with chronic patterns of homelessness (21%), notes Roman.

That’s significant because the unsheltered population has much worse health conditions than people in shelters. “It means we have people who are very sick living outside for long periods of time,” Roman says. “That’s a bad indicator.”

HUD released the latest numbers in “The 2020 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress,” which is based on counts conducted in January 2020 before the pandemic.

While many communities have worked to get people into motels and hotels during the health crisis, many places have also lost shelter beds to accommodate social distancing and other measures.

It’s concerning that officials may not be able to get good data this year to continue to track what’s happening during the pandemic. Some areas did not conduct the annual point-in-time count in January because of COVID, Roman says.

On the positive side, the recently approved American Rescue Plan includes significant funding for housing and homeless programs, including $27.4 billion for emergency rental assistance and $5 billion for homelessness assistance.

The opportunity is there to make a significant dent in reducing homelessness in the country, but it’s going to come with challenges, including coordinating resources that are spread across multiple programs, according to Roman, noting that many jurisdictions and agencies are taxed during these tough times.

Overall, more than half of all people experiencing homelessness were in four states: California (28% or 161,548 people); New York (16% or 91,271 people); Florida (5% or 27,487 people); and Texas (5% or 27,229). Homelessness increased in 30 states and decreased in 19 states and the District of Columbia. Idaho reported no change.