Healing Homelessness in 2024

May 6, 2024

Our national commander Commissioner Hodder shares some thoughts on the state of homelessness in the U.S. 

In 1988, my wife and I became Salvation Army officers, and over the years we have seen the best and the worst of people’s lives. We’ve worked with those who are in dire need of help as well as those who give their time, talents, or money to assist those who are struggling. Over the course of our careers, we have been privileged to serve in the United States, Kenya, and the United Kingdom, and in the end, I’ve learned that while human need is everywhere, so is the desire to help.

This will be my final full year as National Commander of The Salvation Army, and in light of everything I’ve seen, I want to do a little future-casting about how we might better meet human needs going forward. After all, it’s not enough to think about what we have done. We need to think about where we are going.

Homelessness is an important example. In December 2023, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced that there had been a 12% increase in homelessness over 2022, marking the biggest increase since the U.S. first published comparable data in 2007. For perspective, the largest previous year-to-year increase was 2.7% (in 2019).

In that short four-year period, key gains that the nation had made in the previous decade were erased:

  • Homelessness among veterans, which had been a bright spot, rose about 7%.
  • The number of unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness rose 15%.
  • The number of homeless people in families with children also went up by about 15%.
  • People who identified as Hispanic or Latino made up 55% of the increase in homelessness.

In my judgment, none of this is acceptable.

Of course, homelessness is an extraordinarily challenging issue, and it is about more than just shelter. It’s about transitional housing, permanent supportive housing, and veterans housing. And the sharp increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness reflects a web of intertwined factors: rising housing costs; limited affordable housing units; the opioid epidemic; and the expired pandemic-era aid that had helped keep people in their homes. It’s not easy to address.

I also know that the safety net is changing. The Salvation Army in fiscal year 2022 operated 558 shelters around the country and housed 8,067,161 people. We operated fifty fewer shelters in fiscal year 2023, but we served more than a quarter of a million more people. Sometimes shelters were closed to streamline services or repurposed for other types of aid. In other instances, local funding that the agency relies on was allocated elsewhere. In all cases, we tried to meet the most need with the resources available.

But we need to do more. We’ve made a lot of progress, but in some locations, the homelessness problem has never been worse. Yet that doesn’t diminish my passion. Because for each person we help, we change a life.

So we must redouble our efforts. We need to work harder on every dimension of this problem, including prevention. Indeed, our data suggests that it is up to four times more expensive to provide homeless individuals or families with assistance than it would be to keep them on their feet in the first place.

All of this is why homelessness will be my focus in 2024, and why I’ll do everything I can to set the stage for attacking this problem in the years to come. Progress may at times seem slow, but the need is too great to ignore. And I will always believe that we can make a difference. After all, I’ve seen such transformations first-hand around the world. I know it can be done.


About Commissioner Kenneth Hodder

Commissioner Kenneth G. Hodder serves as the National Commander for The Salvation Army in the United States. A sixth-generation Salvationist, Commissioner Hodder is a graduate of Harvard College (A.B. magna cum laude, 1980) and Harvard Law School (J.D., 1983).

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