Data + Research: the Annual Homeless Assessment Report

written by naehblog
July 9, 2009

Today, we’ve got some big news. It’s really big. It’s huge. It is [cue music] – the Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)!!

…It’s really much more exciting than it sounds.

Basically, the AHAR is a comprehensive review of homelessness counts and trends in 2008. But before we delve into the magical world of data and statistics, there’s something you should know about this year’s report [cue suspense music]:

This year, there were TWO kinds of data collected: point-in-time counts and year-long data. Point-in-time counts are pretty much raw numbers. They tell us how many homeless people and what kind. Year-long data give us a little more detail about the demographics of these counts. Year-long data is also a bit newer than the point-in-time counts. This is the second year in a row that HUD collected year-long data, and we’re really pretty excited about the increase in data availability and analysis. (Yes, because we’re nerds.)

So without further ado…

This year’s AHAR shows that, overall, homelessness is flat compared to last year. Numbers vary slightly between the point-in-time count and the year-long data, but the Alliance concludes that the changes, if any, are marginal.

What’s much more interesting than the total number of homeless people is the information about specific types of homelessness – most significantly, chronic homelessness and family homelessness.

AHAR shows that chronic homelessness is up just a bit (under one percent) compared to last year.

Not really news by itself, but when you look at the 2008 point-in-time number compared to the 2005 point-in-time number, you get a much bigger picture of the landscape of chronic homelessness. These numbers show that while chronic homelessness decreased by almost 30 percent from 2005 to 2007, that same number crept upwards between 2007 and 2008!

From our vantage, that means that the great strides we had been making in addressing, preventing, and reducing chronic homelessness not only came to a screeching halt, but that we’ve regressed, gone backwards.

And then the families. Examining the numbers for family homelessness is a little harder because there’s a bigger disparity between the point-in-time count and the year-long data: the point-in-time count shows a marginal difference between 2007 and 2008 while the year-long data shows a 9 percent increase.

So which side are we on? We’re still working it out. But our conclusion is the same either way.

Family homelessness didn’t see the decrease that chronic homelessness did in the last few years, but it wasn’t far behind. Point-time-counts showed that family homelessness decreased by almost 20 percent from 2005 to 2007. So whether family homelessness is up by 9 percent or just hovering around the same number, what we ultimately see is a halt in the progress of reducing family homelessness and perhaps even a reversal in the count trends.

This year’s year-long data does provide an even fuller picture of family homelessness. When we looked more closely at the specs, we saw some new trends. Compared to last year, more homeless families are new to homelessness this year – these aren’t the same families we see over and over again in these annual counts.

And these newly homeless families aren’t coming to homelessness from transitional housing or other “at-risk” situations. The newly homeless families are coming directly from stable housing.

What’s up with that? Our money’s on the economy.

This kind of “new homelessness” may suggest that these families are victims of the economic crisis. In general, family homelessness is caused by some unforeseen financial obstacle that pushes them over the edge of financial stability. And in these days, as more and more families are struggling with unemployment and trying to make ends meet, it seems the toll is being felt by the whole family.

So in sum: mixed bag. It’s not like we haven’t been suspecting these figures all along, but it’s sobering to see some of the information confirmed. But we’re hopeful, though, that we’ll get back on track as some stimulus money starts trickling into communities. In any case, we’re keeping our fingers crossed and our eyes wide open.

If you’re interested in learning more, HUD will post the report on their website today – and keep an eye out for developments and interpretations from other homeless advocacy biggies!

Whew – that was a major low-down. Take your time, read it twice, and don’t hesitate to shoot me an email or jot down a comment if you have questions or reactions!