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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

If the opioid epidemic was the top issue plaguing American cities in the last five years, the most urgent problem of the next five is homelessness, a group of American mayors told reporters in D.C. this week.

Why it matters: Homelessness in the U.S. was on the decline after 2010, but it started to increase again in 2016 — and without moves to address the affordable housing crisis driving the issue, we can expect it to keep getting worse, experts say.

"This is the issue of our time," said Bryan Barnett, mayor of Rochester Hills, Michigan and president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. "It's more people; it's more places .... Cities that haven't experienced it in the past are experiencing it now."

The backdrop: The primary driver of rising homelessness is the exploding cost of housing in coastal superstar cities like New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle. L.A. alone saw a 26% jump in its homeless population between 2016 and 2017. Homelessness in New York increased 4% in that time.

  • But the surge in home prices isn't limited to the most populous cities. It's a national trend, Elizabeth Bowen, a professor at the University of Buffalo, tells Axios.
  • Between 1960 and 2017, median household income in the U.S. increased 29%. But in that same period, the median home price went up by 121%, according to a recent study by real estate company Clever.
  • Now homelessness is not only getting worse in the cities were struggling with the problem, but it's also appearing in new places, such as Salt Lake City, Barnett said.

One effective solution would be to address the mental health crisis that underpins homelessness, said Michelle de la Isla, Topeka, Kansas' mayor who was homeless herself when she was younger. Those struggling with a mental illness on top of homelessness find it much more difficult to get back on their feet, she said.

  • But "some cities and some politicians are finding it easier to say we're just going make the problem go away, and we're just gonna cover it up," says Bowen. "And one way to do that is to criminalize homelessness" and arrest people on drug or other charges.
  • When mental health institutions are severely under-funded, "the largest resource for [homeless individuals] is the county jail," Kansas City, Missouri Mayor Quinton Lucas said at the event.

The bottom line: There are a host of ripple effects the country will have to contend with as homelessness increases, Bowen notes. One big impact will be an uptick in costs to the health care system as homelessness is linked to poor mental and physical health.

Go deeper: The zoning puzzle plaguing tech hubs

Go deeper

Updated 5 hours ago - Energy & Environment

Bomb cyclone prompts blizzard warnings from Virginia to Maine

Computer model projection showing the intense storm off of Cape Cod on Jan 29, 2022, with heavy snow and strong winds lashing the coastline. (Weatherbell.com)

Blizzard warnings are in effect for 11 million people from coastal Virginia to eastern Maine as a historic winter storm is set to slam the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast beginning Friday.

Why it matters: The storm will bring hazards ranging from zero visibility amid hurricane force wind gusts and heavy snow, to coastal flooding that will erode vulnerable beaches and threaten property from the Jersey shore to coastal Massachusetts.

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: Contact tracing fizzles across America — New clues emerge on long COVID — Omicron is finally burning out — It's very difficult to get access to antiviral COVID treatments — Axios-Ipsos poll: Omicron's big numbersAnother wave of death — FDA limits use of Regeneron and Lilly antibody treatments.
  2. Vaccines: Pfizer begins clinical trial for Omicron-specific vaccine — The shifting definition of fully vaccinated.
  3. Politics: Virginia AG says public colleges can't mandate COVID vaccines —Alaska governor joins Texas lawsuit over National Guard vaccine mandate — Navy discharges 45 sailors for refusing vaccine — Spotify to remove Neil Young's music after his Joe Rogan ultimatum — White House: 60M households have ordered free COVID-19 rapid tests.
  4. World: U.K. to lift travel testing requirement for fully vaccinated — Beijing Olympic Committee lowers testing threshold ahead of Games.
  5. Variant tracker
8 hours ago - World

Biden will move U.S. troops to Eastern Europe "in the near term"

President Biden boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews on Jan. 28. Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden said on Friday he plans to move U.S. troops to Eastern European and NATO countries “in the near term.”

Driving the news: “Not too many” U.S. troops, Biden added in remarks to reporters at Joint Base Andrew upon returning from a trip to Pennsylvania. 

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