Report examines plight of homeless
The total number of homeless persons in America dropped slightly between 2008 and 2009 although the number of homeless families increased, almost certainly due to the ongoing effects of the recession.
That's the conclusion of the 2009 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, a yearly study by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development designed to measure the scope of homelessness across the country.
HUD's latest report finds that 643,000 persons were homeless on a given night in 2009 while roughly 1.56 million people, or one in every 200 Americans, spent at least one night in a shelter during 2009. While the total estimated number of persons who experience homelessness as individuals declined by 5 percent, the number of homeless families increased for the second straight year.
"As a nation, we appear to be doing a better job sheltering those who might otherwise be living on our streets but clearly homelessness is impacting a greater share of families with children," said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. "As patterns of homelessness change, we must use the latest data to tailor our response. The Obama Administration is committed to ending homelessness in all its forms."
HUD's annual assessment is based on two measures of homelessness:
Point-In-Time 'Snapshot' Counts - these data account for sheltered and unsheltered homeless persons on a single night, usually at the end of January. On a given night in January 2009, volunteers throughout the nation counted 643,000 homeless people. A majority of these communities reported increases in the number of sheltered persons and decreases in unsheltered or 'street homeless' revealing a greater capacity and success in finding housing solutions for those who are homeless.
Long-term or chronic homelessness has continued a pattern of decline in the U.S. since 2006. HUD currently estimates that nearly 111,000 people were chronically homeless on a single night in January 2009, more than a 10 percent drop from 2008 and nearly 30 percent from levels reported in 2006. All of this year's decrease in chronic homelessness occurred among the unsheltered 'street population.' Much of the decline since 2006 may be associated with the dramatic expansion of the permanent supportive housing stock, which increased from 177,000 to 219,000 beds during this time period.
12-Month Counts - Using Homeless Management Information Systems (HMIS), these data provide more detailed information on persons who access a shelter over the course of a full year. In the 2009 AHAR, 2,988 counties and 1,056 cities contributed HMIS data to produce national estimates of sheltered homeless. HUD estimates that 1.56 million persons experienced homelessness and found shelter between October 1, 2008 and September 30, 2009. A typical sheltered homeless person is a single, middle-aged man and a member of a minority group. Of all those who sought emergency shelter or transitional housing during 2009, the following characteristics were observed:
--78 percent of all sheltered homeless persons are adults.
--61 percent are male.
--62 percent are members of a minority group.
--38 percent are 31-to-50 years old.
--64 percent are in one-person households.
--38 percent have a disability.
HUD's report also reveals the following trends:
Between 2008 and 2009, the number of individuals in emergency shelters and transitional housing programs dropped by nearly 58,000 people or 5 percent. Meanwhile, sheltered homeless persons in families increased by almost 19,000 people or 3.6 percent.
When families are considered as households rather than as the separate people in the households, the increase was nearly 11,000 families between 2008 and 20098, a seven percent increase over the 159,142 sheltered homeless families in 2008.
Between 2007 and 2009, the drop in the number of sheltered homeless individuals was 80,000 people or about 7 percent. This decline may be related to the ability of communities to place people into an expanding stock of permanent housing, which increased from about 177,000 to 219,000 beds during this time period.
In 2009, nearly 62,000 more family members were in emergency shelter or transitional housing at some point during the year than had been in 2007. Considered as households rather than as separate people, the growth in sheltered family homelessness over the three years was almost 40,000 families, representing a 30 percent increase.
The long-term impacts of the recession are unclear. A recent study found a nearly five-fold increase in the rate of housing overcrowding, suggesting that many families are doubling up in response to the economic downturn(1). If some of these family support networks already are struggling to make ends meet, some of the doubled-up families may find their way into the homeless residential service system during 2010.
On the other hand, as the nation comes out of the recession and as the stimulus funding made available through the Homeless Prevention and Re-housing (HPRP) Program starts helping families in crisis avoid shelter, it also is possible that family homelessness will decline during the next reporting period. Indeed, as of May 2010, HPRP has already served more than 350,000 people and approximately 75 percent of the funds have been used for prevention services.