Nationwide homelessness largely unchanged

Staff Report

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On a single night last January, 633,782 people were homeless in the United States, largely unchanged from the year before.

In releasing U.S. Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) latest national estimate of homelessness, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan noted that even during a historic housing and economic downturn, local communities are reporting significant declines in the number of homeless veterans and those experiencing long-term chronic homelessness.

Meanwhile, local homeless housing and service providers in Illinois reported that the number of sheltered and unsheltered homeless people increased by 1 percent between 2011 and 2012. Five states accounted for nearly half of the nation’s homeless population in 2012: California (20.7 percent), New York 11 percent), Florida (8.7 percent), Texas (5.4 percent) and Georgia (3.2 percent).

In Illinois, the total number of homeless people increased from 14,009 in 2011 to 14,144 in 2012. Those chronically homeless in Illinois dropped from 2,400 in 2011 to 2,079 in 2012. The number of homeless veterans in Illinois increased from 1,081 in 2011 to 1,147 in 2012.

HUD’s annual “point-in-time’ estimate seeks to measure the scope of homelessness over the course of one night every January. Based on data reported by more than 3,000 cities and counties, last January’s estimate reveals a marginal decline in overall homelessness by 0.4, along with a 7 percent drop in homelessness among veterans and those experiencing long-term or chronic homelessness.

We continue to see a stable level of homelessness across our country at a time of great stress for those at risk of losing their housing,” Donovan said. “We must redouble our efforts to target our resources more effectively to help those at greatest risk. As our nation’s economic recovery takes hold, we will make certain that our homeless veterans and those living on our streets find stable housing so they can get on their path to recovery.”

HUD Midwest Regional Administrator Antonio R. Riley added: “Behind every number is a family or an individual living in our shelter system or even on our streets. While HUD and our local partners are working to reduce and eliminate homelessness, there are too many people struggling to find an affordable home to call their own.”

During one night in late January 2012, local planners or “Continuums of Care” across the nation conducted a one-night count of their sheltered and unsheltered homeless populations. These one-night “snapshot” counts are then reported to HUD as part of state and local grant applications. While the data reported to HUD do not directly determine the level of a community’s grant funding, these estimates, as well as full-year counts, are crucial in understanding the scope of homelessness and measuring progress in reducing it.

The Barack Obama administration’s strategic plan to end homelessness is called Opening Doors — a roadmap by 19 federal member agencies of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, along with local and state partners in the public and private sectors. The plan puts the country on a path to end veterans and chronic homelessness by 2015; and to ending homelessness among children, family and youth by 2020. The plan presents strategies building upon the lesson that mainstream housing, health, education and human service programs must be fully engaged and coordinated to prevent and end homelessness.

The decline in veteran homelessness in particular is attributed to the close collaboration between HUD and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) on a joint program called HUD-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH). To date, this targeted rental assistance program provided more than 42,000 homeless veterans permanent supportive housing through rental vouchers provided by HUD, along with supportive services and case management by VA. The national estimate reveals a particularly large decrease in the number of homeless veterans — more than 7 percent.

The reductions reported are attributed, in part, to the impact of HUD’s $1.5 billion Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program (HPRP), a program designed to assist individuals and families confronted by a sudden economic crisis. Funded through the Recovery Act, HPRP spared more 1.3 million people from homelessness by offering them short-term rent assistance, security and utility deposits, and moving expenses.

From the Dec. 12-18, 2012, issue

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