I recently wrote that we’ve no idea how many people are living doubled up with friends or relatives. Still true for the District of Columbia, but not for the nation as a whole.
The National Alliance to End Homelessness has issued a brief on doubling up during the 2005-8 period. Doubling up here means “living in a housing unit with extended family, friends or other non-relatives due to economic hardship,” which NAEH defines as “earning no more than 125% of the federal poverty level.” In 2008, that meant a maximum of $13,000 for a single individual and $22,000 for a family of three.
We learn some interesting things. For example, in 2008:
- More than 4.8 million low-income people were living doubled up–5% more than in 2005.
- Nearly three-quarters of them had incomes below the federal poverty line.
- A third of them were in deep poverty, i.e., living at least 50% below the FPL.
- The percent of doubled-up people who were in families had increased by 8.5%, to somewhat over 2.1 million.
- Yet the percent of families doubled-up had increased by 3.5%–to just under 800,000. So it would seem that more family members were living together doubled up.
- While more single individuals than families were living doubled up, the percent increase for individuals was much smaller–less than 2%.
Doubling up is certainly preferable to living on the street or in an emergency shelter. But, as NAEH says, it’s often a prelude to literal homelessness.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Annual Homelessness Assessment Report for 2008, 25.8% of single individuals and 42.3% of families who weren’t homeless before they entered a shelter or transitional housing had stayed the night before with family or friends.
Perhaps the family member or friend had agreed to house them for only a night or two. Perhaps accommodating them had become too inconvenient. Perhaps frictions arose, as they can among any people living together. Perhaps everybody got evicted.
We see some of these risks of homelessness in other NAEH figures.
- In 2008, more than 1.7 million doubled-up people (34.6%) were in households with severe housing burdens, i.e. paying 50% or more of their income for rent.
- Of these people, 22%–somewhat over 1.3 million–were living in over-crowded conditions.
- Both the number with severe housing burdens and the number in over-crowded conditions were higher in 2008 than in 2005.
What I would guess these figures reflect are the combined impacts of the onset of the recession and the accelerating shortage of affordable rental housing for low-income people. If so, then we would expect more recent figures to be worse.
Last year’s HEARTH Act, which reauthorized homeless programs administered by HUD, expanded the definition of “homeless” to some doubled-up families. The NAEH brief says that communities “will now serve them through their homeless assistance programs.”
Don’t we wish. Here in the District, the homeless services program seems unable to cope even with all the families who’ve got no place to live at all. And with budget-slashing across the country, I doubt many other programs are ready to take on more.