Challenges in the rental market and an end to eviction protections helped drive U.S. homelessness to record levels last year, a recent federal report finds.

The number of people experiencing homelessness rose to more than 653,000 in 2023, a 12% increase from 2022, according to a December report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Food being served at a food pantry

The findings were based on a nationwide count of people experiencing homelessness on a single night in January 2023. Homelessness increased in 41 states and the District of Columbia, according to the “2023 Annual Homeless Assessment Report: Part 1: Point-in-Time Estimates” report.

About 60% of the those who were counted were experiencing sheltered homelessness, which means they were living in emergency shelters, safe haven lodging or other transitional housing. The remaining 40% were unsheltered, which means they were living in places not intended for safe human habitation, such as in tents, cars or parks.

The count found racial and ethnic disparities among people experiencing homelessness. For example, while Black people accounted for 13% of the population, they made up 37% of all those experiencing homelessness. Hispanic people experienced a 28% increase in homelessness in 2023, the largest numerical increase of all population groups. But the largest percentage increase was among Asian people, who saw a 40% increase in their rate of homelessness. 

By area of residence, 59% of people nationwide who were experiencing homelessness lived in urban areas, 23% were in suburban areas and 18% were in rural locations.

Almost a third of people who were homeless were in a family with children. More than 34,000 people under the age of 25 were experiencing homeless on their own, increasing 15% from 2022.


Costs, housing supply are contributors

The increases in homelessness came as housing access became more challenging for many Americans. Federal policies put in place to prevent evictions and provide assistance payments during the early years of the COVID-19 pandemic expired, making housing less affordable.

Among those that came to an end were a rental assistance program that provided more than 10 million emergency payments and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s eviction moratorium, which was aimed at preventing spread of COVID-19.

Historically low vacancy rates combined with higher rental housing rates have made it harder for many people experiencing homelessness to gain permanent housing. New rental housing construction occurring since the January 2023 count could ease the situation, HUD said. But in the meantime, evictions have reached or exceeded pre-pandemic rates in many communities, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

“Without significant and sustained federal investments to make housing affordable for people with the lowest incomes, the affordable housing and homelessness crises in this country will only continue to worsen,” Diane Yentel, MSSW, president and CEO of the coalition, said in a news release.

Drawing from the lessons of pandemic emergency programs, Congress should invest in programs such as emergency housing vouchers and rental assistance programs, the HUD report said. Such investments can also help people who are homeless address challenges contributing to their situations, such as a lack of employment, substance use or domestic violence.

“This data underscores the urgent need for support for proven solutions and strategies that help people quickly exit homelessness and that prevent homelessness in the first place,” HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge, JD, said in a news release.


Photo by Kuarmungadd, courtesy iStockphoto