More than 650,000 people were experiencing homelessness on a single night last January, a notable 12% increase from 2022, reported the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

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The data reveals that the rise in overall homelessness is largely due to a sharp spike in the number of people who became homeless for the first time. Between fiscal 2021 and 2022, the number of people who became newly homeless increased by 25%, even as the number of people who exited homelessness to permanent housing increased by 8%.

The rise in first-time homelessness is likely attributable to a combination of factors, including but not limited to the recent changes in the rental housing market and the winding down of pandemic protections and programs focused on preventing evictions and housing loss, according to HUD officials, who noted that median rents increased by more than 9% between 2021 and 2022.

The 2023 Annual Homeless Assessment Report point-in-time estimates also found that:

  • 6 in 10 people experiencing homelessness were staying in sheltered locations, and 4 in 10 were unsheltered, that is, staying in a place not meant for human habitation.
  • 143,105 people had chronic patterns of chronic patterns of homelessness, the highest number recorded;
  • 34,703 unaccompanied youth were experiencing homelessness, making up 22% of all people younger than 25 who were experiencing homelessness. Between 2022 and 2023, the number of unaccompanied youth increased by 15%;
  • 35,574 veterans were experiencing homelessness in January, a 7% increase between 2022 and 2023;
  • Nearly 3 of every 10 people experiencing homelessness (28% or roughly 186,100 people) did so as part of a family with children; and
  • More than a quarter of adults experiencing homelessness were older than 54. Twenty percent (98,393) were 55 to 64, and 8% (39,696) were older than 64.

Another factor driving homelessness is the shortage of affordable housing, said Jeff Olivet, executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH).

“Solving homelessness requires a comprehensive approach that acknowledges homelessness as the failure of multiple systems, not of the people who have been failed by those systems,” he said.

Since the point-in-time count was conducted, the Biden administration has taken several steps to address the crisis, including implementing the Housing Supply Action Plan. In another move, HUD reported that it has helped more than 424,000 households connect to homeless support services, exit homelessness, or avoid homelessness altogether in 2023.

Officials also continue to call on Congress to make “common-sense investments to lower rental costs, including guaranteed vouchers for every low-income veteran and youth aging out of foster care,” Olivet said.

People are successfully exiting homelessness every day, but the problem is that others are becoming homeless at the same time. That's why prevention is a priority, according to Olivet.

“Like air, water, and food, housing is a basic human need required for the health of individuals, communities, and nations,” he said. “We’re working to build a future where no one experiences homelessness and everyone has a safe place to call home.”

For those on the front lines of the crisis, the rise in homelessness is not surprising, said Ann Oliva, CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

“People across the country are struggling to pay skyrocketing rents. Vital pandemic safety net programs have or will soon be expired, threatening people's ability to secure and maintain permanent housing. And, while the homeless services workforce is working as hard as possible to provide aid and expand the resources available to vulnerable people, these efforts are unable to keep up with the 30% growth in new people entering homelessness between 2020 and 2022,” she said. “On average, 17,000 new people entered homelessness per week in 2022.”

Like others, Oliva said there are solutions exist if they are properly funded.

“That includes making urgent and overdue investments in affordable housing and rental assistance to keep people housed, as well as in proven housing and supportive service models that rapidly reconnect people experiencing homelessness with permanent housing,” she said. “We need sustained investment in evidence-based approaches at the federal and state levels to reverse course nationally.”

There is a national shortage of 7.3 million homes that are affordable and available to America’s lowest-income renters, added Sarah Saadian, senior vice president of policy at the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

“This is a structural feature of the country’s housing system, not a bug, and it consistently impacts every state and nearly every community,” she said.

Rents are far higher than what the lowest-income and most marginalized renters, including seniors, people with disabilities, and working families, can spend on housing, noted Saadian, adding that federal housing assistance is only available to one in four eligible households.

The expiration of pandemic resources and protections is another blow, leaving families and individuals without key supports.

“That’s why advocates have long been warning policymakers that homelessness was on the rise,” Saadian said. “Congress needs to enact long-term solutions to the housing crisis. Addressing the root causes of the housing affordability crisis requires a sustained commitment to bridging the gap between incomes and rent through universal rental assistance, investing in new affordable housing and preserving affordable rental homes that already exist for America’s lowest-income and most marginalized renters, providing emergency assistance to stabilize renters when they experience financial shocks, and establishing and enforcing strong renter protections.”