Here’s one statistic about the US economy that you probably won’t find in President Trump’s twitter feed.
Thanks to a surge in homelessness centered around several large west coast cities, the overall rate of homelessness in the US ticked higher this year, the first increase since 2010, according to a survey from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development released its annual Point in Time count Wednesday, a report that showed nearly 554,000 homeless people across the country during local tallies conducted in January. That figure is up nearly 1 percent from 2016.
Of that total, 193,000 people had no access to nightly shelter and instead were staying in vehicles, tents, the streets and other places considered uninhabitable. The unsheltered figure is up by more than 9 percent compared to two years ago.
Increases are higher in several West Coast cities, where the explosion in homelessness has prompted at least 10 city and county governments to declare states of emergency since 2015.
The homelessness crisis is only one byproduct of the burgeoning wealth inequality in the US caused by the Federal Reserve’s decision to pump trillions of dollars of “stimulus” into the markets.
Central-bank money printing has caused asset valuations to balloon while wages for everyone but the most highly skilled workers have stagnated, as the chart below illustrates.
Ironically, the primary culprit that city officials and advocates for the homeless cite as the reason behind the spike in homelessness is a strong regional economy that’s helped drive housing prices to record highs - of course, rock-bottom interest rates have made it cheaper to borrow and obtain mortgages.
All of this is helping driving up rents across every segment of the real-estate market - particularly in trendy urban areas like LA, San Francisco and Seattle.
According to the Associated Press, the most alarming consequence of the West Coast homeless explosion is a deadly hepatitis A outbreak that has afflicted Los Angeles, Santa Cruz and San Diego, the popular tourist destination in a county where more than 5,600 people now live on the streets or in their cars. The disease is spread through a liver-damaging virus that lives in feces.
Homeless populations in California, Oregon and Washington grew by 14% over the past two years, meanwhile the segment of that population considered unsheltered climbed 23% to 108,000. That is in part due a shortage of affordable housing. The unsheltered population in Seattle, the city that’s home to Amazon.com, grew by 44% over two years to nearly 5,500.
The homeless service area that includes most of Los Angeles County, the epicenter of the crisis, saw its total homeless count top 55,000 people, up by more than 13,000 from 2016. Of these, four out of every five are considered unsheltered, meaning tens of thousands of people have no place to sleep other than the streets or parks.
By comparison, while New York City’s homeless population grew to more than 76,000, only about 5 percent are considered unsheltered thanks to a system that can get people a cot under a roof immediately. In the West Coast states, the surge in homelessness has become part of the fabric of daily life.
For many business owners on the west coast – particularly in areas near downtown LA where the infamous Skid Row is home to thousands of homeless people – the burgeoning population of people living in the open air routinely intrudes on daily life and business.
The Monty, a bar in the Westlake neighborhood near downtown Los Angeles, usually doesn’t open until 8 p.m. Partner and general manager Corey Allen said that’s because a nearby shelter requires people staying there to be in the building by 7. Waiting until after that to open means the streets outside are calmer.
Allen said the homeless have come into his bar to bathe in the restroom wash basins, and employees have developed a strategy for stopping people from coming in to panhandle among customers.
Seventy-eight-year-old Theodore Neubauer sees the other side of it. Neubauer says he served in Vietnam but now lives in a tent in downtown Los Angeles. He is surrounded by thriving business and entertainment districts, and new apartments that are attracting scores of young people to the heart of the nation’s second most populous city.
“Well, there’s a million-dollar view,” he said.
Helping those like Neubauer is a top policy priority and political issue in Los Angeles.
One of the most interesting characteristics of the spike in homelessness is the concentration of homeless populations in places like LA. If one were to exclude the nation’s second largest city from the data, the national homelessness rate would’ve dropped 1.5%.
Of course, it makes sense that homeless people would gravitate towards cities on the west coast where services for the indigent are plentiful and the risk of dying from exposure is significantly reduced.
However, in cities like Sacramento, where rising housing costs are forcing students at Sacramento State to give up their apartments in sleep in the 24-hour study lounge. Sacramento and Alameda County each saw increases of more than 1,000 homeless individuals over the past year.
Last year, voters in the city and Los Angeles County passed a pair of tax-boosting ballot initiatives to raise an expected $4.7 billion over the next decade for affordable housing and services for the homeless.
HUD Secretary Ben Carson praised the region for dealing with the issue and not relying solely on the federal government, but LA mayor Eric Garcetti responded that insufficient federal funding for affordable housing was one of the drivers of the crisis.
“We need to move a little bit away from the concept that only the government can solve the problem,” Carson said.
But Mayor Eric Garcetti said that insufficient federal funding for affordable housing and anti-homelessness programs are part of the reason for the city’s current crisis.
“Los Angeles’ homelessness crisis was not created in a vacuum, and it cannot be solved by L.A. alone,” Garcetti said in a statement.
Meanwhile, areas that recorded a decline in homelessness, according to the survey, include Atlanta, Philadelphia, Miami, the Denver area and Hawaii, which declared a statewide homelessness emergency in 2015.