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HUD estimates 2.7 percent rise in U.S. homelessness due to California housing crisis

Secretary Ben Carson said that if it weren't for the state's 16.4 percent increase in 2019, the U.S. would have experienced a decrease.
Image: Los Angeles Seeks To Increase Restrictions On Homeless Sleeping On Sidewalks
David, who is homeless, in Los Angeles in September.Mario Tama / Getty Images file

An estimate of annual homelessness in the U.S. released Friday by the federal government shows that the number of people living on the streets increased 2.7 percent this year over last because of crisis-level housing issues in California.

The nation's most populous state experienced a 16.4 percent increase in homelessness in 2019, the report by the Department of Housing and Urban Development said, even though voters approved a $4 billion affordable housing bond more than a year ago, and Los Angeles passed its own $1.2 billion housing bond in 2016.

L.A. has been slow to spend its money on shelters because of neighborhood opposition, and the state's largest coastal cities have long experienced housing prices and rents that exceed the budgets of many families. In November, San Francisco voters approved $600 million in bonds for affordable housing.

"As we look across our nation, we see great progress, but we're also seeing a continued increase in street homelessness along our West Coast where the cost of housing is extremely high," HUD Secretary Ben Carson said in a statement. "In fact, homelessness in California is at a crisis level and needs to be addressed by local and state leaders with crisis-like urgency."

The HUD numbers were a prelude to its annual homelessness report to Congress, and the estimate found that California's increase was "higher than all other states combined," according to HUD's statement.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has said homelessness and housing are among his foremost agenda items. In September, a Public Policy Institute of California survey of likely voters found that homelessness and the economy were their top statewide issues.

Responding to Friday's HUD data, Newsom said by email that the federal government "must step up" with more funding.

"Without federal leadership, California is making historic investments," he said. "But we have work to do and we need the federal government to do its part.”

HUD estimates a 2.7 percent increase in homelessness across the country in 2019. On any given night in the U.S., an estimated 567,715 people are living without shelter, according to the department.

Still, 29 states and the District of Columbia reported declines in the number of people living on the streets. Veterans were down 2.1 percent; families with children 4.8 percent; and homeless youth and children 3.6 percent, HUD reported.

This year in California, an additional 21,306 people were living without shelter, according to HUD's estimates. The department said the national number for those chronically homeless, defined as being on the street a year or more, rose 8.5 percent, mostly as a result of California's data, HUD said.

"The folks crying about California's failure here are correct," said Rev. Andy Bales, CEO of Los Angeles' Union Rescue Mission. "We leave more human beings on the streets than anyone. We are not treating it with the urgency we need."

President Donald Trump has criticized California for its homeless problem, saying in September that San Francisco's issue was so bad it was creating hazardous waste worthy of a warning from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

He also said the state's homelessness was impacting the prestige of high-dollar real estate because "hundreds and hundreds of tents and people living at the entrance to their office building."