Homelessness Down 10 Percent Nationally between 2005 and 2007; State Data Varies

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National Alliance to End Homelessness

Press Releases | January 21, 2009

Jan. 13, 2009

Contact: Lauren Wright
202-942-8246, lwright@naeh.org

Recession and Housing Crisis Fuel Fear That This Trend Will Be Reversed

Washington, DC – On January 13th 2009, the Homelessness Research Institute of the National Alliance to End Homelessness released its second Homelessness Counts report. The report shows a 10 percent decrease in homelessness in the nation, from 744,313 per night in January 2005 to 671,859 per night in January 2007. This includes a 28 percent decrease in chronic (long term) homelessness and an 18 percent decrease in family homelessness. Although homelessness declined overall in the nation, the picture varied among the states, with 36 percent reporting increases in homelessness and the rest reporting decreases.

State data were analyzed to determine not only which states had the highest rates of homelessness, but which had experienced the greatest increases and decreases. According to the report, Nevada and Washington, D.C. had the highest incidence of homelessness, while Mississippi had the lowest. Despite its comparatively high rate of homelessness, the state of Nevada experienced an overall decrease in homelessness of almost 25 percent from 2005 to 2007.

State-wide, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, South Dakota, and New Mexico experienced the highest decreases in homelessness, while Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee, and Maryland reported the highest increases, with Kentucky reporting the largest increase at over 60 percent and Idaho reporting the largest decrease at nearly 70 percent. West Virginia also reported the highest rate of chronically homeless people (those who are homeless repeatedly or for a long time and who have a disability).

Despite the encouraging news in the report, the recent recession and housing foreclosure crisis are believed to be turning the trend in the other direction.

“This reports shows that by focusing more on housing we had begun to end homelessness. But the recession and mortgage crisis threaten this hard-fought progress,” said Nan Roman, President of the National Alliance to End Homelessness. “We have to take what we have learned about how to END homelessness, and apply it to the current crisis so that we don’t incur a whole new generation of homeless people.”

Practices that have achieved the greatest reductions in homelessness include rapid re-housing, supportive housing for people with disabilities, and assistance to prevent low-income people from losing their housing. In 2000, the National Alliance to End Homelessness began challenging communities to adopt these practices through Ten Year Plans to End Homelessness. Since then, over 300 communities have taken up the challenge, with many seeing outstanding results. Denver, Chicago, Portland, and many others have seen marked decreases in homelessness due to their Ten Year Plans, which focus on providing affordable housing and other services to homeless people to help them obtain housing and remain housed.

“Many Americans are now losing or facing the prospect of losing their homes as both homeowners and renters feel the impact of the foreclosure crisis,” said Deborah DeSantis, President & CEO of the Corporation for Supportive Housing, a national nonprofit that released a report on Jan. 13 detailing for the first time the number of supportive housing units built over the last five years. “Millions more Americans are likely to fall into deep poverty in the coming months as a result of rising unemployment and declining state and local funding for safety net programs that assist people who are unable to find work. Among them will be thousands of vulnerable and disabled people who will need supportive housing.” “The national 28 percent decrease in chronically homeless people is likely due to a widespread focus on providing this demographic with the type of permanent, supportive housing stressed in Ten Year Plans to End Homelessness,” Roman said.

The second Homelessness Counts report also offers data on how many people are unsheltered — sleeping on the street or in places otherwise not meant for human habitation (e.g. cars, woods, campsites, abandoned buildings). In January of 2007, 42 percent of homeless people were unsheltered. According to the report, the states with the highest percentage of unsheltered homeless people are California, Nevada and Michigan, with rates of over 60 percent.

“Our hope is that this year the new Administration and Congress will make ending the tragedy of homelessness an important part of their plans for change. We encourage them to use the upcoming economic recovery bill to help people who lose their jobs or are evicted as the result of foreclosure to avoid homelessness,” Roman said. “Small amounts of money for rent or utilities can help people stay in their homes. Furthermore, investing in affordable housing through initiatives like the National Housing Trust Fund will help ensure that no one is without a home.”

The 2005 and 2007 estimates are compilations of point-in-time counts collected by local Continuums of Care (CoCs) —— the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defined jurisdictions that oversee homeless services and are required to count their homeless populations every other year on one night in January. As such, the report provides data on CoC communities within states as well. Despite limitations, the estimates act as a tool for assessing the progress the nation has made on reducing homelessness.

Data for every state and community (CoC) for which data are available, as well as an explanation of the methods used to collect the data, are included in the full report.

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The National Alliance to End Homelessness is a nonpartisan, mission- driven organization committed to preventing and ending homelessness in the United States. The Alliance analyzes policy and develops pragmatic, cost- effective policy solutions. Working collaboratively with the public, private, and nonprofit sectors to build state and local capacity, the Alliance provides data and research that lead to stronger programs and policies that help communities achieve their goal of ending homelessness. For more information on The National Alliance to End Homelessness, visit: www.endhomelessness.org