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West Coast spike in homelessness drives national increase

Tight West Coast housing markets cause the first rise in homelessness in years

a boarded-up house Getty Images

The homeless population in the United States has been steadily declining since the housing market bottomed out after the financial crisis in 2008, but new data released by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) show a 0.7 percent year-over-year increase, the first increase since 2010.

The data, which is based on a snapshot taken every January, shows that the slight increase in homeless was mostly driven by increases on the West Coast, particularly in tight housing markets like Los Angeles and Seattle.

“We attribute to this the incredibly tight rental market that exists practically in all of the major population centers along the west coast,” said HUD spokesman Brian Sullivan. “The laws of supply and demand kick in. You have high demand, you have low vacancies and thus low supply, and then prices go up. Rents are exceeding incomes in these areas. The people sort of standing when the music stops are the poorest.”

Counter to the national trend, Los Angeles County has seen an increase in homelessness every year since 2014. It increased a whopping 26 percent since last year, which is led mostly be middle aged single men.

In New York City, a 4.1 increase was driven by families who live in emergency shelters and transitional housing, as New York has shelter laws that protect homeless people. Excluding these two highly populous markets, homelessness decreased across the nation by 3.1 percent.

States in the South mostly saw decreases in homeless. In South Carolina and Georgia, homelessness fell by more than 20 percent, while Mississippi and Louisiana saw double digit decreases.

Here’s a map that shows the percentage increase or decrease for each state. Hover over the state to see the total number of homeless and the change from the previous year.