LAS VEGAS -- Sky high unemployment and home foreclosure rates have combined to give the Las Vegas metro area the nation's fourth highest rate of homelessness.
Las Vegas, with 50 homeless individuals per 10,000 people last year, ranked only behind Tampa, Fla., New Orleans and Fresno, Calif., according to a study released last month by the National Alliance to End Homelessness and its Homelessness Research Institute in Washington, D.C. That is two-and-a-half times worse than the national average of 21 homeless individuals per capita.
Researchers estimated that 9,432 homeless individuals stay in Las Vegas, the nation's 12th largest homelessness population even though the metro area as a whole is only 30th most populous in the United States. Each of the top seven cities for homelessness, a list that also includes Honolulu, Hawaii, Los Angeles, and San Jose, Calif., have relatively warm weather in common.
As bad as homelessness remains in Southern Nevada, the picture statewide has actually improved. The report stated that Nevada saw a 27 percent decline in homelessness from 2009 to 2011, third best behind Rhode Island and Arizona. Homelessness among Nevada's veterans and families dropped by 45 percent and 31 percent respectively.
The flip side where Nevada veterans are concerned is that 62 remained homeless per 10,000 people, double the national average and second behind only California among states. An estimated 1,430 Nevada veterans were homeless last year.
Metro Areas with Highest Rates of Homelessness
Homeless People Per
|1. Tampa, Fla.||57|
|2. New Orleans||56|
|3. Fresno, Calif.||54|
|4. Las Vegas||50|
|5. Honolulu, Hawaii||47|
|U.S. National Average||21|
Source: National Alliance to End Homelessness/Homelessness Research Institute
Nevada also had the nation's second highest severe housing cost burden, a measurement of the ability of poor people to pay their rent. Nearly 81 percent of Nevada's poor residents are paying more than half their income for housing, a figure topped only by Hawaii's 82 percent. Nevada had 57,365 households in 2010 that experienced severe housing cost burdens.
The report took an in-depth look at the impact the economic downturn had on America's homeless population from 2009 through 2011. Even though the nation's homeless population decreased by 1 percent or 7,000 people over that period, researchers stated that problems are escalating for those who remain without permanent shelter.
A chief concern is that a $1.5 billion federal program to prevent recession-related increases in homelessness is ending this fall. Resources available to help those individuals have already been exhausted in many communities.
"Debt and deficit reduction at the federal level have begun to shrink assistance available to the most vulnerable," the report stated.
One bright spot was the 11 percent decline in homelessness among veterans nationwide. But there were many more negatives in the report. The number of poor households that spent more than half their income on rent increased by 6 percent while unemployment rose in 32 states. There was also a 13 percent increase in the number of people who now live with friends, family or non relatives for economic reasons, and a 4 percent increase in those without health insurance.
"With 40 percent of homeless people unsheltered, the crisis response system must be improved," the authors concluded. "Permanent supportive housing works to house chronically homeless people and veterans with disabilities, and continued investment will solve these problems."
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