Breaking Records: American Homelessness

The United States passed an ignominious milestone this year, with more than 650,000 homeless people. This figure — a record, according to Axios, and almost certainly a lowball — is inextricably linked to the nation’s chronic, insufficient production of new housing units. Of course, in this musical-chairs game of a housing market, the most vulnerable groups have been hit hardest. Per Axios, some of the numbers are staggering:

  • Homeless families with children increased by 16% in 2023, comprising 28% of the US homeless population — roughly 186,000 people.
  • Despite being just 13 percent of the US population, African-Americans made up 37% of the US homeless population, and 50% (!) of homeless people in families with children — roughly 90,000 people.
  • 61 percent of homeless adults were men, including 90 percent of homeless veterans.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reported separately in September that homelessness among seniors is reaching levels not seen since the Great Depression.

This is a slow-motion disaster. It is also an epic failure of the nation’s moral priorities, as enshrined in law. While it is true, of course, that addiction, mental illness, and poverty all contribute to people becoming homeless, I think it is important that the role of high housing costs, made worse by limits on missing-middle housing and SROs, not be ignored. There was a time when American cities (and towns, and suburbs) could grow creatively and quickly to house a rising population. Then, it became the law’s priority, in too many places, to oppose any change. Homelessness is a visible human consequence.