An analysis by experts at Columbia University has estimated that the homeless population could increase by up to 45%, meaning that around 250,000 individuals could be facing homelessness within a year. This is due to the layoffs and shutdowns created by the coronavirus pandemic. Before the pandemic, the homeless population was 568,000 individuals in this country.
Dr. Brendan O’Flaherty, a professor of economics who has studied homelessness for decades and conducted the analysis, said the projected rise would be “unprecedented.” “No one living has seen an increase of 10% of unemployment in a month,” he said.
“If the projections of unemployment being made now turn out to be accurate, and the relationship between unemployment and homelessness follows the historical pattern, and no other major changes occur, that’s what we can expect to happen,” O’Flaherty said.
The model is based around a study from the Journal of Housing Economics in 2017, which predicted a 1% increase to the unemployment rate corresponded with the homelessness rate rising by 0.65 per 10,000 people. The analysis used unemployment projections from the Economic Policy Institute , which predicted a 15.6% rate by July, and the Congressional Budget Office , which similarly projected a 16% unemployment rate by the summer.
The economic hardship created by the coronavirus pandemic is far from over. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the unemployment rate hit 14.7% in April , which is a statistic that hasn't been seen since the Great Depression. Around quarter of the population, 38 million people, have filed for unemployment. The job losses have hit people who were the lowest paying workers the hardest.
“Among people who were working in February, almost 40% of those in households making less than $40,000 a year had lost a job in March,” Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said last week , citing a Fed survey. “This reversal of economic fortune has caused a level of pain that is hard to capture in words, as lives are upended amid great uncertainty about the future.”
“I think we’re going to see a huge rise in displacement, homelessness, evictions — people who are already on the border, who are going to be stretched to the limit,” Andrea Henson, the lead organizer of the homeless outreach group Where do we go? Berkeley, told the San Jose Mercury News .
Government aid in the form of boosted unemployment and PPP loans to allow small businesses to pay their employees have helped, but the majority of small and minority owned businesses have suffered. Republican lawmakers are already planning to cut off federal unemployment benefits when they expire in July — even though the latest unemployment claims show that the problem has not gone away even as all 50 states move to reopen .
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the coronavirus spread aggressively through homeless shelters in major cities. Researchers found that homeless shelters that reported as little as two coronavirus cases in the preceding two weeks saw up to 66% of residents and 30% of staff infected.
“In some respects, the issue in shelters is similar to those in nursing homes or prisons,” Dr. Daniel Kuritzkes, chief of the division of infectious diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, told Reuters . “The findings are … another example of how the epidemic has highlighted our shortcomings in terms of being able to protect some of our most vulnerable citizens.”