Of all of the social issues confronting our society today, possibly no other seems as intractable as homelessness. Reaching crisis levels in many communities across the country, policy makers, service providers and activists are all wrestling with this complicated issue with no easy or immediate answers.
A National Trend Reverses
On any given night more than half a million people experience homelessness in America, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Interestingly, homelessness had been on the decline nationally until just a few years ago. Between 2007 and 2016 there was an overall 15% drop in total number of homeless Americans. But 2017 registered a 0.2 percent rise in the national point-in-Time count of individuals experiencing homelessness, then 2018 saw a 0.3 percent rise. In 2019 the increase in the number of homeless Americans rose again, this time significantly - up 2.7 percent over 2018 counts.
Unsurprisingly, the states with the greatest number of homeless people tend to be the most populous. These “Top 10” states account for roughly 67% of people experiencing homelessness in the United States and also have the highest housing costs, with residents spend higher percentages of their income on rent/mortgage payments. Of course, a constellation of other factors such as mental illness, chronic health conditions, substance abuse, family disintegration and the debilitating effects of trauma also contribute to the complex nature of homelessness in America.
Another way to look at the issue is through homelessness rates, specifically the number of people experiencing homelessness per 10,000 people.
A Local Issue
But at its core, homelessness is a fundamentally local issue. Understanding the dynamics at play in communities where homelessness is occurring is crucial. Although employment is back to pre-recession levels in our own community, Southern Nevada continues to wrestle with homelessness. While Nevada ranks 33rd in population by state, it ranks 9th highest in homelessness rate per 10,000 people.
According to the 2019 point-in-time count on any given night 5,530 individuals are experiencing homelessness in Clark County, with an estimated 14,114 people experiencing homelessness over the course of the year. It is important to note that the overall number of people estimated to be homeless on any given night fell 9% from 2018 numbers and by 26% since 2015. However, chronic homelessness increased by 19% over the last year, and has steadily increased year after year, with a 55% increase since 2016.