According to new numbers from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the growth in homelessness in 2020 was already having “devastating” effects even before the pandemic struck. Pam Fessler reports for NPR on HUD’s annual Point-in-Time (PIT) count, “a count of sheltered and unsheltered people experiencing homelessness on a single night in January” mandated by the agency and conducted through local organizations. “On a single night in January 2020, there were more than 580,000 individuals who were homeless in the United States,” up 2% from 2019.
Conditions for those living without permanent housing have also deteriorated. “For the first time since the government began doing the annual count, the number of single adults living outside — 209,413 — exceeded the number of individuals living in shelters — 199,478.” The housing crisis has continued to have a disproportionate impact on communities of color, Fessler reports. “As has been the case for years, a disproportionate share of those experiencing homelessness were Black — about 39% of the total, though African Americans make up about 13% of the nation’s overall population. Twenty-three percent of those who were homeless last year identified as Hispanic or Latino.”
While the impact of the pandemic is expected to deepen the crisis, data for 2021 will be incomplete as HUD has agreed to exempt some localities from the PIT count to ensure the safety of volunteers. Advocates hope new federal assistance can help curb the crisis. The COVID relief bill passed by Congress “provides $5 billion in homelessness assistance, more than $20 billion in emergency rental aid and $5 billion in new housing vouchers.”