Wednesday 27 March 2024

Nearly 20 years of MASSIVE federal spending fails to curb rising homelessness in Washington state

 Federal spending data and other reports indicate that the number of people living on the streets of Washington state has soared by 20 percent from 2007 to 2023 despite the state having received over $200 million in federal tax dollars to help it combat homelessness.

A breakdown of federal allocations reveals that federal agencies like the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Department of Health and Human Services have spent hundreds of millions of dollars since 2007 on grants to third parties whose interests were aligned with the goal of mitigating the homelessness situation in Washington.

However, the financial influx has not translated into a decrease in homelessness.

Instead, the homeless population in Washington grew by about 20 percent between 2007 and 2023. By the end of last year, there were an estimated 20,036 individuals without permanent shelter.

Washington ranked third in the raw increase in its homeless population between 2007 and 2023, trailing California and New York. Even during the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, when federal spending escalated, homelessness in Washington saw a significant uptick, with a 15.6 percent increase between 2020 and 2022. 

The HUD report also disclosed that the VA alone has disbursed nearly $120 million to assist homeless veterans through third-party organizations, with a substantial portion allocated during the pandemic. Yet, Washington maintained the fifth-highest rate of veterans experiencing unsheltered homelessness as of 2023.  

Despite efforts to house 2,238 homeless veterans in the state, supported by approximately $15.6 million in grants and contracts, the crisis persists.

Furthermore, Washington struggles to provide temporary shelter to its homeless population, ranking ninth among individuals lacking access to temporary shelter.

Homelessness getting worse nationwide

The HUD blames rising rents, the conclusion of pandemic-era housing assistance and a shortage of shelter services, rather than the system not working well.

Washington ranks among the highest in the nation for homeless individuals lacking temporary shelter, despite over $130 million in HUD's emergency shelter grant program in Washington since 2007.

According to the HUD's 2023 Annual Homeless Assessment Report, over 653,000 individuals were experiencing homelessness in the country, marking a staggering 12 percent increase from 2022. The rise encompasses individuals living without shelter, in temporary housing and locations unfit for habitation, such as makeshift tents and vehicles. Notably, this surge represents the highest homeless population ever recorded since the federal government began collecting comprehensive data in 2007.

One of the most striking findings of the report is the significant uptick in the number of individuals becoming homeless for the first time since 2021.

Similarly, the end of pandemic-era housing assistance and protections has exacerbated the situation. Rising rents, combined with the cessation of aid programs, have pushed vulnerable populations onto the streets. This includes not only adults but also a significant number of unaccompanied homeless youths, whose numbers rose by 12.4 percent between 2022 and 2023.

Moreover, Gregg Colburn, an associate professor at the University of Washington and homelessness researcher, points out escalating housing costs, the expiration of pandemic-related aid programs and an influx of migrants and asylum-seekers requiring shelter services as contributing factors.

"You put that together, and you end up with a really troubling number," said Colburn.

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