Trends in Unsheltered Homelessness
The local increase in unsheltered homelessness is consistent with trends that are being observed nationally.
Unsheltered homelessness has been on the rise in many parts of the United States in recent years. Factors such as housing affordability challenges, income inequality, and limited access to social services contribute to the growing number of individuals living on the streets. Urban areas, particularly major cities with high housing costs, tend to have larger populations of unsheltered individuals. Unsheltered homelessness affects a diverse range of individuals, but veterans, individuals with mental health or substance use issues, LGBTQ+ youth, and families experiencing homelessness are particularly vulnerable. Lack of affordable housing options and limited access to healthcare and supportive services compound the challenges faced by these populations.
Unsheltered homelessness exposes individuals to numerous health and safety risks including exposure to extreme weather conditions and violence. Substance use and mental health disorders are often prevalent among the unsheltered population. Lack of access to clean water, sanitation facilities, and healthcare services further exacerbates health vulnerabilities.
Communities often have inadequate resources to address unsheltered homelessness. Shelter capacities may be insufficient to meet the demand, resulting in individuals being turned away. Additionally, funding for supportive services, affordable housing initiatives, and prevention programs may be limited, limiting efforts to address the root causes of homelessness.
The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the challenges faced by unsheltered individuals. During the height of the pandemic, reduced shelter capacities due to physical distancing requirements, loss of employment opportunities, and increased health risks all intensified the stress on the unsheltered population and strained existing resources.
Addressing the state of unsheltered homelessness requires a multi-faceted approach that combines immediate relief efforts with long-term solutions. Increasing the availability of affordable housing, expanding access to mental health and substance use treatment, strengthening supportive services, and fostering community collaborations are essential steps towards mitigating unsheltered homelessness and ensuring the well-being of individuals experiencing homelessness locally and nationally.