WASHINGTON — Homelessness in the United States continued to rise this year, driven by soaring rates of homelessness in California, according to a new federal report that could prompt long-promised action for people living in the streets of Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Homelessness rose 2.7 percent from 2018 to 2019, according to the annual assessment by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. That figure was pulled upward by a 16.4 percent increase in homelessness in California, which is struggling with out-of-reach housing costs and intractable fights over affordable housing construction.
A summary of the report was first published by The Associated Press.
Ben Carson, the secretary of housing and urban development, blamed welfare programs that he said fostered dependency and despair. On President Trump’s favorite cable program, “Fox & Friends,” on Friday, Mr. Carson said policies that allowed people to sleep on streets, bridges and other public places were not compassionate.
Such policies are creating a “health hazard,” he said, discouraging homeless people from going “to the places that are actually designed to help them get out of that situation.”
“We still have to provide a mechanism for people to ascend out of a level of dependency and despair and reach the right place,” Mr. Carson said.
Senior Trump administration officials visited California in September to troubleshoot ways to minimize homelessness. Over the summer, Mr. Trump said on Fox News that his administration was “looking very seriously” at abating the homelessness crisis.
The administration has yet to release its promised homelessness plan for California, but activists fear Mr. Trump’s pending executive order could crack down on homeless encampments, give more resources to police departments to clear shanty towns and threaten cities that fail to control their homeless populations.
A White House Council of Economic Advisers report in September emphasized criminal justice responses to ending homelessness. And an aggressive response would be in keeping with other Trump administration actions against California, which has already been threatened with a loss of federal highway funding over a backlog of pollution-control plans.
“We know that there is a lot of homelessness in California, but we also know there’s a lot of homelessness nationally, and what’s driving that is increased housing costs,” said Maria Foscarinis, the founder and executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty.
“Housing costs are going up dramatically in many parts of the country, including in California, and that’s driving increases in homelessness as well as a housing crunch for many people,” she said.
The HUD report said 568,000 people experienced homelessness on a single night in January 2019, according to The A.P., up from last year’s count of 553,000. But the number of homeless veterans and homeless families with children declined.
According to The A.P., the states with the lowest rates of homelessness per 10,000 people were Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Virginia and North Dakota. The states with the highest rates were New York, Hawaii, California, Oregon and Washington.
Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington announced Thursday that he would spend $300 million to end homelessness.
The figures are based on people in shelters and people who are visible and counted in public.
If anything, Ms. Foscarinis said, those numbers are “a severe undercount.”
The summary of the report comes after the Trump administration has taken a number of steps that have worried advocates for homeless people.
In December, the White House appointed Robert Marbut, a former homelessness consultant, to direct the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, which works with 19 federal departments and agencies to address the matter. Mr. Marbut has worked with cities in states such as California and Florida to build homeless shelters equipped with job training, mental health services, and other support services. His shelters often have an outside courtyard where people who have broken rules are told to sleep.
Mr. Marbut told HuffPost in 2014 that he believed in “Housing Fourth,” which breaks from the widely accepted “housing first” philosophy that holds that people need to be given stable shelter before they can be expected take advantage of other support services such as job training or mental health counseling.
Mr. Marbut is succeeding Matthew Doherty, who was pushed out in November.
In April, the housing department proposed a rule that would bar families with undocumented immigrants from receiving housing assistance. The public comment period closed in July and over 30,000 public comments were submitted. The department must consider those comments before completing the rule.
In May, the department proposed requiring homeless shelters to make transgender clients use bathrooms and sleeping accommodations that match their biological sex, a rule that some feared would open transgender homeless people to abuse in shelters and keep them on the streets. The public comment period has not opened yet.
In August, the department proposed raising the legal bar to prove that a landlord, insurance company or lender is guilty of housing discrimination, setting a standard that civil rights advocates say would make proving discrimination virtually impossible.