New data show homelessness dropped early this year, HUD says, but problems persist

20 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

HUD says homelessness increases 7 percent in Maryland.

New figures released by the Department of Housing and Urban Development Thursday show that 564,708 people were homeless on a night in January of this year, a 2 percent drop from 2014. The federal government’s annual homelessness count showed an increase in New Yorkers living on the streets or in shelters, even as the number of homeless people nationwide dipped slightly compared with the previous year.HUD Secretary Julian Castro also noted in a conference call that the state of Virginia and more than a dozen cities including New Orleans; Houston; Las Vegas; Mobile, Alabama; and Troy, New York, have created programs to end homelessness among veterans in their communities. HUD officials said the decline, of a total of 11 percent since 2007, is an encouraging sign that the Obama administration is succeeding in its five-year-old goal of preventing and ending homelessness and ending what the government calls chronic homelessness by 2017.

The so-called point-in-time count in cities across the country on one night 10 months ago also showed persistent challenges for some populations to find permanent homes, including veterans, children and young adults and the chronically homeless. New York, with a population of over eight million, has about 14 percent of all homeless people in the United States, or 75,323 people, the count found. The national total declined 2 percent. “I’m delighted that this year … we saw the first decrease in many, many years,” said Cathy ten Broeke, state director to prevent and end homelessness. The count, done by volunteers who fan out across major cities every year, looking under bridges, in parks and other known encampments for the homeless, measures people who are in shelters or living outside. The city’s number, which counts the people staying in shelters overseen by the Homeless Services Department, peaked at just over 59,000 last December, and it is currently just under 58,000.

But it does not count those who double up with families and friends for short spurts or longer durations, leading advocates to question whether the government is able to accurately gather information on the problem. On Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, unveiled a $2.6 billion, 15-year plan to create 15,000 units of housing that will include social services for veterans, mentally disabled people and others needing help. Although the counts for this population was slightly lower in 2015 than in the previous year, officials cautioned against comparing year-to-year data. They said they are still working on ways to accurately count young people, and want to explore more use of social media, and housing advocates who have direct relationships with young people.

Housing officials conceded that they will not reach the administration’s goal of ending veteran homelessness by the end of the year, but pointed to progress helping a population that has long struggled with homelessness. In Minnesota, Hennepin County counted the most progress on that category, ten Broeke said, thanks in part to a strategy called the Stable Families Initiative.

Bratton struck a different tone, saying street homelessness “has exploded over the last two years.” “It hasn’t crept up on us,” Commissioner Bratton said during a panel discussion on quality-of-life issues in New York, held by the Manhattan Institute, a right-leaning think tank. He also suggested the mayor had been slow to acknowledge the problem. “The mistake the administration made early on was not validating what everyone was seeing,” Mr. After the commissioner’s remarks, a spokeswoman for the mayor issued a series of statements from Mr. de Blasio, some from early in his administration, in which he pledged to address homelessness. Patty Beech, the coordinator of that region’s Continuum of Care group, said that there are several reasons behind that dramatic drop, some worth celebrating. Castro said, “and it’s experiencing this affordable housing crisis at a time when shrinking federal budgets fail to provide HUD and our partners with the resources that we need to get to the finish line.” Los Angeles and New York were among the five major cities that accounted for a quarter of unaccompanied homeless youths.

But groups like First Focus Campaign for Children, a nonprofit children’s advocacy group based in Washington, say that many homeless adolescents avoid public places where they could be counted for fear of referral to Child Protective Services and that they avoid shelters out of safety concerns. But the 2015 count of people outside of shelters, often found “living in a doorway, living in a fish house, living in a shack,” seems unusually low, Beech said. Castro said HUD was working on improvements to the counting process. “We’ll take additional actions that will further improve the accuracy of our data and produce more effective solutions for the challenges facing our young people,” he said.

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