“African-Americans have remained considerably overrepresented among the homeless population compared to the U.S. population,” notes the 2019 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, which compiles statistics to paint a picture based on a one-night sampling.The report estimates that 568,000 Americans were homeless at some point last year, up from 553,000 in 2018.
“African-Americans accounted for 40% of all people experiencing homelessness in 2019 and 52% of people experiencing homelessness as members of families with children, despite being 13% of the U.S. population,” the report said. “In contrast, 48% of all people experiencing homelessness were white, compared with 77% of the U.S. population. People identifying as Hispanic or Latino (who can be of any race) are about 22% of the homeless population but only 18% of the population overall.”
While homelessness overall declined in the U.S., there were some marked increases in those who were not in shelters. Most notably, “unsheltered homelessness,” as it’s known, among Native Americans rose by 2,200 people, a 28% increase, the report said. African-Americans without shelter rose 10%, by 5,288 people, and the number of whites out on the streets increased by 5,592, or 5%.
The number of homeless Native Americans reflected their proportion in the overall population, at 2% both of the homeless population and of the U.S. population.
Homeless advocates said that though there were some positive signs, such as the fact that homelessness overall decreased in 29 states and the District of Columbia, as opposed to increasing in just 21.
However that was all but offset by an overall 8.7% increase in unsheltered homelessness, the National Alliance to End Homelessness said in response to the survey. And within that increase were a 15% rise in the number of women, a 43% jump in transgender people, and a more than 9% increase in the number of people considered chronically homeless.
“The report reflects deep and persistent racial inequities among the people who experience homelessness,” the group said in a statement.
The progress showed that eradication of homelessness is within reach and that now is the time to devote more resources to solving the problem, the group said. The gains were made because the federal government, homes services sector and philanthropists worked together to get people into stable housing so as to connect them with health, child care and other essential services, the alliance noted.
“This year’s report is an urgent call to action to federal, state, and local leaders,” alliance president and CEO Nan Roman said in the statement. “We know how to end homelessness. Family homelessness has declined every year since 2012. And veteran homelessness went down eight of the past nine years. Now is not the time to abandon the practices that drove those results. Now is the time to get serious about funding them to scale.”
In contrast, the group said, are the misguided measures of providing services before housing, or “far less effective and more expensive” punitive programs such as an ordinance passed in Las Vegas in November making street camping a crime.
A similar ordinance in Boise, Idaho, that would have criminalized those who sleeping on the streets due to lack of shelter beds was struck down in the 9th Circuit Court late last year. In December the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take it up again, leaving the initial ruling intact.
“Any increase in homelessness is bad news,” Roman said. “But we must be clear about the causes and solutions.”