The United States is the richest country in the world with GDP of over $20 trillion, and yet the nation has half a million homeless people. The situation differs from state to state with California having the largest homeless population in the nation with over 161,000 people living in shelters or on the streets.

Today’s article will discuss how this big humanitarian issue arose and what the US is doing to address it.

Number of Homeless People in the US

The latest data on the homeless population in the US, coming from the Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress (2020), found that 580,466 people are homeless. The method of surveying, however, was rather imperfect. The number in the first sentence represents people who were found in shelter or on the streets by surveyors on a single night.

The number is likely way higher, and there should be better ways to report on the actual number of homeless people. One worrying trend shows that homelessness only increases, despite efforts to curb it.

However, the United States is not, as many people like to say, the only developed country with a homelessness problem. If you account for population size (number of homeless people per capita), the United States isn’t even in the top 10 of wealthy countries with the worst homelessness crises. Still, that doesn’t mean that the country is doing its best to prevent it.

The Covid-19 pandemic, coupled with high levels of inflation, will likely make even more people homeless. A very grim, but perhaps realistic, prognosis from January 2021 estimates that these two factors can increase homelessness by 49%, which is deeply worrying.

Reasons for Homelessness

It’s difficult to give one or even few reasons why homelessness occurs in the US. Most of the time, there is more than one reason anyway. The housing crisis is intrinsically tied to homelessness, for example.

The cities with the biggest percentage of homeless people in the states are also those with the highest rents and house prices. The National Low Income Housing Coalition reported that for every 100 low-income renters, only 37 affordable housing units can be found. It doesn’t take an economist to see the problem here.

In addition, many families live pay check to pay check, and unfortunately, it’s plausible that they end up in shelters if the economic situation was to drastically worsen, which is prognosed to happen.

Many homeless people also struggle with drug addiction, which is another reason for homelessness. Other homeless persons include those who were recently incarcerated. It’s extremely difficult to find a job as an ex-convict in the US, so many of those people end up on the streets.

There are also a lot of young homeless people, some of whom had been kicked out of their homes by their parents because they disprove their lifestyle. This is especially prevalent with LGBTQ youths and those who battle drug addiction.

Public Opinion on Homelessness

The homelessness situation has gone out of control, especially in big cities like New York, Austin, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle. There are now whole camps in central parts of these cities, which create safety concerns for some citizens.

Petty theft and car theft are prevalent in these parts, so the populace’s opinion on their homeless peers is worsening. Many people now avoid these areas out of fear and they are less willing to offer financial help to the homeless.

Experts agree that property theft is on the rise in these encampments, but they say that the areas with a high number of homeless people were already crime-ridden, so it’s uncertain whether the homeless increased crime rates.

Still, if the public perception is that encampments drive crime, then government policies might and likely will reflect this view.

What is the US Doing About the Homeless Crisis

A major issue regarding homelessness in the United States is that the number of unsheltered persons greatly exceeds that of the sheltered. In California, for example, 79% of the homeless are unsheltered. This exposes them to all kinds of dangers and makes it near impossible to find a job. California is not an outlier, it’s just the most striking example.

Truth is that wages do not proportionally rise with the cost of living, especially housing prices, and it’s expensive to build shelters and to rent, leading to more unsheltered people. There should be either another great housing crash or a complex economic policy that could fix the issue.

The lack of comprehensive social programs has also contributed to the higher number of homeless people. This all started in the 1980’s when budgets for social programs were drastically cut, and they haven’t since recovered.

The issue is not taxation; in fact, taxes have gradually risen over the years. The issue is the government’s allocation of resources. Many agree that the homeless crisis should be a top priority to ensure all Americans are housed, but it doesn’t seem to be that high on the agenda.

By James