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State of Homelessness in America 2012
Report | January 18, 2012
The State of Homelessness in America 2012 examines homelessness between 2009 and 2011, a period of economic downturn in the nation. The report shows that despite the bad economy, homelessness decreased by 1 percent during this period. The decrease was likely due to a significant investment of federal resources to prevent homelessness and quickly re-house people who did become homeless. The Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP, funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009) was a $1.5 billion federal effort to prevent a recession-related increase in homelessness. It was built upon ground-breaking work at the federal level and in jurisdictions across the nation to improve the homelessness system by adopting evidence-based, cost effective interventions. In 2010, its first year of operation, it assisted nearly 700,000 at-risk and homeless people. This report provides evidence that it was successful in achieving its goal of preventing a significant increase in homelessness.
Despite the fact that the number of homeless people was essentially unchanged between 2009 and 2011, there is much reason for concern. As this report points out, economic and demographic indicators linked to homelessness continue to be troubling. Homelessness is a lagging indicator, and the effects of the poor economy on the problem are escalating and are expected to continue to do so over the next few years. The resources provided by HPRP have run out in many communities and the program will sunset entirely in the fall of 2012; despite the need and proven effectiveness these resources have not been replaced. Debt and deficit reduction at the federal level have begun to shrink assistance available to the most vulnerable. In the year since the data in this report was collected (January 2011), there have already been reports that the number of homeless people is increasing. So while holding the line on homelessness between 2009 and 2011 was a major accomplishment of federal investment and local innovation, the failure to sustain this early recipe for success threatens to undermine progress now and in the future.
The National Alliance to End Homelessness has published a series of reports chronicling changes in the levels of homelessness in the nation and in individual states and jurisdictions in order to chart progress toward the goal of ending homelessness. The most recent of these, The State of Homelessness in America series, not only examines changes in national-, state-, and local-level homelessness data, but also provides data on related economic and demographic trends.
The State of Homelessness in America 2012, the second in a series from the National Alliance to End Homelessness, examines both homelessness and economic and demographic data, using the most recently available national data from the U.S. Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services, Justice, Labor, and Commerce; and from the private real estate research group RealtyTrac. It consists of three chapters. Chapter One presents data on homelessness at the national and state levels using point-in-time estimates of the overall homeless population and subpopulations. Chapter Two describes economic factors that impact homelessness including housing cost and unemployment. Chapter Three describes some demographic factors that impact homelessness, including population groups that are at increased risk. In addition, Appendix One provides data on homelessness in the largest metropolitan areas.
Using the most recently available national data on homelessness, the 2009 and 2011 point-in-time counts as reported by jurisdictions to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the report chronicles the changes in overall homelessness and in homelessness among subpopulations between 2009 and 2011. Point-in-time count methodologies vary and are imperfect and as such the aggregated numbers do not represent a precise count of homeless people. The counts, however, when compared over time, provide a way to assess whether the homeless population has increased or decreased.
Homelessness is basically caused by the inability of people to pay for housing; thus it is impacted by both income and the affordability of available housing. In recognition of this, this report examines certain economic indicators that affect people who are homeless or at risk of being so. These factors are examined for the years 2009 to 2010, the latest for which data is available from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey Public Use Microdata Sample (PUMS) files, the U.S. Department of Labor, and RealtyTrac, a private real estate research group. Conditions worsened from 2009 to 2010 among three of the four economic factors examined: housing cost, unemployment, and foreclosure.
While homelessness affects people of all ages, races, ethnicities and geographies, there are groups of people at increased risk. This report examines four populations at increased risk of homelessness: people living in “doubled up” situations, people discharged from prison, young adults leaving foster care, and people without health insurance. Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey Public Use Microdata Sample (PUMS) files, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, this report chronicles changes in some of the demographic drivers of homelessness between 2009 and 2010.
The State of Homelessness 2012 lays out a roadmap for ending homelessness. Prevention and rapid re-housing clearly work: this is the lesson of the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program which appears to have forestalled an increase in homelessness despite the poor economy, high unemployment, and lack of affordable housing. With 40 percent of homeless people unsheltered, the crisis response system must be improved. Permanent supportive housing works to house chronically homeless people and veterans with disabilities, and continued investment will solve these problems. Generally, low incomes and high housing costs, combined with a lack of supportive services for those who need them, make many people vulnerable to homelessness. Ultimately, as the nation moves to address the debt and deficit crises, it will be essential to ensure that the needs of the most vulnerable are prioritized in order to avoid increased homelessness, suffering, and cost.
This is an excerpt from the chapter. To read the entire chapter, please download the chapter using the link above.