The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has just released its annual homeless assessment report. Figures in the report are from the homeless counts conducted in January 2008 and other local data collected for the October 2007-2008 period. The economic and foreclosure crises were in their early stages then. Yet we can already see worrisome changes.
- For the October 2007-8 year, the total number of homeless people in shelters and transitional housing was virtually unchanged, but the percent of them who were in families was up by 9%–to an estimated 516,724.
- About 61% of the adults in families who sought shelter at some point during the year had spent the night before in their own homes or with family or friends. Somewhat more than 19% of them had been in housing they owned or rented.
- About 3% more sheltered homeless people had been in the place they spent the night before for at least a year–another sign of destabilization.
- People were staying in emergency shelters and transitional housing for longer periods of time–one supposes because they couldn’t find affordable housing or someone they could double up with.
Nan Roman, President of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, calls these data “the canary in the coal mine” because rates that had been decreasing stagnated or swung up. And, as she says, homelessness if a lagging indicator of changes in the economy. So it seems reasonable to expect we’ll see more of the same.
HUD has begun issuing quarterly updates, reflecting data from nine communities. As the first report says, it’s hard to see patterns and risky to generalize.
With this caveat, it’s still worth noting that the number of homeless people in the reporting communities increased by 1.5% in the first three months of this year. And these were only people in shelters and transitional housing. Who knows how many more were in cheap motels, doubled up or on the streets?
The bright note is that Shaun Donovan, the Secretary of HUD, is talking of new strategies and funding to help homeless families, as well as the chronically homeless individuals that were his predecessor’s primary concern. Better yet, the economic recovery act is plowing more funds into programs to prevent homelessness.