Homelessness continues to be a significant problem across the United States. The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s most recent national Annual Homelessness Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress (July 2009) estimated that about 664,000 people nationwide were homeless either sheltered or unshelteredon a single night in January 2008, down about 7,500 people (or one percent) from the previous year. While the number of homeless individuals in shelters was about the same as last year, the number of people in families increased by nine percent to 516,700, suggesting that family homelessness may be on the rise.
The 2009 AHAR pointed to early signs that the economic crisis may have affected trends in homelessness nationally. Notably, a greater share of people accessing the homeless system in 2008 came from stays with friends and family and from places where they had lived a year or more, suggesting that people who had been stably housed were becoming homeless after exhausting their housing options.
These findings were corroborated with more recent data from seven geographically diverse rural and urban communities across the nation. These communities report on homelessness on a quarterly basis. The January 2010 report revealed an 8 percent increase in homelessness since June 2009 in the number of sheltered homeless persons, with all but one of the seven sites experiencing an increase in their total sheltered count. Compared to the numbers reported in the previous quarter, the total count of sheltered persons in families increased by 10 percent. Perhaps the most troubling statistic was that the seven sites reported that the total number of persons accessing emergency shelters or transitional housing programs for the first time increased by 26 percent (or 6,613 persons) between July and September 2009. This increase was much larger for newly sheltered families than for individuals (38 percent for persons in families, compared to 12 percent for individuals).
This data indicates that despite recent successes in reducing the number of chronically (unaccompanied, disabled) homeless persons in many areas, the impact of the current economic crisis has been significant, especially on families, and there is much more work to be done to prevent and end homelessness in the nation. More information on HUD’s homelessness assistance programs and current homeless data can be obtained at hudhre.info.
Toward that end, HUD’s FY2011 Budget proposes expanding existing targeted programs for homeless persons, including homeless families with children. HUD has requested $2.055 billion for its marquee Homeless Assistance Grants (or Continuum of Care) programs. This is an increase of $190 million over the 2010 appropriation and $378 million more than was appropriated in 2009. The new funds will allow HUD to begin the implementation of the HEARTH Act which codifies the Continuum of Care approach, consolidates existing housing programs, allows for flexible homelessness prevention and rapid re-housing efforts, provides $107 million of the new funding for 9,500 new permanent supportive housing units, and implementation of the new rural homelessness program.
In addition, HUD is increasing investments and interagency collaboration to prevent and end homelessness through mainstream federal resources (resources not explicitly targeted to serve homeless persons). Approval of HUD’s FY2011 budget would provide 10,000 new Housing Choice Vouchers to support groundbreaking collaborations with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Education. The vouchers will be linked with HHS mainstream programs like Medicaid and other HHS health resources (such as substance abuse treatment funding from SAMHSA) to meet the services needs of chronically homeless persons.
A portion of the vouchers will also be connected with HHS-funded income supports such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to assist homeless families. And HUD and HHS will coordinate with the Department of Education program for homeless school-age children to ensure that they receive the support they require to maintain housing and educational stability.