This week, the New York Times published an in-depth look at homelessness in New York City. It follows the story of Dasani, one of the city's 22,000 children without housing, humanizing the statistic that the city's homeless population grew by 13 percent from 2012-2013 alone.
But in most other cities and states, homelessness has actually decreased over the last year and the last half-decade. Just two cities—New York and Los Angeles—account for a fifth of the country's entire homeless population. “The trend that is happening in New York City is not happening in lots of cities around the country," said Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan at an Atlantic summit about energy and infrastructure on Thursday. He pointed to an extensive report released by the department last month which describes changes in the U.S. homeless population from 2012-2013 and 2007-2013. Agencies all over the country got head counts of how many people were homeless in their areas on a single night last January, and HUD combined those findings with available data about the number of people living without a home over an extended period of time. Comparing those counts to the past, here's what HUD found:
- Since 2012, homelessness has declined by four percent nationwide. Since 2007, it has declined by 9 percent.
- Areas around the country's 50 biggest cities account for slightly less than half of the U.S. homeless population. Not counting New York and Los Angeles, homelessness in these cities decreased by five percent during the last year.
- The number of people living on the streets, rather than in shelters, has decreased dramatically: 7 percent since 2012 and 23 percent since 2007.
This last statistic is important for understanding nationwide trends in homelessness: While the number of people living in shelters has remained relatively stable since 2007, the number of people living on the streets has decreased noticeably. This can be explained partly by programs designed to move homeless people living on the streets into shelters. At the federal level, Donovan said, this has been a particular area of focus.