Saturday, December 29, 2018

Climate Change Is Already Helping To Drive Up Homelessness

Erik Sherman
Dec. 28, 2018


Earlier in December, the Department of Housing and Urban Development released its annual report on homelessness, this year called The 2018 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress. Here's a summary paragraph:

Homelessness increased (though modestly) for the second year in a row. The number of homeless people on a single night increased by 0.3 percent between 2017 and 2018. The increase reflects declines in the number of people staying in emergency shelters and transitional housing programs being offset by increases in the number of people staying in unsheltered locations. Between 2017 and 2018, the unsheltered population increased by two percent (or 4,300 people).


The question is why, at a time when the economy is supposedly doing so well, an increasing number of people find themselves without a permanent home. One reason is that, as often discussed here, the economy concentrated benefits upward. Those who had got.

Another reason is the ongoing upward march of rental housing costs. More U.S. households are renting their home than in the last 50 years. That has helped create a growing rent burden that threatens financial security for millions.

Falling into homelessness is much easier to happen than often supposed, as millions have found. Buckling under the weight of the financial burden can be one reason. But there are others. As the HUD report noted, close to 1% of the homeless counted in January when the agency takes its sample were in shelters for people displaced by national disasters, whether Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, and Nate, western wildfires, or some other storm or event. And many of these events showed greater destructive power tied to climate change.

We are in the early stages of seeing effects from climate change and already there is evidence of weather driving people from homes. For a more recent example not included in the count, look at the Camp Fire disaster in northern California. In 11 days, wildfires destroyed almost 14,000 residences. A one-day count can miss many people who have lost their housing.


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