You may not believe it if you've recently walked the streets of New York City, Los Angeles or Seattle – but homelessness continues to decline in the U.S. A recent assessment from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) found 549,928 persons experienced homelessness on a single night in 2016, a decline of 14% since 2010. That's the year the Obama Administration launched its Opening Doors initiative to prevent and end homelessness. While the progress is certainly encouraging, as you'll read below, the data suggests there's still much more to do. – Philip Bane
Since 2010, HUD estimates the U.S. experienced a 23% reduction among homeless families, a 47% drop in veteran homelessness, and a 27% decline in individuals experiencing chronic homelessness. The numbers come in part from point-in-time data reported by 3,000 cities and counties taking part in the annual effort to count the number of individuals and families living in emergency shelters, transitional housing programs and in unsheltered settings on a single night each January.
HUD Secretary Julian Castro noted that the country is making significant progress in reducing homelessness, but suggested the number of "doubled up" or rent-burdened families remains a vexing problem.
Not all the data is positive
The point-in-time data helps estimate how much day-to-day capacity is needed within homelessness crisis response systems. Matthew Doherty, Executive Director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, says it also helps assess the impact of strategic activities up until that point.
But there are other sources of data on homelessness that help paint a more complete picture of need, notes Doherty. And the numbers in some cases aren't as encouraging. For example:
- Homeless Management Information System data documents the number of people who experience homelessness in shelters over the course of the year. This data showed that between 2014 and 2015, the number of people experiencing sheltered homelessness at some point during the reporting year remained roughly the same, declining by less than 1%.
- Data gathered by schools for the Department of Education provides a better understanding of the scope and scale of homelessness among youth and families with children. This data showed an 8% increase between the 2013 and 2014 school years, and we
"While our continued progress reinforces that we are on the right path, the data also makes clear that we must increase the pace of that progress," Doherty said. "To do so, we must be unwavering in our commitment to strategies and investments that are working."
What is working
Doherty cites three strategies that he believes have had a huge impact on reducing homelessness:
- Setting ambitious goals and asking leaders to commit to them.
- Providing clear guidance and direction on what it takes to succeed and equipping communities with a full array of strategies and tools to help them implement the best practices.
- By embracing Housing First approaches, federal agencies are making sure that federal dollars have the greatest impact and improve outcomes for people.
He also has thoughts on what has to happen next to pick up the pace so more people have safe, stable places to call home. Among them:
- Increase the overall supply of affordable housing. "Jurisdictions need to remove local barriers to housing development that have reduced the ability of many housing markets to respond to growing demand," he says. "And we must invest in new affordable housing across all levels of government."
- Improve connections to mainstream programs and employment services and opportunities. More must be done, he says, to connect people to health and social services, and to integrate employment services and opportunities into housing and services systems.
- Maintain partnerships at all levels of government. To sustain the progress made to date, a collaborative approach across federal, state, and local governments is essential, he says.
This article is from the Council's Compassionate Cities initiative which highlights how city leaders and other stakeholders can leverage smart technologies to end suffering in their communities and give all citizens a route out of poverty. Click the Compassionate Cities box on our registration page to receive our weekly newsletter.
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