Feds: Homelessness continues to decline

WASHINGTON (AP) –Homelessness continues to decline in the U.S, specifically among families with children, veterans, and individuals with long-term disabling conditions, according to the latest national estimate by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

HUD’s Annual Homeless Assessment to Congress, released Friday, found that 549,928 persons experienced homelessness on a single night in 2016, a decline of 14 percent since 2010, the year the Obama Administration launched Opening Doors, the nation’s first comprehensive strategy to prevent and end homelessness.

Over this seven-year period, HUD estimates the nation experienced a 23 percent reduction among homeless families, a 47 percent drop in veteran homelessness, and a 27 percent decline in individuals experiencing chronic homelessness.

This national estimate is based upon data reported by approximately 3,000 cities and counties across the nation. Every year on a single night in January, planning agencies called ‘Continuums of Care” and tens of thousands of volunteers seek to identify the number of individuals and families living in emergency shelters, transitional housing programs and in unsheltered settings.

In making the announcement, HUD Secretary Julián Castro noted that though the nation is making significant progress in reducing homelessness, the number of ‘doubled up’ or rent-burdened families remains a vexing problem.

“Every person deserves a safe, stable place to call home,” said Castro. “The Obama Administration has made unprecedented progress toward ending homelessness and today marks the seventh straight year of measureable progress. While we know that our work is far from finished, it’s clear we’re on the right track to prevent and end homelessness for good.”

“While our continued progress reinforces that we are on the right path, the data also makes clear that we must increase the pace of that progress,” said Matthew Doherty, Executive Director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. “To do so, we must be unwavering in our commitment to strategies and investments that are working. Our communities and our citizens deserve nothing less.”

During one night in late January of 2016, tens of thousands of volunteers across the nation sought to identify individuals and families living on their streets as well as in emergency shelters and transitional housing programs.

These one-night ‘snapshot’ counts, as well as full-year counts and data from other sources (U.S. Housing Survey, Department of Education), are crucial in understanding the scope of homelessness and measuring progress toward reducing it.

On a single night in January 2016, state and local planning agencies reported: 549,928 people were homeless representing an overall 14 percent reduction from January 2010. Most homeless persons (373,571) were located in emergency shelters or transitional housing programs while 176,357 persons were unsheltered.The number of families with children experiencing homelessness declined 23 percent since 2010. Veteran homelessness dropped by 47 percent (or 34,616 persons) since January 2010. On a single night in January 2016, 39,471 veterans were experiencing homelessness. Chronic or long-term homelessness among individuals declined by 27 percent (or 77,486 persons) since 2010.

The number of unaccompanied homeless youth and children appeared to decline in 2016 to 35,686 though HUD will launch a more robust effort to more accurately account for this important population in January of 2017.

The Obama Administration’s strategic plan to end homelessness is called Opening Doors – a roadmap for joint action by the 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 offers strategies to connect mainstream housing, health, education, and human service programs as part of a coordinate plan to prevent and end homelessness.

There were 61,265 family households experiencing homelessness on a single night in 2016, a nearly 23 percent decline since 2010. Meanwhile, the number of persons in families declined by nearly 20 percent during that time, due in large measure to the expansion of Rapid Rehousing Programs across the country and a concerted effort by local planners to reallocate scarce resources in a more strategic way.

Since the launch of Opening Doors, several states and local communities have declared an effective end to Veteran homelessness. As a consequence of intense planning and targeted intervention, homelessness among veterans fell by nearly 50 percent since 2010.This decline is largely attributed to the close collaboration between HUD and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs on a joint program called HUD-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH). Since 2008, more than 79,000 rental vouchers have been awarded and approximately 111,000 formerly homeless veterans are currently in homes of their own because of HUD-VASH.

Long-term or chronic homelessness among individuals declined 27 percent since 2010. This reduction is due in part, HUD said, to a concerted effort to make available more permanent supportive housing opportunities for people with disabling health conditions who otherwise continually cycle through local shelters or the streets.

Research demonstrates that for those experiencing chronic homelessness, providing permanent housing, coupled with appropriate low-barrier supportive services, is the most effective solution for ending homelessness. This ‘housing first’ approach also saves the taxpayer considerable money by interrupting a costly cycle of emergency room and hospital, detox, and even jail visits.